Everyone wants that viral “blue-and-white dress” moment— that moment an innocuous product becomes an instant sensation across every channel on social media, and shared among millions of people across the world. Aft er all, there’s no better advertising than free advertising.
But that sort of development is a fl ash-in-the-pan scenario. It’s great at the time, but where does it take you long-term and how do you sustain the attention? It’s precisely why it’s important to have a curated and nurtured social media plan that is built to continually connect with audiences and is constantly fl ourishing.
On the flip side, social media can also be a doubleedged sword, and navigating the waters isn’t always easy—for every Dove Real Beauty Sketch, there’s a Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad right around the corner.
We talked to several local pros on making a feasible plan, avoiding disaster and always crafting a compelling story. With their advice, you’re sure to be liked, shared and retweeted.
Follow Our Lead
Social media always needs a good strategy. Whether it’s a long-term agenda or simply to satisfy the needs of a single event, posting and engagement needs some kind of outline.
Riley McElwain, a senior analyst at DigitasLBi—a global, full-service digital advertising company that provides a variety of creative services—explains in detail how to go about creating a foolproof plan.
First, you must determine your audience and the goal of your social media usage. Second, especially if your plan is solely for an event, you need to decide whether you’ll be putting any money towards the campaign. If so, determining the budget and platforms are next. While spending money on a social media campaign isn’t a necessity, it can increase your visibility by boosting posts, which strengthens results and popularity. According to McElwain, you can get nearly 1,000-plus impressions for around $5-$10. When deciphering where your money will get the best results, it’s important to define your audience and your desired result—otherwise you’re throwing money at nothing and hoping it will stick.
“Use as many targeting features as possible to really define your audience so you aren’t just wasting money or spraying ads to random people,” says McElwain. This will help you define demographics that are most desirable to you and ensuring their eyes are on your posts.
For planners who want to create a social media strategy specifically for an event it should be developed in tandem with an existing digital marketing plan, adds Tim O’Malley, founder of Chicago-based digital marketing firm Social Media Beast. That means coordinating multiple platforms, including your event planning tool (Eventbrite, for example), a Facebook event page, curated hashtags, dedicated e-blasts and more.
“There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to an event,” says O’Malley. “The larger it is, the further out you should start developing your strategy and your promotion schedule.”
In the end, the success of social media efforts can be measured in a number of ways, such as the amount of engagement, the virality of the event and/or how many people tuned into the livestream. “When an event goes as planned, and the guests have as good of a time sharing their experience on social as they did at the event itself, that’s the ultimate goal,” says O’Malley. “No matter how successful the event, though, there’s always something that can be learned for next time.”
Even the Best Laid Plans …
We’ve all heard about social media and PR disasters. In 2017 alone, United Airlines, Pepsi, Adidas and the Fyre Festival have made huge errors in judgment.
The point is, we’re all susceptible.
When you are in the heart of a crisis, people can turn on you when you either ignore your audience or don’t have a crisis communication plan to deal with the issue, says O’Malley, and nowadays those immediate tools are often social media.
“Crisis communication plans are the one thing you hope you never have to use but are happy that you have if the time ever comes,” he says. “Going silent is oftentimes the worst possible course of action.”
As far as specific disaster and crisis events go, Lauren Knuepfer Rozum—owner of LK Events in Chicago— hasn’t experienced anything inherently problematic. But, there was a situation with a vendor that had posted something on their personal Instagram page that LK Events’ client hadn’t approved. However, something of that nature has happened only once in the eight years of the company’s existence.
Still, it’s always wise to be prepared.
Lindsay Coats, owner of Stellar Edge Marketing Group in West Dundee, also notes that in the heat of an event, planners and social media managers need to know immediately if any negative coverage is occurring so they can react quickly and address the situation. One way of doing so can be to have a person on-site that monitors the event’s hashtag for the latest posts. This is imperative especially when you have a live event wall projecting social posts—if they’re going up on a monitor instantaneously and are projected to an audience without any approval process, the results could be disastrous.
The Real Bottom Line
In 2017, it’s no longer about making a business case to incorporate social media, but about encouraging every one to embrace and actively use these platforms.
“Social media isn’t something you have to convince any [business] to do,” says Kelli Keyzers, director of manager for Stellar Edge. “It’s about convincing them to [stay active].”
One tactic to demonstrate to clients this necessity is showing what others in the industry are doing. Once you provide examples of companies they compete with, it becomes clear that their presence needs to be stronger.
