So you’re planning an event…congrats! While it can be a big undertaking depending on the size and objectives of your event, it can be a truly rewarding experience for both organizers and participants, and with the right planning, people will remember a great event positively for years to come…and hopefully make use of some of the knowledge and takeaways they gained from the experience.

While atmosphere, venue, decor, catering, and of course the keynote speakers or workshop facilitators are clearly integral to a show-stopping event, we’re going to be focusing on the digital marketing side of things. So what goes into strong digital marketing for an event? How can event organizers promote the event to their niche audience and drive registrations? What makes for a great PR story to encourage event coverage to a wider audience? We’ll delve into all that and more in this post.

BEFORE


Brand it.
Don’t underestimate the power of visual communication and the importance of high quality content. Think about who your target audience is and design your event branding and presence with their tastes and preferences in mind—not necessarily what you personally find appealing. Pick a catchy hashtag and start using it well before your event. Stumped? We have some tips for picking a killer hashtag. You’ll also want to decide how you’ll be monitoring its usage—around here we like Emplify.

Don’t skimp on designing professional content that is consistent, appealing and on-brand or you’ll soon realize why it’s so vital to a successful event. Weak or poorly designed branding and online content just won’t cut it these days; your website, social channels, promotional imagery, and other content should appear polished, compelling and easy to navigate and understand.

Strategize.
Have a plan. Map out your timeline and all activities you’ll be implementing to pull off a great event as well as the KPIs and benchmarks you want to meet and how you’ll be measuring them. This will help generate new ideas with your team, perhaps rearrange a couple of existing ones, and provide a comprehensive, detailed roadmap for success. All your marketing activities will be charted out here and you can always change and modify as you go as you track what’s working and what’s not. Capture attendee social handles in the registration process as well so you can start following and interacting with people before the event.

Pro Tip: Don’t forget to plan your social content strategy and social advertising plan at this stage too! Ensure branding on the different marketing pieces are consistent with overall event branding and are professional quality. What photos and video do you have to work with? Is there a highlight reel you can share from previous event(s)?

Talk about it.
Make sure you’re sharing information about your event regularly on your event, personal and/or corporate channels and be sure to keep your social profiles active and engaging. We like Buffer for scheduling content and perform our engagement and moderation duties using Sprout Social. Don’t forget to include your event hashtag in all your bio sections to make sure it’s as visible as possible across the social web.

If your event doesn’t have its own channels due to smaller size or resource restraints, make sure whatever profiles you’re promoting from are optimized for high performance. Your online presence and appearance will make a strong impression well before your event takes place; don’t miss out on this important opportunity to build your audience, connect and share.

Be creative with your content strategy; you can roll out short video clips a couple of times a week, for example, showcasing different speakers or companies represented at your event. Try to include something of value for your audience, whether it’s a tip, deal or other useful information. Think about what’s important to them and how your content can add value to their day. Always ask yourself how you can make your content relevant to your target audience.

Ensure event speakers, presenters, participants, booths etc. are sent a digital promo package, an evolution of a traditional “swipe file”, including sample posts and imagery so they can easily spread the word on their own channels. Busy people will thank you for making it so easy to share news about the event with their audience quickly and efficiently.

Pro Tip: Don’t forget to include a trackable URL to use across all your promotions so you can gauge the level of clicks, traffic and conversions.

Connect with local influencers and other local media about the event. Provide free passes for VIPs you want in attendance who will share information about your event on social and hopefully drum up further interest.

Advertise it.
Earned media is a beautiful thing but you also want to supplement with paid media. Running a Facebook advertising / retargeting campaign, taking out a few banner ads on highly visited industry websites and ensuring you put remarketing pixels to work might provide just the boost in visibility your event needs to be a smashing success. Don’t forget about trade websites / publications, local media and press, event listings in your entertainment weekly, and other relevant sources to publicize your event. The old adage “It takes money to make money” is particularly true when it comes to event marketing. Depending on the nature of your event and its proverbial mass appeal, you may even be able to contest out a pair of VIP passes or a trip to the event destination to attract attendees and increase your event’s reach and reward people for registering with entries.

Pro Tip: If your strategy includes remarketing, here’s how to not irritate your attendees: Create a custom audience from same page you used to track conversions so you can exclude Facebook users who have already bought a ticket.

DURING

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Encourage social sharing.
Make sure your event is optimized for social. Have your event hashtag clearly marked on all event marketing and in-venue signage. You may even consider projecting a stream of real-time posts (moderated, of course, because trolls) to ramp up participation and generate more conversations. Big events and conferences in major cities often end up trending due to the sheer volume of people posting so this is an important part of generating social engagement.

Make engagement easy.
If your event has speakers, make sure all their social handles and other contact info is displayed clearly during their talk. If your event has different booths or vendors, make sure you have a list including the handles clearly displayed on both your website and in person at the event so people can access them readily without excessive searching. You’d be surprised by how many organizers overlook this simple step that can help maximize the ROI for their participants and attendees. The event MC should remind people to tweet and post about the event and recap the hashtag every so often throughout the day as well.

Pro Tip: The speaker or event organizers can even encourage people to ask questions or tweet a response to something during the talk to leverage that realtime connection, choosing one response or answer to win a prize for example, or have attendees post a comment on a Facebook post to gain access to exclusive content.

Speakers can also maximize social engagement by including sample tweets built into their presentation that the audience can share easily; providing this bite-sized sample copy helps people digest the relevant information and share it quickly without spending time trying to whittle down a speaker’s more complex point.

Collect feedback…and data.
Know what you want to collect and why. It’s common practice to collect feedback and reviews from attendees, you might have to incentivize them with a gift certificate or prizing of some kind to take a survey however. This feedback is mission critical to pulling off an even better event next time, but don’t forget you’re going to get a TON of opinions directly from attendees on Twitter. Oh yeah…and don’t forget to review attendee handles as well.

Shoot video and plenty of photos.
Capture happy attendees and opinions live on the floor. Collect positive testimonials. Some of the content could be shared right away on event social channels, and other content can be made into a video for future sharing.

AFTER

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Keep in touch.
Send out an eBlast occasionally throughout the year touching on some of the issues, themes or topics your event focused on. Was there a problem you helped solve? An incredible update on one of the speakers? An interview with the media about your event? Keep the connection warm and don’t wait too long to follow up with your attendees.

Don’t let event channels go dead.
If you have event channels specifically created for your event, don’t stop posting a few days after your event. Continue to share relevant updates, industry information, retweet your speakers and other relevant influencers, etc. Keeping your audience is crucial if your event builds year after year and you don’t want to lose that momentum by signing off for 9 months before your next event starts to ramp up.

Track reactions.
Was there a particular speaker that drew insurmountable praise? Another who got higher negative feedback than would be expected? Don’t miss out on this opportunity to listen to your audience and pay attention to what they liked/disliked about your event. It’s your chance to make a recurring event even bigger and better by sharing this feedback with your team and working together to collaboratively improve. Build the social feedback into your post-event wrap up and briefing process. You may be surprised by what you uncover there.

Is our checklist complete? Any professional event organizers out there have anything else they’d like to add on the subject? Throwing an event can be hard work and we hope our tips have you thinking about how you can incorporate deeper social engagement into your next undertaking. You can check out a more comprehensive list of what tools we love here. Conferences and events are social in nature and social media is a great way to leverage those conversations and interactions and help bring more people closer together.