Thursday, February 2, 2017

Making Yours the "Social" Event of the Season

How does one fill a hall, exactly?
Making an event happen, I mean really happen, is not simple or intuitive. I'm not talking about being an event manager or event steward, here. I'm talking about event promotion. I'm talking about getting your event in front of people who wouldn't see it without the power of the internet. Now, take away any possibility of an advertising budget. Now add in the additional hurdle of being a group of medievalists.

This is what we, in the SCA face on a daily basis. We have grand thoughts and ideas. We have things we think others will be excited about, but we don't always understand how best to get the word out to others about them.

Please note, not everything in this post is pertinent to every event. Some event stewards and social media deputies may choose to only implement one or two of the suggestions. However, even one or two of them is better than doing no event promotion at all. 

Let me start with a bit of background. Mundanely, I am a small business owner. I began 14 years ago with some cake pans and a website. I started reading and learning and learning and reading. I began to optimize my website for search engines. I eventually learned how to promote my business through various free media outlets. From 2015 - 2016 the gross sales for my business nearly tripled due to optimization and social media promotion. I also did event promotion for Wars of the Roses in 2016, hosted by the Barony of Concordia of the Snows in the East Kingdom. Our attendance was nearly 150% of the previous year's attendance (there were several other factors including weather and a new site, but the event promotion was also involved) I would like to share some of the knowledge that is applicable to the SCA with any and all who may be interested in promoting their own events. 

There's some terminology I'll be using throughout the blog. Below are some definitions to help get you through the basics. Please take note, these are basic definitions and are not necessarily a complete explaination of each item. If you would like additional information, there are many resources available on the internet. 
  • Server - this is where the data for your website will be stored, making it accessible to internet users
  • Host - to store data on a server
  • Platform - program that allows you to develop your website
  • Domain - the specific address for a website (www.eventname.org)
  • Public Domain - copyright-free media
Throughout this post, I am making an assumption that your local group has the following:
  • Group (barony, shire, canton, etc) website
  • Group Facebook page
  • Group Twitter account
  • Group Google + account
If you do not have any of these, discuss with your local group the best way to implement them. Don't forget to consult and follow the Society Social Media Policy as well as your Kingdom policy, if applicable, while doing so.

Now, let's get into the actual event promotion. As an event steward (or social media deputy, if applicable), the first thing to do is to determine if your event should have a website. Ask yourself the following:
  • Is my event a niche event, such as an immersion event, or an event aimed at a very specific group of members?
  • Am I expecting at least 100 attendees?
  • Is my event a Kingdom- or Society-level event?
If you answer "yes" to at least one of these, you should consider creating an event website. If you decide to proceed with an event website, do you want your website to be an "official" website, where you can put all of the necessary information, that will be hosted on your Kingdom's web server (this may not be applicable in all Kingdoms - contact your local or Kingdom webminister for more information)? Or would you prefer to have your site hosted on a private server? 

If you would prefer an "official" website, contact your Kingdom Webminister to determine which programs are compatible with the web server. If this sounds like gibberish to you, that's okay! Don't be overwhelmed! Your webminister will help walk you through what you need to know. 

If you would prefer an "unofficial" website, there are multiple platforms that allow you to host your site without paying hosting charges. I highly recommend Google Sites, as there are many free templates, and it's relatively simple to apply a specific domain to your website. 

PICTURES!!! You want pictures! All of the pictures! If your event is a niche one-off event, find pictures applicable to your event. If you're doing a viking event, find some public domain images of vikings and viking settings. If your event is a fighting event, work with a known photographer and get permission from them to use their photos on your website. The #1 rule to promoting your event is pictures. To reiterate, PICTURES!!!

Also, you want your website to be "mundane friendly." If you use a lot of SCA terminology, have a New To the SCA? page that explains what the heck you're talking about. 

Once you've created your website, make sure your event announcement on the Kingdom list of events is updated with your website. Be sure to put your domain multiple places in your announcement. More often than not, people will skim the announcement looking for specific information. You want people to see your website and go there...and see pictures! (see what I did there?)

While we're on the subject of Kingdom announcements, if your event is worthy of a webpage (see the 3 questions above), and you are located within a couple of hours of another Kingdom, get your event up on the other Kingdom's event listing as well. Often, people are interested in traveling to events in other Kingdoms. Your event may be just the thing to get them there. 

The next step is to create an event on your social media pages. Google + and Facebook both allow you to create events. Make sure to put a picture on the event page that will catch the eye. Also, make sure your event website is very easily found on the page. Next, invite all friends you think may be interested in attending. Share your events with your local group, surrounding groups, and your Kingdom group. Encourage others to invite their friends to the event as well. The more invitations that go out, the more people see your event. Additionally, be sure links to all of your social media sites are on your event website.

Now, for many events, particularly those hovering around the 100 person range, this is enough. However, if you're really interested in getting attendance, the next steps are crucial. 

At least once/week, create a post in the social media event pages sharing specific information. Are you having merchants? Highlight a merchant or two each week. Are you having court? Share the time court will be expected. Are you having dayboard? share a sneak peek of the dayboard menu (2-3 items are plenty). With each of these, make sure you include a photo and a link to the website. When you share your post with the Local and Kingdom groups, they are far more likely to be read if they have a picture, than if they do not.  If you do not have a Social Media Deputy in your local group, ask for a volunteer to handle these posts for you, as the task can become cumbersome when you're handling organizing the entire event. 

Timing for these posts is also important. Posting at 6am or midnight doesn't do you much good. Very few people will see it. You want to post during peak times: 8am, 12:30pm, 5:30pm, 8pm. Think about the times you're online the most: maybe before work, during your lunch break, after work, after dinner. These are the best times to post and get your post seen. Optimal time is from around noon - 6pm. These are the times you want the bulk of your posts to go out.

If you're interested in getting a large amount of newcomers find out if your local community has a community calendar that will allow you to add events. Many newspapers and local publications will offer these free to the community. Get your website on there! If you do this, please make it VERY clear that we are unable to accept credit cards at this time (if applicable).

This is the next big thing: get social media support from your local group members! When you share the event post on your personal page, local group page, and kingdom page, the exposure is limited. However, when others share the post on their personal pages, they significantly increase the chances of your post being seen by others. The more your posts are seen, the more intrigued and excited people will get about your event. 

The closer you get to your event, the more you want to post. If times change, post about it. If you're going to have visiting royalty, post about it. If the weather looks like it's going to be amazing, post about it. If it's going to rain, post about it, reminding people to bring an extra pair of socks or two. Anything that may affect your potential attendees deserves a post. 

If your event is a recurring event, be sure you have someone in charge of taking quality photos for next year's event promotion. Also, if you are able, have someone in charge of on site social media updates (don't forget the pictures!). Twitter is a particularly good platform for this. This may seem like a waste of time. I assure you it's not. Many people who were unable to attend this year will see the fun people are having and will be more likely to attend the following year. 

When I say, "Event promotion is not simple or intuitive," I truly mean it. There is a lot of information and it is not the easiest to manage. However, once you get the hang of it, it becomes much easier. I wish you the best of luck with your future events! If you have any additional questions on event promotion, I'm happy to share all of the knowledge I have in the area!

Bonus: Did you notice I used this blog post for event promotion? No? Look again!