Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
My career background is in web development and marketing, so I used to spend a lot of time figuring out how to use new technology to generate buzz for products and events. Even though I’m now out of the workforce, being Catholic has given me tons of opportunities to put my skills to good use. There’s always so much good stuff going on in the Church, and I’ve enjoyed working with local faith-based event organizers to figure out how to draw the maximum number of attendees to their functions. As an aid to others who put together great Catholic events throughout the country, below are the top eight strategies I’ve found to be most effective:
1. Make sure the event meets a felt need. When people ask me how they can increase buzz for their function, one of the first things I encourage them to consider is whether it addresses an existing pain point in people’s lives. For example, if you’re hosting a talk titled “The Wisdom of the Saints” and it doesn’t seem to be getting much traction, consider tweaking it to help people overcome an area of life in which they struggle. Then retitle it accordingly, with something like, “How the Saints Made Time for Prayer (and You Can Too)” or “How Married Saints Balanced Work and Family Life.”
2. Put it online. The details of your event need to be online somewhere. If it’s a one-time event, such as a talk by a guest speaker at your church, it would probably suffice to create a page about it on your parish website. However, if you hope for a turnout of more than a couple hundred people, or if there will be more than one event involved (such as a group with monthly meetings, an annual conference, etc.) it should have its own Facebook page and a website. Don’t worry, neither or those things are difficult to put together: Ask the nearest teenager how to create a Facebook page, and there are plenty of services like Yahoo’s Small Business Websites that allow you to create a web presence for a few dollars per month.
Make sure any online mentions include the following: a summary of the event; location details; dates and times; cost; and a call to action to register. (If you want to take it to the next level, get this HTML code to allow people to add it instantly to their Google calendars). A great example of an annual conference with a simple but effective online presence is the Behold Conference in Illinois: You can see their Facebook page here and their website here.
3. Publicize it through email. With all the buzz about Twitter and Facebook and blogs and other new media, it’s easy to forget about good old fashioned email. Though email marketing strategies can be complicated and cost thousands of dollars, I’m a big fan of the simple personal note. Just compose a heartfelt note about why your event will help people, send it out to your friends, and ask them to pass it along to anyone who might be interested. If you’re an active member of any email lists, the moderators probably wouldn’t mind if you posted about it there as well, as long as the event is related to the subject matter of the list, and you follow any rules for publicizing events (e.g. prefacing the subject with “OT:” to indicate that it’s off-topic).
4. When people register, ask them to mention the fact that they’re attending on their social media sites. One of the biggest missed opportunities I see when people are trying to publicize events is not utilizing their attendees to help generate buzz. Most online registration services allow you to create a custom note or email that people will receive after they register; include a short call to action such as “Like”-ing the event page on Facebook, updating Twitter with a special hashtag, etc. Your attendees want the event to be successful too, so they’d likely be more than happy to oblige.
5. Reach out to bloggers, podcasters, and other influencers. Ask around to see if there are any people with blogs or podcasts in your area who might like your type of event, and invite them to attend. They may mention that they’re coming to their audiences, which could go a long way toward helping you get the word out. If you want to be sure you get a plug, you could consider bartering advertising space in exchange for free admission, a chance to meet the speaker, or some other benefit.
Those are some basic tips for any kind of event, but if yours is recurring, considering doing the following as well:
6. At the event, ask the attendees to mention that they’re there on their social media sites. I went to a great Theology on Tap presentation the other night, and I noticed that the guys from Austin Catholic New Media had posted signs that encouraged people to tweet about it with a specific hashtag, which means that anyone who’d like to find more updates about the event could easily do so. This is a great strategy for generating buzz and enticing people to join you in the future. (Obviously some occasions wouldn’t lend themselves to having people using their mobile devices throughout the event, but you could still encourage them to mention it when they first arrive, or during breaks.)
7. Ask attendees to let you know if they plan to blog about the function, then link to them. Anyone with a website always appreciates links. If you let people know ahead of time that you plan to link from the event website to any blog posts about it, people will be more likely to write about it.
8. Post pictures from previous events. To use the example of the Behold Conference again, they update their Facebook page and website after each event with colorful pictures of their attendees relaxing and having fun. This is undoubtedly very compelling to people who visit their sites while considering whether or not to attend future events.
Not only are all of the above tips effective for maximizing the turnout for events, but they’re easy on the budget too—all are either free or very inexpensive. If you’re not a technical person, it may take you a little while to familiarize yourself with all of these new media options. But you’ll find it to be well worth your time when you see that effectively using new technology can get the word out about your next event without breaking the budget.