5 Lessons in Promoting Events Using Social Media (Back to Basics)

[fr] Leçons apprises lors de la promotion de Going Solo:

  • communiquer directement avec les gens (messagerie instantanée, conversation offline, téléphone) est le mode de communication le plus efficace
  • ne pas négliger l'e-mail, les dossiers de presse, le matériel imprimable: tout le monde ne lira pas le blog ou Twiter
  • rien ne devient automatiquement "viral" parce que c'est sur internet: aider les gens à vous aider à passer l'info, par exemple avec un e-mail "forwardable"
  • aller où sont les gens, les retrouver dans leur communauté (Facebook, MySpace, Rezonance, LinkedIn... partout)
  • ça prend du temps... beaucoup de temps

J'ai été surprise à quel point tout ceci a été difficile pour moi, alors qu'une partie de mon métier consiste à expliquer aux gens comment utiliser les nouveaux médias pour communiquer plus efficacement. Une leçon d'humilité, et aussi un retour à certaines choses basiques mais qui fonctionnent, comme l'e-mail ou le chat. En récompense, par contre, un événement qui a été un succès incontesté, et tout cela sans le soutien des médias traditionnels (pour cause de communiqué de presse un poil tardif) -- mis à part nouvo, qui a répercuté l'annonce, mais qui trouvait que c'était cher!

One of the big lessons I learnt while organising Going Solo is that promoting and communicating about an event through social media requires a huge amount of time and energy. In this post, I’d like to share a few of the very practical things I (re-)discovered.

Even though part of what I do for a living is explain social media and its uses in marketing to my clients, I found it quite a challenge when I actually had to jump in and do it. (Yes, I’m aware this may sound pretty lame. By concentrating on the big picture and the inspiring success stories, one tends to forget some very basic things. Sending managers back to the floor every now and then is a good thing.)

The main lesson I learnt is the following:

  • 1. The absolute best channel to promote anything is one-on-one personal conversation with somebody you already have some sort of relationship with.

Any other solution is a shortcut. And all shortcuts have prices.

This means I ended up spending a lot of time:

  • talking to people on IM, IRC, and offline at conferences
  • sending out personal messages on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Anytime you do something to spare you this time (like sending out a collective e-mail, writing a blog post, or even tweeting — situations where you’re not adressing one specific individual directly) you dilute what you’re communicating. You open the door to:

  • imperfect understanding of what you’re trying to say
  • people not feeling like it’s really addressed to them (lack of interest, or lack of awareness that their actions are important to you)
  • people simply not seeing it.

I have many examples of this. I created a page with material people could use to promote Going Solo, in particular, blog sidebar badges. But not many people put them up spontanously, even amongst my friends. But when I started pinging people on IM and asking them if they would please put up a badge to support my event, they did it. They just hadn’t got around to doing it, hadn’t realised that them doing it was important for me, or it had simply slipped their mind. It’s perfectly understandable: it’s “my” event, not theirs.

Another example is when I started sending out my “forwardable e-mails” (lesson #3 is about them), most people stopped at “well, I’m not a freelancer” or “I can’t come”. It took some explaining to make sure they understood that the main reason I was sending them the e-mail was that they might know somebody who would like to come to the event, or who could blog about it, or help with promoting it. If I spared myself the personal conversation and just sent the e-mail, people were much less likely to really understand what I expected from them, even through it was spelled out in the e-mail itself.

And that was a big secondary lesson I learnt while preparing Going Solo: it’s not because people don’t get back to you, or don’t act, that they aren’t interested or don’t want to. The burden is on you to make it as easy as possible for them to help you.

Let’s continue on to the next lessons.

  • 2. Blogs and Twitter are essential, but don’t neglect less sexy forms of communication: newsletter, press release, printable material.

The first thing I did for Going Solo was to create a blog and a Twitter account. Getting a blog and Twitter account off the ground isn’t easy, and it took quite a lot of one-on-one communication (see lesson #1) (and blogging here on CTTS) to get enough people to link to them so that they started taking off.