“Any way you look at it, [social media] is something that is putting their business out there for people to see and for potential customers to look at and interact with,” says Keyzers.
It also helps if you can provide businesses with all the metrics they need to see whether their social media use is effective or not. In doing so, companies can drill down into who their target market is and what best encourages engagement with that demographic.
“Social media is where everyone is at right now,” says Coats. “It’s almost a no-brainer because it’s such an affordable way for a company to reach such a large group of individuals [at once].”
Rozum saw the need for social media as her small LK Event business began to grow. She launched the company in 2009, just as social media began to take off. As her client base increased, the entire team jumped right in. Now, the LK team has monthly meetings with most of the time spent on social media strategies and follow-up.
LK Events’ largest platform is Instagram, with a following of 6,000 that continues to grow every day. Rozum notes that through social media use, LK Events has gained business by utilizing the tool in a way that is attractive to audiences and appealing to potential clients.
“I’m slowly learning and slowly understanding how important social media is to the business,” says Rozum. “It has really helped us.”
As far as a posting schedule goes, the team is committed to publishing content at least two or three times a day. Rozum selects a majority of the content, usually looking over photos the night before.
Not Every Event Calls for It
But not everyone wants social media at their events. Late last year, comedian Dave Chappelle banned cell phones at all 13 shows during his residency at Chicago’s Thalia Hall. No social media means no leaked comedy sets, which would have ruined it for the next audience.
To do so, he used a new technology called the Yondr case—a small pouch that security handed out to attendees, who were instructed to place their phones inside before carrying them into the venue. The cases allow people to keep their phones on their person, but they lock once everyone enters the venue and then unlock once outside.
If you do go all in on social media, know that you need to consistently deliver content, follow a schedule, and gain an audience via outreach and paid social marketing. Staying abreast of what the client wants is also critical to success, as is staying tuned in to your audience.
“The most important part of engaging your audience—that most tend to forget—is that people want to be heard and not ignored,” says O’Malley, encouraging planners to interact with posters by replying back. “At the end of the day, don’t forget the social aspect of social media.”
Staying on Top of Trends
Livestreaming and polling are a huge trend right now, according to Coats. One of the most common uses of livestreaming video is at conferences. If someone can’t attend, they can tune in via the social media pages they follow, almost as if they were sitting right there with the in-house audience.
O’Malley agrees with Coats’ insight on the abilities of livestreaming. For him, it’s the most important trend in the event world today.
McElwain, however, discusses trends in terms of data. Lately, he’s been seeing an increase in targeting and tracking abilities, which is a vital part to understanding the effectiveness of your strategy and campaign.
“Maybe it’s just because I’ve been around it longer, but it seems like there’s a lot more data available now to help you reach the right person at the right place at the right time,” says McElwain.
One of the concerns, however, is that it seems that social media platforms frequently alter their terms of usage. Once you get the handle on the rules and guidelines, they change again. That’s why talking with other companies about their social media strategies is important.
One way of doing so is with an Instagram pod, which Rozum uses to increase engagement and audiences. Pods are small groups of 10-15 Instagram accounts in the same industry that support each other and communicate via Instagram direct message. Every time someone in the pod publishes a new post, they share it within the message thread. All of the pod members then like and comment, encouraging other followers to do the same.
“It’s been really helpful,” says Rozum. “It’s a great way to stay connected and communicate with people all over the country I don’t get to see.”
Telling a Story
#ICYMI, #ThrowbackThursday #InternationalWomensDay—there is a hashtag for everything.
So it’s safe to assume you must have one for your event.
“If you start implementing a hashtag early enough in the meeting world, it can encourage registration and enrollment and therefore helps financially,” says Coats. “And it doesn’t cost you anything to do so.”
Stories are important for social media, too. People connect with personal moments. LK Events takes advantage of this with its Instagram account by regularly posting photos of their clients. But in telling these stories, you need to make sure you follow what the client wants by getting their permission.
“At the end of the day, we make sure we’re always respecting the clients and the event professionals,” Rozum says. In the terms of conditions for LK Events, there is a section in the client contract asking if photos from events can be posted to social media, with client permission. But even once they sign the terms, Rozum makes sure to again check in with the client to make sure it’s okay to post anything related to their event. She also suggests checking in with the official photographer to get proper credits.
“We really try had to keep our account completely professional and on brand,” says Rozum. Which is all you can really do—and if you go viral from there, consider it the luck of the draw.