When it comes to running events, the last thing you want is to pour time and money into planning an event only to have it flop.  One of the keys to a successful event is driving people to actually attend.  And that’s not always an easy thing to do.  We’re all busy and have a wide variety of interests vying for our attention.

Enter social media.

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Social media is something that everyone’s heard of, but how can your nonprofit use it to help you better serve your community?  One way social media can impact your organization is to help drive people to attend your nonprofit’s events.

As a quick note, this article is meant to be a solid starting point, but by no means a comprehensive guide.  We’ve decided to focus on what we think are the most effective and easiest ways for nonprofits to use social media to drive people to their events.

But before getting into the specifics, let’s make sure we’re on the same page when it comes to what social media actually means.

What is Social Media?

We define social media as an umbrella term for web applications that allow users to share content and engage in two-way communication around various topics.  Basically, if you can share and converse with others, we consider it a form of social media.

Some of the most popular social media sites include:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest
  • Foursquare

Content sharing has been around since the very beginning of the internet.  But this notion of two-way communication is what makes social media so powerful.  The fact that you can have real-time conversations with people interested in your cause from all over the world can be hugely beneficial to your nonprofit.

But let’s stay focused.  How can you use social media to bring people to your events?  Here are some ideas.

Use Social Media to Complement Your Other Marketing

Social media is not a replacement for everything you generally do to promote an event.  Patrick Shea, a marketing manager at HubSpot, makes the point in a webinar that social media should complement all of your marketing efforts when it comes to promoting an event.

Perhaps you are already sending out an email newsletter.  Place links to your social presence in every email newsletter you send out.

Maybe you already send out a direct mailer quarterly.  Incorporate your Facebook and Twitter presence into this mailer.

Whatever you’re doing, augment it by infusing your social media presence.  This will look different for every organization, but some thoughtful planning can really help your social presence gain some traction and start providing value to your nonprofit.

Integrate All of Your Social Channels

Before jumping into promoting events on social media, it’s beneficial to take stock of the social presence you’ve developed.  There’s a way for you to use each social media channel in a unique way to promote an upcoming event.  The key here is to plan ahead about how you’re going to use each piece of your social presence.  While some overlap is alright, each service is unique and has certain strengths you should be utilizing in an effort to get the most people to attend your event.

Some ways to utilize these strengths are addressed below.

Create a Twitter #Hashtag For Your Event

What is a Hashtag?

Twitter defines a hashtag as follows:

The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet.  It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages.

It’s basically a way for anyone interested in conversing about a topic to easily find others talking about it.  It allows someone that wants to find out what’s being said about a topic to easily run a Twitter search and see all the Tweets that have used a specific hashtag.

Think of your hashtag as the common thread that ties all of the Tweets about your event together.

Creating an Event Hashtag

Having a hashtag for your event can be really valuable when promoting it on Twitter.  There are a few things you should keep in mind when creating a hashtag for your nonprofit’s event:

  • Develop it early.  It’s great to have it from the outset of your event promotion.
  • Keep it short.  Remember, you only get 140 characters in a Tweet.  Shorter hashtags are definitely better.  Something like #envirocon is much better than #environmentalconference.
  • Only use one.  Multiple hashtags for one event will lead to multiple conversations happening simultaneously on Twitter.  It’s almost always better to unify these conversations.
  • Promote it.  Put the hashtag on other promotional materials (like emails, direct mailers, your website, etc.).  Those that use Twitter will know what it is and be more apt to use it.
  • Make sure it’s unique.  If others are using the same hashtag, your conversation will get mixed in with theirs.  Before deciding on a hashtag, put it (including the #) in a Twitter Search to make sure no other results show up.
  • Actually use it.  Make sure you include your hashtag in the Tweets you send out relating to your event.  You want your Tweets to show up in the conversation.

Planning your hashtag from the outset can help your nonprofit use it to your benefit before, during and after an event.  Remember, your hashtag can still be useful after an event is over.  If you’re Tweeting during an event, definitely use the hashtag to pique interest.  And if you’re talking about the event after it’s over, you should still use your hashtag to tie the conversation together.

How to Monitor Your Hashtag

In addition to setting up and using your hashtag, you’ll want to keep an eye on it to see what others are saying.  Monitoring the conversation happening around your event is easy if you’re using a social media management application like TweetDeck or HootSuite.  If you’re not using such an application, now’s a good time to start.

Tracking a Hashtag With TweetDeck

I’m basing these directions on using the desktop application.  If you’re more a fan of the web application, the steps are pretty similar.

  1. Click the “Add Column” icon at the top of the screen (it looks like a plus sign inside of a circle)
  2. Type your hashtag into the search box (including the #)
  3. Click the gray “Search” button

That’s it.  A column has been created that will pull in the stream of any Tweet that uses your hashtag.

Tracking a Hashtag with HootSuite

It’s just as easy to monitor your hashtag with HootSuite.  For these directions, I’m using the HootSuite Desktop (Chrome) version.

