With spring (sort of) in the air in New England, it can mean only one thing: it's time to brace yourself for shorts and pasty white legs. All right, spring also means the arrival of many things, including the start of conference season. Whether you're attending a meeting and want the world to know it, or wish to participate in a conference from the comfort of your own office (we're not ready to venture out, either), here are a few tips for using social media to enhance the experience. Traveling to an event and plan to report on what you learn in real time? Let others know what to expect from you in advance. If you plan to cover certain tracks or sessions, let people know that ahead of time as well. Think about why someone would follow you and what value you can add whether they're in the meeting hall with you or not. Don't forget to follow the accounts of anyone involved so you can establish credibility (and maybe even a rapport with some sales leads or VIPs) in advance. Decide which social media outlet you want to focus on and stick with it. If you plan to share live updates, Twitter is likely a more appropriate platform. LinkedIn and Facebook are ideal for periodic updates (a few per day) or more comprehensive details. All let you post images and links. Facebook and Twitter support GIFs and videos embedded into posts. Ultimately, use what you're most comfortable with, and where you have the most appropriate following. Super users can manage multiple platforms, but do yourself a favor and try out a third-party social media tool such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to make your life much easier. Twitter – allows for messages of 140 characters or fewer, sorts topics via hashtags (#), ideal for real-time updates and conversations. There's an online community for every industry, and Twitter delivers news as fast as it happens (though credibility can sometimes suffer), so this is one of the most popular vehicles for engaging with others at events, personally or professionally. LinkedIn – best suited for professional updates, with no limit on character count. Hashtags will work, but are not necessary to sort and search for related content. Though becoming increasingly noisy with people bragging about themselves, you CAN spark great conversations via LinkedIn group discussions and on company pages. Facebook – embraces a blend of personal and professional content; people tend to be more comfortable posting comments and opinions on Facebook rather than LinkedIn. You can use hashtags, but they aren't necessary to sort and search for related content. Pay attention to what others are saying about your topic of interest, and interact with others when you hear something you like, or when you want to add to the conversation. You could do this by following the event's hashtag or livestream, for example. Retweet or share content from others. Or, if you couldn't travel to the event itself, connect with those who are there and pay attention to what they are sharing. Increase the reach of your messages by tagging the people and organizations involved. Twitter –tag someone by using his or her Twitter handle, which begins with an @. This notifies the account that you've referred to it. It allows the tweet to be seen by your followers and theirs. Beginning a tweet with a Twitter handle directs the message to whomever you are tagging and will only be shown to your mutual followers. To compose a message that begins with a person or organization's name, just add a period (.) at the beginning of the tweet. For example, .@CSC_NH has a new website and it looks great! cooksonstrategies.com. Facebook – same as Twitter, but on Facebook, the "@" symbol will disappear when you select the person or organization's page. Privacy settings can vary, so make sure that you check your setting ahead of time so you are distributing information appropriately. LinkedIn – works similarly to Facebook. Use these hacks to tweet and post more efficiently than ever before. Link shortening – free services such as bit.ly and tinyurl.com condense long, clunky web addresses into shorter links, saving valuable characters and making messages easier to read. Some social media tools have link shortening already set up by default; others may require you to copy/paste. This applies mostly to Twitter, as Facebook and LinkedIn allow you to delete the URL from the body of your message after it automatically creates a link preview. Tweetdeck – this free service allows for multiple feeds or columns to display Twitter activity. For example, you could set up a column to monitor a hashtag, reply to your messages, or anything that a specific account shares. You may also tweet, retweet, favorite and reply via Tweetdeck, making thisa great tool for conferences and monitoring conversations. Other services, such as HootSuite, are also great options. Do research – make sure you know the event's hashtag, speakers' accounts, or people you want to meet there. This way, you're not scrambling to figure out who's who while you're perched in the audience. It's a great way to engage a contact, or schedule a meeting between sessions. Respect the rules – Some speakers prefer to have attendees' captive attention and will request you wait until after the session to use your phone, tablet or laptop. Enjoy the rare opportunity to be in the moment; you can reflect on it right afterward, before you go grab that cup of coffee with the new sales prospect you met on Twitter before the event. The most important thing to remember when you use social media to distribute your message is to be authentic. Just like in real life, people can see right through the buzzwords - and maybe even call you out on it – so be your smart, clever and curious self – and you'll do great!
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