Rethinking Facebook Event Listings: 10 Ways to Make Them Work More Effectively
At one of her stand-up comedy performances, Ophira Eisenberg took the mic and did a roll call by reading out the names of folks who RSVPed “Yes” on the Facebook event listing.
“It became more a comedy bit than anything as not one was there! There were plenty people there – but no one from the Facebook event page! Not One! Either these people had a lot of high hopes for their schedule or they were just lying to our face…book.”
In this instance, Facebook’s failure to deliver had great comic effect but what does this reality mean for the event you’re planning? As the big gorilla that is Facebook continues to stomp everything in its path, the event listing feature seems to be getting lots of flak. Even so, don’t wash your hands of this useful tool quite yet.
Below I’ve come up with a “How to” list to maximize using Facebook for nonprofits and others to promote your events. Tell me what you think or add your own points in the comments.
1. Keep the Big Picture in Mind: A friend of mine recently wondered if there’s a Rule of Thumb in figuring out how many people will actually show up at an event listed on Facebook. While the goal might seem obvious (“Get the most people to come to my event”), it’s useful to take a step back and NOT rely on RSVPs to gage who is actually coming to your event (use advance ticket sales and RSVPs for that). Events, both performance and participatory-based, should be part of a long-term strategy to engage more people in your cause. Direct face-to-face human contact, after all, is
paramount even in our digital age. View Facebook as the means to create a buzz but not necessarily to get X number of people to come out. Keep this in mind when you plan events and consider how you will engage the folks who do show up. Add them to your email list or invite them to participate in committees like planning future events. Look at event listings as a useful tool for people to easily share the information with others.
2. Only Invite People MOST Interested in Your Event: Be realistic: your friend in New York is not going to fly out to LA to attend. Sure they might know someone in LA but inviting them through an event listing is not effective (and contributes to users ignoring them). Target your invitations by adding your Facebook friends to lists by region and interests. Here’s how to do this: In the new lefthand column, under your picture and the Facebook logo, click ‘Friends’ (Figure 1, above) and then “Create a List” along the top in center column (Figure 2, below).
A new window will appear (Figure 3, below). Fill in the name of the list and start typing the name of friends you want to add to the list. Facebook sometimes limits the number of people you can invite at one time so it’s helpful to plan ahead and break these lists into smaller units. For example, you could create a list that’s called “Atlanta: A-E immigrant Rights”, in other words, a list of friends in Atlanta with the last names A –E who are interested in immigrant rights. Every time you add a new friend, add them to a regional list (it appears under each invitation too). If you have a fan page for your organization, create a list of your own friends who are also fans on that page (and thereby most interested in the events you’re planning).
When you “Invite People to Come” to an event (righthand side, under the event image) and the invitation box opens, use the “Filter Friends” and select the lists you created (Figure 4, below).
3. Timing: I often get event listings the DAY OF the event! Plan and promote your event well in advance. At minimum, people need one week’s notice to make plans to attend your event. Two weeks is the ideal notification time. Sending a Save the Date notice 1-2 months in advance is even better. For Day-before or day-of announcements, use the Facebook newsfeed or Update guests function to remind (see number 6 below).
4. Images: Nothing is worse than that default question mark that Facebook displays on events with no image (Figure 5, on left). Even if you can’t afford a graphic artist, use a visual image to use for the event. It’s best to use your own photograph or artwork. If this isn’t available, try other sources like Creative Commons licensed photos on Flickr, iStockPhoto for stock photos, Rini Art or Cagle Cartoons for cartoons and drawings. While this invites a larger discussion about Fair Use, just be sure to cite where you got images that you did not create.
5. Use ALL the tools available on Facebook Listings:
A. Be sure to create your event listing through your organization or cause’s fan page. It’s a little odd but event listings are under “Edit Page” on your fan page. Choose “Edit” to add your event through a fan page: a new box will appear in the lefthand column once you create the first one (Figure 6, below):
B. Complete the full address and city for the event (Figure 7, below) so that people will then be able to click on the address to see a map on the event listing (you want potential attendees to have all the information they can!)
Once you click on add street address, TWO new fields will appear (Figure 8, below). Fill in BOTH. As you type the city, Facebook will show some possible cities. Click enter once your city appears.
C. Hide the people who aren’t coming. Who wants to go to an event where lots of people are saying “No thanks”? UPATE 3/15/10: Facebook recently removed the checkbox to “Hide people not attending”. Until they bring this back (fingers crossed), you can edit the guest list after you invite people. Once people click “not attending”, you can “Edit the Guest List” under the event image in righthand column (Figure 9 & 10) and delete them from the event. That way they won’t show up on the event as not attending and makes your event look more popular.
6. Use the Newsfeed: The new “real-time” web means that it’s often WHEN not just where you post information. When you create an event, Facebook asks if you want to publish the event and you should do so. Beyond this, experiment with sharing the event listing in the main newsfeed: what you share in the “What’s on your mind” box on the front page. Try writing things like “Tell your friends in __ about this exciting event!” This is preferable to get friends of friends in other cities rather than inviting people who don’t actually live near the event. But be careful, use this sparingly or folks will “un-friend” you.
7. Augment the event promotion with other online tools: Facebook and other networks are “walled gardens” and rely on people to be connected to you in order to see your information. It’s important to post the information in “non-walled” spaces so non-Facebook users and other folks you don’t directly know can find the info. You can use web links for these other listings to promote your event via email and Twitter. Be sure to include links back to the Facebook event listing so folks can become fans on Facebook and linked into your network there. Other tools could include:
- Local email groups through Google Groups, Yahoo Groups or RiseUp.net and MeetUp. Be respectful of these listserves and don’t over-post or send off-topic items.
- Local event-related blogs: Build a relationship by commenting on things you like and then volunteer to write blog posts. For example, I’m a big fan of the Gothamist blogs and Flavorpill.
- Event listing websites: Upcoming (use the groups feature!), Eventful, Artslant, etc.
- Twitter: Find local folks to follow on Twitter (suggestions for tools here) and start conversations with them on things they post. Share listings with the hashtag connected with your city and topic.
8. Rely on offline communication: Believe it or not, but calling people on the phone (not texting) is probably the most effective tool at your disposal. Personally invite members or friends to the event: it’s the best way to ensure that they’ll feel like you really want them to come. Call a few of the people who RSVPed yes or maybe on Facebook and tell them that you’re looking forward to seeing them at the event. Ask for their help in inviting others and offer to send more information via email.
9. Document and Report back: During the event, take and post photos or video at the event so folks who didn’t attend will see what they missed. Post them on Facebook and elsewhere online like Flickr or your blog. Ask a sampling of people how they heard about the event. If possible, encourage people to leave their names and emails on a sign-in list or notecard. This will be vital for your larger campaign development and fundraising.
10. Say thank you! Thank everyone who helped you with the promotion and tell them how you felt the event turned out on Facebook and elsewhere online.
Now it’s your turn: In terms of event promotion on Facebook, what do YOU think is letting us down?: Facebook, our overly-high expectations, our flakey friends or the events themselves? Tell me what you think or add your own points in the comments below.