Grow Event Attendance with Social Media

By Mattie John Bamman

Get started with this helpful guide

Social media is one of the least expensive forms of advertising available, yet it’s a powerful tool. It can be used to reach a global audience and this means it’s especially effective for attracting attendees to events.

Conferences, business events and festivals are prime candidates for harnessing the power of social media because they naturally excel at creating a buzz. Simply announce the event on social media and then strategically publish newsy updates interspersed with promotional messaging until the big day itself. If done effectively, your audience will organically grow and flourish.

What follows is a practical how-to guide for developing a social media presence for an event. It’s designed to fit the needs of most events, and it’s tailored to economize time. Think of it as a baseline for getting started on social media, followed by tips for expanding your reach once you get rolling.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the benefits of social media and how to plan content, here’s what promoting an event through social media looks like. The first thing to do is to announce when and where the event will take place. You’ll want to share this detail on social media at the earliest date possible as it lets would-be attendees know they have something to look forward to. This single post will serve as a sort of online billboard until you’re ready to get fully up and running on social media. 

Once enough details have been confirmed, the first series of posts should focus on the biggest announcements, such as the famous keynote speaker or the event’s theme. From there, it’s simply a matter of keeping your audience up to date with event and industry-related news until the big day, with a mix of inspiring, useful and promotional content. Since almost every event continues to confirm details until the last minute, you should have lots of updates to both inform and attract attendees. 

Straightforward, right? It can be, but only if you take these best practices into account.

The number one rule with social media is consistency in content, voice and publishing frequency. Social media takes commitment — usually between 15 minutes and an hour a day. There’s nothing worse than stumbling upon an abandoned social media account for a current event or conference. It communicates failure and a lack of organization. The takeaway: commit to social media before publishing a single post. If you can’t make that commitment, look for alternative ways to market the event.

The next step is to choose which social media platforms to use based on the type of content you intend to publish. Facebook continues to be the most popular social media platform, and it is particularly suited for sharing a wide range of content including engaging copy, photos and videos. But is that where you’ll find your target audience? Instagram is especially popular for publishing photos. Twitter is where news tends to break first.

It’s important to only embrace as many social media platforms as you can realistically manage. If you plan to publish one post every weekday on both Twitter and Facebook, expect to spend between 15 and 30 minutes a day doing so. One post a day is a good baseline standard for working with social media. Any less and the chances of growing an audience are slim. 

While many social media users plan content one day at a time, the best way to keep your audience coming back for more is to take a big-picture perspective and develop an engaging narrative. For annual events, this narrative could last months. Think of all the big moments leading up to your event. Is there early-bird registration? A deadline for booking a discounted room at the affiliate hotel?

A good rule of thumb is to organize the content across your social media timeline much like you would plan a series of press releases or organize updates in a newsletter. Map out content month by month to create a timeline and to make the most of the most buzz-worthy moments leading up to the big day.

For instance, if you offer an early-bird discount, make sure your audience is fully aware of that deadline by posting one-month, one-week and one-day-away reminders. Calls to register just 24 hours before an event can also be effective. This is a great way to hook would-be attendees who are on the fence. 

It’s vital to remember social media is a dynamic marketing platform — one in which your target audience can engage with your event in real time. And while this requires being able to interact with people in a professional manner more or less on the spot, it also means the buzz around your event can grow organically. The best-case scenario is when something “goes viral,” but there are more reliable techniques for attracting interest.

Engagement is how success is measured on social media, and it’s just what it seems. Engagement is when other social media users like a post, retweet a tweet, heart an Instagram photo or otherwise interact with your feed. Think of a successful social media presence as a networking mixer on steroids. The more people who follow you, the more people see your posts. The more people who see your posts, the more they share your posts and the more people follow you.

The ultimate goal is to publish posts with which other social media users will engage. When you announce a keynote speaker or a featured exhibitor, simply tag the relevant individuals or companies in your social media post if they have social media accounts. It’s in their best interest to like, share, retweet and otherwise spread your messaging, and it only takes a single click.

Moreover, get your event planning team onboard. They’re a built-in army of social media influencers. Request that they regularly engage with the event’s social media using their own accounts, and every time they do, they spread the event’s messaging to their followers and fans, widening your audience.

Another strategy for developing a buzz is designing a signature hashtag for your event, especially on Twitter or Instagram (hashtags haven’t caught on as much on Facebook). Hashtags keep social media organized, because a user can simply click on the hashtag and see all of the content related to it. This lets your target audience easily view all of the posts connected with your event in one place. For instance, the South By Southwest conference and festivals uses #SXSW.

One final tip is to avoid a common pitfall: being overly promotional. If your social media feed looks like one long advertisement, it likely won’t attract an audience. A good rule of thumb is to publish one promotional post for every four posts on social media.

Pepper your calls to register or buy tickets with high-value content such as an update on the swag you’ll be handing out or a new workshop being led by a well-known industry guru. Or offer a list of quality coffee shops within walking distance of a business conference and other thoughtful tips to reveal a more personal side. This not only reflects well on the event but promotes an inviting atmosphere. Attendees will be more likely to network and engage quickly upon arriving. This basic formula works time and time again.

The effective use of social media can be a powerful strategy to attract attention and cultivate interest in your event. While it requires a regular commitment of time, it offers an inexpensive way to generate excitement, intensify engagement and potentially increase attendance.