Houston NetSquared Learns the Big Secret to Using Social Media for Successful Events!

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According to a recent survey by Constant Contact, 77% of event marketers from small businesses and nonprofit organizations use social media as a complement to their event marketing.  The survey cited the top 2 reasons for using social media in conjunction with events were to attract new attendees and to reach past attendees with the overall goal being to increase awareness and attendance at events.

At the May Houston NetSquared  meet-up, Wesley Faulkner shared ideas and actionable takeaways for integrating social media with your event marketing strategy.   If you are like most nonprofits or small to mid-sized organizations, you may just want to keep reading how to increase awareness and registrations at your upcoming events...

The Big Secret

Wesley saved his Big Secret for event marketing success for the end of the evening's meeting last Tuesday - so I won't make you wait any longer to learn it in case you missed the meet-up:

"No event is ever really a failure unless you think it was." 

As event marketers, we all want to say our event sold out, our attendees had the best time ever and we exceeded our Fundraising goal from sponsors and donors. Let's call it a Perfect Event when an event accomplishes all 3 of these objectives:

  • Sold Out
  • Amazing Attendee Experience
  • Exceeded Fundraising Goals

Perfect Events are extremely rare for nonprofit organizations.  When you are a nonprofit planning an event with little to no budget, a small staff, and limited resources - chances are you are more worried about whether anyone will even show up than if you manage to pull off a Perfect Event.

What if No One Shows Up?

Hopefully, none of you have had to ask that question before an event - and I'm guessing there are more of you reading this that have had than anyone would guess.  Generally, events work out and Perfect Events are rare but successful events are not rare when you put a little effort and planning into the details.

Wesley gave great advice for those events when "no one shows up" - I put that in quotes because I don't think most of us have had a true zero attendance for an event.  If you've had an experience like that - leave a comment and share why you think it happened so we can learn from it.  If you end up with one of those events with few attendees, the key is to remain flexible and use the lower than expected attendance numbers as an opportunity to give those attendees the best experience ever.

"Not all events are a success; that's the one thing you can’t control."

If you throw a party and only 4 people show up, take photos, create an atmosphere online and more importantly, offline for those 4 people.  You have far more resources per person to give them a great time than you would if 100 people were there so make use of it to give those people the best event experience ever.

Social media gives you the chance to show how awesome your event was, regardless of how many people were there by providing you so many different channels and ways to send your stories: LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.  Use social media and this advice to implement Wesley's Big Secret so that none of your events will ever be failures.

Now that I've shared Wesley's big secret from Houston Netsquared, let's talk about the real guts of his presentation and how you can increase your event marketing to get closer to having more Perfect Events by using social media.

Different Strategies for Different Types of Events

Wesley recommends identifying which category your event falls into to first determine the best social media marketing strategy to use from three event types:

  • Traditional Events
  • Social Media Based Events
  • MultiFaceted Events

Each of these different event types will have different end goals for determining if they are a success.  You'll also typically find the events have very different implementation strategies, budgets, and audience sizes.

Traditional Events

Traditional events include events that have been around for a while and are usually an annual fundraising activity.  Wesley shared ways he's helped traditional events integrate social media into their events to make it easy and build awareness of the organization's cause in addition to helping attract new participants. Wesley states that "Events give people the opportunity to experience the struggle that you are going through to get to the finish line."

Find ways your attendees can share their accomplishments at each milestone during the event to enhance your social media marketing and event marketing campaigns. Wesley uses the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure as an example of how to include social media with the teams during the race itself to give the team opportunities to share their experience on social media channels.  His team was taking photos at each mile marker and sharing with their online communities as they went through the race.

Another option you can try is to create Foursquare locations at each mile marker.  Then encourage your attendees to "Check-In" on Foursquare.  Then, use Wesley's suggestion to offer messages at each mile with words of encouragement or a funny message on Foursquare so when they check-in, they receive a boost. Nonprofit organizations use these special events to raise money and the key is to get your donors personally involved when you plan your next event.  

Think of ways to give people an experience and then, add the social media element by thinking of ways to make that experience share-able online.

Social Media Based Events

Social Media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have inspired fundraising and cause awareness events for nonprofits like Twestivals and Foursquare Day.  These events are very different in that they typically aren't planned in advance by a nonprofit organization.  Instead, people who are active in their local communities and on social media sites online come together and organize the event.

Nonprofit event organizers should try and see the perspective that the people participating in social media based events are using their money as a "ballot" they give by attending events they've learned about on their social networks. Unlike traditional events where you are trying to make your event share-able online, social media based events begin online and the key to success is to take the online excitement and buzz offline and in a format where people will come out and "vote" for your cause.  

This requires your organization to first be online and simple to communicate with.  Wesley suggests you regularly look at who is following you on twitter and Facebook that are truly passionate about your cause and engaging online with you.  Reach out to these "Superhero Volunteers" online and ask them to help organize and promote your next social media based event.

Multifaceted Events

These events are harder to describe because they take on so many forms. In fact the branding and purpose can differ dramatically depending on who you ask at the event. Large conferences like SXSW and Love Austin Week span multiple days and locations, and managing these requires an ability to reach a point and then just let them run.  Some of these events will take on multiple themes and some events, like Movember, will span multiple cities and countries.

To make the best use of social media to promote multifaceted events, Wesley says "Go Nuts!" and find ways to get everyone involved and having fun online and offline.  The best way to get people involved is to find ways to personalize the experience each attendee has at the event.  For example, one event Wesley helped organize hired an artist who did charicatures of attendees for their t-shirts.

Here are a few more ideas that can help you personalize your event:

  • Personalize cupcakes, cookies, and other sweets for each participant
  • Come up with a signature cocktail for the event
  • Create a website just for your event
  • Offer customizable swag bags that your attendees can select items for before the event
  • Include Online Participants by sharing their tweets and offering event videos and photos on your website
  • Rent a photo booth or hire a photographer and send attendees home with a photograph in a frame highlighting your event

 Succeeding in the Social Economy

I want to conclude my wrap-up with Wesley's words of wisdom to keep in mind when you are venturing out into social media.

1) The social economy doesn't use the same exchange that we do at a merchant level... Give before you ask and be mindful of your social withdrawals.

2) You have to sometimes have a team member or partner who helps you get to the next step - Don't feel like you have to go it alone and you'll go further when you combine resources.  This is particularly true when you are combining social media channels to promote your event.

3) Be like-able and make it easy for people to find you and talk to you! I want to thank Wesley for a great presentation that gave tons of helpful ways to make your events more successful with social media marketing.  

You can find Wesley's slides from his presentation here - Social Media and Events: An Evolution.

We want to give a huge thank you to our sponsor Tendenci, the open source CMS for NonProfit Websites for the food, drinks and photos from our meetup: Tendenci Photos Album.

Connect with Wesley Faulkner online:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/wesley83

Blog: http://wesleyfaulkner.com/

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/wesley83

Join Houston NetSquared in June

Find out the details for future meet-ups on the Houston NetSquared Meet-up page and RSVP for our next meeting. Please "Like" Houston NetSquared on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Net2Houston and share the meetup with your Tech and NonProfit Friends!