How Social Media Engagements Are Much Like Live Events

An article is to a ‘share’ as a festival booth is to:

  1. Passing by
  2. Taking a flyer
  3. Bringing a friend over
  4. None of the above (total corner cut on this one)

You guessed it – bringing a friend over and no, this will not be on the test. There are several parallels between live events and social media events. Understanding these parallels aids in framing our general understanding of digital events and is helpful if you wish to design and/or sell these engagements, especially when pitching to individuals who aren’t proficient in content or social media marketing.

Most marketers or business persons can understand the benefit of a live event. Tons don’t understand the merits and measurability of social media engagements. Im’ma talk about several parallels between the two.

They both take up space.


Whether it’s a hall, a field, the middle of the desert, or within our social media feeds, events take place in perceivable space. One may play to all 5 senses while the other to fewer, but they both take place in a meaningful landscape with formatted rules for participation. More importantly either type of event takes up head space, thought life, minutes of someone’s day. And bytes.

A comedian tells a joke. He’s surrounded by a room of donors who purchased a seat at a gala benefiting a nonprofit. The crowd laughs in unison. It’s easy to imagine the interconnectivity of this group. They’re experiencing a shared reality, one stimulus as a focal point, together in shared space.

Social media is quite similar. People from all over the world can experience the same reality from the same stimulus. The difference being, this experience is not bound in the same way by time and physical space. Social media users can engage in that shared experience at their leisure in venues like a website or a social media feed.

You might argue for this reason social media events are less real. From a marketing perspective, they’re very real and can be fantastic when interacting with an undeniable and growing audience. It’s time to update our thinking.

Both have a captive audience.

Social media works. People use it. That’s why it’s so appealing to leverage it as a marketing vehicle.

Roughly two-thirds of U.S. adults (68%) now report that they are Facebook users, and roughly three-quarters of those users access Facebook on a daily basis. – Pew Research Center

We could pepper you with stats, but you see all the green dots beside your friends’ names when you’re on social. That anecdotal evidence is probably enough. Social media networks are gathering places, and just like any event, you have a captive audience swiping through content, some of which is yours.

What other advertising mediums have the same active, captive audience? Billboards? While people whiz by. Tri folds? Maybe by sanitization experts anyway. Television? Cord-cutters at an all-time high. You might drive by a billboard once a day. You might read a trifold once. You may see a commercial once a week.

At an event, brands are front-and-center, at times for a multi-day experience. “I may not want a beer now, but that beer tent will still be there when I do.” With the right social media engagement, you can work a captive audience in similar ways and a digital event can last longer and have numerous spikes in participation.

Impressions are like foot traffic.

Festivals, for instance, are a great source of foot traffic. You set up a booth, tent, experiential space, etc. You make your space enticing. Thousands pass by. Tens or hundreds engage. Same thing with a social media engagement. You set up a website, microsite, set of social media posts, or some other digital space. You work to make that space interesting and worthy of engagement. Thousands of impressions. Only a percent engage.

Here’s where those holding the purse strings get hung up, “Foot traffic immediately impacts my bottom line. Impressions do not.”

Let’s hang on this for a minute, because if you set up a tent with your bottom line as the top priority, the way you think about your role in a live event could be considered shortsighted. While your brand’s bottom line may be a macro goal, or the only macro goal, it’s supporting micro goals that get you there. Not every arm of your marketing platform should be macro-first. Some should push your micro goals forward.

Foot traffic at a live event provides an amazing vehicle to creatively align and endear your customers and potential customers. This should be the focus with a captive audience. You’ll probably see sales, but in the hierarchy of priorities sales should be secondary. At an event, it’s experience first and sales second. If you can adopt this way of thinking, social media marketing should make more sense to you.

You still set up the tent, but a digital engagement is about creative alignment, fun or meaningful engagement, humanizing of your brand or nonprofit, etc. You can always push a product on your engagement’s digital space, offer product-based incentives, educate about your products, give away coupons or deals, or whatever other mechanism you feel moves the sales needle. But the micro goals are the real focus here.

Foot traffic and impressions are confined by the window of time the event exists, and therefore so do the sales they can achieve. Memories, which are the basis of brand loyalty, have no confine.

They’re both experiential.

Many top-down marketing efforts are static. You put a product on display in a way you think will appeal to a consumer. They purchase or don’t. It’s very one-to-one, top-down. There’s no real lateral movement. No breath. An event is alive and has a movement most advertising mediums do not. Literally.

Each interaction at an event is one more touch point your brand has the opportunity to penetrate the experience of an individual. The more effective you are, the more likely you are to become a part of that person’s memory. A memory is its own perpetuating touch point – one we often choose to speak about with others.

Social media engagements too can be experiential. Just like a live event, they call for engagement. Perhaps you might think there’s less charm in tapping a call-to-action than schmoozing at a gala, or dropping acid and floating across the grass at a Dead concert, but though a person can engage from their couches, social media engagements can still evoke a strong emotional response from participants, joy and a sense of belonging to name just two.

The noteworthy difference here is that anyone with internet access can participate in a social media engagement, conveniently, efficiently, intuitively, with a lesser barrier for entry than getting dolled up and making an appearance. Additionally, and oddly contrary to its title, individuals can participate in numerous social media actions anonymously and comfortably while still feeling helpful and as if a contribution was made.

Both types of events can be thought of as “just hooks.”

This is a model for how to think about events, not a truth, and certainly not all events follow this model. But…for exercise, let’s indulge. A festival is not about entertainment; it’s about sales. We pick a venue. We find a hook that draws people in. Enough people in one place makes it enticing to businesses. Businesses buy-in to gain access to the audience. Sales ensue. (I know I just said, “Don’t make foot traffic at an event about sales,” but for many it’s a standard event marketing model and easy to use as an example in this exercise.)

A festival line-up is a hook to get a lot of people of a certain demographic in one place for a specific period of time. A gala has entertainment, networking opportunities, fancy meals, a platform for displaying and gaining status. All hooks. Businesses sponsor events that can bring the right captive audience to the right type of location to serve the right type of goal. For many types of events, no business(es) equals no event. Within this context, you might say all things contained in the hook are secondary. You might say event organizers hold sponsorship and business buy-in as the macro goal.

While there are several ways to frame a social media engagement, and several purposes for an engagement that do not need to follow the format of the “hook” style events outlined, if you have a goal in mind and participation is necessary to meet that goal, you may want a hook. The hook is the fun part, the experience, for the participant. It’s what draws them in. It’s the potential to create a virtual venue full of people, and that’s what’ll in turn, draw in your sponsorships.

Tying it all together.

Social media contests, challenges, twitter chats, meme wars, roasts, fundraisers, and any other type of social media event can be conceptualized and sold in the same ways as live events with similar guiding principles. Some touch points are perhaps more condensed than others. Some can be far superior (for instance, a digital event can persist for weeks, months even). Either way, the touch points are all still there.

Continue to plan your live events. Buy into the ones that make sense to your brand. Start thinking about social media as venue to host events as deliberately as you would your live events. At the very least, your live events should have an accompanying social media engagement.

Happy planning!

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Matthew Praetzel

Thinker / Programmer / Late night contemplator More about this guy

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