The day before you leave for your next big conference, you wake up in a panic. Frantically searching for the closest 24-hour dry cleaners and double-checking all of your travel plans. But don’t worry! This happens to everyone. With your hectic schedule, you’re surprised you even made it to the conference on time. You feel thankful but also embarrassed at how unkempt you look in comparison to everyone else there. At least you had the presence of mind to update all your social media channels before coming here.

Companies invest a lot of money in their employees’ professional development, but there’s usually not much discussion about what those expectations are. Too often, workers are given a plane ticket and sent to Orlando without any guidance on how they can best use the experience to improve the company. It is incumbent upon you to take initiative and figure out where you need to go, who you need to meet, and what you need to learn.

Integrating social media at conferences into your professional life can be extremely advantageous for both you and your employer. The guide below will show you how to make the most of conferences by using social media, making it possible for you to become a respected leader in your industry.

Define Your Goals.

What is your specific goal for attending the event? Are you trying to make new business connections? Find potential customers? Look for companies to partner with. Learn about recent industry trends. About a month before the event, list your top three goals and sketch out how you will reach them.

Do Your Homework.

Research the speakers and presentations as soon as you book your flight so that you can make the most of your conference experience. Two to three weeks before the conference, take a look at the agenda and reach out to the speakers on Twitter. For example, you could tweet: “@Presenter I’m looking forward to your session at #XYZConf14. Would love to meet up with you to discuss my ideas on XYZ! You game?”

Start Using the Event Hashtag As Soon as Possible.

A lot of conferences have an event hashtag that people use long before the actual event. For bigger events, the hashtag is used all year round! Start following it and tweeting articles or news that would be relevant to that audience. Follow and engage with influencers on Twitter in the weeks before a conference. By tweeting at them frequently, you establish a rapport that will make introductions easy when meeting them in person.

Connect on LinkedIn.

If you’re attending a large conference, check if there is an accompanying LinkedIn group. If so, join it and introduce yourself! In a few sentences, introduce yourself and explain your goals for the conference to the group. Then invite anyone in the group who might be interested to have lunch with you on the first day so that you can chat further about a particular topic of interest, get some feedback, and learn more about what has or hasn’t worked well for them. Voila – your first meeting is set!

Create Curated Twitter Lists.

Here’s a great way to make everyone think you’re amazing. Check out the speakers and organizers on Twitter, and add them to your list if they have an account. By making and sharing a Twitter list of people who use a certain hashtag every other day, you not only improve your visibility but also establish yourself as an influencer.

Shoot and Upload a YouTube Video.

By creating a short video that introduces yourself, your company, and your event goals, you can encourage more people to follow you on Twitter and approach you in person. Include co-workers in your lunch plans or at the cocktail networking reception for a productive brainstorming session. People will take notice of you, and you won’t have to feel awkward shuffling your feet in the corner as you stare at your smartphone!

Create a Blog Post That Will Wow Your Readers.

If you missed out on any of the above fun, there’s still time to make up for it! Create a recap of conference highlights that are interactive and post it on your blog. While you’re at it, share it using the conference hashtag too. This way, you’ll increase traffic to your site, get some visibility, and look great when sharing it with your boss.

Follow Up.

Stop shoving business cards in your pocket, only to forget about them and find them later turned into a soggy mess at the bottom of your washing machine. Download an app that digitally saves business contacts (CardMunch is a great option), so you can optimize networking in real time. Follow up with the individuals you met a few days after the event has ended. Let them know it was great meeting them and suggest grabbing coffee together to keep in touch and explore any potential business opportunities.

What is your advice for getting the most out of a conference? Let us know in the comments section below!

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