Twitter can be an incredibly powerful tool for anyone who is appearing, exhibiting, or presenting at a sci-fi, gaming, genre, literary, or comic convention. Using Twitter, I was able to help comic book artist Christopher Jones double, and in some cases triple, booth traffic and art sales at most of his convention appearances. I get a lot of random questions about this, so I thought I’d go over the basics of how it’s done.
I’m going to write this, hopefully, so a Twitter novice can get some useful guidance from it.
First, and most importantly…
FIND AND USE THE CONVENTION’S HASHTAG
One of the most useful things about Twitter is hashtags, which on Twitter are a platform-wide aggregate for tweets around a given topic. All of the tweets with the same hashtag can be displayed on one convenient feed for anyone who cares to look at it, and people certainly do look at hashtag feeds. Hashtags allow users who share the same interests to easily find each other’s tweets. It also lets people who are attending an event find tweets by other people who are attending the same event. This is huge.
By using a convention’s hashtag in your tweets about your convention appearance, tweets about presentations or panels you’re doing, or tweets showing off the wares you have for sale, you are advertising your presence to everyone else on twitter who is going to be at the convention. And almost always, this little awareness campaign will result in more booth traffic, better panel attendance, and more people being aware of who you are when you get to a con—the benefits of which are sort of self-evident.
So, how do you find out a convention’s hashtag? Some conventions have an official hashtag, and it can generally be discovered by looking at the official twitter account for the con. For example, New York Comic Con’s official hashtag is #NYCC, and it’s present in most of the convention’s tweets, making it easy to find.
— New York Comic Con (@NY_Comic_Con) October 11, 2015
Some conventions may not have a very strong social media presence or an official hashtag. But just because they don’t have an official hashtag doesn’t mean there isn’t a hashtag that people are using. Some hashtags, instead of being officially endorsed by a convention, sort of come into being organically by attendees deciding to use them. When this happens, there will often be two or three hashtags at play—generally different variations on the event’s name. To find them, you’ll just have to do some guessing with Twitter’s search function. Take a look at the feeds for the different hashtag variations and use the one with the most activity on it. If multiple hashtags have a lot of activity, try to use more than one.
To use a hashtag, simply add it to any tweet you’re writing about the convention, panels you’ll be on at the convention, what you’ll have for sale at the convention, etc. Here’s an example:
Other things to notice about that tweet:
- It includes a photo. Tweets with photos get more attention.
- It includes the location of the booth. This way people who see the tweet can find you.
- Even though it shows off something for sale, it’s not overly “salsey”. This is a desirable sweet spot.
- It actually has two hashtags for the convention, because I discovered a significant amount of activity on the non-official one. This happens sometimes too!
- It has retweets and likes. So, basically, this is the sort of thing you’ll want to emulate.
Simply tweeting on a convention’s hashtag will get you more exposure. So the bare minimum thing you can and should do to raise your profile at a con is to just add the event’s hashtag to the tweets you’re already doing. But there is still more you can do on twitter to really maximize your convention appearance.
INTERACT WITH PEOPLE WHO WILL BE THERE
Once you’ve found the convention’s hashtags, you’ll be able to very easily find a lot more people who are attending the convention by looking at the hashtag’s feed. Interacting with these people is a way of making them aware of your presence and boosting your signal. So it’s worthwhile to reply to, like, and retweet other people who are also using the convention’s hashtags.
Generally, you won’t want to interact with every single person. It’s okay and actually preferable to be choosy and only reply to, retweet, and like the tweets that seem interesting to you and relevant to what you’re about; these are likely the people who are going to be most interested in what you’ll be doing/selling at the convention anyway. Also, you’ll often find other professionals who are going to be exhibiting at a convention tweeting on the con’s hashtag, and they will tend to be very enthusiastic about interacting on twitter regarding the convention. Often if you follow and retweet their tweets, they’ll follow you back and retweet your tweets, which is just another way to get your signal boosted (and make friends, too!)
That leads nicely into something else you might want to consider doing.
CROSS-PROMOTE WITH OTHER EXHIBITORS
There are a couple ways you can broach cross-promotion with other exhibitors or presenters.
For instance, if you develop a rapport with another exhibitor via replying to each other on the convention’s hashtag feed, it only makes sense to capitalize on it in a mutually beneficial way. To that end, know that it’s okay to direct message someone who has around the same amount of followers as you do and suggest that you two retweet a few of each other’s tweets every day leading up to and for the duration of the convention. More often than not, I think you’ll find they’re happy to make such an arrangement. (Note: I would caution against doing this with someone who has a lot more followers than you; they may feel you’re trying to take advantage of them.)
