10 Tips To Hosting Better Events with Social Media

by Adam Helweh |

Living in the Silicon Valley there are always events to attend. It’s not unusual to spend a day or two a month at a developer’s conference, networking event or a social media marketing summit of some kind. I recently broke my own personal record and attended three conferences in the span of six days. I presented and sat on a panel at the SocialBizWorld conference, attended BizTechDay and then the PayPal X developers conference.

Attending those great events over the last week inspired me to share few ways to use social media to spice up your own events. Read on for the goods.

Spread the Word

Shaherose Charania of Women 2.0 at BizTechDay

All three of the events used the web and social media as the cornerstone to their marketing efforts. All relied heavily upon Twitter as a communications channel. Each also used a core website with event details, links to external social channels, and a blog.

The blogs were primarily used to communicate up-to-date event details and important additions to the sponsors or speakers list. The BizTechDay team used video content from their previous events as a way to grab the attention of potential attendees. They featured it on their blog and linked to it in their email newsletters and Twitter feed leading up to the event.

How to Spread the Word:

1. Choose a Twitter hashtag to associate with your event & create Twitter ammo for your team.
As soon as you have a name for your event and details posted online you should create a Twitter hashtag. Examples of hashtags used at the events I recently attended were #sbworld (SocialBizWorld), #xinnovate (PayPal X), and #biztech (BizTechDay). Each was used leading up to and during the event. Go here to learn more about Twitter hashtags. Each week as the event draws closer, write a list of 3-5 pre-written tweets (Twitter posts) to provide your marketing team, sponsors, & speakers. This will make it super simple for them to help you spread the word to their own Twitter followers and gives you the opportunity to somewhat shape the messaging around your event. You would be amazed how more tweets people will share when given a list to start with. All tweets should include your event hashtag and a link to information about the event.

2. Use content from your previous events to drive visitors to your event website or blog.
Providing video of a great keynote, embedding a slide deck (via slideshare) from a previous presenter, or posting recorded audio of a panel gives you high value fodder. Link to it on Twitter, Facebook, and other marketing channels like your email newsletter to drive traffic to your event site.

3. Know your audience and consider traditional marketing channels to get butts in seats.
If your target audience is new to social media then using Twitter, Facebook, and other networks to get the word out may be much less effective. Consider marketing your event via local business organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce or marketing associations. They often have email and print newsletters as well as event calendars. Also don’t discount traditional marketing like newspapers and radio.

Use the Social Back-Channel

PayPal X iPhone App

The team at the PayPal X conference really did what they could encourage their attendees to participate in the social back-channel throughout the event. They went as far as to commission a developer to create a branded mobile app to be used during the event. In addition to the general conference information such as the speakers and overall agenda, the app allowed you to checkin (ala Foursquare) at different places around the event. Whenever I dipped into one of the many sessions I would open up the app and checkin to get credit for attending. By the end of the day I could view my standings on the app’s leader board and compare it to my friends who also attended. A bit geeky, but some added fun nonetheless.

Twitter has become the default companion medium at conferences. All of the conferences I attended utilized Twitter hashtags as a way for attendees to discuss and share tidbits about the speakers, sessions, and announcements.

While participating on the SocialBizWorld panel I recall a question from the audience about hashtags (mentioned previously in this post). The panelists spent the better part of a few minutes explaining the concept to the audience that compromised of mostly folks who were new to social media.

On the other hand, the PayPal crew dedicated a couple minutes during their initial keynote letting the everyone know what hashtag to use during the event and encouraging them to tweet. They also displayed the live Twitter stream on a half dozen or so flat screen monitors posted around the event floor. Adding to the discussions generated by the attendees were all of the folks from around the world that watched the keynotes and panels on live via a streaming video feed. The social back-channel provided some of the best commentary on everything happening at the event, but never interrupted what was happening on center stage.

How to leverage the back-channel:

4. Use a LBS (location based service) like Foursquare to create a place for people to checkin at your event.
Rather than allow attendees to checkin at the hotel or convention center where you are hosting your event, create a location named specifically after your event at that location for attendees who want to checkin. For example, here is the PayPal X conference location. To add your own venue on Foursquare you need to visit http://foursquare.com/add_venue.  Beyond branding your event a little bit for the LBS savvy folks (over 3 million users on Foursquare alone) it will also help them discover friends who are also attending. Don’t forget that checkins on most services are also commonly cross posted on Facebook and Twitter as well.

