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using social media to promote holiday events

Social Media Event Marketing: Own Your End-of-Year Promotions Like a Boss

Attending your last trade show of 2018? Having a Black Friday sale? Hosting visits from Santa and/or his reindeer? Whatever your business calendar’s Q4 jam is, you know a couple of things for certain:

  1. You really want that buzz. People talking about your event before it happens. People talking about your event while it’s happening. People talking about your event after it happened. Visions of your event replacing sugar plums in people’s dreams.
  2. Since it’s a marketing activity, you’re going to have to find a way to report ROI for your event’s expenses. So you really want to make it worth your company’s while. And, consequently, you can nestle all snug in your bed, without visits from Finance dancing in your head.

If your blood pressure is already up a couple notches when you even think about planning your amazingly-awesome-end-of-year event, let’s introduce some calm to your storm: science suggests that crossing items off a to-do list helps individuals feel more in control of tasks they find overwhelming . So, to help you out, we’ve started this helpful social media event marketing list for you (as well as a few others, below). Feel free to check it twice, and start your holly jolly sleigh ride towards event marketing success!

To get you started, we’re going to steal a page from high school essay writing 101: where social media event marketing is concerned, keep it simple—plan to, “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.”

Before: Plan what, where, and when to post

i.e., tell them what you’re going to tell them

Whether it’s time or money, people like to plan out their investments. That should also be true of your marketing team. When you’re facing the challenge of planning an important business event, take some time to consider the following questions before diving in:

  1. What is the desired outcome of your marketing campaign?
    • For example, if your company sells stuffed animals, maybe you want potential clients to realize their kid really wants a hippopotamus (stuffie) for Christmas.
    • How will you measure ROI? (More on this, below.)
  2. Who are you trying to reach?
    • Do you want to reach the parents buying the toy?
    • The child writing their letter to Santa?
    • Both? Neither?
  3. What does your audience’s decision-making process look like?
    • If your hippopotamus stuffies are ecologically friendly and made of recycled materials, they may cost more. Maybe the parent needs additional time to be convinced of the value proposition.
  4. Where does your audience hang out when they’re making these decisions?
    • Reading online articles and ads? Plenty of parents already know what their child wants for the holidays and what they’re willing to buy. However, grandparents, aunts, and uncles represent additional potential purchasers who are likely to read ‘hot toys for [age] children’ blog articles and ads.
    • Liking pics on Instagram or Facebook? Does your audience spend time admiring and posting family photos to social media?

Using this information, you can map out how far ahead of time you should be promoting content related to your event, and where to put it. (My previous blog post on choosing the right social platform for your audience can help you with that last part.) If time is limited, we recommend choosing only one platform and investing all of your time there, consistently, rather than splitting your attention while stressed.

Additional tasks to complete before your event

  • Plan out your hashtag ahead of time (be sure to research it —we wouldn’t want you to fall flat because you didn’t realize common usage has a different meaning than you thought).
  • If your social media channel of choice has free event promotion options, use them! For example, you can create an event post on Facebook. Besides free publicity, this also gives you the advantage of an RSVP list, which can help you estimate actual attendance.
  • Don’t be afraid to take ‘before’ or ‘set up’ photos. People love a look behind the scenes and seeing your preparations can help them get excited about the event.

When to start promoting

This is one of the most common questions we get related to social media event marketing. The actual answer is “it depends on the event, your audience, etc,” (those questions we posed above). However, I know that’s not what you read all this way for, so here are some rules of thumb to help.

  • If you’re hosting a conference or other event where participants are expected to travel, start your event marketing at a low level at least 6 months before the event. This gives participants time to get excited enough to buy a plane ticket before prices go too high.
  • Say you’re trying to reach parents of young children, and you want them to attend a promotional event at your brick-and-mortar. You need to give them enough time to slide your event into their calendars between playdates, birthday parties, and holiday celebrations. Give them at least a month to get their family’s schedules aligned for your event.
  • Let’s try another scenario: you’re planning your company’s annual holiday customer appreciation reception (sounds swanky, can we come?). You probably just need to give them a week or two, right? Wrong! Holiday calendars fill up fast, even for young professionals who haven’t had kids yet. In any other season, we would recommend about 3 weeks of notice, but for the holidays, 4-5 weeks is probably safer.
  • Our last example (after this, you’re on your own): you’re hosting a ‘Best Of 2018’ webinar for your industry. No one has to travel anywhere to attend, but you do want to make sure you make it onto busy schedules. Give it at least 2-3 weeks. This can potentially elevate your event from, “I signed up for it in case that hour opens up,” to, “I’m looking forward to it and would like to schedule that meeting for another day.”

During: Use social media to promote with panache

i.e., tell them

The big day is here. You look around to make sure that your team is in place, everyone is smiling, aaaaaannndddd—oh no! The only person taking photos is the professional photographer! Professional event photography is wonderful, but during the event, you want people to know what they’re missing. That means candid photos from, not just your team, but attendees. Or, better, yet,  if you’re using a platform that supports video, regularly going live for minutes at a time is a compelling way to promote your event as it happens. As with everything else, the work is easier if you delegate most of it. That means that everyone from attendees to petting zoo handlers can be a potential content creator for you.

