Using Social Media to Extend Event Engagement: Ideas and Insights from Oracle

May 14, 2015
By Greg Oates, Tourism & Events Industry Editor

More than 50,000 people attended Oracle Software's OpenWorld conference last October in San Francisco, which generated 7.8 million views of YouTube videos before, during and after the event. The conference organizers have aggressively ramped up online engagement with a more sophisticated social media strategy in the last few years to expand audience reach, extend the event window, and market the event more effectively.

Last month, Oracle's social media impressions topped 17.6 million views, compared to 5.5 million views on – a 3:1 ratio. According to Paul Salinger, vice president of marketing at Oracle, social media engagement totaled around two million impressions per month in 2011.

"This is clear indication that more and more people are looking for content on other mediums than the traditional website," he says. "In the last two years, our goal has been to try to start a conversation before the event, and use it as a way to promote the event and promote the executives and/or customers that are going to be attending, to both drive demand and raise their profiles."

There's been a lot of talk about pre-event online engagement recently throughout the meetings and events industry, but Salinger suggests that not very many people are doing it well, if at all. The challenge is integration. In order for this to work, there must be a clear strategy that integrates all of the different channels to cross-promote eyeballs to each other and the website. Most event marketers use social media randomly or they lack the resources to create a holistic, consistent and full pre-to-post campaign.

Salinger says Oracle now thinks about events as an experiential content hub that doesn't specifically exist in only one time and place. The physical live event anchors everything, but instead of organizing one keynote for an executive in the convention center, they now create three or four more to play out before and after, so by the time the keynote takes place at the live event, the conversation has already been established. The live keynote is designed to amplify key messaging, not necessarily introduce it.

"We're trying to shift what might be an hour in time to be more like a 6-week engagement," he says.

That's the starting point for this. An event is, in effect, no longer an event. It's a series of events, combining face-to-face interaction and many different digital channels that are aligned to drive attendance to the face-to-face event. In other words, social media – owned, earned and paid – is not a bolt-on marketing initiative. It's part of the integrated whole, underpinning the entire event experience.

And by positioning it like that, meeting organizers will have better opportunities to secure more funds to increase their social media activity as long as they have a targeted strategy, not unlike an editorial calendar defining all of the different content streams, and desired outcomes aligned with business objectives.

"Pre-event content drives demand for registration, because what you're trying to do is create a value proposition before the show to get people to understand what it is they're going to learn and engage with," says Salinger. "And then afterward, it's a chance to reinforce the message and potentially expand on that with white papers and other collaterals that may be of interest and shareable, not only to the physical attendees but also people who didn't come to the event."

A Method to the Media

For OpenWorld 2014, Facebook-promoted posts drove 45,000 views of videos of Oracle CEO Mark Hurd and CIO Kimberley Stevenson offering behind-the-scenes looks at the preparations for various sessions. Oracle has about 50 owned Facebook pages listed on the corporate site.

During OpenWorld, Oracle bought paid tweets, Google banners and YouTube TrueView and video search placements that drove 5.8 million views of videos showing keynotes given by executives such as Oracle founder Larry Ellison, as well as Hurd. Following the event, more TrueView buys resulted in another 1.9 million views of the keynote videos. That was followed with blog posts on the corporate site with keynote summaries and embedded videos of the keynotes, which were then followed by webinars and new content expanding on the event's specific themes across multiple product verticals.

"If customers have those marketing interactions, whether they're attending an event, attending a webinar, reading a piece of demand generation, whatever it may be, if we can get them a certain number of times, we know that we can potentially both increase deal size and shorten the sales cycle, so that's the way we think about it," says Salinger. "That's the way people are starting to think. The physical event sort of drives everything, but it's not the only thing. What you're starting to see is that people are starting to think about engagement with audiences, trying to create communities of audiences that they can engage with on an ongoing basis year-round from event to event. I think we're in the early stages of that, and I haven't seen too many companies do it with any great success."

Oracle also has more than 50 LinkedIn groups covering the company's range of products and services. The social platform is being used for Oracle executive posts to promote different events, explain the deliverables, and provide fresh content to expand on event session themes. For example, one month before OpenWorld last year, Hurd delivered a variety of three-to-four-minute videos discussing trends that attendees could learn more about at the event, and how those trends are driving new business and innovative technologies.

Salinger explains that tracking the value of these content marketing initiatives is difficult to quantify. Oracle tracks the number of interactions that marketing has with a customer throughout the sales cycle. The company also knows that selling technology product, like a database, requires less interactions than selling applications, which have a longer sales cycle. Understanding that helps Oracle be more targeted and judicious in its content decisions.

Among Salinger’s biggest challenges, he says, "A lot of the audience that we're trying to engage – some of the line of business audience, CIOs, C-level people – are not as active on social as some of our other users are, and so it's a little bit harder to get their attention."

To try and shift that behavior, Oracle crowdsources questions from its customers and then asks relevant executives to answer those questions on LinkedIn. That both engages senior Oracle personnel on the company's social channels, and equally important, it creates highly desired user generated content. That is the end goal for all event marketers and planners.

"One of the things we really tried to hone in on last year was the idea of co-creation,” says Salinger. "If you do it right and can keep people engaged, it gives them a sense of, 'That's a cool event. I want to go to that event.'"


This blog post was written by industry influencer Greg Oates, and was developed specifically and exclusively for the Meetings Mean Business blog.