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Shows are great places to meet and influence people, but to make the most of them you must make online contact

Paul Harris, marketing director at hosting provider UKFast, says that the virtual world needn’t be an impersonal place, but a great forum for getting to know your customers.

The digital world provides fantastic opportunities to communicate in a targeted manner. Because it can be comprehensively monitored, the net is an exciting platform to evaluate and it is easy to quantify a return on any investment. However, we shouldn’t get carried away. With the growth of social media and our enthusiasm to communicate online, it’s important to remember basic marketing principles. We must always hold on to why we are using them and what we want to achieve.

The way online can increase the reach of an industry trade show is a good example of how integrating online PR and marketing with the rest of your PR strategy can work.

To compete in an ever-growing global market place, businesses need to use their budget as sparingly and effectively as possible. Investment in a high-profile event, such as an exhibition, must be capitalised on to spread the benefits of the event far and wide. It’s important in this virtual world, where email is the most popular communication method, to remember the power of a personal touch. Face-to-face communication brings you closer to clients, delivers a stronger brand message and hones presentation skills, all in one go.

In addition to the advantages of face-to-face communication, trade shows offer the opportunity to target interested businesses and the press through gift giveaways as well as collect vital data from show visitors. Play your part in a schedule of seminars and you also gain a platform to promote yourself to a large captive group. You can then make this available to an even wider audience through online channels such as YouTube.

With thousands of delegates, trade shows offer an exciting and fun arena for networking on a big scale. You can meet with large and small businesses and a well-designed and organised stand can attract the vast majority of visitors. But the relationship with a potential client does not have to begin when the doors are opened. By using social networking channels you can seek out delegates before the event and warm them up before you meet.

This dialogue is often begun online through Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube and continued online after face-to-face meetings. Encourage people to visit your stand by posting picture tweets or utilising Facebook invites that entice them along to an interactive challenge or to have a glass of champagne with your team.

By keeping followers updated on your actions at trade shows you can engage them for a longer period of time, developing stronger relationships that help you achieve top of mind awareness. For me, maintaining a constant dialogue with the social networking executive in the office is a key part my work while I am in situ at an exhibition.

After all, when you invest thousands in creating a great stand, you want as many people as possible to see it. In the 21st century it’s easy to reach out to the global market. You can just tweet!

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