How Industrial Companies Can Use Social Media to Stand Out at Trade Shows

Posted on Apr 12, 2011 by Kerry O'Malley


While trade show attendance in the industrial sector seems to be in decline, I hear some very interesting stories from companies that are leveraging social media to make their trade show strategy more successful. Almost every manufacturing or industrial service company invests a large portion of its marketing budget on trade shows. If you’re one of those companies, the use of social media can set you apart from many others at the show and increase your exposure and influence, considerably.

You might read about how trade shows will eventually be replaced by hybrid and virtual online events, but I don’t agree. As of yet, there is simply no substitute for the one on one communication that occurs at a trade show. A Skype or GotoMeeting discussion just doesn’t measure up to a face-to-face human interaction. There is no digital technology that allows you to experience a product or piece of equipment in a fully sensory way. At a trade show, you can touch equipment and components. Many times, you can actually see equipment in operation which, to the trained senses, will tell you so much more than a video or some other form of digital exposure. All of your senses are allowed to make judgments about the product’s quality and ability to meet your needs. For these reasons, I think trade shows will continue, although just like trade publications, there will be fewer and the value they provide will have to be more significant.

If industrial companies want to maximize their trade show investment, they need to get more social – with social media, that is. Here are some of the ways social media is helping industrial companies boost trade show attendance at their exhibit, connect more fully with customers and associates, and create buzz for their company and products.


This is probably the easiest way for a company to get more “social” at trade shows. Most large trade shows today have a Twitter hashtag – you know, that “#” before a word that gives anyone streaming those tweets the latest, up-to-the-minute tweets from anyone regarding that topic. For instance, if you are at the Offshore Technology Conference, the hashtag may be #OTC. Any time you tweet about the show or from the show, be sure to include the hash tag in your tweet.

Industrial companies on Twitter often promote their trade show activity prior to the show; but there’s so much more that can be done! At the show, representatives of your company can tweet about interesting exhibits; the technology being introduced; informative technical presentations; interesting insights given by visitors to your display; anything newsworthy or ground-breaking related to your own company; and of course, special promotions, drawings, raffles, or other incentives you’re offering to visitors to your booth. As more trade show budgets are cut, less people are able to attend; but that doesn‘t mean they aren’t interested in what’s happening.This is a great way to position your company as an industry leader with potential customers.

You may have Twitter followers who were not able to attend the show, but through your tweets they’re able to engage. You can even connect with others who ARE at the trade show through Twitter, and will probably get a few visitors to your display that would not have otherwise stopped by.

Facebook SMS

SMS or “short messaging service” is used on cell phones and better known as text messaging. Facebook now has an SMS feature that allows people to text a command to become a fan of your Facebook page and subscribe to its SMS updates. At a trade show, this can be an extremely useful tool, particularly if you are hosting a special event or hospitality suite, or have a large group of individuals from your company at the show. In one brief text message, you can alert large groups of people to schedule changes; dinner plans; coordination details for your special event; or even to encourage prospects and customers to attend your event, or visit your exhibit.

To build your Facebook SMS followers, display the Facebook text command and encourage people to join on your website, in emails, in print ads and on company literature.

QR Codes

More and more industrial companies are utilizing QR codes – the small, “bar code” squares you see popping up in print ads, on mailers, ad specialty items, and other printed materials.Basically, when a QR code is scanned by a smart phone, it pulls up a specific web page or links to a document.

At trade shows, QR codes can be placed on flyers, giveaways, even placed on display graphics. Create a product specific landing page, or link the code to your website. A visitor doesn’t have to ask someone in the booth for technical information on a product if there’s a QR code prominently displayed. All he has to do is scan, and he’s linked directly to a mobile phone formatted spec sheet – maybe even an order form, or RFQ form.

Not exclusively for use at trade shows, QR codes can also be placed on business cards. Hand someone a card and in seconds they have instantaneous, detailed information about your company.


Not everyone feels comfortable in front of a camcorder; but if you have some personnel that DO, take advantage of the opportunities that trade shows present for sharing interesting industry information and insight. You don’t need fancy equipment; something as simple as a small, Flip video recorder and a tripod will do.

What to video? How about your best technical sales person explaining how a product works to a visitor? Or better yet: interview visitors (pre-qualified, of course.) People like to be listened to, and trade shows are great places to practice listening. Ask them about their business; their main objectives and problems; or simply about the state of your industry. You can upload the video to your website or to YouTube. (Be sure to create your own company YouTube channel first!) This is one more way for people who weren’t able to attend the show to get a sampling of the conversations that were occurring and some of the technology that was presented.

If you’d rather leave the video up to a professional, there are a growing number of videographers that travel the trade show circuit. Your show organizer ought to be able to point you to a resource.

Live Streaming Video

This is pretty high tech stuff, but certainly not outside of the realm of possibility for a larger company with A – a few techies B – a decent budget and C – a strong presence at a show. Some examples of what I mean by “strong presence”: a company that dominates a particular trade show with major corporate or technology announcements; high level executives and engineers in attendance who are naturals at being interviewed; a display that has operating equipment or demos going on; technical staff presenting papers or giving seminars – you get the idea. The platforms exist to live stream a news conference, product demo, seminar, Q & A session, or any other event – real-time, directly to your website or live streaming video platform.  As with standard video production, there are professionals who can help you with this.


I think LinkedIn is a great pre-show tool for arranging face to face meetings with people you’ve already connected with online, especially if you have a good network of contacts – 1st tier as well as people who belong to your LinkedIn Groups.(You DO belong to some LinkedIn Groups where you are able to network with potential partners, vendors, and customers, right?) Zero in on some individuals you’d like to meet at the show, and send them a personal invitation to visit your exhibit, or have coffee or lunch. This works especially well if you’ve established a dialogue with them on sites outside of LinkedIn, such as Twitter or Facebook. If they’re interested enough in you to engage online, there’s a good chance they’ll be willing to meet face-to-face if they’re going to be at the show.

Using social media to get more exposure at a trade show is not only a way to show your company is technically savvy, it’s a great way to add more depth to the messages your company wants to send at the show. In fact, I think as social media use continues to grow at trade shows, they will become more exciting, again. People will come to depend on the social media coverage being utilized at trade shows in order to be a part of the experience and keep up with the latest technology developments, no matter where they are.

Author: Kerry O'Malley

Marketects was founded in 1999 by Kerry O’Malley, a proven marketing communications professional in international, manufacturing companies. Working on the “other side of the desk,” she hired ad agencies to manage her employers’ advertising and P/R programs. Frustrated over the lack of attention and level of enthusiasm she was looking for in the marketing agencies she worked with, Kerry realized that there was a definite need for a full-service marketing firm that specialized in working with industrial companies. She resolved that her clients would always receive the highest level of service possible and never feel like the last kid chosen for the team.

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