How to Encourage Fan-Created Content to Optimize Social Media

By Ric Shreves, Michelle Krasniak

Events bring people together, and you want to leverage people’s social media connections. Have a plan to get attendees involved. Make it easy for them to post comments, tweets, photos, and videos about the event, and make sure that everything gets associated with the event by promoting the use of your official event hashtag. When you can get people working with you, magical things happen. Suddenly, you have more than a concert; you have a happening!

Tapping the power of hashtags

Hashtags are great tools for events. They’re extremely popular on Twitter and on Instagram, and they’re supported by services including Facebook. Users of social media channels that permit hashtags can follow hashtags to see all the posts that employ the tag. In other words, hashtags are easy ways for anyone who’s interested in a topic to find out what’s being said about it. Given the popularity of hashtags on key platforms, hashtags need to be part of your event marketing plan.

A hashtag is created with the # symbol before a keyword. The hashtag #sxsw, for example, is used for the SXSW festival in general, #swsi for the SXSW Interactive festival, and #sxswfilm for the SXSW Film Festival.

Choose a hashtag that can be used on multiple platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Follow these guidelines as you create a hashtag for your event:

  • Make it short. Eight to ten characters at the most.

  • Make it relevant. Focus on your event positioning.

  • Make it memorable. What good is a hashtag that no one can remember (or spell!)?

  • Make it unique. Nothing is worse than discovering too late that someone else is using your hashtag for another purpose. If you’re not sure whether your hashtag is in use, search for it on Twitter.

  • Use only one. Get everyone using the same hashtag for your event. Using more than one hashtag dilutes your efforts.

Before the event, make sure that your hashtag appears on all your marketing materials, including your email signature files. At the event, get creative by doing the following:

  • Put the hashtag on your tickets.

  • Display it at the front gate or the registration booth.

  • Put it on attendee badges or on anything attendees will hold.

  • Display it on the event’s video walls.

  • Write it on mirrors.

    Creativity gets noticed. At one event, the hashtag was handwritten on the bathroom mirrors in lipstick — along with a big lip print.

  • Display it anywhere that attendees may take pictures.

Hashtags are unregulated; anyone is free to create any hashtag they want. Nonetheless, some best practices for hashtag creation have emerged. Some pretty spectacular embarrassments have resulted from inappropriate hashtag use, so it’s worthwhile to know the rules you should follow.

In addition to avoiding potentially embarrassing hashtags (try doing an Internet search for embarrassing hashtags for examples of hashtag fails) , you need to be aware of Twitter’s official position on hashtag abuse. Make sure to review the Twitter terms of service so that you’re armed with the guidelines and don’t find your account filtered from search or suspended because of an inadvertent violation.

Tracking fan‐created content

So you have a great event; tons of fans, celebrities, and sponsors are tweeting about it, posting photos, and commenting on Facebook. How do you round up all that activity, monitor it, and amplify it?

The easiest way to track relevant posts is to track the use of your event hashtag. Several tools allow you to track the activity on your event hashtag. Two of the best free or low‐cost tools are Hootsuite and Social Mention.

Hootsuite enables you to set up searches for your hashtags on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Foursquare. The only real drawback is that Hootsuite lacks support for searching Instagram and YouTube. Here, you see Hootsuite set up to search for the hashtag #bitcoin on Twitter and Facebook.

A Hootsuite search for #bitcoin.

A Hootsuite search for #bitcoin.

Social Mention works more like a traditional search engine. You can use it to search for hashtags, though the completeness of the results can be somewhat lacking. Twitter results are often poorly reported, but Social Mention does well with Facebook and with YouTube. The advanced search feature allows you to set a variety of filters (including language, location, and time frame), making it easy to zero in on relevant mentions of your hashtag. Here’s a Social Mention search result for the hashtag #bitcoin.

A Social Mention search for #bitcoin.

A Social Mention search for #bitcoin.

Because Hootsuite doesn’t search YouTube and Social Mention doesn’t do well with Twitter, you can use both tools to get the widest tracking of hashtag activity. To pick up mentions on Instagram, search for the hashtag on Iconosquare.

If you have the budget to subscribe to commercial tracking tools, you have several options:

  • Keyhole: Keyhole provides near real‐time tracking of social media mentions. The system offers a three‐day free trial period; monthly plans start at $116 per month.

  • Tagboard: Tagboard hashtag search works across multiple channels and lets you set up a page where all mentions will appear. You can link to this page and share the contents. The basic version of the service is free of charge.

  • Talkwalker: Talkwalker provides a dashboard for tracking social media mentions across multiple channels. You can search by keywords or hashtags. You can use the service free for seven days with registration; thereafter, you have to contact the company for pricing.