In the last 10 years I've been part of countless project teams involved with promoting events including The Ashes (Cricket), The Commonwealth Games, various music festivals / concerts and more.

I can think of several occasions during that period where PR wasn't fully integrated into the process until it was too late to shape strategy and / or positioning (in fact, in most cases it was a relatively last-minute 'bolt-on').

While this has improved over time, it appears social media integration is the latest to suffer from 'bolt-on' syndrome as opposed to being 'built-in' to the project team from day one.

To bring this to life, let's take a look at one social media channel, Twitter, and how it can significantly increase engagement leading up to, during and post 'live events'.

'Live events' and Twitter - Why?

Twitter is a great channel for brands and organisations to use when it comes to events that rely on participation to thrive, whether that's 'in the flesh' or 'virtually' (no matter the size).

A lot has also been made of late in regards to the positive impact Twitter is having on television programming, as it facilitates global conversations and interaction, which increases 'buzz' and interest.

It is a great example of social media amplifying traditional elements of the event marketing mix, making the participant feel even closer to the action.

I've compiled some thoughts as to how Twitter (as an example), if factored into event planning early enough, can significantly increase event 'presence' and 'engagement'.

'Live events' and Twitter - How?

If you were sitting in on that first project meeting, these are the types of questions you might want to ask / elements to keep in mind, especially in relation to #hashtags.

#Hashtag(s)

First, a quick reminder of what a Twitter #hashtag is courtesy of Mashable:
The hashtag is a favorite tool of conferences and event organizers, but it's also a way for Twitter users to organize themselves: if everyone agrees to append a certain hashtag to tweets about a topic, it becomes easier to find that topic in search, and more likely the topic will appear in Twitter's Trending Topics.
With that in mind, let's consider some questions you might want to ask...
  • What #hashtag(s) will users adopt when referring to your event?
  • Do you need to create an 'official' #hashtag?
  • Is there likely to be more than one term of reference in use?
  • Is the #hashtag unique / can it be duplicated? 
  • How many characters is it?
  • Is it memorable / distinguishable?
All of these questions will help in the creation of your strategy.

A good example is the NCAA Basketball Tournament which concludes this weekend (3-5 April, 2010).

Some of the #hashtags in use have been #NCAA, #NCAABB, #FinalFour, #Final4, #MarchMadness plus numerous team #hashtags.

In an ideal world, a marketer would like to see one #hashtag adopted as it increases the chance of becoming a 'trending topic' which will attract interest from other people wondering "why is the world talking so much about X" - in other words, it encourages the age-old "why aren't I in on that?" mentality which is very powerful way of encouraging interest from new audiences.

From a retention perspective, it makes people already involved in the event feel like they are part of something 'big' - again, another very powerful human need.

Making it happen

Now, your #hashtag is only one element of your overall approach, but for the 'user' it is one of the easiest ways to connect to your event / product...so it is vital to make it easy for them to find, adopt and promote it.

Let's assume you've answered the questions posed earlier, and a mutual consensus has been reached as to the #hashtag that will be in use (whether that is user-led or product/event driven).

How do you then ensure mass adoption / use?

The answer is that you can't (sorry!), but you can do enough to give it the best chance possible, including:
  • Publicising its existence via the official event Twitter channel, regularly and consistently
  • If it is a televised event, encourage your rights holder to feature it 'in broadcast'
  • Feature the #hashtag in relevant places on the event website / blog i.e. media section, event attendee section etc
  • Include it in the tangible materials at the event i.e. signage, printed materials, scoreboards etc
  • If there is a PA system, encourage its use via that platform
By doing these things you are only enhancing and extending the reach of your event, which for all parties involved adds considerable value.

This is only the tip of the iceberg.

To ensure full value is achieved from the social media element of your event plan, you need more than just a solid #hashtag approach, but it's a big part...don't let it slip.

What are your thoughts on #hashtags?

What other questions would you pose?

What other avenues / channels would you use to promote your desired event #hashtag?

I'd love to know what you think.


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