If a tree falls at RSA Conference, how will social media make it sound?

Tim Whitman: We can't expect technical conferences like RSA to match up to consumer-oriented CES, but that doesn't excuse marketing and PR practitioners from knowing their audience.

Guest editorial by Tim Whitman, Schwartz Communications

It is no secret that social media, in its many flavors and definitions has quickly become an integral component of the overall tradeshow marketing fabric. But are companies truly embracing social media vehicles as a natural extension of their overall marketing and communications efforts? Or are they leaving some significant opportunities on the table by not including social media as a part of the overall strategy?

As the RSA Conference 2011 is rapidly approaching, organizations that are exhibiting or plan to have some type of presence should already be asking themselves how their social media strategy ties back to all of the other marketing and communications activities that they have planned leading up to and at the event itself.

While we can't expect technical conferences like RSA to match up favorably in the social media realm like that of a consumer-oriented event like CES, that doesn't excuse marketing and PR practitioners alike from knowing their audience and leveraging all of the tools available to them to make their company's tradeshow experience a successful one.

Plan Ahead and Be Inclusive Ask yourself, "How intertwined is my company's social media activity planning when it comes to pre, during and post-show activities as they relate to the overall marketing goals and objectives for the given event itself?"

For the more thorough and well prepared organizations, this may not be an issue, but all too often a company's marketing and PR efforts are not in lock-step and are carried out in a silo fashion. Enter social media to the mix and watch the confusion and finger-pointing ensue.

Pre-game early and often. Make sure the marketing, public relations (agency and in-house), event staff, etc., get together well ahead of time to discuss the overall themes for the event and have a firm grasp of who is responsible for what. Leave no stone unturned. Know everyone that will be at the event on your company's behalf (customers and partners too). From there, you can build out a corresponding social media game plan to tie back to the other planned activities and overall objectives.

You don't want to look back at RSA Conference 2011 and say, "I wish I knew we were doing that, as we could have done some really easy and cool things with social media tools to make an even bigger splash or carry the message further." If you aren't taking a more inclusive approach across all of your marketing and communications personnel and efforts, you could be left with a handful of missed opportunities and "what if's".

Know your audience »

Know Your Audience To truly succeed in any form of communication, knowing your audience is critical, and based on the interactive nature of social media, this couldn't be more true. What might work at certain events in the social media realm might not work at others. IT security practitioners are known, in general, to be some of the more curious and early adopters of technology out there and thus, social media tools like Twitter were widely and rapidly adopted across many users in this "ecosystem". Knowing how the audience you are looking to communicate with communicates with one another can be a very powerful weapon in your marketing arsenal if leveraged properly.

So, while not necessarily a consumer audience per se, professionals at or paying close attention to happenings at the RSA Conference may very well be tuned into Twitter or other forms of social media to gather information.

In the words of Judd Nelson's character, John Bender in The Breakfast Club (as it relates to Anthony Michael Hall's character being in the Math and Science Clubs), "It's sorta social; demented and sad, but social." It all comes down to your audience and the way they perceive things.

Social Media: The Great Equalizer In years past, companies considering whether or not to exhibit at the RSA Conference might have felt compelled to stay away based on the notion that not every company can afford to buy the premium trade show floor real estate the way companies like Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Symantec, etc. do.

While in some cases this still holds true today, through the relatively inexpensive, strategic and creative use of social media tools, companies with a lesser physical presence on the Moscone Center event floor can now generate significant buzz or overall company awareness, in advance of and during the event, that increases the foot traffic to their booth and produces a more than acceptable ROI for what may have been previously considered a questionable investment.

And keep in mind that the most effective use of social media tools might actually take place outside of the Moscone Center and the RSA Conference show floor hours. Be aware of other networking events that are going on throughout "RSA week" and what is taking place off of the show floor in San Francisco.

When it comes to social media tools and how to use them, you CAN stand toe- to- toe with the industry's giants without spending like one. It all comes down to how prepared you are and how creative you choose to be.

There are a multitude of ways that you can make your RSA Conference experience far more eventful that it has been in years past, primarily through the use of the many social media tools at your disposal. So, marketing, PR, sales and event folks -- get together and get on the same page. And when you are on the trade show floor, remember...look up from that device! While social networking has taken on its own meaning, let's not forget that the most powerful form of networking is being social.

A 15-year public relations and strategic communications veteran, Tim Whitman helps lead the Security Practice at Schwartz Communications, including its blog, TangledWeb. Prior to joining Schwartz Communications in 2005, Tim worked at Computer Associates where he represented CA’s eTrust brand of security products.

Tim is looking forward to attending his 11th straight RSA Conference.