Drawing a Crowd
In the Internet age, launching and promoting an event starts long before attendees show up on-site
For centuries, meetings and events started when a host introduced himself, welcomed attendees, and promoted the experience that was about to be shared. In the Internet age, however, where communication is instantaneous and constant, the process of launching and promoting a meeting or event starts long before attendees show up on-site.
And how well technology is used is often the deciding factor between whether your meeting is a resounding success – or a flop.
In addition, modern technology – and especially social media – has shifted the emphasis from an informational message to an experiential message. That means using all available means to trigger an attendee’s goals, imagination and enthusiasm.
“As an example of what progressive meeting hosts do today, we had a client that was taking an incentive trip to Fiji,” says Gregorio Palomino, principal of San Antonio, TX-based meeting and event planning company CR8AD8.“And we were able to hype that trip not just with text, but also with pictures.”
Palomino and his client created a closedaccess private website where only people going on the trip could see it and interact. “And we posted new content every day to really get people excited about the trip and the experience they were going to have,” Palomino says.“For example, a skydiving outing was on the itinerary, so we posted photos of people skydiving and asked our attendees,‘How excited are you to soon be jumping out of a plane over Fiji?’”
Although a 21st-century promotional arsenal contains a range of weapons, none is more powerful than social media when it comes to building awareness of and creating excitement about an upcoming meeting or event.
Over the last few years, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn reigned as the big guns. But more recently, newer tools such asYouTube and Vine have gained in popularity.Vine is a video-sharing platform that allows users to post mini-videos that are no longer than six seconds.
No matter what tool is being used, the essential consideration is that all
A current best practice is the pre-event creation of “Twitter chats”
messaging be focused on the self-interests of attendees, rather than the interests of the meeting sponsor.
“Your message can’t just be‘Register for the event,’”says Traci Browne, owner of Philadelphia-based Red Cedar Marketing and author of The Social Trade Show. “It has to be about creating something that will show that you as the event organizer are the source for the most up-to-date information in your industry.”
In other words, Browne says, the meeting or event must be perceived and understood by attendees in a larger context of“Why is this important? What’s in it for me?”It can’t just be about asking people – or ordering them, if they’re internal employees – to show up at the meeting.
The most effective information is always attendee-focused and not event-focused, Browne stresses.
“And that’s where so many meetings and events fall down,” she says. “All they do when they start out is say, ‘Register now for an early bird discount.’ It’s all about, ‘Register, register, register.’ But if people don’t care about your event, if you don’t explain to them why they should care and what’s in it for them, why would they register? Their real concerns are, “What am I going to learn at the meeting? What kinds of people am I going to meet? Why is the event worth my time and attention?” So that’s the kind of information you should be using in your day-to-day promotion of the event. Otherwise, no matter how much time people spend on your website, they’re not going to have any idea why they should come to the meeting.”
Picking Your Tool
Another factor to bear in mind is that each social media tool has a singular and inherent advantage. Therefore, each brings a different capability into the promotional process. “The biggest advantage of Twitter is that it’s concise and to the point.” Palomino says.“And people can retweet things they get excited about, which is another way to build buzz for a meeting or event.”
A current best practice, Browne says, is the pre-event creation of“Twitter chats, ” which creates a community of communication and shared interests around the event.
“Before the event, you can start twitter chats between speakers and attendees,” Browne says.“That way, attendees get a taste of what will be presented at the event. They also get to meet, via Twitter, other people who have the same interests they do. And all of that builds buzz for the meeting.”
Scott Hancock, the Fresno, CA-based marketing manager at Growth Media, Inc., a marketing and branding agency that helps clients promote their meetings and events, is a big fan of Linked In. “We help clients build awareness about a meeting and engage attendees by creating an event-specific post on LinkedIn,” Hancock says.“And we always recommend making an offer, such as if you refer your LinkedIn
connections to the meeting, you get something in return.”
One of the social media tools now generating the most excitement among meeting and event organizers is Vine.
“I am a huge proponent of Vine, because your video has to be no longer than six seconds,” Hancock says.“That means you have to keep your message succinct.You have to choose what you say very carefully.” And, he adds, as a practical matter it’s now very easy for meeting hosts or attendees to create high-quality videos on their smart phones.
By the same token, YouTube allows private broadcasts to a targeted audience. “And it is a very good way to give people a sample of what they’ll see at the meeting, such as speakers or new products,” Hancock says.
“And,” adds Palomino, “if your videos are really cool, they will go viral within your universe.”
The important thing to understand, Browne says, is that “video is the most underutilized tool out there for event promotion. And I don’t understand that, because events are all about visuals. And so much of the Internet is moving to video instead of just providing text content. But almost every piece of information meetings and events produce is text instead of video.”
The Tactical Advantage
Although it has been done for years, another time-tested tool is an eventspecific website. Large companies typically create it within their Intranet system, while smaller companies create a simple, standalone website.
“I’d like to be able to say that every company does that now,” Palomino says. “But not everybody has the budget to be able to do that. But I definitely think it’s important now to have a custom website for every meeting.”
A key reality is that a smaller company can typically get that done more quickly and less expensively than a large company, Palomino says. “A small company doesn’t have all the red tape that a large company does, so it’s just simpler for them to get it done,” he says.“And instead of relying on an IT department, they can just farm the project out to a local freelance web designer that can get a website up and running in a few days.”
However, says Browne, the critical consideration today is the surge in mobile technology and the increasing ubiquitous use of mobile devices by attendees. Therefore, Browne says, all event websites today must be optimized for mobile devices such as smart phones and iPads.
“And with the younger generation, you don’t even have to ask them to share information,” Browne says .“They just do it. They literally share what they’re doing, every minute of the day.”
Just as there are new things that work, such as YouTube or Vine — or even Twitter — there are old things that have lost their ability to deliver.
One of them is the once popular e-mail blast. It is increasingly difficult to reach people via a traditional e-mail campaign, Palomino says. For example, most bulk e-mails now go to Spam folders. “That’s
“With the younger generation, you don’t even have to ask them to share
information. They just do it”
why BCC mailings don’t work anymore,” Palomino says. “They get blocked.”
The key to success today is a subscription-based e-mail program that people opt into in order to receive ongoing information and updates about the meeting or event. “But even doing it that way, the average open-and-read ratio today is under 30 percent, ”Palomino says. “So you can’t really rely on e-mail as a primary tool. It’s a secondary tool now.”
And if e-mail is going to be used most effectively, it must be used in its most modern incarnation in the era of mobile technology. Instead of sending e-mails to a Yahoo or G-mail address, the state-ofthe-art is to use the various text platforms created by cell phone providers, such as @ sprinttext. “The thing to do now is use text e-mail addresses, so when you send it out, it goes as a text message to their smart phones or iPads, ”Palomino says.
However, he says, rather than relying on a particular technology or a set of tools, the most important secret to success is to focus on the old saying that knowledge is power.
“Do your homework on your attendees,” he says.“And know your attendee demographics. Know what you excel in, in terms of technology and social media, and focus on your strengths. Be open to new ideas and new technology tools. And be creative. If you always think that way, your meetings and events are bound to be successful.” BT