With more than 1.7 billion users around the world, Facebook has become one of the most powerful platforms for promoting conferences and trade shows. But while most event-marketing professionals are accustomed to using it to share photos, advertise programs, and increase fan counts, Jim Wulfekuhle, vice president of sales and marketing for the biennial International Woodworking Fair (IWF), used a recent Facebook tool to expand the reach of IWF 2016, held at the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) in Atlanta on Aug. 24–27: Facebook Live. The feature lets users livestream videos directly to their timelines on Facebook, with the broadcasts appearing within their fans’ and friends’ newsfeeds.
“We’ve been increasing our social-media presence over the past few years,” Wulfekuhle said. “The launch of Face-book Live provided an excellent way to continue that growth and create an I-need-to-be-there feeling in members of our community who were watching at home.”
Any user can share videos on Facebook Live using a smartphone, but Wulfekuhle wanted to go beyond that to create a well-rounded portrait of the on-site experience, which included more than 16,000 attendees exploring new innovations in woodworking machinery and products from more than 1,000 exhibitors. He partnered with CNTV for a new initiative, selecting three young attendees to attach GoPro cameras to their chests and walk the show ﬂoor at IWF 2016, with CNTV sending the footage directly to IWF’s Facebook page. “It was a natural way to help more people discover the show and see how it felt through the eyes of their peers,” Wulfekuhle said.
It also provided another powerful beneﬁt: the opportunity to invite regional woodworking professionals to drive in for a day. “Our on-site registration fee is only $45,” Wulfekuhle said, “so there isn’t a big barrier for last-minute attendees.”
Over four days, IWF used Facebook Live to share 27 videos that included hands-on demos of new products, interviews with IWF leadership, and more. “I didn’t give [the camera-wearing attendees] speciﬁc directions on which booths to visit,” Wulfekuhle said. “I asked them to try to see a mix of big and small exhibitors, and to experience the show as they would if they weren’t wearing a camera.”
But the attendees weren’t working alone. CNTV offered coaching to get them more comfortable with the process. “We encouraged them to really interact with the products,” said Greig Powers, COO of CNTV. “We were striving to make the coverage more compelling than a tour of the show ﬂoor. People at home were scrolling through their Facebook feeds, so the videos really needed to catch their attention.”
CNTV served as a camera team, too, capturing additional footage to deliver multiple angles, and editing the material on the ﬂy for the feel of a live, high-quality, TV-style broadcast. “We wanted to make this much more than a typical smartphone broadcast,” Powers said. “Some of the most popular videos on Facebook Live use professional-style production to create more engagement with viewers at home.” The strategy paid off: IWF’s Facebook Live videos enjoyed more than 10,000 views throughout the program. That mirrored the healthy turnout on site: IWF 2016 enjoyed a 10-percent increase in attendance from IWF 2014.
THE LIFE OF LIVE
In addition to increasing online engagement, IWF used the videos to enhance the in-person experience in Atlanta. After the initial livestreaming, IWF broadcast the videos on shuttle buses, in hotel rooms, and on monitors throughout the convention center. With exhibitors spread across two buildings of the GWCC, the footage helped attendees make note of products they might otherwise have missed.
Not that the impact of this type of video content has to be conﬁned to the timeframe surrounding a program. “Our event occurs every two years, so it can be more challenging to maintain momentum,” Wulfekuhle said. “We’ll share these videos on YouTube and use them for future marketing material. We captured so much content that we can use to create more consistent engage-ment with our audience.”
As IWF distributes material from its 2016 program, Wulfekuhle will be focused on building a more robust promotional strategy for IWF 2018. “I want to make sure that we use the next two years to ﬁgure out how to lever-age this type of technology even more effectively,” he said. “We can reﬁne our strategy and continue to strengt h.en the connection with our audience.”