The other day a friend invited me to a networking event hosted by The Ottawa Network. I thought it would be a great opportunity to promote my student council and so decided to attend. At the event, I met a man named Luke Clare who is in charge of business development at Gowlings, a major law firm. After talking with him for a few minutes I learned that Gowlings was a sponsor of The Ottawa Network, and that they were in charge of hosting and promoting these events. Luke then confided in me that he wished he could improve the events using the social media tools available online. I told him that I worked with a digital media company called Netgen and that I could send him some ideas that I had on how to promote and run events using the Internet, and we exchanged cards. So here are some ways I came up with to promote events online, which fall into three categories: Promotion, Engagement and Continuity.
Before the emergence of the social web, events were promoted with written invitations and advertising as well as by word of mouth. Today, there are easy-to-use online tools for event communications, promotion and registration.
Quick Tip: Start listening before an event to stay at the hub of information in your industry. Use tools like Twitter Search, Google Reader, Google Trends and Google Alerts.
Establish Communication Platforms
This means creating dedicated spaces online where people can learn about your event, get details and share their opinions. Platforms like Facebook fan pages, Twitter feeds and LinkedIn groups are great for communicating with and attracting potential attendees, creating a virtual community around the event. These platforms should be updated continuously to interact with followers and generate buzz.
All of the platforms mentioned above are great tools for establishing a following. Once you’ve attracted your audience, it’s time to promote your event. Use your platforms to communicate with your followers and drive interest in upcoming events. As well, you could start an event blog to inform people about event features or to recap highlights from the last event.
Create a Way to Register
One of the most convenient features of integrating the social web into your event promotions is the ability to register people online, which will give you a general idea of attendance. The simplest way to do this is to create an event fan page on Facebook. But a better way is to use an online event service like eventbrite. With this tool, you can create an event, register attendees, create online promotions and much more. The best part about eventbrite is that unless you are processing payments, it’s completely free.
*Remember to consider your audience before you use any of these promotional strategies. Your strategy should align with the goals and objectives of the event.
Integrating the social web into your event promotions allows for audience engagement far before the actual event date. Attendees will have the opportunity to contribute to the event by sharing their opinions and communicating with other attendees in the lead-up to the event.
Generate Pre-Event Engagement
There are many tools you can use can use to engage your audience prior to your event. You should focus on three things: getting their input, providing a way to network before the event, and giving them a way to promote the event themselves to other potential attendees.
Quick Tip: Pre-event engagement will allow people to meet other attendees before the event. This can help turn wallflowers into networkers, which will help make your event even more successful.
Get Their Input
The easiest way get attendees’ input on an event is to conduct a poll. Ask them what they want to talk about at the event, or what they would like to see covered. There are many free polling/survey tools online, such as Survey Monkey and Google Docs. And once you ask what they want, give them what they want—feedback from polls and surveys allows you to tailor your event to their expectations.
Provide a Way to Network Before the Event
This can be accomplished by sparking conversation on any or all of the online platforms mentioned previously. Asking a question and encouraging responses from your followers will initiate conversations between attendees and start the networking process.
A Twitter hashtag is a great way to get people talking about an event before it happens. The hashtag should be promoted as much as the event name so that Twitter users can connect with other users attending the event. A hashtag provides a dedicated platform for communication about the event—before, during and after.
Provide a Way to Promote the Event
This can be done in a number of ways using social media tools, the most effective ways being a Twitter hashtag and a Facebook event. Twitter hashtags allow Twitter users to promote the event themselves, while Facebook enables attendees to easily invite their friends.
There are many tools that can be used to encourage engagement at the event. From asking questions to checking in, social media tools allow for a more interactive experience.
Door Prize 2.0
Forget dropping business cards into a fishbowl to win a door prize—social tools allow for more creative ways for audiences to check into the event.
- Checking in with Foursquare: Create a location for the event on Foursquare and ask people to check in when they arrive at the event.
- Subscribe to a LinkedIn group: Have a laptop at the door and ask members to subscribe to a LinkedIn group when they arrive at the event.
- Follow the event on Twitter: Have a laptop at the door and ask people to follow you on Twitter; all new followers are entered into a draw.
These are just a few ways to integrate social tools into the check-in process. Just make sure you consider your audience and believe that they will be receptive to this type of activity.
Asking Questions 2.0
No longer do audience members have to raise their hands to ask a question—using Twitter, they can submit a question with a hashtag that will appear at the front of the room on a screen. Twitzu is a tool that you can use to create Twitter feeds for your events. You can create your own custom feed with little effort.
Share Your Event 2.0
With video becoming easier and easier to create and upload, you can record your event and share it online. A great tool for this is the Flip: this digital video recorder is small, inexpensive and easy to use, and shoots in high-quality HD.
Quick Tip: Don’t forget about the Newbies. Educating attendees on how to make the most of the social web tools available to them helps increase participation and engagement.
Events no longer have to end when people leave the venue—with social media, participation can continue online. The first step is to encourage people to follow the event (again, on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.). As well, you should encourage attendees to take pictures, notes, videos—basically anything they can share online afterward. Sharing the experience will drive people online to interact with others and relive the event together.
Make sure that you capture a lot of content from the event to share with attendees afterwards. This will be great content for your social media accounts and your event blog. Upload everything you can to these sites and encourage others to do the same.
Another great way to share content is to create a Flickr account for the event so that people can upload all of their photos to one platform. This is the best way to put a face to a name after an event.
Lastly, do your events use PowerPoint presentations? If so, create a Slideshare account so that you can share the PowerPoints from the event online.
Keep the Discussion Going
Ever wish you could ask an event presenter just one more question? Or you had a great question, but couldn’t remember it when your time came? Now attendees can ask those follow-up questions after the fact with social media. Keep the discussion going by asking the presenter(s) to follow a hashtag on Twitter and respond to any questions after the event. A similar system can also be set up on an event blog if your audience is not on Twitter.
The social web has changed the way we can interact with others online and in person. Social media are becoming more popular every day as people discover the many advantages of these channels of communication. In order to run a successful event today, you would do well to take into consideration these tools and integrate them wherever possible. Just remember to ask yourself these three questions before you get started:
- Do you have a communication platform?
- Who is your audience and what tools are they using?
- Are you asking your audience what they want and giving it to them?
Once you answer these questions, you will know where you need to start in improving your events. Just remember that we now live in a social world where everybody wants to get engaged. Give them a voice and they will make themselves heard.