I’m currently enjoying a well-deserved icy Heineken 30,000 feet in the air after attending the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) conference in Chicago this week. The weather was bitingly cold, the pizza was deliciously hot, and the conference was slammed with over 60,000 of the brightest minds in radiology from all over the world. My team was managing all of the social media communications for Hitachi Healthcare, an incredibly innovative leader in the Ultrasound, MRI and CT fields. (Double disclosure-they are our client but I genuinely do believe they are changing the game, particularly in their approach to customer support.) The volume of the social media chatter between radiologists, x-ray technicians, medical device vendors, hospital reps and press was shocking. Hundreds of passionate conversations took place on Instagram and Twitter all throughout the week-long event filled with education, networking, and of course, buying and selling technologies to detect cancer and save lives.

While RSNA is the epicenter for the global community to contemplate the future of radiology, I couldn’t help but notice that the event’s social strategy was not quite as groundbreaking. Perhaps they didn’t anticipate some of the most serious scholars in healthcare to be so socially active, or perhaps they just fell victim to old-school trade show marketing habits of relying on snail mail, emails and print. Regardless of the reason, there were several missed opportunities RSNA could have capitalized on to elevate their event for an even more dynamic attendee experience.

Here are 5 social media lessons event marketers can learn from RSNA:

1) Anchor Official Event Hashtag

It’s genuinely puzzling how most events still don’t solidify and broadcast the most imperative cornerstone for organizing social conversations- the official hashtag. Make it short, simple, intuitive and then broadcast it on every webpage, email, badge, banner, carpet, postcard, and form you can find. Write it on the bathroom mirror with lipstick or write it in smoke in the sky if you have to. As social event marketers, it’s our job to make upload unification ubiquitous. RSNA, RSNA14, and RSNA2014 were all generated by attendees and being used equally across the social web. When tweeting, our team was forced to play hashtag roulette with every carefully crafted 140 characters, uncertain if our message was missing two-thirds of the listeners. Pick one and promote it relentlessly (preferably pre-show).

2) Social Stamp Speakers

The medical intelligence being shared in the speaking sessions on everything from breast cancer detection challenges to improvements in ultrasound was mind-blowing. Part of Hitachi’s social strategy was not to just post “Come to our booth” a hundred times like many exhibitors sometimes tend to do, but to instead be the can’t-miss, must-follow, invaluable source for everything RSNA. To accomplish that, we were live tweeting excerpts in real-time from the most influential speaker sessions. Hitachi’s goal was to amplify critical insights to attendees not in the audience and those following along virtually from home. Offering this value resulted in a few attendees coming into the booth and thanking us for providing so much awesome live coverage. So what was the challenge? The speakers’ (often difficult to spell) name would only flash up at the beginning for 2-3 seconds on the first slide. Live tweeting audience members were then left frantically digging through the app to find the correct spelling of the speakers name while also trying to listen to the remainder of the presentation. Make it easy for your media beacons to broadcast. Make sure your speakers have their name up at all times, with their Twitter handle (if applicable) and the official show hashtag.

3) Be a Gracious Host

While RSNA was technically present on social media, they tended to only occasionally republish content from large show sponsors like Siemens and GE. They did reply and retweet Hitachi Healthcare one time each throughout the duration of the show, but only because we congratulated them on their centennial anniversary and also alerted them to an attendee who was in his 42nd straight year of RSNA attendance. With our team publishing content around the clock, we didn’t feel that RSNA was being a very gracious digital host, especially considering that 60% of our content was all about RSNA, the speakers and the attendees. It’s similar to someone hosting a party, but then spending the whole night in their room only coming out to say hello when they heard someone mentioning their name. It’s just strange, and a definite digital party foul. Show everyone (not just big sponsors) that you are listening and that you love them- you will elevate everyone’s interconnected show experience.

4) Amplify Killer Content

While RSNA did a great job of communicating reminders that sessions were beginning, as well as including fun “Did You Know” type trivia posts, the frequency seemed a little sporadic and the content a tad vanilla. The amount and quality of information available at RSNA, like many large industry conferences- was unbelievable. Think of social media as the equivalent of putting a microphone and a spotlight directly on your trade show for the world to experience. If Dr. Smith is in the North Hall, she should be able to check in with what’s happening in South Hall without having to hoof it over there. If Dr. Martin stayed home with family for Thanksgiving weekend, he should be able to follow RSNA remotely to learn, share with colleagues, and vow not to miss it next year. The show could have been CRANKING content. Publish guy-on-the-street style attendee interviews, thought leadership from industry influencers, exhibitor spotlights, key session tweet-able takeaways, or hot press trends. Offer specific FAQ’s (not just a link to a general list that someone has to click and dig through) on parking, transportation, accommodations, dining, travel and more so attendees don’t even have to ask. Party hop to a few of the larger evening events to give RSNA attendees a fun glimpse into who-was-where after exhibit hours. There were dozens of compelling clinical case reviews, cool demos, and hugely interesting personalities that the show could have captured and amplified on their social channels around the clock for a truly integrated offline/online community. All of that content could have been banked for evergreen publishing to keep the conversation and the community thriving all year long until RSNA 2015. There is a huge difference between just “doing social” and doing it well.

5) Anticipate On-Demand Mobile

According to Wikipedia, McCormick Place is the largest convention center in North America. I don’t know about you, but as many times as I have been there, I still have moments of directional confusion. Especially after all of the delicious sake the night before at the Hitachi event at the Field Museum. Using the RSNA app to map my day, I hit the location of my first session to figure out which way to head. Standing there like an idiot waiting for the map to load, I realized that it HAD loaded…as a non mobile-responsive PDF. Sweet. I unsuccessfully attempted zooming in and found that it just made me more confused. So I went the old-fashioned route and just asked someone. My anticipated experience was that the map (like most “Get Directions” functionality) would walk me there, GPS-style.Try placing yourself in the attendees shoes and anticipate on-demand, intuitive functionalities to make their experience seamless. If you can accomplish that, the mobile component of your event’s social strategy will be highly effective.

Despite some missed opportunities to tap into the power of social, RSNA was an absolutely spectacular, well-organized, beautifully designed conference. They were even thoughtful enough to give us free hot chocolates to stay warm while waiting to load the shuttle buses! Attendance is up year over year and it will continue to attract the most dynamic thought leaders in radiology from around the world.

What other opportunities have you seen for conferences to better leverage social media to make face-to-face meetings more relevant and effective than ever?

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