Few people can make the claim to have trended multiple activism events worldwide with a budget of $0 – but we can. Doing so is not at all an accident, or merely a result of being amplified by high profile accounts. The secret is a combination of knowledge and skill – and we believe the knowledge should be free! So please read and share this valuable information widely.
Preparation and co-ordination are key to trending an event worldwide. Merely showing up on the day is not enough. Many things have to be considered and the more of the below steps you have completed in advance of your event, the better your outcome.
1. Event Media Team
Know who your media team for your event is. These need to be dedicated members with pre-assigned tasks. They should not be event hosts, parade marshals, or other event staff. If those people can also send some tweets while doing what they are doing, great. But the media team needs to be dedicated entirely to their purpose.
1A. Offsite Members
In the age of the internet it is not at all neccesary for your media team to physically attend the event. We frequently have people in multiple different countries running Twitter accounts, monitoring hashtags, watching and live-tweeting from the livestream, relaying messages and tweet-jockeying. What is important is not the location of your media team members (though granted at least one should be physically present) but how trusted they are and how well they co-ordinate.
2. Media Team Accounts
One of the biggest mistakes people make is running a single event or organisational account. A number of accounts is required – a minimum of 5 accounts is desirable but our combined team run up to 10 accounts for a single event. These accounts are of different types, behave and perform differently, have different ‘voices’ and purposes. While it is not always necessary to have all of these account types, the more the merrier!
2A. Official Organisation Account
This is the account that most event organisers have already – the ‘official’ representation, or voice, of the organising entity. This is a must-have but only scratches the surface of the voices needed to raise a cacophony in support of your event. This is the account that you want to keep super-professional in order to protect the brand; only retweeting the most prescient hashtag content and voices.
2B. Official Event Account
It is extremely helpful to have an account that is dedicated to spreading content that is specific to the event, before, during and after it. Doing so enables you to create a comprehensive pool of aggregated event-related information that you can repurpose later on. It also means that anyone who follows this account does so in the understanding that they are going to be essentially bombarded with event-specific information and amplification, which prevents followers of your Official Organisation Account having to be subjected to that bombardment. It creates a voluntary, opt-in basis for receiving the information, and all other accounts can politely inform people that they can follow this account. The ‘voice’ of the account remains professional in tone as it is still representing the official organisation, however, because the account is dedicated to the specific event, it has the ability to pump out vast swathes of information that is similar in nature, such as retweeting a much greater portion of the hashtag content and amplifying many more of the voices of attendees and spectators than the Official Organisation Account is likely to do.
2C. Media Team Account
This account should be a shared access account (or even a RoundTeam) through which both your off-site and on-site media team members can collaborate and create a collective voice. They can have a special focus on mining external coverage of the event or even include some measure of content that is not deemed appropriate for the Official Organisation/Official Event accounts – a slightly more informal voice, as it will be generally accepted that this account is run by people working to a common goal rather than an a strict representation of an entity.
2D. Personal Accounts
Each media team member should have their own personal account established. If they did not have one prior they should start one, as being followed by the other event accounts will enable their voice to be amplified regardless of whether they have their own established following. There should be as many personal accounts active as possible and they should all both generate content (whether by live-tweeting onsite or offsite) and amplify the content of the other accounts. These accounts can each have their own voice, reflective of the individual operating them. They can be much more informal in nature as the responsibility for the content will generally be attributed to the personal account rather than the official accounts.
3. Event Hashtag
The most important qualities of an event hashtag are that it be as short as possible (in terms of number of characters), as relevant to the organisation and event topic as possible, and that it be memorable. Actual words are far preferable to acronyms, dates or conjunctions of other words. A great example of a successful hashtag in terms of composition as well as end result was #NZ4Gaza. It was very easy to remember and everyone who saw it immediately understood that it was about New Zealanders who were in solidarity with the people of Gaza, Palestine. It was also short enough that it left plenty of characters over for actual tweet content. The originally suggested hashtag set-up by different activists, #Auckland2Palestine, was a total flop – too many characters by far, too difficult to have to type out when in the heat of the moment and didn’t have anywhere near the same punchiness as the replacement, which of natural causes then spun off into many spontaneous worldwide subsidiaries; #DC4Gaza, #UK4Gaza, etc etc. Great hashtags can have a snowball effect that in marketing terms is literally priceless and can become a lasting brand in and of themselves. Your hashtag should be decided in the very early stages of event planning and should prominently appear on all event marketing materials, on your press release and publications.
