For PR professionals, managing a successful social media event can be exhausting — wrestling with new technologies, struggling to fit strategic messages into 140 characters and fighting to maintain high levels of participation. But in our efforts to create conversation, we often overlook our most powerful ally: our audience.
The Lehigh University communications department learned this lesson during our live Twitter coverage of the school’s 2011 commencement ceremony this past May.
By monitoring Lehigh Twitter mentions, we knew that attendees would be tweeting about the event anyway, so we created a hashtag, #Lehighgrad2011, to guide and monitor the discussion. But once commencement exercises began, the audience quickly dismissed the hashtag as too long and unnecessary. It appeared that they would abandon it, neutralizing our efforts to foster a unified conversation. Rather than clinging to the dying hashtag, we read what people were tweeting and took their advice: change it to #Lehighgrad. Not only did we free up some characters, but we earned the trust and support of the audience — they knew that we were listening.
After that, the Lehigh community Twitterati took over. The variety of contributors invigorated us: technophobes, honor students with Lady GaGa-esque online followings, social media professors and staffers with a high number of Foursquare Mayorships.
Lehigh’s Twitter conversation not only trended in Bethlehem, Pa., but also spread to Philadelphia, where Lehigh alumni saw the conversation and added tweets of their own: “Everyone please raise a glass … for the class of 2011.”
We also learned some other valuable lessons about running a successful Twitter event, such as:
- Be conversational. Your tweets should encourage people to respond. Retweet the best ones from your audience to keep the conversation going.
- Be prepared. Take and post photos, monitor the tweets from your followers and answer direct messages from others who may be in the audience. Bring backup smartphones or laptops in case of an emergency.
- Be proactive. Get in with your local Twitterati. They are responsible and media-savvy, and they can support your effort by participating in the discussion and advocating the event hashtag to their followers.
Too often, we forget the first rule of social networking: It’s about relationships. Relax and embrace your audience as partners in the discussion. Being in touch with your audience means letting them share their thoughts with you. Create a hashtag for your event as an inexpensive way to crowdsource and obtain audience feedback.
It takes time and effort to engage an audience, and our next project is to quantify the impact of these conversations. Despite this challenge, good communicators understand that online tools like Twitter are a lot like new graduates: still finding their place in the world, but full of promise.
This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue of Public Relations Tactics.
Jordan Reese is director of media relations at Pennsylvania’s Lehigh University. Join the @LehighUNews Twitter feed, which is focused on connecting journalists with Lehigh experts.
Looking for more social media training from PRSA? Try these two on demand social media seminars:
- Creating a Social Media Policy to Fit Your Organization: Develop Guidelines to Lessen the Risk with Deirdre Breakenridge
- Data-Driven Pitching: Support Your Outreach Using Consumer Insights Via Search Data with Sandra Heikkinen