  1. Type your hashtag (including the #) into the “Search Twitter…” box in the upper right
  2. Hit enter
  3. In the popup window, click the “Save as Stream” button

You should now see a column that’s pulling in the stream of Tweets mentioning your hashtag.

Create a Facebook Event

If you haven’t already done so, you should start by creating a Facebook page for your nonprofit.  Unlike your personal Facebook profile which requires users to request to be your friend, users can Like your page allowing them to follow the content your nonprofit publishes on Facebook.

Listing your upcoming event on Facebook can significantly bolster its visibility and ultimately its turnout. Facebook Events helps combine the power of social media with event promotion in some of the following ways:

  • Leverage social networks.  When a supporter RSVP’s that they’ll come to your event, it shows up in their feed and the feeds of their friends, increasing the likelihood friends will follow suit.
  • Tell your event’s story.  This is a great opportunity for you to tell the story behind your event, including how it started and why it’s important.
  • High visibility.  Many people are already using Facebook daily (on average more than 450 million people).  Take your event promotion to where your supporters already are.
  • Easy to invite.  Through Facebook Events, you can easily invite your Facebook friends to your upcoming event to help spread the word.
  • Cross-promote.  If you’re using a third party to handle registration, put a link on the Registration Confirmation page that links to your Facebook Event.  After they’ve registered, push them to indicate they’re coming on Facebook as well.

For more details on how Facebook Events can be helpful and answers to any questions you may have, the Facebook Help Center is a good place to start.  Unlike many help pages, this one’s actually pretty helpful.

How to Add Facebook Events to Your Nonprofit’s Page

When you visit your page, look on the left sidebar navigation underneath your profile image.  If you don’t see Events, you’ll need to add it.

Adding Facebook Events is pretty simple (as long as you have administrative rights on your Facebook page).

  1. Locate the Admin Panel at the top of your Page.  If you don’t see it, click the button that says “Admin Panel” at the top right of the window.
  2. In the Admin Panel, click the “Manage” dropdown menu and select “Edit Page.”
  3. Click “Apps” in the left sidebar navigation.
  4. Scroll down the page to “Events” and click the “Add App” button on the right.

That’s it.  Now return to your Facebook page, click the Events app in the dashboard above your Timeline, and start creating.  Since Facebook only displays four apps, there’s a chance you won’t immediately see the Events app.  If this is the case, click the little button with a number and downward arrow beside the four apps and you should see “Events” slide down.

A Few Tips on Creating Facebook Events

When creating your Facebook Event, there are a few tips to keep in mind.

  • Use a descriptive name.  People will judge your event based on the name.  Make sure it’s catchy but descriptive.
  • Upload a compelling photo.  Powerful photography can have a huge emotional impact on your supporters and increase the likelihood they’ll come to your event.
  • Add the street address.  Doing so will embed a map on the page.
  • Allow non-admins to write on the wall.  This is a great way to promote community interaction with your event.
  • Show the guest list.  Unless you have a reason to hide it, showing the guest list can make people that see their attending friends more apt to come.
  • Focus on the impact.  Use the details field to tell the story of your event, with a focus on the specific ways the event will impact your nonprofit and the community.  The more concrete you are, the more likely it is someone will support your cause.  If the event is successful, what will that mean for the community?  What does the cost of each ticket translate to in tangible impact?

For some additional ideas on how you can leverage Facebook Events, check out Mari Smith’s article on the topic.  Some of the designs she shows in her screen captures have changed, but many of her recommendations are still helpful and relevant.

Create a LinkedIn Event

A lot of people use LinkedIn to connect with acquaintances they may not be networked with on other social sites like Facebook or Twitter.  Promoting your event on LinkedIn is an opportunity to publicize to your professional contacts that you may not be friends with on Facebook.

How to Create Your LinkedIn Event

It’s easy to create your LinkedIn Event once you know where to look.  Once you’re logged in to LinkedIn, do the following:

  1. In the “More” menu (in the navigation at the top) click on “Events”
  2. Click the yellow “Create an Event” button in the upper right

You’re all set to start creating your LinkedIn event.

A Few Tips on Creating LinkedIn Events

Here are a few things to remember when creating your LinkedIn Event.

  • Use a descriptive name.  People will judge your event based on the name.  Make sure it’s catchy but descriptive.
  • Upload a simple photo.  On LinkedIn, your photo will only be 60×60 pixels.  That’s pretty small.  Make sure you upload a compelling image that will be recognizable when scaled way down.
  • Choose your time zone.  There’s a dropdown menu beside the date/time fields for you to choose the time zone of your event.
  • Focus on the impact.  Use the description field to tell the story of your event, with a focus on the specific ways the event will impact your nonprofit and the community.  The more concrete you are, the more likely it is someone will support your cause.
  • Choose relevant industry and labels.  Think as if you’re one of your supporters.  What would they most likely use to find you?  You may end up using industries like “Fund-Raising”, “Non-Profit Organization Management” or “Philanthropy.”
  • Require registration.  If guests need to register elsewhere in order to attend, make sure to check the box beside “This event requires registration on the event website.”

