The social energy of a special event — whether it’s a large convention or small reception — can be intoxicating. With a little planning and promotion, you can extend the buzz by capturing and curating online content.
In a previous life, I planned and promoted events for a busy association. (By busy, I mean we produced more than 100 events each year.) Why should you make time for online content when you’re that swamped? There are many reasons, but I’ll mention a few of my favorites here:
- Increasing engagement – When attendees share information and connect online with other participants, especially at educational events like conferences and seminars, attention and enthusiasm skyrockets.
- Gaining audience insight – If you’re monitoring updates posted at your event, you’ll get real-time feedback and learn what social media platforms your attendees are using. You’ll also be able to tell which elements of the event are capturing the most attention. At a conference, I can always tell which sessions will receive the most positive feedback; They’re the ones with the most Twitter mentions.
- Increasing SEO – If attendees include links to your event page and mention your organization in their social posts, you’ll benefit from increased website traffic. All those links and mentions are critical to optimizing your website for search engines, which are increasingly focused on quality content and social endorsements.
- Promoting your next event – If I’m sitting at home while my Twitter feed is pulsing with updates from an interesting event, you can bet I’ll be looking for an opportunity to sign up for the next shindig. You can include a subtle call-to-action in your own posts or curated summaries to gain extra marketing traction.
- Showing your brand image and personality – Networking receptions, awards dinners, and other social events typically showcase a friendlier and more approachable side of your organization. Likewise, seminars and conferences can lend credibility and demonstrate leadership within an industry.
How do you encourage participants to share tweets, photos, videos, and other posts from your event? You can set up a contest and award prizes. But the truth is, most people are eager to share and connect, so extra incentives aren’t usually necessary.
You should, however, do everything you can to make it easy for attendees to create and publish content on-site:
- Wifi and outlets – If you don’t have signal or power, those fancy iGadgets won’t be very useful. Check to be sure the venue has both, and publicize the wireless network password if the facility’s wifi isn’t open-access. If you’re feeling really ambitious, bring extension cords and set up charging stations for those who are running low on battery power. (Bonus: Just like water coolers in the 1990s, charging stations become their own little hubs for social interaction.)
- Hashtags – Create a short (8-10 characters, tops) and easy-to-remember hashtag and publicize it everywhere. Use it prior to the event on your website and social media accounts to generate awareness. Include the hashtag and an invitation to share on any printed materials you distribute before or during the event, and encourage people to use it on every network (not just Twitter). If you plan to post a summary or aggregate content on your event web page, include QR codes on signs throughout the space so attendees can see what others are posting.
- Identify influencers – Check the list of registered participants for your most vocal and influential social media advocates. (They’re usually the ones who are excitedly sharing your pre-event posts and announcements.) Ask them in advance if they’re willing to contribute by posting live updates, and arm them with cameras or laptops if necessary. You can also invite your most savvy supporters to help you curate during or after the event.
- Create your own content – Bring your own smartphones, cameras, laptops, tripods, and other equipment and ask your staff to create photos and videos on-site. When others see you doing it, they won’t be shy about using their own cameras to snap and share photos.
- Photo and video release – Let people know they’ll be photographed and recorded at the event, and allow them to opt-out if they’re uncomfortable with seeing themselves in photos or videos. (To be on the safe side, include a notice or model release in all registration materials, and post a sign at every entrance.)
This should go without saying, but it’s important to make your guests feel like it’s okay to post online. When moderators or speakers make a big deal about turning off electronic devices, it often sends the wrong message and ends up alienating those who are more comfortable learning and networking by interacting online.
After the event, it’s time to curate a summary. At our annual conference, the sheer volume of mentions was overwhelming. By sifting through hundreds of tweets, photos, videos, blog posts, and presentation slides, we were able to develop a multimedia synopsis that was viewed by more people than attended the event in person.
To create our social summary, I used Storify, a free online tool, to collect, display, and organize the most interesting and popular content. (Your Storify summary can be embedded on your website, or you can curate by hand and add individual pieces of content to your event page.) We posted a link to the summary on our social outposts, and also included it in all of our post-event email correspondence.
One of the best things about capturing and curating content at events is that it’s so easy and inexpensive. For a large trade show, we decided we wanted to have a “correspondent” (a.k.a. member volunteer) interview exhibitors so we could splice together a lighthearted but informative video for our YouTube channel.
We recorded the video with a consumer-grade digital camera and mic adapter, then edited in iMovie. We made the “correspondent’s” microphone was a plastic pipe, a couple pieces of foam, and some gaffer’s tape. You can do almost anything with some basic technical skills and an active imagination. Lack of budget is no longer an excuse for not producing your own content at an event.
Wrangling content at events takes time, planning, and commitment, but it’s a small price to pay for some of the most genuinely enthusiastic word-of-mouth marketing you’ll ever find. I hope you’ll try these ideas for using social media content to earn positive word-of-mouth marketing, increase engagement, and gain audience insight at your next special event.
If you do, let me know how it goes! Or share experiences you might have had in the past with event marketing in the comments below.