I was recently asked to come up with some ideas to attract attendees and to generally “raise awareness” of an event using just online channels. My recommendation? If you’ve only got three months to make sure the right people know about your event, use other channels.
Big splash launches usually don’t work well online: if you’re hosting an event (or have just published something groundbreaking or are or launching a campaign for that matter) and you pretty much know who your stakeholders are (always the case if it’s a niche policy area, as in my example) just use old-school methods like phone-calls, emails and leveraging your networks. If you’re trying to attract a slightly longer list of stakeholders, by all means, advertise a bit too, but don’t expect too much from the web. Sure, promote it on your site, blog and whatever else, but don’t think that a web campaign will do wonders in the short-term.
So what could you do online instead?
First, do use your website as a reference for the event in the run-up to build some momentum e.g. create some hype about speakers by showcasing video footage of previous speeches or incorporate some interactive feature like, say, post your own question for one of the panels at the event. The scope here however is not attract to attendees who don’t know about your event, but rather, to convince people who aren’t sure it’ll be worth it.
Second, and more importantly, build a story around your issue in the long-term, not just in the run-up to an event: instead, make the event one part of your online story, and try to make your web presence the focal point of your issue online. If you manage to make your issue and your web activity one and the same online – i.e. anyone looking up your issue online will in some way find your content – it’ll be a more powerful tool in the long-run than any event could ever be.
What does that mean in practice though? In short (very short), I’d say you need to:
- Produce a stream of top-notch content which is a) based on a storyline you know will resonate with your target audiences (if you’re not sure what that is, conduct a poll, but don’t just use key messages the CEO likes); and b) which aims to clarify and simplify a complex landscape for people who might not be totally clued up on the issue.
- Don’t pretend you’re the only one out there – harness other people’s content and bring it together on your site – it’ll be their stuff, but you’ll be the one who has brought it together and created a one-stop shop on your issue.
- Creative campaigning. Content is king, but do something (online or offline) once in a while that’s a little out of the ordinary – provoke, shock, raise your voice, tell a personal story, involve your community in an unusual way. If done well, it’ll make people take notice of your excellent content a little more and help spread the word.
- Don’t forget the boring stuff which makes up some of the basics of eMarketing, in particular search engine optimisation and search engine advertising (i.e. Google AdWords) to help people find your content.
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How should you answer a question when you don’t want(can) to answer?