But the lesson here is that not everybody is on Twitter, and not everbody reads blogs. We highly-connected types tend to forget that. It didn’t take me that long to get the feeling that I had “exhausted” my immediate, social-media-enabled network — meaning that all the people who knew me directly had heard what I was talking about, linked to stuff if they were going to, or registered for the event if they were interested.

So, here are some less “social media cutting-edge” forms of communication I used, most of them very late in the process (earlier next time):

Some comments.

Our press release came out so late that we got no coverage at all from traditional media, bar one exception, which focused on how expensive the event was. This means Going Solo Lausanne is a great case study of successful event promotion entirely through social media.

When I created the newsletter, I spent a lot of time following lesson #1 and inviting people personally to sign up, through IM most of the time. I sent out invitations through the Google Groups interface, of course (to the extent that I got flagged as a potential spammer). But I also went through the process of inviting people directly through IM.

A word of warning about newsletters: don’t add people to your newsletter unless you’ve checked beforehand that they were OK with it, or if you have a very good reason to do so (they are the speakers/attendees for your event) — but even then, it can be risky. I was recently added to a bunch of mailing-lists without having asked for it, rather than invited, and I find it really annoying. It’s way more impolite to unsubscribe from a newsletter than refuse an invitation to subscribe, so adding people can put them in an embarrassing situation (be impolite vs. be annoyed at getting newsletters one doesn’t want).

  • 3. Don’t expect “viral” or “organic” spreading of your promotion to happen, but prepare the field so it can: the forwardable e-mail.

There is so much talk about the fact that social media allows things to spread all by themselves (and indeed, there is an important potential for that, and when it happens, it’s very powerful) — that we tend to expect it to happen and be disappointed when it doesn’t. And let’s face it, it’s not something that we can control (sorry for stating the obvious again, I’m doing that a lot in this post) and it takes quite a bit of skill to create the right conditions so that it may happen.

So, now that we’ve set our expectations, what can be done to help things spread? I mentioned having exhausted my immediate network higher up, so I needed to come up with a solution which would help me reach beyond it. How could I get my friends to mention Going Solo to their friends?

Of course, our use of social media in general allows that. Blogs, Facebook Groups and Events, sidebar badges… all this is material which can spread. But again — what about the people who aren’t bathing in social media from morning to evening?

Back to basics: e-mail. E-mail, be it under the shape of a newsletter, a discussion list, or simple personal messages, has a huge advantage over other forms of online communication: you’re sure people know how to use it. It’s the basic, level 0 tool that anybody online has and understands.

So, I started sending out e-mail. A little bit of push is good, right? I composed a rather neutral e-mail explaining what Going Solo was about, who it was for, giving links to more information, and a call to action or two. I then sent this impersonal text to various people I knew, with a personal introduction asking them to see if they knew anybody who could be interested in information about this event, and inviting them to forward the message to these people. Nothing extraordinary in that, right?

I of course applied lesson #1 (you’re starting to know that one, right?) and tried as much as possible to check on IM, beforehand, if it was OK for me to send the “forwardable e-mail” to each person. So, basically, no mass-mailing, but an e-mail written in such a way that it was “forwardable” in a “here’s what my friend Steph is doing, could interest you” way, which I passed along as a follow-up to a direct chat with each person.

In a more “social media” spirit, of course, make sure that any videos you put online can easily be shared and linked to, etc. etc — but that will be pretty natural for anybody who’s familiar with blogging and “being online”.

  • 4. Go where people are. Be everywhere.

Unless your event is already very well known, you need to go to people, and not just wait for them to come to you. If you’ve set up a blog, Twitter account, newsletter, then you have a place where people can come to you. But that’s not enough. You need to go where people are:

  • Facebook
  • Upcoming
  • LinkedIn
  • Xing
  • MySpace
  • Pownce
  • Seesmic
  • Existing communities big and small… (blogs, forums, chatrooms)

Again, this is a very basic principle. But it’s not because it’s basic that it’s invalidated by the magic world of social media. Where you can create an event, create an event (Upcoming, Facebook, Pownce, Rezonance — a local networking thingy); where you can create a group, create a group — I waited a lot before creating a Facebook group for Going Solo, because I had a fan page for it already, but as you can see the group worked much better.