Help attendees find their social media voice

  • Put the event hashtag literally everywhere. Yup, even there. This way attendees don’t have to struggle to remember it and can use it freely, which will help you find their posts (and respond!) later.
  • Create a photo-friendly event. Take the time to make your event visually striking. It could be the decorations, the dress code, the venue, the food, or all of the above. People share photos of things they find engaging, so make sure yours has a hook.
  • Encourage people to tag themselves in your event photos. Take pics of people talking, laughing, dancing, and otherwise enjoying themselves so that they want their friends and family to see them at your event.

Help your team members find their social media voices

  • Create a scavenger hunt-type list of shots you’d like to see. Post it in ‘backstage’ areas so that they can refer to it at need.
    If everyone taking photos does not have access to your company’s social media profile, create a photo repository somewhere. This could be as simple as handing everyone a phone number so that photos can be messaged to the point person, or creating a shared Google folder that everyone can upload to. As an added benefit, this also ensures that your more mischievous elves run their “hilarious” photos through a human filter before posting.
  • Designate one or two people who have the logins and authority to go live on behalf of your company, if appropriate.
  • Create a rough schedule so you can release engaging content evenly throughout the event.

Don’t forget to use your own event hashtags and post your updates to the event page so that attendees can easily find your photos to tag and share.

After: Recap event high points with social posting

i.e., tell them what you told them

Wow, the event is finally over and you’re not ashamed to say that you’re glad about that. However, the work is not over yet. The next 1-4 days is the time to monitor the post-event conversation and post the photos that you couldn’t get to during the event.

  • No matter the platform, make sure you’re posting photos to both the event page and your business page, if you have both, and be sure you’re using the event hashtag. This will help social media users find themselves in your event photos when they go back to look.
  • If you know who some of the attendees in your photos are, go ahead and tag them. This will also help users find their pictures.
  • Like, comment on, and share event photos taken by attendees. Respond to their comments (whether positive or negative). People love to reminisce and you want them to have great memories of your event.
  • Plan ahead to use content created at or for the event in a future #TBT post.
  • If you fall in love with a photo and want to use it for further promotional purposes, contact the people in it and ask their permission. If it’s a photo that an attendee shot, ask them for their permission to repost or use it for promotional purposes.

Calculating your social marketing ROI

Forget sleigh bells jingling—let’s talk about that buzz! Now that you’re the talk of the office, town, and North Pole, how will you know if it’s really making a difference in your business? After all, what’s the point of hosting a business event if it doesn’t contribute to the bottom line?

The equation for ROI is deceptively simple: ROI= (total revenue – investment)/investment. The difficulty comes in trying to accurately credit realized outcomes to your efforts.

If you are a brick-and-mortar consumer goods store, it can be pretty easy to tell if an event has paid for itself—just ask: did your revenue increase during the promotional time period? How does that increase compare to your event’s spend? For a B2B vendor or service provider, things might look a little hairier. After all, big contracts take time to negotiate and someone who attended your Winter Wonderland Open House might not contact your sales team for 3-6 months. Fear not, this is where your attention to detail and data management skills can jingle all the way.

There are several ways to attribute intent to buy to an event that happened in the past:

  • Enter attendee data into your CRM as soon as they come across your radar (this means that stack of business cards you collected throughout the night and all of those Facebook tagged photos could come in handy). This way, if they contact Sales at any later point, you’ll know that they attended one of your events in the past.
  • Ask new leads which of your marketing efforts they have encountered. This is not a super-reliable way to get information, since the human brain tends to delete nonessential details all the time, but it’s worth a shot.
  • Create a special promo code just for event attendees to use, which can help you tag their purchases or subscriptions.
  • Run a photo or other contest for event attendees. It’s a time-tested way to get newsletter subscriptions and contact information for your CRM, which can help you identify attendees even if they wait years to contact sales.

Since none of the above ideas are foolproof, we recommend that you try as many as your team can comfortably support. They also require some degree of preparation to work to your advantage, which is why it’s important to think about how you’ll calculate ROI before the event is over.

Once you have attributed a lead or sale to one or more marketing effort, it’s up to your team to make sure that your company’s CRM is updated regularly. This will help you understand whether your leads have an intent to purchase, and how much they are worth to your company. Not to mention, give you the fuel you need to begin planning next year’s seasonal extravaganza!

Make your next event sparkle with strategic social media

Using social media event marketing effectively has many more benefits than filling your profile with fun photos. If you do it right, you can use elements of your promotions to help re-engage your audience throughout the coming year. Next time a beast of an event is breathing down your neck, take the time to plan your promotions ahead of time, promote the ongoing event with finesse, and remind your audience after your event just how awesome it was!

We wish you a Merry Marketing Event and a Happy Q4!

Cynthia combines her passion for marketing with her background in statistics to manage several paid search accounts and provide social media analytics.

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