In my previous blog post of this series, I have discussed the strategic part of communicating a forestry conference on the example of European Forum on Urban Forestry that took place in Ljubljana in May and June 2016. Click here to read part 1.
2. From theory to practice
After outlining our strategy, it was time to go to work. Our main objectives in this phase were to inform as many interested people as possible that the Forum is happening and to convince these people to come to the Forum. How to do that with a team of volunteers?
Our preferred communication type was face-to-face. In the beginning, we organised weekly meetings where we would discuss our strategy, distribute tasks, solve problems and have educational workshops/lessons on blogging and how to use various social media tools. The educational aspect of the meetings was really important, because it (in addition to experience) was the only “payment” the volunteers would receive and therefor needed to be well-prepared and useful. The meetings were also crucial in keeping the team motivation on a high level.
On these meetings, important first steps would be taken. We used the following tools to promote the Forum:
In today’s social media landscape, every event needs a hasthag (#). It’s usually a short word with # in front that summarizes the title of the event. If the promotion of a hashtag is successful, people will attach it to their social media posts and increase the visibility of the event. This is really important for creating a momentum, tracking statistics and capitalising on opportunities via tracking.
The #EFUF2016 blog was the main content repository for our communication strategy. This means that most content that our communications team produced would go on the blog and would then be disseminated. An important feature of the blog were easy ways to visit the official Forum website, register for the Forum, sign up for the mailing list.
It is not so easy to get readership for a blog, and as in most cases it’s the beginning that is the most difficult. It’s the best to start with a bang so we focused on producing high-quality blog posts in order to reach as many people as possible. Along with producing our own blogs, we asked 5 opinion makers (among those were keynote speakers) to write contributions to promote the Forum. The blogposts were then disseminated through Mailchimp, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, e-mail and word of mouth.
This approach proved successful and the blog garnered readership from all over the world. More importantly, some of the readers signed up for the newsletter and some even registered for the conference. The 19th EFUF was the most globally visited and visible EFUF so far, and we’re convinced that the blog had something to do with that.
Another key promotional approach was the #EFUF2016 blog competition. We invited bloggers to submit blog posts and the winner would receive a free conference package. We received ten competitive blog posts, which in my opinion made the blog competition fairly successful. The top 3 #EFUF2016 blogs were in really good and deserved their awards.
The scoring of the blog competition was designed in a way that would maximize sharing to further the reach of our content and drive more people to the blog. The blog posts that would receive the most social media attention would receive a significant boost to the score. Click here for full rules of the blog competition.
Along with invited bloggers and the blog competition, we would also continuously publish our own blog posts to raise interest in the Forum, its venue and themes.
EFUF 2016 profiles on Facebook and Twitter were created to further the reach of our blogs and other messages. We have devised a basic social media content strategy – the general plan was to disseminate about 50% own content and 50% from other sources. This was, however, just an outline – practice steered us more towards own content (because there was an abundance) as the Forum approached. The Forum didn’t have its own LinkedIn profile but we were very active in the LinkedIn group Urban Forestry, the members of which became one of our core audiences. For example, Naomi Zürcher’s blog post, the most-shared of the whole forum, had around 30 comments in the group.
Even though we are in the 21st century, everybody (still) isn’t on social media, so it’s important to make an effort to reach people over e-mail. A very good tool for that is Mailchimp because it allows people to sign-up for your mailing list via an on-line form. It also allows sending rich e-mails (HTML) that are aesthetically pleasant. It also gathers statistics on how many people read your e-mails and allows A-B testing, which allows you to test different approaches and improve your messages.
We sent e-news to subscribers twice per month. The e-news featured the posts on the #EFUF2016 blog, conference website and registration. In the end our mailing list had 600 subscribers, which is in my opinion quite successful for such a short period of time.
Visit again soon for part 3. Hear the whole story at the Kommunikation 2020 im Wald seminar, which will take place on September 15th 2016 in Winterthur, Switzerland. There, I will present my experiences on how to cover an event with social media and writing blogposts. Please register if you’re interested & in the neighbourhood