  • 5. It’s a full-time job.

Honestly, I didn’t think I’d spend weeks doing nothing else but send e-mails, update Facebook pages, blog, send e-mails, talk to people, IM, tweet, e-mail again… to promote Going Solo. It’s a huge amount of work. It’s so much work that one could imagine having somebody full time just to do it. So when you’re (mainly) a one-person shop, it’s important to plan that a significant amount of your time might be spent on promotion. It’s easy to underestimate that (I did, and in a major way).

Working this way doesn’t scale. At some point, one-on-one communication takes up too much time and energy to compensate for the benefits it brings over more impersonal forms of communication. But that only happens once your event is popular enough. Before you’ve held your first event (which was the situation I was in with Going Solo Lausanne), you don’t have a community of advocates for your work, you don’t have fans (you might have personal fans, but not fans of your event) or passionate attendees ;-) , you don’t have other people doing your work for you.

At the beginning, every person who hears about your event is the result of sweat and hard work. Hopefully, at some point it’ll take off and you’ll start seeing more and more people blogging about the event you’re organising — but even then, it might take a while before you can just sit back and watch things happen. But in case this moment comes earlier than planned, you’re all set: you have a blog, a Twitter account, a Facebook group and a newsletter. Until then, though, you’re going to be stuck on IM and sending out e-mails.

A few last words

I hope that by sharing these lessons with you, I’ll have contributed to making things a little easier for somebody else in the same situation I was. You’ll have understood that I haven’t tried to be exhaustive about how to use social media for promotion — indeed, I’ve skipped most of the “advanced” stuff that is more often spoken about.

But I think it’s easy to get so taken up with the “latest and greatest” tools out there that we forget some of the basic stuff. I, for one, was guilty of that initially.

Also, one thing I haven’t spoken about is how to talk to people. Of course, some of what you’re doing is going to be impersonal. Own up to it, if you’re mass e-mailing. Don’t pretend to be personal when you aren’t — it’s hypocritical, doesn’t come across well, and can be smelled a mile away.

I haven’t quite finished reconciling my practical experience with how I believe things “should” work. I’ve learnt a lot, but I certainly haven’t figured everything out yet. I would have wanted to do a lot more, but time simply wasn’t available, so I tried to prioritize. I made choices, and some of them were maybe mistakes. But overall, I’m happy with how things went and what I learnt.

If you have had similar experiences, I’d be really happy to hear from you. Likewise, if you disagree with some of the things I’ve written, or think I’m wrong on certain counts, do use the comments. I’m open to debate, even though I’m a bit hard-headed ;-) .

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This entry was posted in Being the boss, Social Media and the Web and tagged advice, chat, communication, e-mail, entrepreneuring, event, facebook, im, instant messaging, lessons, marketing, Personal, promotion, Social Media and the Web, Social Software, Thinking, tools, twitter. Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to 5 Lessons in Promoting Events Using Social Media (Back to Basics)

  1. Ton Zijlstra says:

    Thanks Stephanie, this is very useful stuff!

  2. johntindale says:

    very insightful, Stephanie. I like the face that you mention traditional media. Sometimes people expect to send out an email and expect 300 people to show up to an event. I think that sometimes you still have to provide multiple ways and means for someone to find out about what it is that you are promoting.

  3. Reply to Stephanie {seesmic_video:{“url_thumbnail”:{“value”:”http://t.seesmic.com/thumbnail/emQIve0KFb_th1.jpg”}”title”:{“value”:”Reply to Stephanie ”}”videoUri”:{“value”:”http://www.seesmic.com/video/HLDSMBZH3r”}}}

  4. Oooh, that sounds confusing when i review my seesmic comment. What I meant to say is, Ton often claimed that organizing a BlogWalk is not a big deal, but looking over his shoulder I saw how much ‘communicating effort’ every event took.

    I thought I’d give the video comment a go, but it turns out to be more difficult for me to express myself oraly in English than it is in writing ;-)

  5. Suw says:

    Really good advice. I’m promoting my own event at the moment – http://fruitful-socialtoolsadoption.eventbrite.com/ – about adoption of social media in business. Sending out lots of personalised emails is exhausting, but I’d feel uncomfortable spamming people.