5. To drive the back-channel conversation during your event then use a service like Socialping.com to track and display all tweets with your event hashtag.
Hook up a dedicated laptop to a projector to display the conversation to attendees. Social ping also lets you add a leader board to their “Tweet Wall” which shows who has been tweeting the most at your event at any given moment. People love to see their own tweets scroll by on the screen. Depending on your event you may see only a trickle of comments in the back-channel or a raging flood. In either case, be aware that it may contain some of the richest discussions and feedback at your event. You might also check out quick and dirty options for displaying your Twitter feed like VisibleTweets.com.

6. To expand your audience use a video streaming service like Ustream.tv to share all or selective portions of your event live with folks who could not attend in person.
All you need to get started is a compatible video camera to tether to your laptop (find a list of recommended cameras here) and a relatively reliable internet connection. Many of the larger conferences invest quite a bit into live streaming their events, using multiple high end cameras, video switchers and a dedicated internet connection to make it almost like a live television broadcast. By planning ahead you can increase the exposure of your sponsors, speakers and event organizers without breaking any fire codes. Broadcast only selective parts of your event if you feel your giving away too much to folks who did not pay to attend. It is not uncommon to see many of the large event organizers live stream all of their major sessions as they happen. They understand that attendees miss out on networking opportunities and other things that happen between the presenters.

Generate & Repurpose Content

Conferences like these almost always produce a ton of user-generated content. You could rely only on your attendees to capture and share bits at your event, but I recommend having a plan of your own. The previously mentioned Ustream.tv has a nifty feature that captures the video while you live stream it so people can watch it on demand later. It also lets you upload your pre-recorded video to YouTube.

There were at least eight different concurrent sessions at the PayPal X conference — far more than I could ever attend during the tw0-day event. Luckily they are posting all the sessions in their entirety on their developer website here (login with your PayPal account to view). At SocialBizWorld they did not live stream the event, but they did have roving videographers traveling throughout the workshop sessions capturing videos and photos as they happened. I would imagine they will find a use for that content to market next year’s event.

How to repurpose great content:

7. Whether it is streamed live or recorded for later, capture as much video of your event as possible.
Raw video can be edited and used in numerous ways to help extend the life of your event even after the attendees go home. You can create a short video clip highlighting the best parts of the event or do like the BizTechDay team did with this Seth Godin video and drive traffic back to your site to view videos sessions past. Consider creating a few 1 minute highlight reels targeting not only potential attendees, but also sponsors. I suggest branding the video with your logo in the corner of the video and maybe even a URL at the end to direct viewers to the source of the content, you!

8. Hire a photographer (or a few if your event is large) and have them roam the event capturing moments.
High profile keynote speakers and attendees enjoying themselves are great visuals to immortalize in photos. Among the many ways you can repurpose those images you can post them on your organization’s Flickr account. This helps make the photos easily available to news media and bloggers covering your event. Here is an example of a collection of photos snapped at the TEDSoMa event by my friend Michael O’Donnel from ZatPhoto. A great set pf event photos like this would be even better if each photo included the name of the speaker, event name and link back to the event site in the photo description. Although I have not tested it, I have been told in the past that Flickr tags and descriptions are search engine sensitive.

9. Bring the viewers to your site to get the good stuff.
Both Ustream and Youtube provide embed codes that you can copy and paste into any webpage. Instead of linking to the site where you uploaded the video why not use those codes to embed video from your event into your blog or website to drive inbound traffic? There is an increased chance that viewers will check out other content on your site and possibly sign up to be notified about your next event (that is, if you have a way for them to give you their email address). With a couple clicks your visitors can also share the video with others in their social networks. Embedding a variety of great content into your site is a good way to attract visitors. Slideshare, Youtube, Flickr and many other sites provide embed codes for content that you might host there. Use them to your advantage!

10 For an added bonus, use a tool like Storify.com to piece together social media content from around the web to tell the story about your event.
Storify is a great tool for gathering tweets, photos, videos, and more into a narrative which can be embedded into your website and shared via your social networks. See how I used Storify on a previous blog post here.

These are a few of my tips for hosting a more successful and engaging event. Did you attend a conference lately and see anything interesting that made it more engaging? Share your experience and your own tips in the comments.

My View of Tim O'reilly Speaking at the PayPal X Conference
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About the Author

Adam Helweh

Adam is CEO of Secret Sushi Creative Inc, a strategic design, digital and social media marketing agency. He specializes in the convergence of design and technology to provide businesses with more intelligent and interactive ways to connect with customers and grow. His clients have included Edelman, Broadcom, Stanford Federal Credit Union, the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, Bunchball and others. He's also the co-host of the "SoLoMo Show", a weekly digital marketing podcast, and he has shared the stage with professionals from companies including Facebook, Virgin Airlines, Paypal, Dell and 24 Hour Fitness.