Using social media to make your university events sing

Colourful parrots
Social media has many uses outside the obvious. One is to help you communicate effectively with people at events such as open days. Scott Hibberson from Jisc has some advice and examples of how to use social in higher education to create bonds and add value so that everyone benefits.

When Jisc held its annual Digifest in Birmingham (#Digifest17) the subject specialist team were working hard behind the scenes to ensure the event trended on social media and reached out to those ‘attending’ the event virtually, as well as complementing the activities for those physically present over the two days.

I’m thrilled to report that this year’s #Digifest17 trended third in the UK (just behind the Cheltenham races and Donald Trump’s tax returns!) and experienced in the region of 5,000 tweets under the hashtag!

If you’re looking to amplify your own events with a social media backchannel here are a few pointers to consider that I picked up from #Digifest17.

Preparation, preparation, preparation!

Yes, social media is by its very nature serendipitous, but that doesn’t mean to say that leaving everything to chance will guarantee that it will give your event the coverage it deserves. There’s a lot you can do in advance of the event to maximise engagement on the day itself.

It’s always advisable to create a Twitter hashtag early on in the planning process and use it from day one to share all content to do with the event. This not only helps to give attendees a central source of up to date news about the event it also empowers your potential attendees to do some of that all-important marketing for you!

Remember to keep your attendees engaged before, during and after the event.

Make sure you do your research and find out whether speakers have social media accounts they’re happy to include and have any links to presentations and so on too. Prepare a few template tweets to fire off on the day with this kind of information and you will save a lot of work later.

Creating social media sharing buttons on any sites you use to provide information about the event also gets the message out there. There are plenty of sites out there that allow you to do it, such as ClicktoTweet, and encourage your speakers and attendees to announce to their followers that they will be attending your event.

It’s not just about Twitter…

The Open University has developed a social media toolkit that’s worth checking out which includes a really useful overview of many social media tools, such as Periscope, Flickr and Storify, that all link well with Twitter and other social media platforms to amplify your events.

On the day of the event, assign dedicated people to manage your social media channels so attendees’ posts are responded to and even incorporated into the feed of the event. There are logistical considerations to consider, like ensuring mobile devices being used are fully charged, that all sessions at the event have some coverage and the people doing the social media amplifying are well-placed in workshop rooms to hear everything, take photos and capture videos too. If you have access to widescreen TVs dotted around the event venue there are plenty of sites that allow you to display the social media buzz in a visually impactful way as well.

Tom Mitchell, digital communications manager at Jisc recommends creating a Facebook event page to generate a buzz before, during and after an event. Take a look at the #Digifest17 event page for some ideas on the kind of things to include.

Five ways to make your event social media shine

  • Ensure staff responsible for social media reporting post a range of media to
    keep the content fresh – photos, videos, links to presentations, etc.
  • Make use of template tweets prepared beforehand if appropriate.
  • Monitor social media posts by delegates on the day and engage with
    attendees where possible.
  • Retweet/Like/Share attendees’ posts as appropriate.
  • Don’t be afraid to have a little fun with social media and share some of the
    lighter and more ‘social’ aspects of the event!

The key is to include a range of media to ensure the content is fresh, stimulating and adds value to the event. Photos, videos, links to presentations and further content all add value and are more likely to amplify your event.

Some may scoff at the seemingly trivial nature of sharing photos of cakes and the like at events, but sometimes quirky can generate interest and help boost your event in ways you’d never even have anticipated. I remember being at a Connect More event last summer where a little toy monkey kept mysteriously cropping up in many of the photos and it certainly added a sense of fun and got plenty of retweets (it became a little bit like a game of ‘Where’s Wally!’).

Listen: consultant Eric Stoller reveals which HEIs are doing social well

Remember to keep your attendees engaged before, during and after the event too. Storify is a great way of bringing together your portfolio of social media around a particular event into one place by creating a digital record (or story) that can be shared with attendees afterwards. It also includes your attendees in that social media buzz around the event by acknowledging their posts – take a look at the Storify from Jisc’s Connect More event in Liverpool in 2016 for ideas.

Find out more!

I’ve created a draft checklist for using social media that you are welcome to use as a starting point at your own events. Feel free to repurpose this as required and let us know your own experiences of using social media at events.

Explore the resources from #Digifest17 and if you want more tips on using social media in teaching and learning take a look at Jisc’s 50 most influential higher education professionals using social media.

Follow Scott Hibberson on Twitter

Scott Hibberson
Subject specialist (online learning and the digital student experience), Jisc