Any good advancement professional knows that the key to building authentic relationships is having face-to-face interactions. And events are a great way to start those relationships. Not only do events foster engagement within the alumni community, but they also give major gift officers an opportunity to mingle with prospects and to move conversations forward. Time and again, research has shown that alumni who attend events are more likely to give.
So if events are an important driver of gifts, how can social media help get butts in the seats?
Here are creative ways to use social media to promote events (before, during, and after!).
Before the Event
Create unique UTM codes to track your success.
Social media will always be a dotted line to success at best. There’s no real way to know that someone registered for an event because he or she saw a link on Facebook… or is there?
Thanks to UTM codes, you can actually track how many people clicked on your event registration links. Then, all you have to do is ask your event staff if the numbers increased from there.
How can you create a UTM code? Four steps:
- Copy and paste the website URL.
- For campaign source, enter the platform you plan to share the link on (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). Note: This has to be in lower case and can’t contain symbols or spaces. If you need to space, use the _ key.
- For campaign medium, write in “social” or “socialmedia” (all one word.)
- For campaign name, put whatever the event is. For example: event_bctechcouncil13116.
Generate the URL and paste it into a link-shortening site like bit.ly. Label what it is and share on the corresponding network. Count your clicks and report to the event staff so they know what lift social media provides.
Experiment with Facebook Ads.
I’ll be honest—I haven’t seen many higher education institutions use Facebook ads, and I get it: Stick to the organic traffic because it’s free.
But the reality is $50 can go a long way. Check out this video for a tutorial on how to boost a Facebook post.
With Facebook Ads, you can target followers based on interest. Use everything to your advantage to find your alumni.
Boston College. Boston College Eagles. Boston College Football. Boston College Hockey. Boston College AHANA. Boston College Alumni.
Target appropriately and share the event. To see if social media gave registrations a boost, record the time you shared the event and check in with the event department to see if there was an increase in registration that day. This is an easy way to see social media’s impact.
Pro tip: Exclude people who have already purchased a ticket. Create custom audiences with codes for the “thank you page”—the page people see once they purchase the ticket. You will be wasting money if you don’t do this.
Make sharing on social media easy for your volunteers.
People. Are. Lazy.
You want me to share the event on social media? What do I say?
If you want your volunteers to help you, respect their time. Create short messages that people can share on social media without having to think. These shareable assets will help them help you.
Pro tip: Give at least three options so volunteers can share and tweak as they deem necessary. People can spot school-driven messages easily, so mixing up the messaging will make the campaign feel more natural.
Create a hashtag.
If you’ve been at a conference or event recently, hashtags are everywhere. In fact, this past week I was busy tweeting for the Ariel Group while they attended the ATD Tech Knowledge conference. The hashtag #ATDTK provided a “second screen” for the attendees to connect, share tips, and even find dinner dates. If you need social media help, the #casesmc hashtag is VERY active between conferences.
If you’re holding an event, work with your marketing team to create a dynamic hashtag from the beginning. Include it on email, flyers, T-shirts, wherever. If people know the official hashtag, they’re going to engage with it.
Pro tip: Hashtags allow the social media manager to find user-generated content easily. Through Twitter Analytics, you can count the number of tweets with that hashtag and report back to the event team. How many impressions did those tweets receive? How many people used the hashtag in Instagram photos?
And don’t forget, a hashtag allows you to create a Storify with ease. Be sure to count the views and report back to your team to show its reach.
Use a discount code.
If events aren’t doing well, I’ve seen some departments panic. Buy one ticket, get one free. We’ll offer free valet parking. Two drink tickets! ENOUGH.
Make alumni feel like they’re getting a deal by engaging with you on social media; offer discount codes online through your different networks. BCEAGLES10 for 10% off has a nice ring to it. And, from an analytics perspective, you’ll know how many registrations you drove because the code is only available via social media.