4. Media Resources
Another clear sign of success is when external media (be it mainstream or independent) pick up on what you are doing and use their platforms and networks to promote and amplify it. The easiest way to guarantee this is to make it as effortless as possible for them to do so. This means they need to know about the event beforehand, and they need to have all possible related information, background, channels and resources that you want them to have access to, located in one easy and safe place for their later perusal. To that end we tend to use Pastebin – both because of how easy it is and because the domain has enough saturation online that most media people recognise it and are likely to feel safe clicking on it.
Your Media Resources pastebin link should contain most of, if not all of, the following information:
* Event Hashtag
* Name/Date/Time/Location of event
* Link to official event press release
* Name of organising entity & link to official website
* Links to livestreams (if any)
* Account names of official event social media accounts, including all relevant Facebook page links and Twitter accounts
* Background information, especially links to media, and topical information
* Names of other related accounts to follow (personal accounts of key media team members etc)
* Any calls to action, donation links, crowd-funding campaigns, etc
* Anything else you really want people to know about the event, especially media
4A. Media Resources – Timing Is Everything
Your Pastebin link should be sent to the social media accounts (and/or your press email list) and all organisational and event supporters 24-48 hours before the event, no more and no less. Sending it to them a week or a month ahead of time will likely mean it is forgotten or goes to the bottom of the pile. But when people receive information about an event that is happening “tomorrow”, it is fresh in their memories and they are much more likely to then refer back to it once they see the event occurring in real time on social media. Be ambitious with who you send it to – don’t be afraid to send it to media organisations that have never covered your events before, or who you could only dream of paying attention. Send it to every media organisation listed on social media. It is no skin off your nose to do so and a huge victory if they take note and follow up on it.
5. Event Lead-Up
Too many times we see organisations sending tweets out before their events that say: “4 hours until ________ starts!”, “2 hours until _______ starts!”. While seeming to serve as a timely reminder these tweets do nothing to solicit new followers or engage current ones. Media is key. Tweet photographs of the event being set-up along with your message, or pictures of the marketing and promotional materials. Include your media resources pastebin link. Make it graphic, make it fun. Ask questions. Answer others, and chat about what or who you’re looking forward to seeing. Talk about the preparation that has gone into the event and make sure livestream links remain near the top of the hashtag at all times. Above all, keep things visual!
AT THE EVENT:
6. Your Audience Becomes Your Media Team
This is a really important trick that we have used many times, with incredible results. Whoever is introducing the event needs to tell the audience up-front what hashtag will be used, what the name of the official accounts tweeting content to it are, so that everyone can follow them, and outright ask people to participate in the online conversation. Tell them plainly that if they don’t have a Twitter account, they can download the app and register one on the spot, and that it doesn’t matter if they don’t have any followers because they will be followed by your media team/event organisers when they tweet their thoughts to the hashtag, and thus that their voice WILL get heard by your audience. Giving participants an opportunity to be followed by and thus directly connect with the organisers is a carrot that results in many first time Twitter users actually taking the leap and contributing to the hashtag, even if they had never used Twitter before. Of natural causes they then end up retweeting and sharing the hashtag content which contributes to the overall likelihood of trending, as the more retweets on the hashtag content within a short space of time, the more likely that Twitter will trigger push notifications to other followers in your network, who will then also contribute.
6A: Push Notifications
When push notifications start firing to users that weren’t previously engaged, that is when you know you are winning and likely to trend bigtime. This is also one of the primary benefits of running multiple event accounts. If you can get 5 or more retweets on newly posted content right off the bat, the chances of triggering push notifications greatly increases.
