Vol. 42, No. 2

When it comes to bar events, social media can help boost excitement and ‘FOMO’

by Lowell Brown

Want to generate buzz and boost attendance at your bar events? Yang Chen has some advice: Create FOMO.

“Fear of missing out” is a powerful motivator that bar associations can create by posting regular content about their events, said Chen, executive director of the Asian American Bar Association of New York. That’s especially true if the content highlights how members can connect with each other through the bar’s events, he said.

“That’s what we’re known for on social,” Chen said. “Whether you were there or not, you felt a part of something [because of social media]. And if you weren’t there, you definitely wanted to be there.”

Chen gave that advice during the “Social Media Strategies for Special Event & CLE Success” session at the 2017 NABE Annual Meeting in New York. Four panelists and a moderator, together representing state, local, and specialty bar groups, shared examples of how they’ve used social media to generate more publicity and increase sponsorship and attendance at their events.

The panelists offered similar advice on many points, including the benefits of posting pictures from prior years to generate interest before an event and tagging sponsors on “thank you” posts during and after an event.

Practical tips, and mixed opinion on Facebook Events

For the Ohio State Bar Association, the calendar drives much of the content. Staff members look several months ahead and choose events—often CLE programs—to promote on social media, Executive Director Mary Augsburger said. Beyond the basics, such as when and where the event occurs, they share interesting articles and information on topics that will be covered at the event and invite people to attend to learn more. Also, speakers receive a packet of information explaining how to promote the event through their own social media, Augsburger said.

The Maryland State Bar Association uses a similar strategy, looking 60 to 90 days ahead to promote upcoming events, Communications Director Patrick Tandy said. They create a hashtag in advance of each event and engage with social-savvy members to build buzz on social networks, he added.

Eye-catching visuals are important for any social media post. The San Diego County Bar Association uses Canva, a graphic design tool for nondesigners, to create attractive images for their event posts, said Karen Korr, the bar’s director of outreach and strategy and chief communications officer. Panelists also said they use a mixture of stock images and original photos of members to lend a focal point to their posts.

Connecting CLE programs to news headlines is another way to generate buzz, panelists said. Augsburger pointed to an Ohio state bar program in August featuring former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean that explored parallels and dissimilarities between Watergate and Washington’s current Russia investigation.

While all said they use Facebook to publicize events, panelists differed on whether and how much they use the Facebook Events tool. Korr said the San Diego bar is increasingly using Facebook Events, especially for events where registration numbers are lacking. Others said they usually don’t use it for CLE or other events that require registration.

“We tried it, and it did generate confusion,” Chen said, explaining that some people would click “going” on a Facebook Event post and mistakenly think they were registered for the event.

Other thoughts on strategic social media

When do you use which platform? Should you use caution with “tags” and “@mentions?” How much posting is too much? The panelists and moderator offered answers to these and other questions; below is a quick summary:

  • Your social media strategy can guide what types of content appear on particular platforms. For example, the San Diego bar generally uses Facebook more for events and Twitter and LinkedIn more for substantive articles, Korr said. But panelists agreed that cross-posting—promoting events across social platforms—helps expand your audience.

  • “Tagging” or “@mentioning” people and organizations is a great way to increase traffic and engagement on your posts. Panelists acknowledged that tagging can be tricky—judges sometimes don’t want to be tagged, for example—but no one on the panel had a policy specific to the practice. “Sometime you just have to trust the [social media] team and trust their judgment,” Augsburger said. “The team gets to know their audiences well, and who will engage.”

  • Streaming video through Facebook Live is an emerging way to expand your audience by offering remote access to your events as they happen. The Maryland bar used Facebook Live during its last annual meeting to broadcast the president’s installation speech because his mother couldn’t attend, Tandy said. And the San Diego bar live streams Q&A sessions from the last five to 10 minutes of some CLE programs, Korr said. Augsburger suggested evaluating your equipment needs before using Facebook Live to help prevent problems with audio or video quality.

  • Live tweeting from an event is another way to expand your reach, but you need a dedicated hashtag if you want people to find your posts. Panelists said they sometimes live tweet from their official bar accounts, especially during larger events, but that they also encourage attendees to tweet to generate more engagement.

  • You don’t want to “over-post” about an event, but it can be hard to determine how much is too much. Korr and Augsburger said they typically post up to three times per event, with the messages spread out over time. Moderator Sharon Nolan, marketing director for the Chicago Bar Association, suggested using an album if you’re posting multiple pictures from an event, so they all appear in one post. Tandy said it’s important to understand the platform you’re using, since different platforms lend themselves to more frequent posting. His advice for all platforms: “Keep it relevant and try to avoid duplication.”

Lowell Brown

Lowell Brown is communications division director at the State Bar of Texas and a member of the National Association of Bar Executives Communications Section Council.