How to make the most of your event’s online presence

Cat Leaver © We are Ad

Prepare, prepare, prepare! Says digital expert Cat Leaver

It was a fairly famous mantra in the nineties, but the quote ‘if you build it, they will come’ from Hollywood film Field of Dreams) doesn’t exactly hold true when marketing an event.

In a world where 211 million pieces of online content are created every minute, relying on the strength of your offering alone would be wildly optimistic for an industry that needs people to leave the comfort of their sofas to walk through your doors. It was a fairly famous mantra in the nineties, but the quote ‘if you build it, they will come’ (From Hollywood film Field of Dreams) doesn’t exactly hold true when marketing an event.

In 2016, no matter how good your event might be, your particular tune has to be heard above all that internet white noise. And that’s no easy feat. In the 2014 Digital Culture Research Report, 79 percent of festival and events organisers said online marketing had either a major or fairly major impact on their success. With this kind of impact, your digital strategy needs to be smart.

For a start, you need to begin your campaign with enough time to bring an audience on board. There’s no point creating a Facebook page a week before your doors open and then being disappointed by a lacklustre response. How long and heavy you need to go with your online marketing before the big event depends on the scope of your project – if it’s a seminar in a small room, you’ll clearly need a completely different way of thinking than for a week-long concert in a sizeable venue. It’s not a simple question of how many seats you need to fill, but more who you want sitting on them. Begin in the months leading up to your event, rather than weeks or days before.

  • Make the most of planning tools (for example a Gantt chart, which can be downloaded for free online) and plan to synchronise a multichannel approach in your communication strategy across print, online, press and PR, social media, eNewsletters and marketing materials such as posters and adverts
  • Set targets for sales and lay out what your Critical Success Factors (CSFs) might be; for example employing a temporary social media executive or buying a domain name.
  • Regularly use monitoring tools to see which channels are better at getting users to complete a purchase at the checkout.
  • Use this data to work out your Return on Investment (ROI); if Facebook advertising results in higher value or more purchases, then you may wish to invest more resources on Facebook advertising than on Twitter. Work with facts rather than assumptions. Likewise, do not underestimate the value of tangible and intangible results: Twitter is great for building a brand – so assign a value to Twitter followers, likes and retweets.


Know your tribe

Who are you trying to attract and what tools do they use? If you’re managing a theatre performance or recital starring famous performers, social media offers fantastic opportunities for engaging with their fanbase – so it helps to get them onboard with your ideas early on in the planning stages.

A fundraiser for a family series might benefit from paid Facebook posts targeted by region, a professional development session might work better on LinkedIn, and a symposium for creatives on Twitter or Instagram.

If your audience is multicultural or spans more than one country, you’ll need to consider how you’ll integrate different languages into your online presence – not all of your participants, guests and sponsors (for example at an international violin competition) will speak English as a first language. Therefore, will you have separate microsites, multilingual staff or online translations on your web page?

Spreading the word

You also need to be wary of spreading yourself too thinly over an unnecessarily large number of social accounts (particularly if you’re a small operation). One key way of keeping all parties centralised is with a #hashtag – which could turn out to be one of the most crucial aspects of your entire online strategy. It will also allow you to monitor and manage how people engage with the event as you can search for mentions – so choose your # wisely. Your first consideration for a #hashtag should be length: don’t waste the 140-character limit on Twitter.

Your second thought should be the timeliness: while adding the year or location on the end can be a smart move for those looking to differentiate between different nights or areas (for example a seminar visiting different locations), it isn’t always the best for a touring concert or production.

How much could the #hashtag alienate foreign audiences? Keep it as simple and relevant as possible. In their two-year tour of every country in the world through the Globe to Globe season, for example, London’s Shakespeare’s Globe opted for the incredibly short and snappy #G2G. Whilst it could be argued this particular tag is so general it attracts those who aren’t tweeting about the production itself, it is easily accessible and translatable to a worldwide audi- ence. More to the point, it saves precious text space and works across multiple platforms.

Use the three Cs: Consistency, Coordination and Creativity

In reality there is no secret weapon to a good digital presence; it’s all about truthfulness to the product you’re selling. Whatever makes your event unique is what defines its personality, and it’s here where digital triumphs in allowing you to express your individuality.


Express the very heart of your event and use a consistent voice across your offer. Roll this out across all platforms with imagery that suits that particular audience.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe, for example, only runs for 25 days each August but keeps its social media accounts active throughout the year, posting both information on the event and non-related content that gets to the heart of the brand. Regular photos of Edinburgh landmarks, for example, are complemented by jokes and witty comments helping inspire old and new visitors.

Poland’s Open’er Music Festival allowed its personality to shine through prior to the event itself by inviting those attending to create their own introductory messages to be shared with other visitors. Not only did this create a collective event, but it also meant an even greater audience for the festival as attendees shared their biographies on social media and with friends.


74 percent of smartphone owners have used location-based services like Facebook and its likely some visitors will use it at your event. ‘The management of social media channels effectively throughout our Lumiere festivals meant we could respond to audiences in real time and manage crowds and busy areas much more effectively,’ so said the Artichoke Trust on their Lumiere Festivals that took place in London and Durham.


This is where your standing as an expert in the arts really comes into play. Look at the skills across your team and ask for ideas.

Your brand, either as a company or individual professional, should be built on its success. Ensure signposts to you online channels are visible on boards, programmes and promotional material at the event – state what the Twitter #hashtag, Facebook page, YouTube channel and Instagram handles are, and encourage your audience to feel part of the experience by shar- ing their thoughts online.

Never forget that the most trusted form of marketing is word-of-mouth, so the quality of what is on offer has to be worth shouting about.

Cat Leaver is Head of Strategy at We are AD, a strategic digital agency with offices in London, Manchester & Glasgow.