The meetings and convention industry is jumping on the brand influencer trend.

Atout France, the national tourism development agency for France, launched a new influencer-based promotional campaign this past spring, leading up to the IMEX Frankfurt meetings industry trade show last month.

While destination marketing organizations have been paying influencers to promote their leisure travel experiences to niche audiences for some time, this is new for the group business side.

In February, Atout France contracted London-based Irina Trofimovskaya, founder of The MICE Blog, for a five-month project to drive higher online engagement around the #BizInFrance hashtag on Twitter and LinkedIn. (“MICE” is an industry acronym: meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions.)

Trofimovskaya has made a name for herself in the European meetings industry, especially with millennial audiences, with her popular #EventPlannersTalk Twitter chat.

Jerome Poulalier, manager of Atout France’s meetings department in Frankfurt, emphasized to Trofimovskaya that the campaign needed to impact the planner community online and offline.

Leading up to IMEX Frankfurt, he said, his primary goal was to increase the online visibility of France’s meetings industry stakeholders among international corporate, association, and third-party conference organizers.

And then during the three-day conference, the strategy pivoted toward delivering meeting planners to the Atout France exhibit area to meet with representatives from the participating French convention bureaus, conference venues, hotel groups, and group tour companies.

“Our other goals included increasing awareness of French destinations beyond the most popular cities, extending the engagement lifecycle beyond the IMEX Frankfurt event, and creating more sharable, visual content,” said Poulalier. “Atout France hasn’t been active on the social media front in the past year, but we believed that teaming up with an influencer would be the most efficient way to achieve our desired goals in a short period of time.”

More specifically, Atout France wanted the #BizInFrance initiative to drive higher engagement among five primary target meeting planner audiences involved with: Incentive travel, corporate hospitality, international associations, technology conferences, and automotive industry shows.

While Trofimovskaya was the primary influencer tasked to spread the message about meetings in France, she also encouraged fellow industry influencers to push #BizInFrance, including Amanda Thurlow (@AmandaThurlow), Caleb Parker (@Caleb_Parker), Padraic Gilligan (@Padraicino), Jason Allan Scott (@Penthouselord), Kim Goetze (@goetze_kim), and Johnny D. Martinez (@johnDmartinez).

Twitter and LinkedIn Content

The bulk of the #BizInFrance influencer strategy encompassed creating original content and sharing daily partner news on Twitter and LinkedIn, complemented with a weekly #BizinFrance Twitter chat.

On LinkedIn, Trofimovskaya posted “Partnering with Atout France to Launch #BizInFrance Campaign” to announce the influencer initative. She also posted stories on The MICE Blog such as, “Top Reasons To Choose Côte D’azur For Automotive Events.”

Poulalier contributed as well with LinkedIn content including, “Book Your Meeting with Atout France at IMEX Frankfurt” and “Get to Know Hotels Barrière at IMEX Frankfurt.”

And then on Twitter, right before and during the IMEX conference, Trofimovskaya posted tweets, like the one below, in an attempt to drive attendance to exhibitor booths and two educational sessions at IMEX discussing the tech and auto industries. For example:

“What probably surprised us the most was the good turnout for our expert sessions at IMEX, because it was the first time we tried this format promoting technology and automotive events,” Poulalier explained. “The first session was about French startups and how they can enhance the MICE experience. The second was about using architecturally significant venues in France for things like car launches.”

Trofimovskaya agreed, stating: “The biggest surprise was the success of the expert sessions that attracted a new audience that might not have come otherwise. We also created high quality content from these sessions to share post-event.”

Influencer Challenges And Successes

The event company SoolNua tracks how European destinations’ meetings-specific Twitter channels perform. After IMEX, Atout France ranked in terms of engagement ahead of stalwarts like London & Partners, and the German, Swiss, Irish, and Danish Convention Bureaus — all considered innovators in digital meetings content.

“Most destination marketing organizations (DMOs) are using social on their leisure channels, and many are building great online communities,” said Padraic Gilligan, managing partner of SoolNua. “However, DMOs, in general, have not been so successful in finding and engaging audiences within the meetings and events sector, probably because it’s so fragmented across associations, corporates, third-party agencies, and independents.”

Poulalier added, “We saw immediate results during IMEX thanks to SoolNua’s leader board. We placed first among 37 international and national convention bureaus. Furthermore, we saw high weekly engagement during our weekly chat that run from February until mid-May just before IMEX.”

The below data show the rise of engagement on Atout France’s meetings Twitter channel, @CLUSTER_MICE.

While the gains were modest compared to a typical leisure travel influencer campaign, Poulalier said the increases were deemed significant because the #BizInFrance engagement specifically targeted the right planners.

Month 2017 Tweets Impressions Profile Visits Mentions Followers New Followers
Jan 1 8,940 149 11 411 29
Feb 150 33,800 1,897 49 500 69
Mar 269 54,600 2,471 61 573 75
Apr 348 72,200 2,130 66 668 95
May 312 106,000 2,726 111 742 74

Speaking about some of the obstacles facing the influencer campaign, Trofimovskaya said, “Since we focused only on Twitter and LinkedIn, it was challenging at times to engage all the partners. For example, the Groupe Barrière has 18 hotels and was a big focus of the campaign on Twitter, but because they are not on Twitter they couldn’t engage back with us.”

A second challenge revolved around the disparity of how attendees from different countries use social media.

“The use of Twitter and LinkedIn across geographical regions it not even,” explained Trofimovskaya. “The UK and U.S. are both important markets and they’re very active on Twitter, but not everyone in France or Germany is using this channel as actively.”

Summing up the state of social media engagement between destinations and meeting planners, Gilligan said, “While there’s plenty of activity, our view is that it’s unfocused and not strategic.”

The reasons for this, he believes, are varied.

“There’s a lack of trained resources, lack of overall commitment, unrealistic budget provision, etc.,” Gilligan said. “Many DMOs know they should be there, so they set up the accounts and then they totally underestimate the time, expertise, and knowledge required to manage them successfully.”

Photo Credit: Irina Trofimovskaya, founder of The MICE Blog, is emerging as a thought leader in online engagement with meeting and event attendees. Irina Trofimovskaya