How do you effectively promote your event through social media to get people to actually register and attend? This is a question I’ve been asked numerous times. In this article, I share my secrets and go-to strategies for effective social media event marketing – and having attendees ask when your next event is.
Understanding The Attendee’s Dilemma
The venue is perfect, the food and drinks are delicious, and the lineup of speakers and activities is exciting. You should know, you planned it. The event day arrives and – empty. That’s how the seats and room look. There’s virtually nobody there and all your effort, time and money have gone down the drain. You made the mistake so many event planners make: you focused entirely on the logistics and not enough on communicating about the event, or you spammed your audience without giving any real valuable information. The first step to preventing this from happening, is understanding the conundrum your potential attendee faces.
In any given week, there are hundreds, if not thousands of social events in any one city. Most of them are promoted through word of mouth and traditional media channels like radio, TV, and maybe even the local newspaper. But increasingly, those events are finding themselves online through event-specific platforms like Eventbrite or social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and LinkedIn. What this means is that the average person has a variety of options for how they spend their time on any given day, evening or weekend. So, every potential attendee is faced with one very crucial question: to go or not to go?
As an event organiser or marketer, your job is to give them all the reasons why they absolutely cannot miss your event. That process of persuasion is what many call “event promotion” and “event marketing”. The most important thing to remember about event marketing is this: aim for clear, effective and useful communication. Ergo, do not spam. As an event organiser, your role is to provide all the information a potential attendee needs to decide whether or not to attend your event. Done well, you will succeed in not only reaching people, but reaching the people who will be interested in attending your event. So here’s principle number two: Quality over quantity, people.
11 of My Go-To Social Media Event Marketing Strategies
Now that we’re on the same page, let’s get into the 11 strategies I used for promoting Circumspecte’s first CirqMixer, our recent SisterhoodMatters event, and numerous other events in the past.
Know and Find Your Ideal Attendee
A rule of thumb for any strategic communication on social media is to know the profile of your attendee and where they are most likely to be. When it comes to events, you can deduce this from the type of event you’re organising and the type of individuals who would be interested. Is your event a brainstorming or educational one? Twitter and LinkedIn are where the thought leaders tend to hang out. Organising a fashion or beauty event? You’ll want to focus on Instagram which has a lot of fashionistas, make-up artistes and designers. Is your event more society or country specific? Facebook has the most numbers when it comes to African social media users. Planning a professional or business networking event? You better get on those LinkedIn updates. Of course, many people use more than one social media platform, so you should plan to have periodic updates on all the aforementioned. For the bulk of your communication however focus on the platform where the majority of your potential attendees will be.
Create a Timeline & Start Communicating Early
Many people wait until they have all the event logistics and details in order before they begin communicating. Big mistake – event logistics are never entirely in order, as such you’ll end up with next to no time for effective event marketing online. From my experience, event planning continues until the event starts, and once it does, you move into event management and problem-solving mode. It’s important to have a social media event marketing plan and timeline if you really want to see results.
I like to start event promotion once the basic event details (date, time and venue) are sorted out by sending out a ‘save the date’ notice. The save the date helps alert your audience that there’s something to look forward to. Make the notice catchy and visually appealing for best results – you can hire a graphic designer, or if you’re creatively inclined, take a stab at it with free design tools and templates like Canva. Once ready, share it on your various social media platforms and with your networks.
— Jemila #SisterhoodMatters (@jabdulai) July 7, 2017
There is no hard or fast rule on sharing timeline, but this is what I generally use. For high ticket events (say 200 GHS and above), I start promotion about four to six months in advance. This will allow potential attendees to prepare adequately. Social media marketing for medium-ticket events (75-200 GHS) begins about two to three months in advance, for the same reason. Low ticket events (up to 75GHS) generally begin about a month in advance of the event. For free events, I try not to start promotion any later than 2 weeks ahead of the event.
Craft a Custom Event Hashtag For Your Posts, Bio, Name
An event hashtag is a must if you intend to make headway with marketing your event on social media. Contrary to popular usage, hashtags are not a green light to #expresseverythingyouarethinkinginamomentandputahashtagonit. See, that was even painful to read. Instead, hashtags serve as an index, or if you would, a record of a conversation in the directory that is the Internet. On platforms like Instagram, hashtags form the bedrock of online communities and subcultures. Hashtags should be concise clear, and easily recognisable. For instance, the hashtags for the CirqMixer series and Sisterhood Matters event are #CirqMixer and #SisterhoodMatters respectively.