The alumni association wants to get butts in the seats, right? Rather than sending an updated email (when the event is clearly flopping) that you’ll give away the kitchen sink to get people in the room, offer a discount code from the get-go.
An updated email creates the impression that no one is going to that event; a discount code creates the impression that we appreciate you so much for engaging with us, let’s help you get to the event. Which would you prefer?
Create an Instagram photo booth.
I have to give credit where credit is due. Mike O’Neill of Ithaca College originally came up with this idea—and I stole it. I saw his blog on case.org and called him and asked for all the ins and outs to create our own photo booth. We hired an outside vendor to create the Instagram frame (on wheels!) for Boston College (BC) alumni to engage with at events. People loved it.
Notice the number of likes—1863—the year BC was founded. Notice the location—Boston College. Notice the “user”—bcalumni. Smart, right?
If you go to the BC Alumni Facebook page, you’ll see countless photos with this frame. Encourage people to visit the page after the event and tag themselves.
Empower other employees.
BC has events all over the world, and often sends a small team out to coordinate those events. We’ve had alumni chapter events in Puerto Rico, game viewings in Chicago, and Tech Council meet-ups on the West Coast.
I obviously couldn’t be everywhere, but my coworkers could. Before they left, I’d ask them to take pictures of the event for me (with short captions including the person who was speaking, their class year, etc.).
On one occasion, we had a BC West Coast Tech Council event in California, which was kicking off at 7:30 p.m. Pacific time. My co-worker Kate texted me photos and quotes from the event. Surrounded by the warmth of my comfy bed and cozy pajamas, I tweeted at 10:45/11:00 p.m. Eastern time about what was happening in California. We got retweets. We got favorites. And we got inquiries about when the next meet-up would be.
Pictures are worth 1,000 words. Kate’s photos helped me boost awareness about the Tech Council far more than I could have done with a simple tweet. And seeing the tweets live made those in California feel connected to their alma mater 3,100 miles away.
Empower your coworkers to assist you with simple tasks that make a huge difference when it comes to promoting events.
Update your social media bios and your email signature.
Include a link to an event’s registration page in your email signature and on your social media page bios. With a UTM code (as explained above), you will be able to see how many people clicked the links you provided.
During the Event
Use photos. Lots of photos.
A photo of an attendee is a lot more powerful than a photo of the room. Ask attendees to pose for you. Tag them on Twitter or Instagram. Remind them to tag themselves on Facebook.
People love seeing photos of themselves, and taking the time to tag can go a long way for future events. Plus, it will drive traffic to your social media pages… who doesn’t love that?
After the Event
Want people to attend the next event? Create a Storify or video.
People love to see that something they wrote or photographed was “good enough” to include in the official recap. And that’s what Storify is: the official recap of the event.
By creating a Storify, you’re also doing pre-marketing for future events. Include a link where people can give their email addresses to sign up for notifications about upcoming events.
Videos work the same way. Create a highlight reel of all the amazing moments and share it after the event is over. Include a link to sign up for the next one. You’ll be surprised how many people will click.
And this goes without saying, but share the Storify and video everywhere—and I mean everywhere. The more eyes on it, the better.
All together, social media acts as your alumni network’s TV channel…
… It gives alumni an inside look at what’s going on at various events. As a result, alumni will say to their friends, “I saw you on BC Alumni’s Facebook page!” or “I saw you went to that game—your photo was on Twitter.”
That’s a powerful thing. Look at how much fun my friends are having by going to this event. By showing how awesome your institution’s events are via social media, you’re both marketing future events and helping more major gift officers get that treasured face time with alumni.
Do use social media in a unique way to promote events? Tell us in the comments below.
Stephanie St. Martin is the marketing content manager at The Ariel Group. Prior to this, she was the social media manager for Boston College University Advancement, i.e. the person behind @BCAlumni on social media. When she’s not in the digital marketing trenches, Steph can be found writing, playing/hosting trivia, and driving around the USA in hopes of seeing all 50 state capitol buildings. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter if you dare.