Another thing you can do, if you have a smartphone, is take photos of the booths around you at the beginning of the convention and plug them with tweets. Like this:
If you meet another presenter early in the convention, you can also take a photo of them or with them, and tweet information about their panel or presentation.
This can be an amazing icebreaker to establish a rapport with your neighbors and fellow professionals at a convention, and sometimes they’ll return the favor by doing the same for you, or retweeting your tweets. Everybody wins! Which actually brings me to…
NETWORK NETWORK NETWORK
Yup. Networking. That ever-looming, annoyingly amorphous key to the kingdom. I’m going there.
The reason I’m going there is networking is literally one of the things Twitter is built for, and it damn sure is used for that when it comes to conventions. In fact, much conversation falling into “networking” territory that might have happened at a convention even ten years ago now happens largely on Twitter between conventions. It makes sense if you think about it, given the way in which conventions have evolved—who actually has time to shoot the shit at these crazy, crowded things, especially if they’re a sought after individual in a given industry?
That you’re attending the same convention can be a way to initiate a conversation with someone you haven’t met before, and Twitter is an ideal platform on which to do that. You can reach out to someone on Twitter before hand, and you can follow up after an event in a much more casual, natural, low-pressure way than sending an email. Twitter is also a great way to continue a conversation you started with someone at a convention. Often you’ll spot industry folks having conversations on twitter, not unlike one would in a chat room—it definitely can have that in-the-moment quality of conversation. So, yeah. Networking. Use Twitter for that.
I suggest adding your twitter handle to your business cards.
This is getting awfully long, isn’t it? Well, I’m not done yet. I have a couple more tips.
UTILIZE SCHEDULED TWEETS
Scheduling tweets is a fantastic trick for conventions, which I was sort of on the fence about giving away. But, you’ve read this far, so why not?
There are services that let you pre-schedule tweets to go out at specific times on your account. (I like Hootsuite, which is free.) The magic of this is that your twitter account can be automated to tweet on the convention’s hashtag about your signings, your panels, and the things you have for sale without you actually having to be constantly tweeting during the convention. You can just set it and forget it.
Suddenly all this just got a lot more practical, right?
I like to schedule a lot of tweets for the two hours or so before doors open in the morning, because that’s when people are either in transit or standing in line. And what do people do when they are in transit or standing in line? Why, they look at social media on their phones, that’s what. And if they’re going to an event, it’s pretty likely they’ll check out the hashtag feed for that event. I also will schedule reminder tweets about panels and signings once in the morning, and once either an hour of a half-hour before the panel/signing begins, depending on the size of the convention. Then just a smattering of photos and other things throughout the day, is a good idea too.
RUN A RETWEET CONTEST
A pretty effective way to get exposure and followers at an event is to run a retweet contest on the event’s hashtag. Basically, pick something cool that you think people will want (free art is a no-brainer if you’re an artist; copy of your book if you’re an author, etc.) and give it away, using retweets as entries and stipulate that they must follow you to win. Something like this:
Look at all those retweets. That’s over 50 followers who were at the event, and who were much more likely to see all his subsequent tweets as a result of this retweet contest. Pretty slick, right?
A WORD OF CAUTION
There are a few things you should avoid doing during conventions (and just generally) on Twitter. So here’s a quick and dirty list of don’t.
- Don’t repeat the same tweet or image multiple times in one day. That will just annoy people.
- Don’t tweet at people you don’t know asking for retweets of your promotional tweets.
- Don’t forget to balance your tweeting. Too many sales pitches turn people off. You need to have a mix of “just for fun” tweets and salsey tweets. And even then, best to not let your salsey tweets get too salsey.
- Basically, if something would annoy you on twitter, don’t do it yourself.
Doing all of this does take time. Reading the hashtag feed, interacting with people, writing good tweets, scheduling the tweets, and anything else you’re doing on Twitter is something you should literally make time to do as just another matter of business.
For a smaller convention, I’d say you should give yourself about a half hour per day of reading, interacting, and tweeting on the hashtag for at least the week leading up to the con. For a larger convention, double or even quadruple that—it just depends on how active the hashtag is. It’s also probably a good idea to spread out that time between mornings and the evenings. Additionally, budget about two hours per day of scheduled tweets for writing and scheduling tweets. (This can be done well in advance, so really just whenever you have time.)
Think of this time, like anything else, as an investment. When you utilize twitter to get the most out of your convention in the way I’ve outlined, your booth traffic will increase. Your panel & signing attendance will increase. You will sell more merchandise. More people arriving at the convention will already know who you are.
I have “how to” conversations with folks about using Twitter to raise your profile at conventions all the time, so hopefully this break-down of information was helpful to you. If it was, feel free to follow @tlhInganHom (me) on twitter!