Ken Clayton: Social success?

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Ken Clayton, director, Reftech Services, questions whether social media can really make a difference to your event, and also asks where’s the proof?


There is no doubt that social media is, if not at the top, then very close to the top of the list of gizmos being promoted by various evangelists as a “must have” for event organisers. The trouble is that there appear to be no studies saying that “this event used social media like this and this was the benefit”.

Trawling through the Facebook pages of a few events recently shows that the level of “engagement” is on a par with the comments posted on users’ own Facebook pages. On a personal level we can catch up on the antics of our Facebook friends’ animals, the time at which people are going to bed or what they had for breakfast.

The disappointing thing is that this is also often the level of contribution on exhibition and congress Facebook pages. Somebody is on their way to a show, somebody else is excited to be there and various exhibitors are saying “Come and see us on stand…”. Is this really going to have any effect on attendance? It seems unlikely.

There have been success stories, although none as yet that show social media being used to increase attendance at an event. In South Africa, Reckitt Benckiser ran a campaign in support of International Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It included a Facebook page that people could use to donate money and watch the donations mounting up. The page attracted 4,000 fans and contributed to a total of nearly £8,000 raised through several media. That was good but it still does not show how social media can improve attendance at an event. But the potential is clearly there.

For example, English Heritage established a Facebook page to promote its flagship Festival of History event in July. Torrential rain on the night before it opened meant that the event was cancelled. The difficulty was to get the message to the 2,000 or so re-enactors who were camped over a wide area ready to take part in a series of re-enactments. Many saw the cancellation announcement on Facebook before they heard it from stewards on the site.

So, the potential exists but at present social media seems to be in the same position as radio after it was first invented: it looks as if there is huge potential in it but nobody yet has worked out just how to harness it.