If you’ve been following me on Twitter or Facebook lately, you’ll know that I have been heavily involved as a volunteer for a local charity event called “Cracking-Up the Capital for Mental Health“, a comedy show fundraiser that took place on February 18th in Ottawa. It’s been a wild and exciting 5 months, and I wouldn’t trade any minute of it for the world. The event itself went off without a hitch, and though we are still waiting for the final amount raised for The Royal Mental Health Centre, we are thrilled that we were only 200 or so seats away from selling out the 2,300 seat Southam Hall at the National Arts Centre.

Among other things, I helped coordinate and run the social media campaign for the event. We think that overall it’s been very successful. I am still working the final measurements, but I want to share with you a few ideas on how you might go about building your own successful event-based social media campaign.

Start early.
One of the biggest mistakes most people make is they don’t start their campaigns early enough. While it’s true that most of our target audience was not thinking back in October about what they’d be doing the night of February 18th, it was critical that we started building our social presence even at that early date.

I got the blog up and running and banked a few initial posts – mostly announcements of the line-up, information about the cause and content to build momentum for the ticket sales. I got access to the existing Twitter account and beefed up the profile, added a few relevant posts, and started doing searches – following local media, Ottawa Twitterfolk, and anyone I came across who had a connection to the cause. As we got closer to the event, I continued to post at least once or twice a day on relevant topics around mental health, with a bit of info about the show thrown in for good measure, then ramped it up when we got to be a few weeks out.

The point is – don’t EVER wait till the last couple of weeks to build your social presence. Start as early as you can, and build momentum. Social media takes time, a lot more time than you think it will. So be sure to leave yourself enough time to build an engaged following, that will be there for you when you need them.

Follower numbers – it’s all relative.
If you look at the follower numbers for @CrackTheCapital and our Facebook page, you’ll see that in comparison to some things, they might be considered kind of low. But it really is all relative. Our goal was to sell out 2,300 seats. That doesn’t mean we need to find 2,300 people to buy individual tickets – most of those tickets are sold in groups of two, four, or more. So really, we only needed about 500-700 people to actually click the “buy” button to be considered successful. The fact that we have about 200 followers on Twitter, who are about 95% Ottawa-based and are real accounts, is great. We have a following that is about 10% of the number of people that came to the show, and they are quality followers – people who are connected to the cause, and are engaged with us. Our followers were great for re-tweeting our messages and interacting with us – and I made sure we were there to interact with them too.

Follower numbers are ALWAYS about quality over quantity – I’d rather have 200 people who care about what I’m saying than 2,000 who don’t give me the time of day.

Involve your social media people in the event.
Right from the beginning, I was invited to be part of the core team of the event. I was at all the meetings, was copied on the emails, and was able to really get a handle on the overall marketing effort and key messages. But more than that, I was able to get a real feel of the vibe of the people behind the event. I got to spend a good deal of time with the production team, and was able to develop a rapport with the talent too. As a result, I had a real sense of the excitement that was happening behind the scenes, and was able to translate that into great content that helped build momentum.

The worst thing any event (or business, for that matter) can do is keep their social media people hidden. You simply cannot run an event, and have your social media person sitting in an office somewhere trying to understand what’s happening so they can blog and tweet about it. You must have your social media team immersed in the event as much as possible, and that means having them at ALL the meetings, and setting them up on site so they can experience the event themselves, and really communicate the essence of what’s happening.

Social media isn’t the ONLY way.
We put a lot of effort into the social campaign and I believe it helped to raise awareness in the community about the event and ultimately put some bums in seats. But social media was definitely not the only marketing we did. We had articles in the newspaper and ads as well. We had CBC radio running frequent promo spots and doing giveaways. We produced and aired a promo for CBC Television, with our emcee Patrick McKenna. It ran in heavy rotation for several weeks leading up to the event. We had other local radio, print and TV media doing stories on the show.

Social media is a great way to engage with people and I think it’s an essential part of any event-based campaign. But it MUST be combined with traditional marketing and advertising. Social media is just one channel of many to help spread the word.

All in all, the event and the campaigns we ran online and offline helped us to meet our goals – to raise awareness and help eliminate the stigma around mental health, and to raise much needed funds for The Royal. Through an effective online and offline marketing campaign, the amazing support of our sponsors and our volunteer team, our extraordinarily funny, talented and generous comics, the support of the local media, and of course, of the people who came out to the show, we succeeded.