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Event marketing | 6 April 2017

Social Media Marketing World Review: 17 Event Marketing Takeaways

Brandon Rafalson

Aircraft carriers, a fleet of volunteers dedicated to making you feel comfortable as you devour social media knowledge, selfie sticks—these are just a few things that are integral to Social Media Marketing World  (SMMW). For the fifth year in a row, SMMW chose Bizzabo for its networking and engagement solution, which means my colleague Emma and I had the opportunity to hop on a flight to San Diego, provide assistance and advice on how to get the most out of the Bizzabo app, and enjoy one of the most social conferences out there. This was my first time going to Social Media Marketing World, and let me tell you, I was completely blown away. Below are 17 event marketing takeaways from #SMMW17.

1. Advertise Your Event on Facebook

If there’s one place that you advertise your event online (aside from your own event website), it’s Facebook. In the opening keynote Social Media Examiner (SME) CEO Mike Stelzner shared some key insights from the annual SME Industry Survey. According to the survey, over 62% of marketers believe that Facebook is their most important social media platform. Coming in second, LinkedIn still holds strength for B2B marketing.  


Takeaway: Given The popularity of Facebook, the modern event marketer cannot afford to not utilize Facebook when promoting an event. Interested in learning more? We have an epic guide for you to check out.

2. Find Enthusiastic Event Volunteers

One of the greatest achievements of the Social Media Marketing World is their task-force of enthusiastic volunteers. The nearly 200 volunteers that comprise SMMW 17 come from all over the world. There are numerous solo-preneurs who run their own full-time social media businesses and people who run social media businesses on the side, and there are those who work with social media in corporate or government settings. In order to become part of the SMMW crew, volunteers have to apply with a video interview.

SMMW makes being a volunteer worth it. For starters, volunteers receive free admission. They also get to help people have an awesome time and, when they’re not doing that, have the opportunity of attending sessions just like the rest of attendees. As was pointed out to me by numerous people, all of the volunteers are extremely enthusiastic. Clearly, they all share a passion for helping people and for social media, and this makes going to Social Media Marketing World all the more rewarding.

Takeaway: Invest in your event staff. They represent your event and your brand. Whether you go with paid staff or volunteer staff, make sure you find people who are excited to be there and who are eager to help. To attract the kind of volunteer that you’re looking for, you might want to sweeten the pot by giving them time to take a break and check out some of their top sessions or activities.

3. Provide Your Volunteers with In-depth Training

After speaking with several volunteers at the event, I discovered that there’s a thorough training process. For instance, volunteers are trained to never give directions to attendees by pointing. Instead, they must personally walk an attendee to wherever they are going and then make sure that they are happy before leaving and finding someone else to help.

Takeaway: The more your event staff knows before the event, the better they can serve your attendees. Since your event staff will be working closely with one another, it will help to have a shared language and protocol established before the event kicks off.

4. Make Return Attendees Feel Special

It’s a simple thing that goes a long way. SMMW volunteers welcomed return attendees with a chorus of bell rings, “hoorays” and “wooooos” that spread across the conference floor like wildfire. Even if you’re not the target of the loud welcome, you can’t help but feel the positive energy. Ever stepped into a Trader Joes? It’s kind of like that.

Additionally, return attendees were given a yellow lanyard to differentiate them from first-time attendees who wore white lanyards. This color-coded convention helps newbies identify veterans to go to for advice, and vice-versa. Plus, it served as a badge of distinction that made return attendees feel good. 

Takeaway: If your event is going to grow, it will need to retain repeat attendees. Do whatever you can to make them feel welcome and appreciated.

5. The Networking Embassy

Whether you’re new to SMMW or are just looking to network with people who meet a specific criteria, the networking embassy can help you. Located at a table in the main atrium, the Networking Embassy was staffed with “Network Ambassadors” whose primary aim was to help people network better. Ambassadors walked attendees through different ways of finding people to network with, including through Bizzabo, Slack, Google Sheets “Blackbook”, and the networking Deep Dive (more details below). This year, the Networking Embassy grew from 5 volunteers to 15.

Takeaway: One of the main reasons people attend events is to network. How can you go above and beyond in helping them do so?

