When you go to an event, is social media at the top of your mind? The answer should be yes if the event planners and marketers have done their jobs right. As a professional event photographer who attends and documents events for a living, I’ve seen a great many examples of events that effectively harness social media, and those that sadly neglect to incorporate it at all. Perhaps the worst cases are those events that know they need a social media presence, but do a poor job of maximizing it to their advantage.
Whether you plan or simply attend professional or casual events, I’ll show you several ways to use social media to increase awareness and interaction while the event unfolds.
1. Choose your Social Media Platforms
For events, the major social media channels you’ll want to pay most attention to are Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. There’s a particular emphasis on the first two channels because it’s perfectly acceptable to post frequent Tweets or Instagram photos in a short time span, whereas this is normally seen as being spammy or just plain annoying on Facebook. Also, Twitter and Instagram make the most use of hashtags, while Facebook does not. More on hashtags later.
Event Planners: Make sure the event you’re hosting (or the organization that’s hosting it) has their own dedicated Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts. Also, make sure there’s at least one dedicated person to check these accounts frequently before, during, and after the event to respond to any direct interaction from attendees.
Event Attendees: Have your own Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts set up, and be sure to find and follow the official accounts for the event you’re attending. Depending on how active those accounts are, you may even be able to direct message these accounts with questions, feedback, or comments.
2. Have easy access to the Internet.
To increase the odds of event attendees interacting on social media, a constant Internet connection has to be available in the event space.
Event Planners: Whenever possible, always offer complimentary Wi-Fi to all event participants. Make the Wi-Fi network and password easy for all attendees to find and remember, and to reinforce branding, try to customize the network name and password to terms related to the event.
Event Attendees: Always search event programs and handouts for any information regarding complimentary Wi-Fi. Using Wi-Fi to upload photos and post status updates to social media will generally be faster than 3G or 4G connections, and it helps conserve your mobile phone’s data plan. If for some reason the event is held in a space without cellular reception or included Wi-Fi, it might be wise to bring your own Internet hotspot with you if you have one.
3. It’s all about hashtags.
The best way to unify all associated social media updates is to use a hashtag, which is basically a word or group of words preceded by hashtag definition. On Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, all hashtags are searchable links, and clicking on them will produce a stream of status updates that mention the subject in real time.
Event planners: Be sure to create a hashtag for the event you’re hosting, and make sure the hashtag is included in all printed material, digital decks or slides, and mentioned frequently by speakers or emcees. Remind attendees about the hashtag and encourage them to use it to document any memorable moments. Also, be sure official event staff monitors the hashtag before, during, and after the event to address concerns and answer questions.
Event attendees: As an attendee, hashtags are a great way to keep up with the overall sentiments about the event as well as to stay in the know about any surprises. Tweets with event hashtags will often contain memorable quotes and photos from any speakers (perfect for retweeting), or even breaking news if a celebrity makes an unannounced special appearance or a booth is giving something away.
4. Be aware of any key influencers.
Nearly every event these days has a good number of social influencers in attendance, and every social influencer has a solid following on social media. Instead of simply letting these influencers engage with attendees in person, why not offer online interaction as well?
Event planners: Gather the social media account information for every major influencer that you know will be in attendance, such as key speakers, emcees, performers, etc. Prepare a list of names and Twitter handles, Instagram accounts, and Facebook accounts of each influencer, and give these lists to members of the media at a bare minimum. Media will LOVE you for doing this. Depending on your social media goals, it may even be appropriate to make these lists available to all attendees as well, but definitely do this for media.
Event attendees: Don’t be afraid to Tweet at or mention celebrities or influencers at events. Did you take a great photo of them or love something they said or did? Let them know by mentioning them on social media. They may reply to you directly, or even retweet you!
5. What should people post about and why?
Ideally, this is a question event planners and marketers should answer and provide ample direction for attendees.
Event planners: Most of the time, it’s not enough to simply create social media accounts and hashtags, and simply let them be. Attendees need incentive to use social media, and even some prompts and direction about what to post about. To start answering this question, it’s important to evaluate what you want to get out of the social media experience. Some ideas:
- User generated photos, video, and media for possible re-use in marketing campaigns.
- Honest feedback from attendees about how they feel about the event.
- A chance to connect with and hand out branded material or souvenirs to social media influencers (those with lots of existing followers)
- Increased likes, follows, and comments across social media platforms for social proof.
- Increased shares or retweets for more visibility from users who may not have heard about the event otherwise.
When you figure out the goals you want to achieve with social media, develop an execution strategy. It might look something like this:
- Host contests for the best event photos or videos, offering branded merchandise as prizes. Retweet or reshare the best ones.
- Ask attendees for their feedback on certain keynote addresses and specific parts of the event. If there’s positive feedback, retweet or reshare; for negative comments, reply back immediately offering help or restitution.
- Empower attendees with easy-to-share assets. Work with event photographers to gather high-quality images of memorable moments throughout the event and make them available immediately via social media platforms. If these assets connect appropriately with attendees, they will share, increasing the chances of going viral.
Event attendees: As you’re following official social media accounts and hashtags for the event, show your support for the content that resonates with you by liking, retweeting, and commenting. This has the effect of not just making you look cool to peers, but also showing the event hosts what you liked (or didn’t like).
These are just a few of many observations and tactics that I’ve noticed to be effective at the great many events I attend every year. How about you? Have you seen any other creative ways to promote an event?