By Ryan C. McKay
Admit it, you hate it, don’t you? “Tweeting” — How can you possibly think of yourself as a positive businessman (or woman) when you are taking part in an activity with a name like “Tweeting.” It sounds like a cartoon bird for goodness sake!
But at the same time, you keep hearing about it. You thought, by now, it would disappear and be replaced by some other laptop- or phone-driven fad, didn’t you? But, no, it’s still growing! Twitter — love it or hate it — isn’t going anywhere soon, and whether or not you are on board, it’s moving the business world forward, 140 characters at a time.
So, what are you doing about it? Are you embracing it? Are you lamenting about the stupidity of it? Maybe a combination of both? Perhaps you’re in the ever-expanding club of people who know they need to be using Twitter but still haven’t found the proper way to translate their “Tweeting” into actual results.
One quick Google search will show you that there are literally thousands of articles, blogs, and, yes, even “Tweets” already floating around the web, expounding on the multiple ways to use Twitter to make new connections and to brand yourself. A lot of them do a pretty good job of describing how to do it, so I’m not going to waste your time by treading over familiar ground. I’m here to tell you how to better use Twitter to drive traffic (and therefore profitable results) to your trade show or event booth.
Before we begin, I should mention that this method of FREE advertising and gaining FREE traffic isn’t for everyone. You have to have a cell phone made in the last five years for this to work. Quick show of hands if that’s you. Good — looks like everyone IS on board then.
Let’s take a look at your current approach to driving traffic at a trade show. Most everyone knows that you need to have some sort of eye-catching exhibit … something that doesn’t look exactly like all the other people around you. (You do know that right? If not, we might need to have a talk about the basics.) You’ve got your booth space … you’ve got your cool-looking exhibit … you have your product and your literature … maybe some pens or stress balls … a jump drive with your name on it to give away, and you’re looking pretty good if you do say so yourself. Hopefully, looking good doesn’t just involve wearing a company-emblazoned polo shirt in this day and age, but again, that goes into the “basics” conversation.
Looks like you are all set … now … how do you get the thousands of PRE-QUALIFIED prospects to step into your booth when there are literally hundreds of other businesses clamoring for their attention? Well, first off, hopefully you did a little preparation BEFORE the show. Hopefully you spent the month before the show reaching out to all of the people you can find who will be attending the show and making a connection. Most shows preregister attendees and usually those names and contacts are available. Sure, it costs a few dollars sometimes, but that list is worth every penny, assuming you use it correctly.
Get those names. Find which of your current clients are attending the show. Get every name you can, and connect with as many of them as you can on Twitter. It doesn’t matter if you hardly know them — “follow” them on Twitter. The worst that will happen is that they might not follow you back. If that happens, no big deal, at least you’ll still have connected to them, and through their updates you might learn a thing or two about their businesses and their personalities. The added bonus of Twitter, is that most people WILL connect back to you. The culture of Twitter seems to give most people a safe feeling that makes them much more willing to “connect” with virtual unknowns than they would be with LinkedIn, or Facebook for instance … and they are MUCH more likely to “accept” you than they would be with the random cold call in the middle of the day.
So, it’s a week before the show, you have your names, you have your (hopefully) dozens, or even hundreds of new Twitter contacts already set up. Now what? Now, you send each of them an email. A SEPARATE email. Don’t start spamming people. Send a personal email to each of them … maybe just a couple of sentences, thanking them for allowing you to connect on Twitter, and inviting them to stop by your booth. Give the booth number, give them a reason to stop by (and I don’t mean a free pen … give them something of value … a way for them to grow their business…maybe an introduction to another contact whom might be of use to them), and if above all, DON’T try to pre-sell them. If you try to pre-sell them, they are just going to avoid you and your booth at the show. Once you’ve sent your emails, back away from them for the moment. Chances are you will have more than enough on your plate getting ready for the show anyways.
Now you’re at the set up. Fork lifts are whizzing past, hammers are thumping, dust and debris are heavy in the air — a terrible time to talk to potential new clients, right? WRONG. This is the PERFECT time to start building connections. After all, we’ve all seen the chaos that precedes the opening of a show. We all have that in common. So talk about it! Throughout the day, as you are setting up, use your cell phone to “Tweet” about it. Make a joke or two about it (keep it clean … and don’t bash anyone). Show your human side as you work to set up your exhibit. Mention your booth number again in each tweet. Invite anyone who is already there to come by and say hi. Invite any of them who are in the hall already to a quick lunch. The show hasn’t even started yet, and already you are connecting before any of your competitors have had a chance. Even more important, you aren’t selling them yet. You are just building connections. They have to like you before they will ever buy from you. Nothing builds connections faster than “shared plight,” and anyone who has spent any amount of time waiting around the dock for freight to show up before a show definitely knows that this counts as “plight!”
It’s showtime! The lights are on, the booths are set up, the fresh carpet is down, and your booth is (hopefully) looking better than all the other exhibits around it. Your shirt is pressed and crisp. Your literature is easy to read, clean and memorable, and there are millions of dollars in potential new business flowing in the doors. Now what? Most businesses will do one of two things, both of them wrong. The first group will sit down behind their table with their fish bowl full of pens ready for the clients who never seem to show up. They quietly and patiently continue to sit there — undisturbed — for the next eight hours, all the while complaining to themselves that the show is a bust instead of realizing that sitting behind a table at a trade show is the equivalent of putting a “Gone Fishing” sign up and leaving for the day.
Then there is the other group. I call them “Pukers.” You’ve seen them. They’re the ones that you are terrified to make eye contact with. Every time someone walks by, they pounce on them. “Hey! Want a pen? Are you looking to buy? What company are you with? Want to see my impression of that spitting dinosaur from Jurassic Park? Got any money?” Wrong, wrong, WRONG! Not only will they not make any connections (or money) from the show, but they’ll also scare people away from all the booths around them. Don’t be that guy!
If you’ve done your homework and are armed with your cell phone (or laptop), you don’t need to scream at people. You’ve got a good-looking exhibit that is eye catching and clean. You have your literature that spells out the details of who you are and what you do, and you have Twitter at your fingertips, ready to invite people in.
It’s simple. Just Tweet. Tell people that you’re at your exhibit (give the booth number again) and that you want to meet your Twitter friends in person. Promise that it won’t just be a sales pitch when they get there. Tell them you just want to meet them face to face, and mean it. People buy from the people they like, and they like people who value them. Start the relationship at your booth today, sell to them tomorrow. Chances are that you aren’t allowed to actually sell anything at the show anyways, so while the guy to your left is hiding behind his table, and the guy to your right is lunging at strangers like an extra from New Moon, you are calm and collected, meeting and greeting PRE-QUALIFIED new contacts who have seen your Tweets on their own cell phones and who are seeking YOU out.
Which relationship do you think has a better chance of developing into a long-term one: the one you gained by yelling at passers-by in the hopes of reaching “the right person” or the one that started in a relaxed and comfortable setting because you took the time to prepare in advance and the foresight to speak to them in the language of the day — in this case, Twitter?
So ignore the stupid terminology and the fad aspect of “Tweeting.” What it boils down to is that Twitter is here — at least for the time being. Embrace it while it’s still a strong and FREE tool. You don’t have to like it to be successful with it. You just have to use it, and use it better than the next guy.
Ryan C. McKay is a senior account manager and director of operations with Ohio Displays Inc./ODI Works. He can be reached at (216) 961-5600 and HYPERLINK “mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org” email@example.com. His blog, “Ramblings From a Traveling Trade Show Professional,” can be read at http://on-the-road-with-odi.blogspot.com/.