Usually, when it comes to getting people to show up to an event, one thinks of things like fliers, posters, word-of-mouth, and telephone calls.
However, in our last year here in Mostar, we’ve had 2 events attended by 100+ people, an English course with about 50 people, and we’ve hung 0 posters, handed out 0 fliers, and spent less than $40 in advertizing. How did we do it? We used social media. This is the story of what we did.
We are not social media experts.
I am a minister. I still was able to use Facebook to get 50 students to come to an English class, and over 200 students to come to two seminars in the space of 12 months — with no pre-existing following. In other words, on October 1, 2015 (roughly 1 year ago), we had a Facebook page with about 30 likes and no friends in our city.
This was a lot of work, and took a lot of time.
When I say that we promoted our events on Facebook, lots of people respond, “Oh, I don’t have time for that.” To that I would simply ask, “why do you believe you have time to shake hands with hundreds of people you don’t know, hang up posters that will probably be covered up tomorrow by an ad for a concert, and hand out thousands of flyers that will end up all over the sidewalk?” Save the trees! Use social media!
How to think about Facebook
There are a couple of concepts that govern our thinking about Facebook events.
Think in terms of tribes.
When people waste time on Facebook (if they’re not just watching stupid cat videos), chances are they are reading or watching something posted by a page they follow. They do this because, in social media speak, because they have joined that page’s “tribe“. We wanted to get people to join our tribe.
Surveying the landscape on Facebook, we could see that there were several tribes already existing in our city. There was the Student Union’s page, with their 2,000 followers, and various other student organizations, each with hundreds of followers. We knew that our job, if we wanted to succeed, was to somehow connect ourselves to these tribes. So we went straight to the top.
Our goal was to meet the tribe leaders.
If you meet tribe leaders and show them that your organization can be beneficial to their tribe, they will share your events and content with their followers. The currency of social media is the social share, and the way to earn shares is through building real relationships.
- We found the tribes by simply searching for things on Facebook related to our audience — in our case, university students.
- We used the phone numbers posted on these Facebook pages to contact the owners of these Facebook pages. We scheduled a meeting to tell them who we are and what we do for their students. We didn’t mention our events at first.
Get tribe leaders to promote your event for you.
Later on, when we were planning our events, we sent a nice Facebook message to these people, with a link to our Facebook event, asking them to share the event with their followers. They all obliged.
They RSVPed to our event, and then posted our event to the wall of their Facebook page. So instead of their tribe getting invited by us, they were invited by the leader of the tribe.
We created a Facebook event.
If you’re having a real event, you must create a Facebook event. Don’t try some other method — Facebook has “Events“. Use it.
We offered a reward that people need.
Usually, people need some kind of reward in order to generate excitement. In our case, we were organizing academic seminars, and we offered a certificate of participation, and mentioned it in the Facebook event description. Everyone wants something for their resume.
We used an additional sign-up form, off Facebook.
It’s hard to keep track of the guest list through Facebook, but you can specify a link to “buy tickets” on a Facebook event. So, since our event was free, we created an additional sign-up form and pointed the tickets link to our form. We used Google Forms. This way, we had a spreadsheet of all the people who were intent on coming.
We posted and shared content every day.
We knew that we were competing with everything else that people follow on Facebook, so we had to produce content that our new followers wanted to see, and we had to do it often. We figured out how to schedule posts, so that we could work more efficiently.
- We shared articles from news websites that applied directly to our event’s theme.
- We shared biographical information about our event’s speakers.
- We shared quizes and polls related to our event’s theme.
We answered messages immediately.
Facebook tells people how quickly you usually answer messages, so we did our best to answer every single message, and answer it quickly. Posting content and answering messages quickly builds trust, and also helps to build a sense of anticipation among your tribe.
We used our website to promote the Facebook event.
Our local organization has a blog, and we posted an article on it, promoting our Facebook event. We sent the article around to a few other student groups, and managed to get a few people to share the article, so that more people could see what we were doing.
We hosted a great event!
With 200 students registered for our last seminar in October, we didn’t know exactly how many would show up. About 115 ended up coming, and we had a great day. The speakers did a great job, and the students were pleased.
The moral of the story is that anyone can do this, if they understand their audience. We are no longer in the age when having a successful event means passing out paper fliers, hanging posters, and walking up to people on the street. That age has passed away; a new age has come. Use social media and have a successful event!