    This is my first event too, although it’s much smaller than yours, I can totally empathise with what you went through with Going Solo. The problem I have is not just about finding the time and energy to promote my event whilst also having to put the nuts and bolts of it together so that it functions as a full day seminar, but also, what do I do next time round? I’m hoping to run a number of seminars on different subjects, at a frequency of one a month when things get going. But I don’t want to keep bothering people with emails… we have a mailing list, but few people are signing up to it.

    How does one effectively promote regular events without getting on people’s nerves?

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  12. I like the way you promote social media but also remind us that it is really about the relationships we build with people that makes the difference. I plan to show your blog post to my “Marketing via New Media” class (at UC San Diego), which has many international marketing students.

    Let me know if you want to bring this conference to San Diego! :)

    You rock!

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  15. Jonathan says:

    Social networking giants like MySpace and Facebook often remind of swiss army knives. They've got all these nifty little gadgets on them that make you definitely want to own one, but nothing on there that actually performs their function as well as they should. Although we are still in an early stage of the social phenomenon, myspace, facebook etc. have inadvertently become the dinosaurs of the genre. The future belongs to sites like Linked In, techcrunch, eventorb etc. that have taken apart the swiss army knife and specialized on one piece or the other to perfect their functionality.

  16. Aimee says:

    Great blog. I am also in the midst of promoting an event in Toronto – with a strong emphasis on social media. I feel a little better knowing that I am using the same avenues of promotion that you have outlined above. It truly does take forever, there is no magic wand to make your event promotions go viral. Insights are much appreciated.

  17. Eric Roth says:

    Practical, savvy, and pretty open-minded for a self-described hard headed person!

    You’ve identified a number of ambitions and methods, but you seem to overlook the most essential question. How many people do you really need to connect with in order to count the effort as successful or worthwhile?

    For instance, there are over an estimated 800 million people who are English language learners. As a small publisher of an ESL textbook to help non-native English speakers improve the depth, quality, and fluency of their conversation skills, I don’t need “everybody” to find my website. In fact, I can make a decent supplemental income if only 300 people visit my site and only 3 people buy an ebook each day. Would I be displeased if 3000 people visited my website? Of course not. What about 30,000? No, I would smile quite a bit.

    Yet for this project to be successful I just “need” to make enough money to replace teaching an overload – an extra class that I often pick up at the university to give myself some spending money. If I took your advice, than I wouldn’t have any free time – and promoting the book would become my entire life. And that defeats one of my key original goals: create an engaging ESL textbook that would allow me to enjoy more free time and increase the quality of my life. How can I do that if I chase audiences and a few nickels all over the internet? Who wants to be a fulltime salesperson?

    Thank you for sharing your insights, experiences, and practical tips. They will help many internet entrepreneurs – including me. But personally, I’m very sceptical about the goal of “being everywhere” even if I could and adopting another “fulltime” job.

  18. msbpodcast says:

    Très bien écrit et très, très vrais.

    You may get a few more hits on this page than normal because I have featured it on my podcast and on my MS blogs.

    Thank you for encapsulating so neatly the complexities of promoting events (as opposed to event promotion.)

  19. Cailin Yates says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write this. It is very helpful. I found you via a tweet by @dahowlett with a link to your survival kit. I am so glad he tweeted the link! I shall be spending some time digging around your sites this week. Thank you again, Cailin Yates

  20. Love this post Stephanie. Very honest and transparent.

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  22. Hi Stephanie, I really liked your post, invaluable advice. I’m interested to know more about your comment that said setting up a Facebook group for your event was more effective than a fan page. I have a fanpage for an event I promote and am wondering if it should be a group. What are the reasons you think a group is better?

  23. Hi Maureen, this article is actually quite old and at the time facebook Pages really sucked. Now, I think I’d recommend creating a page rather than a group :-)

  24. Larry Pitts says:

    As someone just starting out, there is a lot of useful information here. I definitely agree with your comment about 1 on 1 being the best form of communication but like you said, being everywhere helps as well. Pat Flynn did a good presentation about that at blogworld.

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