Include your custom hashtag in your posts, on your event visuals, and encourage speakers and attendees to use it when sharing their own content. By crafting and using a unique hashtag for your event, you can keep track of all posts or information put out by yourself, your teammates, partners, speakers, attendees and others. Beyond that, you also create a visual identity or association (albeit text or link based) for your event. If enough people use your hashtag online, it could become a community hashtag on its own – remember to review posts frequently and re-share relevant or interesting ones. Want to go really pro with this tip? Include your hashtag in your Twitter name. That way, whenever you tweet, you’re also showing off your event hashtag. Talk about being productive!
Create & Share Catchy Event Visuals (Photos and Videos)
Ever wondered why you gravitate more towards memes and funny videos when browsing through your Facebook timeline? Or why more and more people claim photo-sharing app Instagram as their favourite app? Science, baby. According to Hubspot, photo posts on Facebook get 53% more likes than regular text status posts. In a similar study, Adobe estimates an 650% increase in engagement from image-based Facebook posts over regular posts. The numbers may vary across the research, but they all point to one thing: there’s something about visuals (photos and videos) that make people want to click and explore further. As an event organiser, you can use this science to your advantage. Create an event graphic for easy sharing on all social media platforms, or design platform specific graphics like a Facebook cover photo and tag relevant accounts. You can also share details about your event with a photo or video from a previous event. Don’t have any eye-grabbing visuals yet? Create it on the go. The Instagram stories feature is great for giving a sneak peek of the event venue, or of your team working hard to welcome your guests. That said, it pays to invest in professional photographs and videos. Consider hiring a photographer and/or videographer for your next event to produce some, and make sure to get some attendee experiences on camera – trust me, they’ll come in handy down the line.
Registration & Tickets? Think Digital.
When was the last time you received an actual, printed ticket? My guess is probably a while back or less frequently than usual. That’s because tickets, registration and payments can be done online or with the help of technology. The plus side to using event tools like Eventbrite, MeetUp or local alternatives like EgoTickets? You can target your event using keywords, location and descriptors; send out periodic email reminders; manage payments; and print a registration form ready for event day. Eventbrite is also great for checking in attendees during the event with their ‘Organiser app’; for keeping a database of attendees; and for getting insights and analytics, which could come in handy in the future. You can also create simple registration platforms using Google Forms or TypeForm. By keeping it digital, you keep your attendees’ information safe and within easy reach, while helping save the planet by printing less. Pro tip: embed your registration form onto your website or blog or link it to your Facebook page to make it easy for your readers and audience to get their tickets. Then, create a custom, easy to remember, bit.ly linking to the form eg. bit.ly/CirqMixer.
Create a Facebook Event
Facebook is gradually becoming the ‘Google of everything’, and yes, that means events too. By creating a Facebook event, you can easily invite your friends and have them invite their own friends to your event with the click of a button. A Facebook event also has powerful features which allow you to keep your attendees in the loop on any changes, post photos and videos, indicate the event venue or simply encourage attendees to network and ask questions ahead of the event. If you use a Facebook Business page, you can also tag any event partners. At the very minimum, a Facebook Event is a record of your event; something which can prove useful when writing those annual reports or pitching to potential event sponsors.
Introduce Speakers, Partners, Key Event Personalities
Why do people attend events? To meet other people and to gain new insights. Depending on the type of event you’re organising, you’ll probably have a number of resourceful individuals or entities in attendance. Highlighting speakers, partners, resource personnel, or special guests will not only help bring credibility to your event, but will also nudge those attendees who are on the fence in the right direction. You may choose to create an album or post on your chosen platforms with speaker photos or partner logos along with their names and roles, but it’s better to go a little further. Share speaker or company bios to tell your audience who the speakers or partners actually are and why they’ll be attending. Want to leave something to the imagination? Consider sharing a quote from a speaker or a response to a question you asked. Remember to tag speakers and partners on the posts – they’re more likely to respond enthusiastically and share with their own networks. Yes, eyeballs.
