Don’t Just Do It

Social media can transform the experience and influence of your trade show. So leap in, one expert says — but not before you have a strategy.

Most exhibitors approach trade shows the way they did 10 to 20 years ago, according to Traci Browne, who has worked for more than 15 years in the industry as both a trade-show organizer and marketer. And if that continues, Browne predicts, “trade shows are going to die.”

Browne’s experience includes managing trade-show marketing for the pharmaceutical and medical-device industries, where she witnessed firsthand the impact of 2009 changes to the PhRMA code, which restricted exhibitors from giving anything away — not even pens. “It rocked that industry’s world,” Browne said. “That’s what people did — they gave stuff away. That was their entire trade-show program.”

That crisis led — or forced — Browne to look for new ways to attract attendees. In the process, she realized that attendees valued expertise even more than giveaways, which started her “on a push to get more education on the trade-show floor.”

Around the same time, Browne also discovered Twitter, and the power of social media in general to help an organization learn what customers want, build its reputation, and establish its employees as thought leaders.

In her 2012 book, The Social Trade Show: Leveraging Social Media and Virtual Events to Connect With Your Customers, Browne offers readers nearly 300 pages of advice on how show organizers and exhibitors can effectively use social-media tools, including Twitter, videos, blogging, and livestreaming from the show floor. “By incorporating social media and virtual-event components into your trade-show strategy,” Browne writes, “you can extend your reach beyond just the attendees to those customers back in their offices around the globe.”

But Browne doesn’t recommend that anyone begin on page one and start using all of the tools she describes. In fact, she strenuously advises against it. For one thing, that would take an army of people, she told Convene in a recent interview. But more important, putting strategy ahead of tactics is a key message of her book.

“If you spend your time jumping on the latest social-media-tool bandwagon, you will never catch up,” she writes. “What is really important to your exhibit program’s success is designing an incredibly solid strategy. Then, and only then, do you choose the tools that are right for your strategy.”

“Using Twitter” or saying “let’s do a Foursquare check-in” are not strategies, Browne said. Nor is setting a goal like “Get 100 new followers.” A strategy would be an initiative to engage 25 industry influencers or purchasers of your products, Browne said, “and Twitter is a tool that you could use to do that.”

Pick one or two tools aligned with your strategy, use them well, and measure the results. But do something, Browne writes: “Fear is not an option.”

Leading Questions

“Always make sure your show goals inform your strategy for driving traffic to your booth,” Traci Browne writes in The Social Trade Show. “Don’t get caught up in quantity if it’s quality you are looking for. … Create experiences that get attendees actively involved in qualifying themselves.

“One of the biggest reasons leads are not followed up on is because they are poor-quality leads. Try to imagine yourself as the salesperson assigned to follow up on 75 leads after a show. You call the first 10 and find that they are bad leads. The people you have called were only interested in entering your contest to win an iPad. The ‘lead’ has no use for your services or products.”

More Resources

For more information about Traci Browne and The Social Trade Show, visit

Browne is a moderator of ExpoChat, a weekly online Twitter chat for the trade-show industry, at #expochat. More information is available at



Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.