When we first kicked off the planning process for our Women Crushing It Wednesday series, I wrote a blog post about why every marketing team should consider hosting an event series. I also said the hardest part of hosting an event is the first step: Setting the date and making the commitment to follow through with it.
|Sarah, our Marketing Manger, kicking off the panel discussion
at our second WCW event.
With two WCW events now under our belts (our second was last night), I more staunchly stand by those claims now than I did when I initially made them.
Here’s why: event marketing automation.
As a marketer, I understand the power of automation. It makes daily life much easier and makes my work more efficient. But my primary job is not to host marketing events—so most of the automation I deal with comes in the form of tweets, Facebook posts, and emails.
Going into the planning-process for our second WCW event, I didn’t initially understand how much time event marketing automation would save us. If you’ve hosted an event, you understand and appreciate how much work it takes to simply get the logistics of an event in place. Designing and building a registration site, creating email templates for invitations and guest communication, building a list of invitees, setting up your integration preferences—event marketing software makes all of this possible, but it still takes time and effort to initially implement everything.
But if you’re hosting the second (or third, fourth, fifth) installment of an ongoing event series? All I had to do was duplicate the first event I already had set up in Event Farm. That’s it—process automated.
That left us so much more time to think about what really matters: Creating a great in-event experience and refining our process to make it better. We may want to automate the logistics of an event, but we wouldn’t want to automate the experience—even if it were possible—because unique experiences are part of the power and secret sauce of marketing events. It’s what differentiates them from all other marketing channels.
So, what did we do with all of our extra free time this go around? How did we refine our process, and how are we going to keep refining it moving forward? Keep reading to learn more.
1. Don’t reach out to every potential panelist at once. This event series has brought us a good problem: We have too many interested panelists. For the first event, we were worried it would be difficult to get someone to agree to sitting on our panel, so we asked a lot of people all at once. But most of them were interested—and we had to turn some awesome potential panelists away because the spots were already filled.
For our most recent event, and for all events moving forward, we’ve tiered our outreach approach. Our goal was and is to have four women sit on our panels, so we start by asking our top four options—they make up tier one. If someone on that list can’t make it, we’ll move to tier two, and then we’ll dip into tier three if necessary. This has made it much easier to ensure that we don’t end up with too many panelists and don’t have to turn people away even after we’ve asked them to participate.
2. If your event includes a happy hour, give people something to do. While happy hours are a great time to engage with current or potential customers in a more casual setting, keep in mind that your team isn’t going to be able to talk to everybody, and that some people might come alone. To make sure everyone feels comfortable and engaged, we’ve found it helpful to include some sort of optional activity during the happy hour portion of our event.
Last night’s event, for example, focused on corporate and social responsibility. Our panelists have all, in some way, leveraged their careers to work toward greater social good, and they discussed ways in which each of us could do the same. To make the event more actionable, we also invited seven non-profits to “table” and our event and talk to attendees about the goals their respective organizations work toward, and offer potential volunteer opportunities. This not only helped make the event more actionable, but also provided a group of people for attendees to talk to about.
3. Encourage invitees to bring friends. Even though our tabling partners helped mitigate the awkward standing around that is stereotypical of happy hours, we realize that some of our registrants don’t come in the first place because they don’t want to attend the event alone.
For our next event, we want to incentivize people to bring friends. We’ve discussed the pros and cons of this option: Yes, we want to get people to come to our events, but we also want the right people to come. Since we build event marketing software, our target audience is marketers. So, what if we invite marketers but they bring friends who are doctors or chefs and couldn’t care less about our product?
Ultimately, we want members of our target audience to come. If that means they bring a friend who is entirely uninterested in what we do, we’re fine with that. Incentivizing members of our target audience to make plans with a friend to come to our event will likely increase the chances that those people actually show up—which is the goal of hosting an event in the first place.
4. If you want people to talk about your event on social channels, give them something to talk about. And maybe don’t ask them to live tweet it? For our next event, we want to make a greater push to encourage people to post about our event on social media—and we know they’re not going to do it without some sort of prompt.
For our event last night, we were planning to encourage attendees to tweet about the panel discussion as it was happening, tagging us with our event hashtag (#thenewWCW) and handle. We ended up forgetting to ask people to live-tweet, but I’m glad we forgot.
It’s not often you see people paying attention to something other than a screen for an extended period of time, and we’re proud that the panel discussions at our last two events were engaging enough to keep nearly 100 attendees from looking at their phones. We don’t want to ruin that. So, what will we do instead? We want to encourage people to be active on social media during the event happy hour. We’re planning to get creative with event installations that will encourage people to take photos and share—whether it’s a step-and-repeat or something more outside-of-the-box (have any ideas?).
The story of marketing automation isn’t new—marketing tech has been changing the industry for a decade. But events require so many logistics, and the ability to automate all of those logistics has not been around for a decade. Being able to so quickly throw together a high-touchpoint experience that’s executed well is huge in the era of the experience economy.
And ultimately, the ability to automate so many of the essential but time-consuming processes allows us to more successfully execute the kind of marketing campaigns that consumers want more of. Instead of focusing on logistics, we’ve been able able to think about high-level strategy—and ultimately help drive business results through our event process.