6B: Retweet -Everything-
With the exception of the official organisation account, all the other networked media team accounts should retweet absolutely everything, as promptly as possible. Unless the content is outright objectionable, it should be amplified, appreciated and responded to as soon as possible. If a member of the public is doing a great job tweeting about the event – tell them so!
7. Reiterate the Hashtag
At every opportunity during the event, between each speaker, reiterate the hashtag. Make a comment regarding the level of the engagement on it. Read out an interesting tweet or two. Congratulate new users who you see have started accounts and update the audience on trending progress. When we had #TPPANoWay trending to #2 worldwide during the event, a member of our media team jumped on the mic and announced it to all attendees. Instantly a massive roar of appreciation came up from the crowd, replete with cheers and applause. Make your audience feel personally invested in the progress and outcome of the hashtag. If the event is trending, they are part of that victory. Involve them in the enjoyment of the success.
AFTER THE EVENT:
8. Retweet -Everything-
Just because your event has ended does not mean your work is done (not even close!). Make sure that anything that has slipped notice during the event still gets amplification from all accounts. Say your thank-you’s to all contributors and continue pushing the event messages well after it is over. The day after the event, you should double-check the hashtag and continue to retweet everything, as some people will not post their amateur photos, observations or other content until after the fact.
9. Aggregate the Content
Collect all the photos, videos and a selection of key tweets from the event hashtag, then compile them into a blog post or article. Post the link to the article to the hashtag and use all accounts to amplify it.
Below is a short example of some events that I personally covered where I felt my coverage was an outstanding success, and an example of coverage that was an abysmal failure. Some really important and valuable lessons can be learned from each.
10. Success Story One: #TPPANoWay
#TPPANoWay is the hashtag our media team invented to promote the It’s Our Future New Zealand campaign against the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. While the physical environment was extremely challenging, with huge and highly personalised opposition from local government agencies, and challenging event days where we would run up to 5 accounts each simultaneously including the official organisation accounts, event and media team accounts, while also capturing and publishing live video and photographs on the fly, we really had everything else going for us as IOFNZ includes a number of highly experienced, seasoned activists and professionals, with established networks and resources. They already had a fabulous website and solid backing, but just very little Twitter presence to speak of. We first jumped on board in 2012 and continue to cover their events to this day. We embraced the above “AT THE EVENT” concepts of teaching the attendees how to become impromptu proxy members of our media team and each event became bigger and more successful than the last, trending worldwide. Originally very few people understood what the TPPA was or stood for; it is now universally recognised for what it is.
Key contributing factors:
* Fantastic organisational backing
* Great hashtag
* Access to experienced activists and speakers
* Audience participation
* High level of co-ordination between onsite and offsite team members
* Networking with other groups and accounts internationally who were also organising against the TPP
11. Success Story Two: #PMDebate
This is a great example of how you can ignore most of the aforementioned advice and still achieve a great result. Contrary to the above, the hashtag #PMDebate was actually dreamed up less than two hours before an event that we decided to cover at the last minute. The event itself had no designated hashtag; it was a political debate in a community hall prior to a national election. The sitting leader of the country was determined that the event not be referred to as a debate, repeatedly stating in the mainstream media that it definitely was NOT a debate. Despite having only one team member onsite and three offsite available on the night, our concerted and co-ordinated use of the hashtag #PMDebate meant that online news producers picked up on and used the hashtag, causing it to trend even further than it already was. By the time the event was over, I was overhearing major media figures who were in attendance fielding calls from their producers, referring directly to our hashtag. Thus despite the protestations of the government, the event became renowned as #PMDebate and was a huge success from our perspective.
