Social media has exploded onto the business landscape in the past few years. Fueled by the ubiquity of the smart phone, now everybody has a voice. We also have a photographic, audio and video studio right in our pockets. The revolution of social media has also changed businesses, challenging them to be more transparent and engage with their customers.

In the meetings and event space, attendees now expect social media to be an integral part of their experience. For an ever increasing percentage of attendees carrying smart phones, social media is the way they stay in touch and communicate, especially in a communal experience like a meeting.  Social media also holds great benefits for conference organizers including helping with promotion and monitoring conference day problems in real-time. Here are five tips for strategically integrating social media into your event.

  1. Hashtags

The hashtag has become the central organizer for social media. Originally started on twitter, hashtags are now common across social platforms including Facebook, Instagram, and Google+. The hashtag is simply a way to tag a social post with a common word or phrase. This, in turn, makes it easier to search for all the posts related to a particular topic or in our case, event. It is critical that you create a hashtag for your event and then promote that hashtag throughout your marketing materials, website and social channels. In fact, if you do not create a hashtag for your event, your attendees will do it for you and sometimes they will create more than one, which can lead to confusion and missed opportunities.

  1. Think Visually

The social web has become increasingly visual in the past year. Spurred on by Pinterest, sites like Facebook and Twitter have been featuring images more prominently. There are also indications that images get more engagement than text posts alone. The social photography site Instagram is among the fastest growing sites on the Internet and we all know about the selfie phenomenon. For better or worse, people have an increased desire to be stimulated visually.

For your event, it’s important to use as many pictures as possible when creating blog posts and social media updates. Make sure also to promote your show hashtag on Instagram and contribute to the stream with your own official photos. Bringing in interesting props or staging is also helpful to give people things to take photos of. You might even have a special prop people can sit on or stand next to for a photo. Think about where people might have a selfie opportunity. People are taking more photos than ever with their smartphones and the more photos they take and distribute of your event, the more free promotion you get.

  1. Engage

Its one thing to have hashtags and provide spaces to take pictures, but you should also engage with your attendees before and throughout the conference on social media. Be a part of the conversation and realize social media will also become your best friend when it comes to troubleshooting problems at an event.  Attendees tweet about everything at a conference, including when things are going wrong; AV breakdowns, food and beverage problems, even parking issues. By monitoring social media channels, you can become aware of any problems immediately and respond quickly. In addition, you can respond directly to the complaint and assure your attendees that the issue is being attended to. Things happen, but what attendees care about most is that the organizers know and are responding. Apart from dealing with problems, attendees may be posting interesting comments about what a speaker is saying that you may want to re-post. Social media is at its best when it’s an active, two way street.

  1. Podcast

Podcasting is an exciting medium that allows you to, in effect, have your own radio station. Podcasts are relatively easy to produce and provide a whole new way to promote your event. Consider a pre-show podcast that features short interviews with your speakers and exhibitors. This can help get people excited about the show and decide which sessions they may want to attend.  I can also be a great promotion for your exhibitors.  You could also produce podcasts during the show, interviewing attendees or other people of interest.

  1. Twitter Screens

It’s pretty easy to take advantage of some of the video screens that are already in and around many conference centers and turn them into Twitter screens. You may already be using these screens for general signage and/or information, but you can also display a live scrolling view of a Twitter stream with your show hashtag. This helps to promote the hashtag among attendees and let people stop and browse the twitter stream without having to take out their phones. These screens are also a great place to stream your hashtag from Instagram for a live photo slideshow.

One of the hidden benefits of social media is that people are attending your conference virtually whether or not you offer an official virtual option. They may follow your hashtag, view attendee photos on Instagram, among other things, which increases awareness of the conference and will likely get new people excited about attending in the future. Benefits of implementing social media at your conference are two-fold: It’s a helpful tool for your attendees, and simultaneously a great promotion for a wider audience.