Encourage People to Share Event & Invite Others
There’s power in the network, and that’s what you need to tap into if you’re looking to reach the right people for your next event. Where to start? With the people who have already agreed to be part of your event: the speakers, attendees, even past event participants. Reach out to them with the event details and don’t be shy to ask them to share with their own networks or specific people they think might be interested. To make it easier for them to share, consider drafting a tweet or post for them – with all the necessary hashtags – and encourage them to share on their social media platform of choice with the attendant event graphics. It’s a very simple gesture which goes a long way in helping increase the visibility of your event substantially. To make it easy for you, here’s a sample of the message I include in my emails to speakers. If you have the budget for it, you can also consider engaging the services of influencers or digital marketers (like myself) to reach a broader audience of possible attendees.
Start the Conversation & Give a Preview
The pre-game. It’s a concept that is used often and that serves its purpose: anticipation. From the mock exams before the actual exam, the series of friendly matches before the grand football tournament, and even the drink up before the night out. A pre-game basically gives a preview of what’s to come. More importantly, it gets people in the right mood, headspace, and talking. Hello, anticipation! The pre-game for events would be the pre-event and on social media it can take numerous forms. For instance, a Twitter chat on a topic to be explored during the event; a Facebook Live video session to provide information and answer questions; an Instagram contest with prizes from partners; a poll of attendees and even a video or blog post on why the event is being organised in the first place or giving tips to attendees on things like what to wear.
The pre-game can be a single pre-event or a series of pre-events like the Sisterhood Matters Facebook Live Series I hosted ahead of Circumspecte’s Sisterhood Matters main event. This is undoubtedly one of the more involved strategies, but I can assure you that it brings results. By using this strategy, you move beyond simply “promoting” (or spamming your audience) to starting useful conversations. And what’s better than you talking about your own event or topic? Other people talking about your event or topic. Winning!
Give a ‘Behind The Scenes’ Look
This next one is a super pro strategy. Planning a successful event is by no means an easy feat – so why don’t you take your audience along with you on the ride? From brainstorming, to visiting venues, meeting up with vendors, having team meetings, securing a great partner, shopping for the event and even dealing with crises, any of those key moments in your event planning journey will make for great behind the scenes footage. Why give it a shot? It’s an invitation to your audience to get involved in your story – psst, they are more likely to stick around afterwards and show up. You make your attendees feel special when they see how much effort you put into the event. You can share the highlights and the low moments, but make sure to strike a balance. If you’re really up to it, ask your audience for their help or input in solving a problem – you might be surprised just how helpful they end up being. This one can be a quick win or a hard fail, so again, tread carefully and experiment a bit with team members before going full-fledged. With some guts and creativity, you’ll be able to pull it off, and hopefully have fun while at it.
Create a Twitter Thread With All The Essentials
Remember what I said in the beginning about never truly ‘finishing’ event planning until you enter problem solving mode? Yeah, that means you likely won’t have time on the day of the event to be answering questions, giving directions, or answering phone calls. The solution? Create a Twitter thread with all the responses to frequently asked questions and include contact details for someone on your team who can take such calls. The most common question I receive a day to an event is usually directions to the venue, so you may want to include Google directions and a photo of the venue if possible. Once the Twitter thread is created, share it with all team members and on your relevant platforms – and pin it to the very top. You can also come up with another custom bit.ly link for the thread as well, something like bit.ly.com/CirqMixer-faqs so it’s easy to rattle off to someone if you have to. Try it and thank me later.
It's Sisterhood Matters event day! We're excited to welcome you at @soronkoacademy in East Legon. Here's a thread with a few pointers and important information. #SisterhoodMatters #CirqMixer #Ghana pic.twitter.com/AUUerAiB8l
— Circumspecte • #ThriveWithDigital ? (@Circumspecte_) April 7, 2018
And that’s it – 11 powerful strategies for event marketing on social media. Which ones are you excited about trying out? Leave a comment and let us know. Want to learn more about social media? Sign up to train with me.The most important thing to remember about event marketing is this: aim for clear, effective and useful communication. Ergo, do not spam. - @jabdulai Click To Tweet
You made it to the end! Thanks for reading! Find me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more tips on the fly.
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.