by Steven Hacker | May 01, 2017

If you believe that using social media creatively just means describing your association’s upcoming event on your Facebook page or tweeting messages about it, it’s time to open your eyes and your mind to a whole new world. There are some really cutting-edge ideas and functions that will enhance your group’s social media presence and improve interactions between members and exhibitors.

Geosocial Networking. One of my go-to technology resources—a true tech guru—is Rich Stone, CEO of EXPOCAD, a company that provides trade show organizers with interactive show floors that have become a mainstay for booth sales and location-selection among many other technology solutions. Stone is always fooling around with something brand-new and exciting, and he recently shared with me a new tool located within the EXPOCAD interactive online floor plans called Geosocial. “Geosocial networking is not particularly new, but for our vertical, trade shows, it hasn’t been done,” he explained.

Geosocial networking began emerging shortly after the turn of the new century and, no surprise, the usual cast of characters—Google, eBay, Facebook and Twitter—spearheaded its development. Geosocial networking permits you to interact with other friends, business associates or customers in connection with your present location. By combining web-mapping services with geocoding, a calculation that converts a standard postal address to an actual location on earth using GPS coordinates, a host of functions can occur, including enabling individuals or groups to rendezvous at a particular location and designated time.

You or your members have undoubtedly noticed the applications of this if you use TripAdvisor, which will suggest dining or entertainment options when you arrive at a certain venue. I am a serial TripAdvisor user, and several months ago, I began to notice that when I would arrive at, say, a hotel, it wasn’t long before I received a message from TripAdvisor offering me the opportunity to receive information about “great dining opportunities” in the neighborhood. It happened last week when I stayed at the Omni Hotel in Fort Worth and TripAdvisor suggested I might like to try Heim BBQ. (I did and, wow, what a find, but that’s another story.) Whether you accept the recommendations or not, there’s no denying it is a very cool and helpful tool, especially if you are visiting a new venue.

Another spin on geocoding is that it allows you to document your own special points of interest, such as a bar or theater you may have visited and want to remember for a possible return visit. I can think of dozens of ways creative event planners can use geosocial networking to really engage their attendees, exhibitors and sponsors.

Geocoding combined with common social media networks has also played a central role in the world of recent political protests as organizers aim to gather the masses for demonstrations, marches and rallies, sometimes on the spur of the moment. In reality, while these events may appear to be spontaneous, geosocial networking fuels many of them. Social media is absolutely relied upon to build the critical mass needed to garner attention. Similarly, association event planners and trade-show producers should think about how they might build crowds at gatherings and exhibitions using the same tools.

This takes us back to EXPOCAD and its geosocial networking applications. “Within EXPOCAD, any attendee, exhibitor or show staff can send a link to someone via cell phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer as to their current or future location on the show floor. We call it ‘I Am Here’ technology.” Stone reported that this was used at the 2017 International Consumer Electronics Show; reporters for CNET, the tech-product reviewer, geolocated themselves on the show floor and let attendees know where they were in relation to CNET’s exhibit booth as a demonstration of the tool’s use at such events. With the posted geolocation link, anyone could find their exact whereabouts. “If you are an exhibitor waiting to show off your latest tech gear, this is a great way to attract potentially interested parties without having to leave your booth. Or it’s that added convenience for attendees who just want to meet up. Pull up the map, click where you are, where you wish to meet in the future and send the link via text, email or any of the myriads of social apps,” Stone said.

Consider the utility of geosocial networking not just for exhibitor, media and attendee interactions but also for more esoteric, and no less important, connections; for example, it might be used to tell the official service contractor where on the show floor there is an issue that needs immediate attention or to help floor managers locate a problem that requires a quick fix. The potential uses of geosocial networking are truly infinite, and the good news is that, as an event planner, you have the chance to really differentiate your events in ways that attendees, sponsors and exhibitors will find exciting.

Geotargeting. Another rather new applied technology is called geotargeting, a method used in marketing to determine a customer’s geographic location so that relevant website content can be delivered to that visitor. For example, think about global companies like Sony, Apple, Samsung or Panasonic, which have customers in dozens of nations around the world. Geotargeting lets companies deliver the most appropriate content to their website visitors based upon those individuals’ geographic location.

Santana Inniss, director of social and digital for mdg, a full-service association- and event-marketing agency, said the benefits of geotargeting aren’t fully appreciated. “The word geotargeting sometimes causes anxiety, partly because it can mean so many things. This could mean using beacon technology on the show floor to push notifications to attendees or using GPS or IP address data to serve targeted ads online,” Inniss said. “But if associations keep it simple, they’ll see how geotargeting can be utilized in accessible ways to improve a campaign’s overall performance.”

Inniss uses Facebook ads as an example. “Paid social ads on the Facebook platform can be targeted as narrowly as one mile around an address. This could easily be used to serve ads within a one-mile radius of a convention center during a meeting, helping an organizer offer compelling ads to a new but interested market.

“Another way to use geotargeting on Facebook is to drive conversions among prospects in certain areas—like close to a show site or in a location particularly strong for your association. For one client, the World Pet Association, we limited geographic targeting tightly surrounding the SuperZoo show location to drive last-minute registrations close to the show. SuperZoo received 106 registrations at a cost of just $4.72 per conversion—all from attendees within close distance of the event.”

Another instance Inniss offered was for the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE), an international trade show produced by the American Bakers Association, BEMA (Bakery Equipment Manufacturers & Allieds) and the Retail Bakers of America. “A Facebook geotargeting campaign was executed that focused on driving attendance for several regions key to the industry. That very targeted, short effort earned IBIE over $10,000 in additional revenue at a cost of just $5.08 per registration,” Inniss said. “Using the geographic options within the Facebook ads interface can help associations get in on the fun (and results!) in an approachable way,” Inniss said.

As with all things new, especially technologies, there are many ways that unintended applications can be used to achieve alternative outcomes. In the case of geotargeting, for example, recognize that it is not only the trade show sponsor that can employ geotargeting to market and sell products and services. Anyone can deploy Facebook ads within a designated space such as that surrounding a convention center. Inniss therefore recommends that people adopt practices that are respectful of an event host.

While misappropriations of geotargeting remain theoretical downsides of this new form of creative social marketing, it is prudent to develop a plan that combats intrusions before they actually take place. Regardless of potential abuse, such technology is here to stay and will increasingly be used to power events.