If you’ve been logging on to Twitter over the last few weeks, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the hashtag #SXSW pop up on at least a few occasions.

If you don’t know, #SXSW is the official hashtag for the South by Southwest Conferences & Festivals which took place in Austin, TX from March 8 – March 17.

South by Southwest (SXSW) is one of the biggest tech events of the year and offered plenty of exciting news and lessons that small businesses should be aware.

One of those lessons, according to social media specialist Danielle Cormier and senior communications specialist Stephen Russell, is the value of having an active social media presence at your event.

This week, I sat down with both Danielle and Stephen to learn more about the innovative ways they saw social media being used at this year’s conference and to learn more about the simply strategies you can use to add social media to your next event.

Here is the transcript if you would rather read…

Looking back, what were some of the best ways you saw social media being used at SXSW?

Stephen: For me, it was really interesting to see how social media was being used during specific sessions. You could really tell that the social media presence for SXSW was planned really well. All of the sessions had their own unique hashtag; they all printed out booklets with Twitter handles for each presenter. That really stuck with me because after the session was over—first I could tweet throughout the session about what I was seeing, what I was really interested in, or @Reply some other folks who were there. But then after the session, I could take a look back and specifically narrow down that one session and say “Wow, this was a really big trend or topic throughout the entire event.” I thought that was pretty neat!

Danielle: Another thing that was really cool was, not only did they have a hashtag for each panel, they also had an: Ask (whoever was presenting). So at the end you could submit your questions and it wasn’t raising your hand, or shouting it out, or dragging a mic to wherever in the audience. It was an easy way to really get the moderator to see what the audience wanted to ask, and they could even project the tweet on the screen and that way the audience could read the question or follow along.

Another thing that I saw was some contests like “Find Our Mascot” or “Find a Bar/ Restaurant/Shop”, you would take a picture and tweet using different hashtags and you could be entered for a prize. I thought this was a good, interactive contest using social media—getting people involved and having fun.

Stephen: That’s a good point about the interactions. One of the things that was really neat for me was a check-in for different points at the event. One example is they had an American Airlines tent and I checked in there a couple of times throughout the event and every single time I checked in I got a unique, personalized @Reply to my Twitter handle saying “Thanks for checking in and great to have you back, Stephen.” And that really had an impact for me and it showed that someone was really interacting with me on a one-on-one level even though it’s this really huge brand.

I know SXSW is a huge conference with thousands of people there from all over the country and all over the world, but for a smaller business that has a smaller event, are there certain lessons you can take away from an event like SXSW that someone running a smaller event could use?

Danielle: I would say to be prepared beforehand—not to think of something like the hashtag right before the event. Let all your attendees know what the handles of the presenters are or maybe the tradeshow people who are going to be there and set your hashtag then.

Stephen: Exactly. I totally agree. I think a lot of that has to do with the whole interaction aspect of it. When you’re planning a small business event, you want the conversations to occur during the event, but you want them to expand after the event as well and that’s a great way to do it. You could talk to the presenters after the event, you know, “Hey, really good point you had about X, would love to talk to you more about that.” You can go through the hashtags afterwards and kind of pick out little bits that you thought were interesting. So, yeah I think planning goes a long way if you’re looking at including social media in your event.

Danielle: Yeah, you can also setup FourSquare. It’s not that hard to setup a FourSquare event check-in. You just go to FourSquare.com and search for your event title (which obviously is not going to show up because it’s a one-time event probably) and then it will say, “Would you like to create a check-in for this?” and then you just do a few steps and it’s pretty easy. And that way you can have your hashtag there, and maybe your handle, and when people check in they’ll be able to get all that information there too.

So just to clarify, you talked about event hashtags, for people watching who aren’t exactly sure how to use an event hashtag on Twitter for their event, what are some things they’ll want to be aware of?

Danielle: You want to make sure it’s a shorter hashtag. You only get 140 characters for a tweet, so make sure it’s not taking up half of that. And you also want to make it’s relevant to your actual event. You could even use your brand name or just a part of the event title.

Stephen: I agree. I think you want to make it simple and obvious as well. I mean, you want to make sure you’re promoting it well. Anyone on social media that wants to Tweet or engage with other attendees at the show, they’re going to—if they don’t see a hashtag—they’re going to make up their own. So, you want to make sure that everyone’s conversations are being populated at that one event hashtag. That way everyone can engage with each other at the event and hopefully, as I mentioned before, those engagements can continue afterward.

Danielle: If you’re doing a presentation, you could have a slide at the beginning or end with the hashtag or presenter’s handle. Or you could even put the hashtag at the bottom of each slide as you’re going through the presentation and that way it stays top-of-mind.

You could even just print out a piece of paper with your hashtag and hang it around your venue. And it can really be that simple.

Stephen: Yeah, and another way to do this to is on the badges of the event. I saw a lot of events where they actually include the hashtag or personal Twitter handle right on your name tag. That goes a long way because you’re always seeing it, your attendees are always seeing it the hashtag and they know: ok this is what I’m going to use for my next tweet.

Yeah, and I know, not from being at SXSW, but just from keeping track with the hashtags, I could kind of tell what was going on with the event. For a smaller event, it could work just the same way. So, for a business that’s just getting started with social media for their events, maybe they’re just getting started with social media in general, what sort of advice would you give?

Stephen: I would say make it readily available, but don’t force it. I’ve been to a couple events in the past where some of the presenters or other folks that are running it are almost requiring attendees to be engaged on social channels. And that kind of takes the value out of it I think. You know, make it readily available but don’t require it and I think you’ll see people engaging in a natural and more authentic way.

Danielle: Yeah, and I think if you’re just starting out, sort of keep your expectations low. Not everyone uses social media already, just hope you can get a few more participants every event you run, using social media a little more. And use it yourself too and have the other people running the event with you set an example. They could retweet you or share the images you’re uploading and that way I think it sets a good example.

Add social media to your next event

You don’t have to have a huge event marketing budget to take advantage of the value of adding social media to your next event.

There are simple strategies you can take to add social media to your event strategy before, during, and after your event.

If you’re ready to get started, make sure to check out our free guide, Add Social Media to Your Event Strategy: Tips on how to build buzz & boost attendance.

Have more questions about how to add social media to your event strategy? Let us know in the comments below or find us on Twitter @ConstantContact!