So, you’re attending a conference. You’ve paid the entrance fee, put on the best outfit ever, grabbed a big stack of business cards, and made sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date.
The one piece of the conference puzzle I can almost guarantee you’re missing? Social media.
With the rise of platforms like Twitter and Instagram, it’s easier than ever for conference organizers to put their in-person events online in real time. And while this is great promotion for the conference, it’s good for you, too. Being active on social media during an event can help you with your personal branding, expand your network to more like-minded people, and get more out of the entire conference experience in general
So, how can you rock Instagram or Twitter while you attend a conference? There are a couple of key things to keep in mind.
1. Play Nice
Most conference tweets are filled with words of encouragement, inspirational sound bites from speakers and panelists, and generally exciting moments of the event. So what should you be tweeting? The same thing.
Feel free to share your thoughts or opinions on what’s happening, of course, but your goal should be to keep that good energy going and be positive on social media. Even if you don’t like one of the speakers or completely disagree with something he or she said, be respectful online (or, follow your parents’ sage advice and don’t say—or tweet—anything at all). Remember: Not only will that person probably see your tweet afterward, but if you use the conference hashtag or tag the organizers, a lot of other people might see your comment, too. And trust me: You don’t want to be known as that person with the message—it could make for an awkward networking mixer later on.
2. Get the Hashtag Right
Speaking of the hashtag—make sure you use it!
Conference hashtags are an awesome way to find all things conference-related in one place, figure out who’s at the same event you are, and share your own thoughts and comments.
Oh, but make sure you’re using the right one. Nothing is more awkward and frustrating than feeling like you’ve been tweeting up a storm about a great conference only to find that you’ve been using the wrong hashtag the entire time.
This past summer I attended a conference where my friend and I decided to live tweet the event. Midway through, she turned to me and wondered why none of her tweets were getting favorited or retweeted by the host organization.
“The conference hashtag is #LiveSmart2014, right?” she asked.
Turns out it was #LiveSmartNYC. Whoops.
3. Interact with Others Online
Social media has the word “social” in it for a reason. In other words, don’t be afraid to reach out to other people on Twitter or Instagram who are covering the event as well! This is where the beauty of that handy dandy conference hashtag comes in; just click the hashtag and comment, favorite, and retweet away.
Also, I encourage you to take your online conversations offline. If you’ve met someone else who’s at the conference you generally like, make plans to meet up for lunch or find each other during a networking session. These can be some of the most valuable connections.
For example, when I attended a women’s empowerment conference this summer, I ended up tweeting back and forth with one of the girls helping run the social media accounts for the conference. We ended up meeting up during a break and sitting next to each other for the remainder of the day. We’ve been friends (and great professional contacts) ever since.
4. Don’t Get Carried Away
That said, it’s easy to get so wrapped up in live tweeting or Instagraming the event that you totally forget that you’re there to network and listen to great speakers.
If it’s your first time using social media at a conference, here’s a rule of thumb to follow: Take one Instagram per panel or speaker and tweet two to five times per session. If you’re in a more intimate setting (for example, you’re in a breakout session where there are only 10 people in the room with you), put your phone away and pay attention—you can always sum up your thoughts on social afterward.
The key to finding that happy medium is posting enough so that it’s informative but not so much that it seems like you aren’t even really paying attention to the event.
5. Have Fun With It
Last but not least, remember that social media is meant to be fun, so have a good time posting about the event. Not every post has to be an extremely serious piece of commentary of what you’re doing; you can also show the other sides of the conference, too.
For example, if there are some great vendors at the event, take a cute picture and tag those companies. One of my favorite conference shots to take is one of the swag bag you’re handed when you check in. Who doesn’t love seeing a picture of free stuff on Instagram?
Conferences are already totally awesome, but being active on social media during these events can make them even better. So, what are you waiting for? #GetOnIt