I’m a big proponent of taking social media interactions into the real world whenever possible. Being able to shake hands with someone who you only know as a Twitter handle, or raise a glass with your favorite Facebook fans goes a long way toward strengthening the sense of community around town.
It’s even better when a local government organization can take the lead and organize something like this. It sends a message that not only is there an actual human being behind those social media handles, but that person is also genuinely interested in what residents have to say – beyond the 140-character limit of Twitter!
With that in mind, I organized and hosted our third annual tweetup in Oak Park last month. A tweetup is just a clever phrase for an actual, in-person gathering of folks who might only know each other via online social networks. There’s no agenda – it’s just a fun, social outing. What follows is a brief rundown of what it took to bring my tweetup to life. And before we go any further, let me assuage your fears and say that my total budget for this tweetup was $0.00.
Test the Waters
I had heard from a couple of our regular Twitter followers that they were interested in a tweetup sometime this summer. In early June, I put out a call on our Twitter account with some potential dates and times, then tagged four or five key followers who I knew would respond and retweet. And they did! We had a nice discussion and decided on 6 p.m. July 11 as the best day, and we chose Poor Phil’s, a local tavern and grill, as our venue.
Now, I should point out that the communications director has given me the go-ahead to schedule events like this periodically. Previous events have been successful, so there was no need to pause and seek approval from the manager’s office before moving forward with the event promotion. This was a good thing, because it allowed me to keep the momentum going once we decided on a date. I hope you can make the case for similar autonomy for your own events.
Schedule and Promote
I created an event listing for the tweetup on the official Village of Oak Park website, and another similar listing for the Oak Park Facebook page. Then I promoted both links regularly to audiences on both sites. By “regularly,” I mean a few times per week, plus again on the weekends. I didn’t want to inundate people with news of the tweetup, nor did I want it to appear that we were desperate for attendees!
— Village of Oak Park (@vopnews) June 20, 2014
In theory, attendance was open to anyone, but in practice it probably only appealed to our social media users. Several elected officials expressed interest but ultimately didn’t attend. That’s OK – this event is designed first and foremost as a gesture for the residents, sort of a thank-you from me for their continued enthusiasm and participation on social media.
Ducks in a Row
As July 11 approached, we continued to promote the event URL via Facebook, Twitter and our e-news listserv. As is typical with Twitter, it was nearly impossible to get an accurate RSVP list, but the amount of chatter revolving around the event assured me that we’d have something like 8-10 attendees, which seemed like the perfect size for our venue.
Our tweetup is this Friday after work! Come on out to Poor Phil’s to enjoy a drink and visit with your neighbors. http://t.co/7OaDq29K8a
— Village of Oak Park (@vopnews) July 7, 2014
Speaking of which, I called up Poor Phil’s the week before the event and asked the manager if they could accommodate 10 people. They assured me that yes, they could, so that box was checked.
The Event Itself
I’m pleased to say the event was even more successful than I had anticipated. Over the course of two hours, we had a rotating cast of more than a dozen people pop into the tweetup! Our core group of “social media regulars” was well represented. Many of these residents happen to work in the technology field in Chicago, so they always have lots to talk about. Other attendees were folks who used social media in “listening mode,” so I was particularly happy that they decided to come out.
I made a little sign and encouraged people to use the #oakpark hashtag to tweet their own photos. Beyond that, the event had a life of its own and I didn’t have to do much of anything except just relax and sip a drink. There was no agenda, no speechmaking, no presentation – just good food, refreshing drinks and fellowship. The whole point was to send the message that our town is tech-savvy and willing to meet its residents wherever they are, either in digital space or in a tavern on Marion Street!
— Angela Dugan (@OakParkGirl) July 11, 2014
Can You Do It?
So, are you ready to host your own tweetup? The key to success is having a critical mass of engaged, tech-savvy fans and followers on social media. They’ll amplify your message as you plan everything, offer valueable advice and hopefully turn out en masse for the actual event itself. Of course, not every community has such a wonderful group of users. But with a little dedication and planning, you can build a digital community and then tap into that resource for your own in-person events around town.
I hope this encourages you to host your own tweetup. Feel free to drop me an email if you’d like to discuss the particulars of planning and executing this sort of event!