First, I would like to congratulate my fellow members of the Class of 2012.
Second, I would like to congratulate Northeastern University.
After 110 years, the school finally solved a problem that has challenged institutions of higher learning for generations: how to make commencement ceremonies less boring. And they did it by incorporating a hashtag into this year’s event.
By including #NU2012 in their tweets, graduates were able to share their thoughts about the commencement, memories from the week of celebration, photos from their seats, and even say thank you to their parents sitting in the stands. Even the president of Northeastern, Joseph Aoun, tweeted a congratulations to the senior class.
So in honor of graduation and in appreciation to all the teachers I’ve had over the years, I thought I would share what I learned about using a hashtag so you can also graduate to more social events.
Picking your hashtag
Before you do anything, you’re going to need to pick the right hashtag for your event. The key is to keep it short and simple. Your attendees will only have 140 characters and you want them to have room to contribute to the conversation.
The best hashtags are made up of abbreviations or acronyms and the year of the event, like the official hashtag for National Small Business Week 2012, #SBW2012. (Be sure to check out the events Constant Contact is hosting for #SBW2012.)
1. Before the event: Promote your hashtag and start the conversation
One of the biggest benefits of hosting events in a more social world is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to promote it. With the right strategies, you can use a hashtag to get your attendees talking and generate buzz well before the day of the event:
- Give your hashtag visibility
One of the most common mistakes of event marketing with a hashtag is waiting until the actual event before using it.You give your hashtag more visibility, by including it on your invitations, event website, and any other promotional materials (posters, fliers, programs, etc).
- Use it as a resource
Use your hashtag in the days, weeks, and months leading up to your event as a tool for getting up-to-date information in front of your guests. This could be anything from basic details to changes in schedule or big announcements that could generate some more buzz.
- Help break the ice
While some event hashtags will take off organically (like #NU2012), others will need your help to get started. Consider using a call to action or a question to help start a discussion.If you want to offer more incentive for participation, try running a contest or promotion around the hashtag.
2. During the event: Create a more social experience
Most hosts know from experience just how busy they’ll be when the big day comes. You’re probably not going to be able to monitor every tweet that’s made with your hashtag, but there are steps that you can take to take advantage of the benefits of a more social event.
- Think about placement
When you are thinking of where to showcase the hashtag at your event, you’ll want to consider where it will get the most visibility.At my commencement, Northeastern broadcast the hashtag on the JumboTron of the TD Garden. Chances are you won’t be able to give your hashtag that much visibility, but the idea will be the same for your event. Place it in a central place where people will be able to see it, but don’t disrupt the event in the process.
- Schedule Tweets before the event
There are plenty of things that you need to prepare before any event and it’s the same thing when it comes to social media.Scheduling tweets with tools like Hootsuitewill let you have a presence in the conversation, without having it take up all your time.When you’re scheduling tweets, make sure the timing makes sense. It can be helpful to look at your event’s schedule beforehand and set up tweets accordingly. At the very least, schedule one that welcomes your guests and one that says “thank you” at the end of the night.
- Have a presence without hijacking the conversation
Your presence online should reflect your presence at the event. You want to be there to interact with your attendees, but you don’t want to be the only one who’s contributing to the conversation. The purpose of the hashtag is to give your guests a way to better engage, not to overwhelm them with information.If the conversation takes off, don’t limit it by trying to say too much. A good way to manage your social presence at your events is to invite your guests to contact you with any questions or feedback. This will help you get a feel for how the event is going and will give your attendees a chance to have their questions answered.
3. After the event: Staying connected to build relationships
You want your event to be something that everyone is talking about after it’s over, and your hashtag is a great way to stay connected with attendees afterwards.
To keep keep growing relationships after your event, you can:
- Keep track of what people are saying
Track the hashtag in the days and weeks after your event, look for good content to retweet, dialogue with people who are actively engaging, and reach out to people who have questions or complaints.
- Share information, news, and updates
More often than not, your attendees will want to know how the event went for you and your business or organization. If you had a larger than expected turnout, tell people about it. If you were hosting a fundraiser and surpassed your goal, let people know.And don’t forget to thank everyone for showing up!
- Stay in touch
Your hashtag will eventually fade into the Twitter abyss. But that doesn’t mean that the connections that you’ve made will do the same.Use the hashtag as a way of strengthening those relationships. Give people a reason to stay involved and to continue to connect with you, whether that’s through email marketing, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.
A couple hours after my commencement, #NU2012 was replaced by #NBAPlayoffs at the TD Garden. Across town in South Boston, #HRS2012 was heating up as 14,000 doctors and medical professionals packed the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center for the Heart Rhythm Society’s Annual Scientific Sessions. And north of town in Gloucester, Massachusetts, #StampOutHunger was helping the Open Door collect over 26,000 pounds of food in a local food drive.
Regardless of the size of your business or the goals of your organization, an event hashtag will bring a new element to your next event and make your event more social than ever.
Have you used Twitter to make your events more social? How did it go? Tell us about it in the comments below!