Online platforms like Google Hangouts and Zoom provide community organizers and activists with virtual gathering capabilities that stretch beyond in person meetings. Affordable and flexible, they have proven to be a powerful and effective way to bring people together both locally and across the globe.
With all of the convenience that comes with hosting virtual meetings and events, they are still not the same as holding space with one another. Therefore, it is important to be intentional about encouraging interaction among participants. Below are some tips to help you engage your community before, during, and after your online event.
Your first step is to create an image or flyer with information about how to participate in the event. Rather than a physical address and driving directions, you’ll want to include a link a link for people to sign up as well as any special instructions people may need to download and log into the video conferencing platform you are planning to use.
You should also be sure to add your event’s hashtag. I advise that you choose one that is interactive and prompts a response. For example, we used #13thtaughtme for our live viewing of the documentary, 13th.
To promote your event, share your flyer with people on your email list and on social media.
Having online registration will allow people to sign up in advance and help you capture participants’ information so that you can follow up with them after the event. Many video conferencing platforms will automatically create a registration page when you schedule your event, but they are often limited in the type of information they can collect. If you’re looking for more flexibility, Eventbrite and Google Forms offer more options.
If you have a website, it’s a good idea to create a landing page specific to the event with additional information including facts and statistics, instructions on how to share the event, links to supplemental materials and calls to action.
Be sure to share your flyer, website and the other promotional materials you’ve created with any partner organizations who can help connect you with your target audience. Provide them with draft posts and email blasts to use to keep the messages consistent.
Imagine the actual event. Think through the online conversation and how you want it to flow from start to finish, and consider the ways that people will be able to interact with one another.
One way to encourage interaction is to use the chat feature available on most video conference platforms. The chat box allows people to type out their comments and share them with the group during the event. This is also a helpful place to post related materials and other information during your event.
Social media can help in fostering interaction among participants too. And it can be a valuable resource for people who aren’t able to participate in the event live. Decide ahead of time what social media platforms you want to draw people to during your event. I have found Twitter and Facebook to be my best options for this. Twitter feels faster and is easy to follow when using a hashtag. On Facebook, you can encourage everyone to post on your organization’s FB wall. That way, the conversation will be happening in one place, making it easy to track. Once you decide which social media platform(s) you will use, you need to determine who will manage the traffic on each one. If you choose to use multiple platforms and you have enough people, I recommend having one person designated to each.
In addition to helping you promote the event, another way to involve allied organizations and individuals is by preparing them to post live during the event. This is particularly helpful if they have a large following. It will be helpful to identify people and groups you anticipate tagging during the event.
For the #13thTaughtMe viewing, we found the accounts of the people in the documentary and tagged them in posts with their quotes as the movie played. We also tagged the documentary’s Facebook and Twitter accounts in most of our posts. Twitter will allow you to create a list of accounts and you can make it public or keep it private for your own use.
When you think through how you want the event to flow, you can draft and save posts to use later. For example, you can create relevant memes and graphics ahead of time, and share them during the event (check out Canva, a great free resource for creating graphics).
Taking the time to generate materials and think through your posts ahead of time will free you up to better interact with participants during the event.
Build excitement for your event by counting down the day of on social media. On Twitter, you can pin a tweet with information about how to join at the top of your page so it’s the first thing people see when they visit it.
Make sure that you are interacting with participants during your event. Let them know you notice and appreciate their posts by liking, sharing, and commenting on them. Make your own posts more engaging by asking a question or making a statement that prompts a response.
After your event, let people know how it went. Storify is a great tool for this. It helps you to select and pull posts from social media to create a summary. Then, let them know what’s next and how they can get involved.
Make sure that you build on the relationships you’ve created. Send a follow up email thanking people for participating. Encourage people to follow your social media accounts.
Creating a checklist is a good way to think through what needs to be done and make sure that things don’t slip through the cracks. Download our free checklist for online events.