Now that you’ve promoted the event, it’s time for you to focus on getting people invested in its success.

Get Your Community Involved in Planning

People are much more likely to be invested in something they’ve helped plan.  Ekaterina Walter, a social media strategist at Intel, suggests giving supporters a chance to provide input on aspects of your event.

You can do something as simple as asking an open-ended question to your Facebook fans or Twitter followers. Maybe you want input on the type of music to play or food to serve.  You could ask about where the event should be or even what type of event your supporters would be most interested in attending.  If your following is fairly active you may get some insightful responses to help you in your event planning efforts.

But, if you want to get a little more systematic, I’d suggest using Facebook Questions.

Editor’s Note: Facebook Questions is no longer available. Scroll down or skip this section to continue reading. For social media polling, consider using Twitter instead. 

Using Facebook Questions to Promote Community Engagement

Facebook Questions are incredibly easy to set up and can provide your nonprofit a simple way to get feedback while simultaneously fostering investment in your upcoming event.

But what is Facebook Questions?  As Facebook explains, it’s a feature that lets you get recommendations, conduct polls and learn from your friends and other people on Facebook.

Asking a Facebook Question

First thing’s first, make sure you have administrative privileges on your nonprofit’s Facebook page.  Once that’s taken care of, asking a Question is pretty easy.

  1. Click the “Ask Question” link at the top of your Page’s timeline.
  2. Type the question you’d like to ask your followers.
  3. If you’d like to supply answer choices (which we’d recommend in most cases), click the gray “Add Poll Options” link.
  4. Type the poll options you’d like to include.
  5. If you want others to be able to add their own poll options, check the box beside “Allow anyone to add options.”  In most cases when you’re planning an event we’d recommend you not check this box.
  6. Select who can see your Question – Public will allow anyone on Facebook to see it.  You can also target people in a certain city, state or country by clicking “Public” and selecting “Target by: Location/Language.”
  7. Click the blue “Post” button.

That’s it.   Your Facebook Question is now live.  Your Question will be broadcast out on your feed for followers to see.  Another perk is as you get more responses, the reach of your Question will grow.  When someone answers, it’ll show up in their friend’s feeds as well.

Promote Your Question Across Platforms

Once you’ve asked the question, make it a priority to get answers.  You can do a lot of things to promote your Facebook Question, like:

  • Tweet a link to it
  • Put a link to it on LinkedIn
  • Include a link in your email blast
  • Include a link on the registration page for your event
  • Email individual people (that you know very well) and ask them to give their input

Make sure your appeal is more than simply about answering a Facebook Question.  It’s an opportunity for you to get the genuine input of your supporters.  Make sure this comes through in the messaging surrounding your Facebook Question.

Share Outcomes and Takeaways

Just because an event is over doesn’t mean you should stop talking about it.  At the very minimum, you should share the outcome of the event and thank everyone that was involved in making it happen.

But you can do so much more.  Here are some ideas:

  • Share photos.  Show photos from the event as well as any subsequent related events (like delivering donated goods or administering services funded as a result of the event).  It’s worth making sure these photos are high quality and represent the event well.
  • Give specific shout outs.  It’s expected you’ll thank everyone that attended your event.  It can be a nice surprise if you thank individual people that contributed to making your event a success.  Use Facebook or Twitter to mention people individually.  Put specific shout outs in your email newsletter.  Make sure people feel appreciated and help to ensure they’ll want to get involved in future events.
  • Discuss lessons learned.  Discuss publicly what you think you could do better and how you plan to make changes to the next event.  This can make a great follow up blog post.
  • Ask for feedback.  As we discussed earlier when promoting your event, you can also turn to your followers for feedback on the event.  Rich Brooks suggests asking attendees to give their thoughts on a blog post.  You could also do this on Facebook or Twitter (still utilizing your event hashtag).
  • Set future goals.  Show supporters this is a step towards future successes.  Set goals for next year’s event and discuss what you’ll do to achieve them.

Experiment With Social Media

Of course there are a lot of other ways that we didn’t mention here for you to use social media to promote an event.  The key is to experiment.  Try out a bunch of different things and see what works best with your community.  For instance, perhaps using location-based social media like Foursquare’s Swarm will resonate with your supporters.  You won’t know until you try.

The only way to figure out what works best for your nonprofit is to get creative and evaluate your efforts on an ongoing basis.  Once you’ve figured out something that works, you can continue to use it to repeatedly drive more and more supporters to your nonprofit’s future events.


Webinar: Promoting Nonprofit Events with Social Media – HubSpot

Social Media Examiner “Event Promotion” tag – Social Media Examiner

15 Ways to Bring Social Media to Events – Ekaterina Walter (Social Media Examiner)

12 Ways to Market Your Event With Social Media – Rich Brooks (Social Media Examiner)

10 Tips for Creating Buzz With Facebook Events – Mari Smith (Social Media Examiner)

Facebook Help Center – Events