Social Media Event Coverage: An Integrated Approach (Part 1)
In 1984, the film “Breakin’” was released much to the delight of my then ten-year-old self. The movie followed break dancers Ozone (Adolfo Quinones) and Turbo (Michael Chambers) as they, along with jazz dancer Kelly/Special K (Lucinda Dickey), clashed with a rival crew, Electro Rock, as well as Kelly’s dance instructor who disapproved of the duo’s “street dancing.” Naturally, as children living in a suburb outside of Boston my friends and I were immediately drawn to this unique dance style and decided to try it ourselves.
This was a very bad idea.
We were, to quote Ty Webb from Caddyshack, “not good,” and this was definitely the case when three of my “breakin'” friends and I performed during a school talent show. As individuals, we were passable dancers, but together on stage we looked disorganized and disheveled, like we hadn’t practiced at all–which was true. Our plan in the days leading up to the performance was to jump onstage, do “our thing,” and exit to the frenzied cheers of our classmates in the audience.
This, of course, didn’t happen. We were awful and we exited, with our heads down, to a smattering of applause–most of which came from our parents.
Now, let’s compare the experience above to my wedding reception. My wife and I decided to choreograph our first dance as a married couple. So, “we” took lessons (I’ve put “we” in quotation marks because my wife is a trained dancer and didn’t need any help in the dance department) and we practiced frequently. I even carried around a sheet of paper with all the dance steps written on it so I could study when I had a few free moments. With help from all this preparation, our dance was a success. And when it was over, my wife and I proceeded to our seats…to, yes, the frenzied applause of everyone present.
So, what does my childhood break dancing failure and my later dance floor redemption have to do with covering events via social media?
A lot, actually.
Because what ten-year-old Robert didn’t understand and what his future self did was that important events, like many things in life, are all about planning. And in this post, the first of three on event coverage, I will discuss my approach to events and how the most important work often occurs well before you guests arrive.
The Research Phase
If you’re having an event–whether it’s in higher ed, the business world, or any other area–there’s someone, somewhere collecting RSVPs. In the case of my work at the Harvard Business School, these people are just across the hall. In my experience, these RSVP lists have been critical to the success of my social media event coverage. But simply having these names isn’t enough.
The first (and I would argue most important) step in the process, and this is a very time-consuming one, is finding out which attendees are also on Twitter (I focus on Twitter for a number of reasons, some of which I elaborate on below).
Once I have my RSVP list–typically in excel spreadsheet form–I proceed immediately to LinkedIn. LinkedIn has been a vitally important research tool for my event-related work. Using the site’s search function, I type in each attendee’s name and access their profile. If the individual has included a Twitter handle as part of his/her contact information, I follow the person and add him/her to an event list I have created in Twitter. If there is no handle included, I go directly to Twitter, search for the person’s name, and see if a corresponding Twitter handle comes up. If it does, I follow the tweeter and add him or her to the same list. Of course, this Twitter identification process is more difficult when it comes to common names.
By the end of this research process, I have lists that look like this.
For the events above–the HBS Spring and One-year Reunions–I was able to find 247 and 120 alumni, respectively, who were planning to attend either gathering. With this information, and the hashtag we developed for each event, I was able to begin my social media coverage of each event in earnest.
Two weeks before any event I’m covering, I send questions, via Twitter, to the attendees I have tracked. These questions–which for the reunions ranged from “What Do You KNOW That You Wish You Knew As An HBS Student” to “What Was the Best Thing About Your Section Or Class?”–are meant to engage alumni in conversations around an event and provide me with additional engagement opportunities (i.e., openings to extend the conversation and prolong the engagement). An example of this process is below.
Pre-event coverage like this not only helps me connect with alumni, but also provides me with a stream of user-generated content I can publish on Storify. I can then post this original content on Facebook and LinkedIn, thus providing another outreach opportunity.
And, as I identify more individuals who are attending a particular event, I can tweet the user-generated Storify content to them AND encourage them to answer the question themselves; if other registrants do respond I can add them to the Storify as well.
The lists are also helpful beyond conversations. In the weeks leading up to an event, I can check a particular list to see if any of the registrants are discussing it. Often times, an alumnus/a will tweet that he/she have ordered their plane tickets or are looking forward to seeing specific alumni. These tweets provide yet another engagement opportunity, as evident in the example below.
Coming next week: Part 2
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Robert Bochnak manages social media for the Harvard Business School’s alumni office. He’s also the former writer and editor of GradMatters: The Blog for Tufts GSAS.
Follow Robert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RobertBoc.