Event Marketing with a Social Commerce Mindset was originally published in the International Festivals & Events Association’s “ie: the business of international events” magazine. Read the latest issue of IE here

Even before the pandemic, much of the buyer’s journey had found its way online. The COVID lockdowns accelerated the adoption of technology, social platforms, delivery systems, and content channels. There were significant shifts in social user bases: boomers started their Instagram journey, Millennials invaded TikTok, and Gen Z saw the rise and fall of platforms like Dispo.

In the past, social was a channel that drove traffic to websites. People would hear about an event on social, research that event on websites and listing pages, then buy tickets from a ticketing portal. They’d likely end up on an email list and get marketing year-round.

Times have changed.

Prospective attendees are living their entire customer journey on social media. Discovery, engagement, and conversion are all happening online. Recruitment of volunteers, vendors, and sponsors takes place on Facebook and LinkedIn groups. Fundraising and advocacy campaigns are driven by social momentum.

Enter Social Commerce. Social Commerce is a marketing strategy that considers the full buyer’s journey from a social-first perspective. That’s not to say that Event Marketing with a Social Commerce discounts more traditional marketing channels like print or radio. It is a process that seeks to accelerate the journey by ensuring that appropriate social content is available to help prospects make good decisions like attending your event.

Discovery is always the first step in the journey. A person can’t attend the event if they don’t know it exists. Word of mouth from previous attendees or media buzz is a common pathway to discovery. Social Commerce Strategy looks to e-word of mouth to help buyers take those initial steps.

Discoverability online has different requirements and needs depending on the platform. It could be something as simple as ensuring that you are properly hashtagging your content, and putting appropriate tags for your community, geography, industry, and niche. It could be tapping into the networks of influencers of all sizes, letting them share the good word with their followers. Paid discoverability is another common placement, using affinity advertising or lookalike audiences to create low-cost awareness campaigns.

Discovery is the top of the funnel. The top of the funnel is wide. You’ll need to cast a wide net and luckily the myriad of social platforms makes that easy if you have the time, content, and money. Those without time or money will need to lean on their understanding of their attendee base. You should have personas already created that will guide which platforms you’ll focus on.

Remember: marketing is about experimentation and change. People have shifted platform preference in the last few years. If you haven’t updated personas or targeting data since 2020, the time is now.

In Social Commerce, consideration is now the engagement phase. You can’t get someone to consider you unless you’ve properly engaged them. This requires content that speaks to the specific value or uniqueness of your event. What do you have that other similar, or regional, events don’t? Why should they come to your event rather than doing anything else?
Some organizers find this phase to be the easiest since it focuses on the features of the event. You could talk about the band lineup, the size of the midway, the deep-fried awesomeness that is your spotlight food product. You can show that you’re the event for families, or singles, or rockers, or dancers, or any other community.

As with the Discovery Content, this should all be appropriately tagged for maximum discoverability. A recent study showed that 5 – 7 hashtags is the most effective number for posts on Instagram. Make all your content easy to find.

Once people are engaged and excited, they’ll be more likely to share the event with their networks. This is the goal, to have a perpetual motion machine that is fueled by content and engagement. You create engaging content, people engage and share, new folks enter the mix and start at the top.

The cutting-edge practitioners of Social Commerce never have their prospects leaving their social channel of choice. Shoppable Social is becoming increasingly the norm for everything from apparel to beauty to travel. Tap-to-buy makes it easy for consumers to quickly purchase and then get back to scrolling. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and TikTok have all released shoppable features. Some are widely available, some are only for power users, and some require specialized eCommerce software to execute. Keep Shoppable Social on your radar, even if it is currently unavailable to you.

If tap-to-buy is presently out of your grasp, then you’re back on content distribution work. Conversion is about helping the prospect turn into a customer. This is where you tout the various ticket tiers, VIP programs, and special experiences available to attendees.
Social media is an amazing place to create FOMO. Missing Out, especially for younger generations, is tantamount to tragedy. Conversion content can drive this by counting down days until the event, the number of specialty tickets left, and days until early bird specials expire.

Retention and Advocacy
Retention and Advocacy are often when the event stops producing the content and instead leans on its stakeholders to create content. The best retention and advocacy content is often going to be produced by your attendees. Using content created by your attendees can provide an authentic perspective and social proof that is much more endearing than a brand-created narrative.

This can also start a recursive content conversation. You share content created by attendees. Attendees see that you’re spotlighting people like them. They share content to be part of the conversation. And you have more content that you can share.

As always, be respectful and legal when resharing content. Native reshare features like on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest are almost always kosher. Pulling down content and reposting it requires the express legal permission of the content creator. You can read more about rights management of user-generated content in my previous articles and webinars.

Social Requires You To Be Social
Don’t forget that social requires you to be social. People are going to ask questions, make remarks, and use social media as it is intended to be used. You cannot use social as a one-way communication tool. Reply as much as possible. Comment when people tag you. Accept criticism and reviews. Reply to messages or launch a chatbot that will do it for you. Be social.

Off-Network Social Commerce
Social Commerce also has a place off-network. Think outside the feed and consider places where social wouldn’t normally go. You can drive action by incorporating social elements in unexpected places.

  • Include comments, reviews, or status updates in your print media. Use user-generated content to provide social proof anywhere it could be valuable.
  • Add reviews to ticketing sites or anywhere a prospect moves through the consideration phase of their journey. Multiple studies have shown that exposing prospects to reviews and testimonials can increase conversion rates and speed up the decision to buy.
  • Send people to your Instagram or Pinterest. If you know certain marketing collateral is likely to reach specific audiences, then drive them to social platforms they like to engage with. This can be particularly useful if your website is not mobile-friendly.
  • Include tweets, posts, and pins in your email blasts. This is an opportunity to show the community that has grown around your event, create a sense of FOMO, and provide social proof.

Shifting Your Mindset
Event Marketing with a Social Commerce Mindset is a new way of thinking, and not one that is often intuitive for those who are not digital natives. It requires work and open-mindedness to make the mental shift. But with Gen Z entering the workforce and Gen Alpha on the horizon, it is one that will keep your digital marketing efforts fresh, relevant, and effective. It’s a brave new social-first world out there. Happy Marketing.

TINT helps events implement their social commerce strategy by turning every attendee, volunteer, and vendor into an influencer. Drive engagement and increase participation using TINT event displays, rights management, and social contests. Talk to a TINT event specialist today.