by Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM | May 01, 2008

If you are over 30, you might wonder why or how a social networking site like MySpace can enhance your event. Above and beyond their attractions for teens and young adults, these and many other web networks touch virtually every demographic and, if leveraged correctly, can accelerate the attendance, and/or increase revenue for your meeting. More importantly, the benefits can be reaped at little or no cost, and with minimal effort.

First steps

In simplest terms, social networking sites are online communities that enable individuals with similar interests and pursuits to meet, connect, share ideas, and get information and tools. They are easily accessed by any electronic device that has Internet connectivity and the right software. Individuals use these sites to enhance their lives in every conceivable area, from romance and education to finance and career.

Social networking sites fall into three categories:

* Friendship-oriented sites aim to bring people of like interests or “psychographics” together. Examples are MySpace and Facebook.

* Career-oriented sites help people find jobs, post jobs, plan their careers and network. Examples: LinkedIn and KIT List.

* Miscellaneous sites serve a range of purposes, perhaps offering calendar listings, resources and topical forums. Examples: Craigslist, industry blogs (web logs that invite users to post commentary) and wikis (collaborative websites allowing users to contribute content).

ways to use them

How can meeting planners take advantage?

* Borrow a virtual community. Creating an online community from scratch that supports your event and/or company takes time and resources. The MySpaces of the world are ready for you to tap into their built-in networks of potential attendees and sponsors.

These virtual communities, often referred to as wikis or blogs, are varied enough to enable you to reach out to a broad general audience or drill down to target very specific markets.

* Leverage viral marketing. This refers to marketing that has a momentum of its own and is passed along from person to person, much like a flu virus is spread.

First, you must create a catalyst, such as a sponsored banner plugging the event, with a link to your website, that is compelling enough for other people to broadcast it to their network and then on to their network’s network, etc. The audience and viral aspect of the space already are in place; you just need to jump on board.

When to Steer Clear

Social networking sites are not appropriate for meetings in the following instances.

* The event is proprietary. You might get pressure from stakeholders to add social networking to your marketing plan simply because it is a hot commodity. But if the event is by invitation only, you don’t need or want the added exposure.

* Your audience won’t respond favorably. Know the makeup and preferences of your group; social media sites aren’t for everyone.

The Right Outlet

Determine which blogs are of interest to your stakeholders, sponsors, exhibitors and members. You can poll them or, for future use, ask their preferences in your event evaluations.

Once you determine the right site, the next step is getting onto it. Entry is simple:, Join the site, create enticing content and then post it.

Some social networking sites charge a fee to join, some have a separate fee to list items such as events or calendar entries, but generally they are quite reasonable, with costs ranging from nothing to a few thousand dollars.

Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM,is senior event operations manager with George P. Johnson Experience Marketing in San Carlos, Calif.