Key contributing factors:
* Event held in the evening local time, when many people were home from work
* Really catchy, humorous hashtag, easy to remember
* High level of co-ordination between onsite and offsite media team members
12. Object Lesson: #QVDemocracy
It is highly ironic that the event at which the cards were most stacked against me and I felt most unable to perform turned out to be one of my favourites. The speakers were all people I greatly admired and who I couldn’t believe my luck at being able to see speak in person, and then to meet. Overall the experience was a huge object lesson for me which I will carry well into the future. An online friend said to me afterwards – ‘what happened? You are usually a hurricane!’ They were so right. I usually am! However a combination of the following, seriously tripped me up:
12A: Local Knowledge/Language
My first event in Berlin, Germany, I learned the hard way that local knowledge is everything. While the event itself was a success, my coverage was, in my opinion, abysmal. Despite going to extreme lengths and considerable time and expense in attempting to source the right equipment, the language barrier consistently prevented me from being able to resolve issues that arose in the use of the devices. Therefore having a local who speaks the native tongue available to assist you is an absolute must.
When covering an event, you are only as good as your equipment. Local knowledge again plays into this, as knowing where to easily get your hands on what you need is a big part of it. But the mistake I really made was taking advice on hardware that a techy person, but not a media person, suggested I use, that I had never used before. I went with it against my better instincts and soon regretted it! Sure enough, the hardware in question was great for privacy, great for a burner for communicative purposes, but had absolutely terrible usablity and even worse picture quality. It was completely unsuitable for someone who needs to be able to capture great photographs and event footage while simultaneously operating a plethora of social media accounts. In terms of hardware, I should absolutely have stuck with what I knew. The time to trial new hardware is not at an event! Lesson learned.
12B: Network and Data
Once again, lack of local knowledge and inability to speak the language failed me. While the shop assistants that sold me my network and data cards appeared to have completed the registration steps in front of me and swore black and blue that everything was correctly installed and ready to go, sure enough that turned out not to be the case. Finding yourself at an event with no connectivity, a warranty and user manual that is in a foreign language and a helpline with pre-recorded messages that are also in a foreign language, is not an enviable position to be in. Subsequently I found myself having to tether off a secondary handset, which had no data allowance, and thus my tweets were queueing up and releasing at a rate of about one every ten minutes, with the vast bulk of my coverage perennially assigned to the ‘Drafts’ folder! The entire point of live-tweeting is to be able to tweet live – not ten minutes after something has happened on the livestream. The pitiful flow of data also made it impossible for me to view the hashtag, specific accounts, or search results – all of which I usually rely on being able to access in real time at an event. This utterly crippled my coverage and was almost as disappointing as the discovery of the terrible picture quality of the handset camera, which while claiming to be 5 megapixels, had terrible focus and a total lack of clarity.
Key contributing factors:
* Inadequate preparation and no back-up equipment
* Lack of tactical support as I was not part of the organising committee or official media team
* Language barrier
That said – I got to enjoy the event as an attendee and had a fabulous time so ultimately have no regrets other than my ability to provide better impromptu media support than circumstances allowed me.
Twitter is web application software and ultimately runs off complex algorithms which do not operate strictly in accordance with the advice given above, which is anecdotal in nature and the result of personal experience covering more than 50 events in the last 3 years. Determining the semantics involved in what trends and what doesn’t involves advanced mathematics that is clearly not discussed here. However the information provided in this article gives some really great general organisational guidelines that if adhered to will increase your event’s Twitter impact overall and increase the quality of your outcome.
Now that you have the knowledge – what about the skill? The skill factor is being able to type 120wpm; being able to generate and collate great content; being able to run 5 Twitter accounts simultaneously without skipping a beat, while still keeping up with everything going on around you. That skill comes with practice, experience and no small measure of sheer determination to spread the messages.
If your cause needs help, we will do what we can to help you, for free. Please Contact Us to see if we can be of assistance.
Thanks for reading 🙂
By: Suzie Dawson
Since joining the Occupy Auckland media team in 2011, Suzie Dawson has been a driving force behind many social justice and political movement media campaigns and events in New Zealand, including #GCSB, #NZ4Gaza and #TPPANoWay. She has recently relocated to Berlin, Germany and is the founder of EthicalPR. Suzie writes for a number of publications and her work has been shared internationally including by Glenn Greenwald, RT.com, Wikileaks and Business Insider. Read more about Suzie at her personal website: Suzi3D.com or follow her on Twitter – @endarken / @Suzi3D