So, professional conference season is upon us! Once you’ve decided to go to a conference and have your travel set, what do you do to get yourself ready?

Meltwater is heading to a few conferences in the next months, including SXSW. (If you’ll be there, hit us up on Twitter!)

A PR and marketing team has specific objectives at each conference, but in prepping, I realize that there’s a lot or preplanning and strategy involved. Along with lots of learning and networking, conference goals include producing content, and having a thought-through process will be essential for fitting everything in.

Research Sessions and Workshops

If you aren’t signing up for a full pass, you might want to look into other options. This can mean general press or industry access or an exhibition hall pass. Getting the correct access is the beginning of your event journey, so make sure that you have the right credentials.

If you’ve registered as a full attendee, roll up your sleeves and enroll in workshops or breakout sessions before you get there. Wait, you might say, “How do I decide which ones to go to?” Hopefully, the blurbs on the site give you enough information to make decisions. If you want to guarantee an engaging speaker, google videos of them, or plug in a relevant search into your media intelligence platform and check out videos and authored articles/posts.

Get Your Social Accounts Conference Ready

If you don’t use your social platforms for work, either clean them up or start new accounts especially for professional venues, such as conferences and to give to future colleagues. Stymied as to where to start? LinkedIn for professional networking, and Twitter and Instagram for monitoring the event and connecting with fellow attendees in real time.

Depending on the conference, it may be possible to see an attendee list with accompanying social handles before you arrive. Also, if organizers provide event-specific Twitter and Instagram handles—you’re ahead of the game! Grab all of these and put them into Twitter lists. If you’re super organized, separating out speakers and attendees can be useful later when you’re on site covering the conference. Since Instagram doesn’t provide the ability to make lists, just follow those handles.

If no attendee names or social handles are on the conference website, uncover attendees by looking at who is using the event hashtag and google speakers’ names. In the case of South by Southwest, for example, I searched for the 2017 event by branded hashtag #SXSW, in addition to “South by Southwest,” and “southbysouthwest.” Plugging a boolean search into a media intelligence platform has the advantage of keeping searches running, gathering results throughout your planning process, as well as gives you the ability to spot possible trends ancillary to the event.

Meltwater Platform

After you reach a certain tipping point, say 100 attendee handles on your Twitter list, a nice pre-conference engagement tweet might be to ask, “Who else is going to #SXSW? Putting together a list of attendees and don’t want to miss anyone!” Doing this serve you three-fold, it will broadcast your attendance to other Twitter list makers, second, it may then lead to introductions. And third, this callout may net you some responses; it is possible that your Twitter list will be the most comprehensive (and therefore will be utilized on the ground, during the conference).

Producing Conference Coverage

At this point, you may have an idea of how you’d like to cover the conference. During an event, especially one that is a week long, it is challenging to do anything other than focus on what’s happening in the present. You’ll be busy networking, attending sessions, taking notes, watching exhibitor demos, going to happy hours, and dinners. So, having an idea of what your coverage will look like and prepping for it before arrival, is the best way to create and produce content while you’re there. Block out time in your schedule to get your project together, so that it receives maximum impact. Producing and getting content out (whether this is a blog post or infographic) before (or soon after) the conference is over will allow you to leverage the hashtag in social channel promotions. It can also help cement new relationships you’ve forged at the event, and position you as an essential part of the community that the conference caters to (the first step towards industry thought leadership).

Here Are Some Ideas for Coverage:

  • Man-on-the-street interview videos to be used in daily Twitter updates
  • Photo project highlighting speakers or attendees that reflect your audience’s demographic
  • Facebook live or SnapChat videos from the conference floor, promote these widely on social channels
  • Daily blog post that recaps panels
  • Live tweet with attribution (Twitter lists comes in handy here)
  • General social coverage of the event on Twitter and Instagram with hashtags (helps cement new relationships)
  • Infographic or blog post round-up that includes lessons learned and favorite quotes

After Hours

A big part of conferences are the networking opportunities. As un-conference YxYY puts it, “At your average conference, we know the best conversations happen in the hallways. They happen over late night drinks, and on the walk from point A to point B.”

If you’re new to this particular conference and even new to the profession, how can you guarantee opportunities to have these conversations? Again, social listening is your friend. As you research the conference branded hashtags, include “happy hour,” “attendee dinner,” “VIP dinner,” “drinks,” and “after hours” to get a sense of what’s happening and who’s going. To attend events, RSVP to as many events with open invitations as you’ll realistically go to. You might also surface posts from fellow attendees suggesting IRL engagement. If you’re feeling bold, answer the call of: “Does anyone at the conference hall want to grab dinner?” or throw out a social invite yourself. Either way, conferences are a way to get out there and meet like-minded colleagues discussing your industry. Using media intelligence and social channel searching you can enrich your conference experience and make it productive.

We’ve covered sessions, prepping personal social media accounts, tracking conference attendees’ social accounts, listening to hashtags at the conference in real time, and contributing with your take on the conference, and now the after hours events.

Using this as a guide, planning coverage and listening to socials throughout your conference experience (before, during, and after) will guarantee a productive experience! You’ve got everyone’s Twitter handles, now get out there and network!

A version of this post was originally published on August 26, 2016. We republish relevant content on Saturdays.