by Michael C. Lowe | February 01, 2014
Get them involved
Sources agree that the hashtag should be prominent throughout the event, on signage, branded materials and wher­ever else applicable. Some ideas:

•  Integrate social sharing into the event app. For PlannerTech, Liz King partnered with San Francisco-based DoubleDutch to develop a conference app that also allows attendees to sign into their social media channels, creating a one-stop shop for everything related to the event. Users can check into sessions or areas throughout the conference, take and share photos, tweet and more.

Moreover, the app doles out points for each share or check-in, creating a competitive atmosphere among those involved. The more attendees post online, the farther up a leaderboard -- displayed on monitors around the conference space -- their names appear. "People love seeing their name up in lights," notes Faye Rausch, senior project manager of New York City-based Sequence Events.

•  Tap the power of photo sharing. These days, it seems like every new communication-based gadget can take photographs, which have become ubiquitous on social media. Photo sharing proved a key factor in January 2013, when Target tapped Kleinhaut to hold an event for volunteers to pack care kits for retired and active military service members as part of what President Obama declared a National Day of Service. More than 10,000 volunteers gathered at the D.C. Armory in the nation's capital, assembling more than 100,000 care kits in eight hours.

To encourage attendees to share their experience, Kleinhaut positioned branded photo stations around the armory, where people could take snapshots of themselves and then blast it out to their social media streams. The machines were preloaded with the event's hashtag and handles, so any post that went out could be correctly traced. "We really weaved the social sharing elements into the infrastructure to encourage it," says Kleinhaut. "The photo booth might be an old idea, but people never tire of taking pictures when they're doing something cool."

•  Provide props. Last October in Bal­timore, the annual conference of the Society of Women Engineers employed tech supplier a2z Inc.'s new photo-booth mobile app, ChirpE, to encourage social sharing. A kiosk was stocked with funny costumes and props, plus an app-equipped iPad. Attendees came by to snap goofy photos of themselves throughout the event. The photos were shared instantly on the conference's Facebook page. Emails with links to the pictures were sent to participants for future viewing or to share further. The result: 252 photos were liked, shared and/or commented on about 7,990 times on Facebook, reaching approximately 115,325 people and garnering a grand total of 545,243 impressions.

• Make it a contest.
ChirpE also was used at the International Association for Exhibitions and Events' annual Expo! Expo! in Houston this past December. Organizers set up photo stations around the expo floor and created a scavenger hunt around them. Attendees who took photos at each station were entered to win a $500 gift card, adding an incentive to snapping and sharing.

"Using ChirpE, our clients typically reach two to three times more people than they could on their own," says Nishita Jain, marketing manager for a2z. "When an attendee posts a photo and a friend 'likes' it on Facebook, people in that friend's network will also see that photo and have the opportunity to like it as well." The process continues to blossom from there, causing the post to spread through successive online social circles. "This is how content from your event can go viral," adds Jain.

• Create irresistible photo ops. Setting up creative décor is an obvious way to encourage snapshots. "Good visuals generate good photographs," says Debra Roth, creative director of New York City-based The Originators, which works with planners to design dynamic event set pieces.

Cara Kleinhaut agrees. "If it's done right, people will share because you've created something cool, eye-catching and clever." Not long ago, marketing agency PMK*BNC enlisted Kleinhaut to produce the launch event of a new Samsung smartphone. She collaborated with both the agency and the phone maker to conceptualize a dramatic multimedia entrance installation, making an impact at the outset.

Attendees entered the venue via a tunnel splayed with projected images of frustrated mobile phone customers and echoing with the sounds of users complaining about the limitations of their phones, with the idea being that once they stepped into the event, the solution was obvious.

• Focus on food. Photos of food are among the most shared in the social media world. Savor Catering by SMG recommends not only creative presentation, but also providing a lot of information about the items served. During the Pacific Ballroom unveiling in Long Beach, Savor positioned eight-foot-tall menus near each food station. "Telling people in detail what they were about to eat got them excited about their food," says Veronica Quintero, Savor's regional general manager. "And the more detail we told them, the more detail they shared over social media."

•  Give prizes for tweets. Growing in popularity are vending machines that exchange goods in return for users' social media posts. At the Consumer Electronics Show, held in Las Vegas last month, a machine supplied by Dayton, Ohio-based Innovative Vending Solutions was set in the grand lobby of the Las Vegas Convention Center and stocked with CES-branded shirts. A touch screen directed attendees to tweet #CES2014 and a unique code. IVS' software scanned Twitter for the two elements and, within seconds, dispensed the prize; some 2,000 shirts were awarded.

"Everybody gives away free product, but this is an excellent way to encourage people to tweet and put out some social media on behalf of your brand," says Jeff Thibodeau, IVS' vice president of operations.

Time it right
The way an event unfolds can play a big part in whether or not attendees will be apt to share.

•  Build excitement. At the Pacific Ballroom's debut, the Los Angeles-based design firm Eventworks took attendees through a "progressive event" -- one that plays out like a story in chapters. Guests were shepherded to different areas of the new 45,000-square-foot space, with each section decked out for various-sized groups. The transitions "helped create a sense of discovery at each stage, where there were new things to snap photos of and share," says Eventworks president Janet Elkins. "The element of surprise keeps attendees curious about what's around the next corner."

Organizers kept a few key details under wraps, so when surprise performers appeared, attendees were more apt to capture and share the moment.

• Keep the share-worthy moments coming. Even an anticipated reveal can be a powerful way to cue attendees that it's time to grab their phones and snap away. Midway through the Long Beach event, a performer known only as Laserman stood atop the bar and flung lasers around the space. He was positioned in front of a snifter curtain that divided the Pacific Ballroom in half. "People really had no idea what to expect, but they knew something was up," says Kristen Rensch, an account executive with Eventworks who worked on the event.

Shortly after Laserman concluded his performance, the curtain began to rise and then seemingly evaporated, revealing the other half of the ballroom with lights flashing and music thumping. Because attendees' phones were already handy from recording the surprise laser show, it was natural for them to keep snapping this newly discovered area, capturing more content to later post online.

• Be frank about your intentions. Though theatrics can be highly effective, encouraging social sharing doesn't have to be so dramatic. Simply letting attendees know what you'd like them to do can accomplish your objective.

In welcoming her 270 attendees to PlannerTech, Liz King asked them to take a "selfie" using their smartphones. They were then directed to tweet or Instagram their snapshot using a hashtag, which would not only send their photos onto their personal social media channels, but also onto a big screen with a live streaming feed on-site, where attendees could view the photographic talents of their colleagues.

The exercise was a fun way to loosen up the crowd early in the day, but it also got attendees primed to use their social media channels throughout the rest of the conference. "It was a big moment for us," says King. "It was our little way of letting them know that getting involved on social media doesn't have to be hard. Sharing should be fun."