SMMW-17-Networking-min.jpgAbove: A one-pager used for guiding Networking Ambassadors.

6. The Networking Deep Dive

This is revolutionary. Think Networking Concierge. Have a specific networking requests like finding someone who manages a Facebook group of 1 million people? Maybe you’re looking for some names in the dermatology industry? Simply fill out a Deep Dive request and a Networking Ambassador will work on finding you people to network with while you’re off exploring the conference. Once they’ve identified people for you to network with, they’ll reach out to you with the details. Easy as that. 

Takeaway: A networking concierge might not be a need-to-have, but it’s a personalized touch that makes attendees feel delighted.


Above: Networking ambassador Daniel Hill, hard at work on a Deep Dive.

7. Networking Table Talks, Dinners, Apps, & Bingo

If you haven’t figured it out yet, SMMW goes above and beyond in putting networking front and center. In addition to the Networking Embassy replete with its Networking Deep Dive, SMMW offered a number of ways for attendees to meet new people. Before the event even started, a Slack Channel was launched for attendees to receive announcements and network. Also before the event opened up, attendees had the option of joining the SMMW 17 community on Bizzabo to search for people of interest by organization, industry, and location. At the event itself there were color-coded networking Table Talks during lunch, the option to organize networking dinners in the evening, and networking bingo, which offered a fun way to break the ice during the evening parties.

Takeaway: One of the top reasons people go to events is to network. SMMW 17 made networking with numerous dining opportunities, online communities, and activities. In creating your event, make sure networking comes baked in.

8. The Unexpected Power of Color Coding

Throughout the event, color-coding was used to provided attendees with a seamless experience. White shirts indicate SMMW staff. Yellow shirts indicate members of Social Media Marketing Society (the SME equivalent of Eventovation). Blue shirts indicate networking ambassadors. And, as mentioned above, first time and return attendees are easily discernible by their different colored lanyards (white and yellow, respectively).

Lunch table talks all occurred in the same location, but were clearly differentiated by topic and color. For instance, tables with yellow table cloths focused on social media strategy, while tables with blue table cloths focused on the future of social media, and so on.

Takeaway: Walking through an event can feel like information overload. Coming up with an easy-to-understand organizing scheme (like color-coding) is a great way to help attendees get their bearings.


Above: A Table Talks chart from SMMW 17

9. Messaging Apps are the Future of Attendee Support

According to Molly Pittman, VP of DigitalMarketer, messaging apps have surpassed social networks in terms of popularity. Messengers like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp have become powerful platforms. Business transactions like signing leases or sending money can already be conducted through messengers. Plus 56% of people would rather use a messaging app over a phone call to communicate with customer service.

Takeaway: Consider offering an instant messaging service for your next event. When prospective attendees are thinking about going to an event, the time that it takes to get a hold of you via phone or email can make or break their decision. Instant messaging provides an instant, low-cost way for managing multiple inquiries at once. With the right sort of finagling, you may even be able to sell event registrations through it.

10. Use Live Video (While You Still Can for Free)

Last year, live video was a very popular topic at SMMW. This year it was as well, but for a very different reason. The main sentiment at SMMW 17 is that Facebook will soon be charging businesses to use Facebook. However, before that happens, live video is one of the best ways of selling a product or service. Closing keynote speaker and fitness guru Chalene Johnson drove this point home by speaking of her own success and the success of others around her. At the center of Chalene’s presentation was how business could borrow from the structure of infomercials to create effective live video.

Takeaway: There is an incredible amount of opportunity for even marketing with live video. Savvy business event strategists can use live video to increase FOMO for those not attending the event, drive brand awareness, and ultimately registrations. To get started, check out our marketer’s guide to Facebook Live.


Above: How to nail a live video intro by Chalene Johnson.

11. Use a Sizzler Reel to Drive Engagements

I was amazed that by the final day of the conference, SMMW had managed to orchestrate a sizzler reel of the event. Just watching that video during the closing keynote got me excited to attend next year’s event.

Takeaway: While live video is rising in popularity, on-demand (or pre-recorded) video is still alive and well. Similar to live video, pre-recorded video is a great demand generation tool. It attracts new attendees and makes current attendees want to come back next year.

