Beyond the Hashtag: How To Create a Social Strategy for Your Event

It’s 2012 and at this point I can safely say that social media has evolved from its metaphorical position as the red-headed stepchild of marketing into a more significant part of the family structure.  Social is now the first-born daughter; she’s a tennis prodigy with a 3.8 average, wait-listed at Harvard but early admission to Columbia.  The future is promising if she can keep her eyes on the prize and do something about that boyfriend of hers; we’re not so sure about that guy.

Social media is no longer an afterthought with regard to marketing budgets and I think it’s time for social to take on a greater role within on-site initiatives.   Plugging social into event sponsorships and experiential activations is something I’ve dealt with a great deal at Big Fuel, and in my humble opinion it isn’t enough to simply slap a Twitter hashtag on an event and call it ‘social.’  Not even close.

In a previous post I covered the ‘And Then’s’ of creating a truly social event, and here I’d like to touch upon building a strategy that is more than a QR code or a Facebook icon on the event poster.   Before settling on a Foursquare special, a Tweet-up, or an Instagram booth, take a moment to think about strategy.

Step 1: Identify Your Goals

Don’t be social for the sake of being social.  Use social media integrations at your event to solve a specific problem or achieve a particular goal.

Sample goals:

Increase viewership of evergreen content created at the event
Encourage attendance at a brand installation within the event
Leverage the event to drive new followers to owned channels
Reward current channel subscribers on site for their loyalty
Centralize disparate online conversations about the event

It’s tempting to say  “My goal is to increase fan engagement,” but even in this case its important to determine exactly what constitutes an engagement.  Is it a click-through?  A contest entry?  A retweet?  Until you identify the types of engagements you seek you cannot build a social footprint around your event that will be deemed a success when the final numbers are reported.

Though more lofty and difficult to measure, consider also your long-term goals.  It may be difficult to demonstrate something like improved brand perception through a single event, but keeping it front and center will help you develop your strategy for the task at hand.

Step 2: Identify Your Assets

T-shirts.  Tickets.  Signed merch.  If you’re anything like me, chances are you’ve given away more than your fair share through social contesting.  It is completely acceptable to first consider these ‘low hanging fruit’ of incentives, but once you’ve taken stock of what is available, start digging deeper.  I’ve found that experiential giveaways are often more effective in generating conversation than physical assets, and in experiential the possibilities are endless.

Step 3: Give Them What They Want, Where They Want It

As in any marketing activation the first step toward eventual success is to understand your audience and differentiate between what you think they want and what they actually want.  For starters, do your research and take an honest look at previous efforts that have flopped.  Every brand under the sun has a skeleton in its closet that might include a UGC video contest that 12 people entered, a $100k Facebook app that 150 people installed, or a $50k ‘viral video’ that was anything but.  Think less about what is cool and more about what will work, keeping in mind that many of the most effective social media activations are also the most simple.

Fans interact online with their favorite teams, artists and films in different ways and through different channels.   Take off your social media hat for a moment to consider this; a Pinterest board for your brand might be tempting to you as a social marketer, but if your client is the UFC and your fans are 85% male (my guesstimate), a female-heavy channel will not work.  This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t use all channels available to connect, rather that you should think strategically about where you’ll find success.  Choose your social medium based not on what is trendy and cool but what is likely to succeed in a meaningful and measurable way.

Step 4:  Determine Available and Required Resources

An on-site marketing activation can take a great deal of resources to execute.  Identifying what you’ll actually need to make a concept work before jumping into it will save you a great deal of trouble in the long run.  Ask yourself:

How many people will I need on site?
Do any new web elements need to be built?
What type of content do I need to capture on site?
What physical assets do I need to make this work?
Do I need a promotional partner?
What type of editorial inclusions do I need from my brand channels?
How much will this cost?

If nothing else this practice will help paint a realistic picture of what you have to work with and ensure that you don’t find yourself in over your head on event day.

Step 5: Put It All Together

By now you’ve determined your goals, the assets at your disposal, the needs and wants of our audience.  You’ve identified the social mediums that best engage your community and you’ve determined the resources needed to execute.  The final step in the process is to craft a program that is sure to be a hit.  Since all brands and events are different you’ll have to do this part on your own, but as a jumping off point think about the elements that cause a Youtube video to go viral or a hashtag to trend:

  • Surprise
  • Humor
  • Competition
  • Cleverness
  • Optimism
  • Edge
  • Emotion

Think beyond ‘event coverage,’ build your activation around one of these elements and social engagement is sure to follow.

For more social media insight, you can follow me on Twitter: @DanMaierle



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