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Let’s face it — technology which could completely displace in-person conferences has been available for years. From Skype to conference calling to virtual worlds, business can easily be done without meeting in person — and, considering hotel rates and airfares these days, a lot cheaper too.

Conferences still exist because we are social creatures. We want to look potential vendors in the eyes, size people up by the way they play golf, and see how they conduct themselves generally. Conferences are social first and business second.

That’s why it’s always baffled me that even some the biggest conferences either ignore social media or make the weakest of efforts at using this powerful technology. You may have heard the usual advice — make a Facebook page, tweet some links — and that’s all good. But if you really want to increase actual registrations, here are three tactics you should be using right now.

Use Instant-Tweet Buttons

Of course, you want your attendees to spread the word of your meeting, right? Asking them to tweet probably won’t work because, well, people are lazy. But by using an Instant-Tweet button, you can pre-load a tweet for them to review and tweet to their followers. Here’s what it might look like:

Try using a live Instant Tweet button right now (you’ll have a chance to review and edit the text first):

You can create your own customized conference tweet button here. Be sure to include your conference’s hashtag so you can easily track the spread of this free promotion!

Insist that Speakers Engage With Attendees Before the Event

I’ve been giving keynote presentations on digital communications topics like handling online crises, creating a viral marketing campaign, and leading Generation Y. One of the reasons conference organizers tell me they have me back is that I really love to engage with the conference attendees before, during and after the event.

Once I find out the event’s hashtag (you do have a hashtag, right?…), I tweet a hello and ask people what issues concern them in their industry or what questions they think I should answer on-stage. I answer every single tweet (go ahead — try me!), and even after my keynote I thank people for their comments or answer more questions.

A LinkedIn group might prove even more helpful, in that it’s a better forum for longer discussions, rather than just short tweets (which are limited to 140 characters per tweet). Your speakers don’t have to be in the group every day — I often will post a question or ask for a local example (as I did here) and then monitor the group periodically for new comments.

Once your speakers begin doing this, word will quickly spread that your event is accessible, friendly, and open, and they’ll get far more value than just sitting in a big hotel ballroom.

Targeted Social Advertising: Tips from the Pros

Facebook and LinkedIn both have incredible targeting power — you can have your ad displayed only to people who work for certain companies and/or have certain job titles. (On LinkedIn, you can even target by seniority in the industry.) Here are some expert tips on getting the best bang for your buck:

  • Don’t make the mistake many conferences make when they use social ads, which is to advertise the conference as a whole. Remember — people will attend primarily because of the knowledge they’ll gain, not because you have a pretty logo. Make your ads about your speakers and their specific topics instead.
  • Run multiple versions of the same ad (slightly different images, or a little bit different text) for a few thousand impressions, then remove the ads that are underperforming against the better ones.
  • Use a photo with a thin (2 pt) red or yellow line around it (Photoshop calls this a “stroke”) to attract the eye more.