Above: The SMMW 17 sizzler reel

12. Provide an Ultra Early Bird Special

When you hold an awesome event like SMMW, your event attendees will want to come back next year. SMMW makes this as easy as possible by offering a significant discount to those attendees who buy their tickets for next year’s conference at the current conference.

Takeaway: If you plan on offering an event for more than one year, an incentivized Ultra Early Bird Special is one of the best ways to guarantee even bigger attendance for next year. If you plan on producing any other events throughout the year, you can also offer special rates.

13. Parties Matter: Part 1

On both Wednesday and Thursday night, SMMW treated guests to out-of-this-world parties. The first party took place on the USS Midway AKA the largest ship in the world until 1955. Outside of the ship, arriving attendees were greeted with a mariachi band. Inside the ship, attendees could visit one of several food kiosks stationed around the main deck, explore the cramped quarters of the giant vessel in a guided tour, or head up top to the flight deck of the ship to enjoy a beverage in a decommissioned helicopter. Back on the main deck,  a DJ and live band dueled for the attention of attendees from the fore and aft of the ship.

Takeaway: Taking the party out of the conference center. Onto an aircraft carrier certainly is nice, but a bar, club, or another event venue will do just as well.


Above: The author holding on for dear life as his colleague pilots a plane.

14. Parties Matter: Part 2

For the second party, attendees journeyed to Parq Nightclub for networking, karaoke, and drinks. The nightclub was separated into a lounge area for those looking for a low-key night, and a main concert area, for those looking to dance and sing. A live karaoke band gave attendees the opportunity to hop on stage and to live out their pop star, rock-and-roller dreams. The end result was an experience that was very different from the night before.  

Takeaway: Different venues will make for different experiences. If you’re planning multiple networking bashes, think about how you can use different venues to vary the tempo. If you have one night to make a party, consider the venue and how it will affect the overall experience.  

15. The Merits of Live Music

You may have noticed that I’ve already mentioned music a couple of times. Live music was everywhere at SMMW, and it completely enhanced the experience. In the main atrium of the convention center, attendees could listen to R&B, acoustic jams, or a DJ set, depending on the time of day. At the opening keynote a band warmed-up the audience for Social Media Examiner Mike Stelzner, at each of the parties, musical artists welcomed attendees, and at the closing keynote, coder turned pop star Shelita Burke warmed up the audience for Chalene Johnson. Did we mention that there was karaoke? One of the reasons for the great music selection is that SMMW Event Director Phil Mershon, a musician in his own right, hand-picked the artists.

Takeaway: You don’t have to be a musician to know that people like music. Even if live music is more in the background, it goes a long way into transforming a business conference into a business festival.


Above: Music at the opening keynote

16. Don’t Underestimate the Value of Fun

Throughout the SMMW site, “fun” is explicitly tied to the event. Pictures on the site show people having a blast, the overall theme of the event focuses on balancing a playful yet educational experience.

Takeaway: Let’s face it. Businesses conferences can be boring. Take a page out of the SMMW book and do what you can to inject an element of playfulness. It will go a long way to drawing more attendees and delighting the ones you already have.

smmw-karaoke (2)-min.jpg

Above: Live karaoke at SMMW

17. Video Testimonials

All around the convention center, you could see SME camera crews interviewing attendees about their experience. Some of these testimonials made it into the above sizzler reel, other will be used throughout the year and beyond to promote SME and to get more people to register for SMMW in the future.

Takeaway: For the third and final time in this piece, video works! If people like your event they will be more than glad to share their opinion with the world. If lacking of a camera crew, a smartphone will do the job just as well. For instance, check out what Jennifer Eckersley has to say about Bizzabo.

What you Can Learn from Social Media Marketing World

Social Media Marketing World is one of the largest social media conferences in the world. Mike Stelzner and his team have been perfecting the art of creating a large conference for over 5 years. It goes without saying that they’ve learned a lot along the way. If I had to sum up the four biggest takeaways from SMMW, they would be networking, video, volunteers and fun (prefferably in the form of a live karaoke band).

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