By Lisa Loeffler

Getting the most out of any conference can be a big challenge.

Regardless of the event’s attendance, length of time, or your comfort level meeting new people – high five to all introverts – you should always invest the time and develop a pre-game roadmap before you hit the ground running upon arrival.

Although it can be satisfying to leave an event with some swag bags and a stack of business cards, it’s nothing compared to the feeling of heading home after having made some genuine connections to cultivate into meaningful business, and even personal, relationships.

This post will offer you 10 valuable tips for social media networking, relationship-building, and pre-event planning.

With these tips in mind, you’ll be able to organize better, network more efficiently, and get the most out of your conference experience.

1. Develop a List of Targeted Contacts

One to two weeks before the conference, take time to create a list of contacts – whether they be customers, partners, influencers, analysts or prospective buyers – you’d eventually like to build a relationship with.

Look up your conference hashtag on the conference website or social media accounts, and search for speakers’ lists or additionally helpful lists like these: 50 #CMWorld Influencers to Follow in 2018 or 70 Influencers to Connect with at Dreamforce.

2. Utilize Social Media Tools

Once you’ve discovered the conference hashtag and applicable lists, utilize helpful social tools like Little Bird, Buzzsumo, or Brand24 to identify influencers by using the same conference hashtag.

One benefit of using Little Bird in particular is the ability to create filters based on someone’s number of Twitter followers (specifically those who are industry insiders), their personal role in a particular discussion, and their general sphere of social influence.

3. Qualify Your Contacts

Next, qualify the people you want to connect with based on professional criteria such as company name, job title, location, social influence, or personal areas of interest.

You can screen them further by taking a deeper dive into their social media profiles in order to get a more well-rounded image of who they are, how they engage, and what they engage about.

4. Classify Your Contacts

Rather than taking painstaking hours to manually input contact details into your database, use a tool like Nimble.

This handy app imports your contacts, categorizes them with smart tags, and utilizes their relevant social media platforms to offer you important personal and professional insights; all in a matter of seconds.

With Nimble’s browser extension, you can easily add people to your CRM database straight from social media without any data entry.

5. Connect Before You Arrive

In order to begin the worthwhile process of relationship building, create a Twitter list of all your potential prospects so you can stay up-to-date on their activities before, during, and after the conference.

Start engaging with them by liking, commenting, and sharing their content, and remember to include social platforms like Facebook and Instagram in your search; someone’s personal photos can paint a more detailed picture of their passions and hobbies, which will make it that much easier to strike up a genuine conversation when you first meet.

6. Compile a Top List or a Show Guide

If you want to go the extra mile, consider compiling a top list or show guide to share with some of the top influencers at the show.

For example, this Team Strubs’ “8 Non-SMMW18 Speakers to Track Down at Social Media Marketing World San Diego” or “The Ultimate Guide to Content Marketing World 2018” by Vertical Measures.

7. Create Solid Goals & Designate Time for Meetings

When possible, schedule an official meeting date and time on someone’s calendar before the conference begins. Before arriving at the conference, have specific, concrete goals in mind you want to accomplish with each meetup..

Your goals will have a big impact on the sessions you attend and subsequent connections you make, so treat them as an most important accessory.

Take time to research conference attendees before you go, and finalize days and times to meet with the people you’re most interested in connecting with in advance.

Finally, make sure to leave plenty of time to network by lining up to talk to a speaker after each session, or scheduling time for a brief meet-up with someone you’d like to build a relationship with.

8. Generate Buzz and Engage Your Contacts Using Twitter

While at the conference, keep an eye on your list of potential prospects and engage with them by bringing up shared interests. Previewing someone’s Instagram is a great way to quickly get to know the personal side about someone.

During each session, generate buzz by live tweeting about content that showcases the speaker and aligns with your brand’s philosophy. And don’t forget to include the conference hashtag.

You can even post individualized social media shout-outs to the people you hope to connect with, capturing their attention with relevant topics that may peak their interest.

Create eye-catching graphics and posts and schedule ahead of time. Most importantly, always share content that’s of value to the conference audience

9. Sit at the Front – And Engage!

If you want to get the most out of every session you attend, try to find a seat at the front of the room and continue to engage with the speaker throughout; this is a strategy that’s proven to be extremely beneficial to conference-goers (and even the speakers themselves).

If you’re more of an introvert, set a personal goal to meet at least 10 new people each day. If you’re able to step outside of your comfort zone and attain your goal, reward yourself with something of your choosing.

10. Build on New Relationships with a Follow-Up

In the week following the conference, it’s crucial to build on the blossoming relationships you formed.

Follow up promptly and reinforce your encounter or experience you had with new contacts, as well as existing business relationships.

If you have a special offer, kindly remind your contacts during your reaching out, because people get really busy immersing themselves back into their daily routine after being away.

Schedule regular or intermittent “check-ins” on your calendar to continue watering your business relationships after a conference to deepen more authentic connections.

Checklist: How to Plan Your Next Conference

One/Two Weeks Ahead:

  • Schedule a Meeting Date: Before the conference, find set times to meet with the people you want to connect with.
  • Make Concrete Goals: Your personal conference goals will impact which sessions you attend and which people you meet as a result
  • Research Attendees: Set and finalize calendar days and times to connect with people you want to see there before you go.
  • Leave Time to Network: Schedule time for a quick meet up or get in line to meet the speaker after each session.

At the Conference:

  • Monitor Your List of Top Prospects: Engage them around shared interests.
  • Generate Attention: Use the conference hashtag to live tweet brand-relevant content during each session & engage with fellow attendees.
  • Use LinkedIn: Connect with people on LinkedIn or snag their business card
  • Sit at the Front & stay engaged with the speaker.
  • Set Social Goals: make it a point to meet at least 10 new people each day, and reward yourself if you meet your goal
  • Use a Mobile CRM: scan business cards, take notes during meetings look up social profiles on the fly; schedule follow ups task, and send templated, trackable emails during the show.

One Week After:

  • Continue building and nurturing the relationships you formed at the conference
  • Check the conference hashtag for anything you may have missed
  • Follow up to say thank you, stay true to any promises you made during the conference, and share relevant, compelling content. Remember to be genuine, and offer your help for the sole purpose of furthering their education without expecting to get anything in return.

Lisa Loeffler, Nimble’s Director of Content, has more than 15 years experience working with leading organizations and thought leaders managing their branding, social, content and influencer marketing programs to increase awareness, enhance adoption and drive revenue growth. She’s worked with notable brands and clients including USC Annenberg, University of Arizona, Convince & Convert, Business of Story, USC Keck Medicine, Columbia Sportswear, Dell and ExactTarget.

Conference stock photo by Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock