As some of you may have seen from my Twitter and Facebook stream the past few days, I’m immersed in a big project this week. My company is leading the social media and content gathering efforts at the Women’s Worlds 2011 Congress, an international feminist conference taking place in Ottawa this week. Over 1,600 people from 92 countries have converged on our fair city for a week of learning, sharing, and connecting. There are more than 300 sessions planned, as well as several Arts and Culture events.

Many social media blogs spend a lot of time talking about social media for businesses and organizations. There’s a tonne of valuable information out there. But less often is there talk of social media around events. It’s a different beast, and one that merits its own set of guidelines. I thought it might be helpful to share a few things I’ve learned over the years about event-based social media.

Start Early.
Probably the most important thing you can do when planning social media activities around events is to start as early as possible. We began to ramp up our social media efforts on Women’s Worlds about 10 weeks ago (and we’ve been strategizing about it for nearly 1 year). This meant establishing presences on the various channels and starting to communicate, post links, follow people and engage. Keep in mind it will be slow going at first – just because your event is at the top of your mind, doesn’t mean it will be at the top of everyone else’s. But it’s critical to establish yourself early on, and be posting relevant content, links, and other information – even if you feel like you’re talking to a wall sometimes. If you’ve done the pre-work and really established your online presence ahead of time, then when the event hits, people will find you quickly, catch onto what you are doing, and most importantly, they will trust you.

Be Everywhere.
When it comes to building a social media strategy for a small business, often we’ll tell people to just pick one or two channels and start there. For example, get a blog going, and work on building a presence on Facebook. This can work out just fine in this case, especially if you have limited resources. But for events, it’s critical to be everywhere – because your audience is everywhere. Establishing a blog, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr (or Picasa), and linking these tools via your web presence are vital. Not everyone is on Twitter or Facebook, so you want to give multiple options for people to be consuming what you’re putting out. And video, audio, photos and text are all vital to the full event experience – so make plans to capture and share all of these things.

Monitor monitor monitor.
In the build-up to the event, and once the event is underway, monitoring is absolutely essential. Things change very quickly during a live event, and the social channels will quickly become a hub of activity. That’s why it’s important that you get your monitoring set up an advance of the event. I highly recommend Hootsuite for monitoring Facebook and Twitter. The dashboard gives a bird’s eye view of everything that everyone is saying, and allows you to respond quickly when you need to.

Interact.
Like in business, nobody wants to hear you just pushing out your own stuff all the time. As important as social channels are for sharing critical event-related info, it’s also a place where you can share what others are experiencing. Make good use of the retweet function in Twitter, and keep your Facebook wall open so event participants can post their own links and share what’s important to them. Allow event participants to be guest bloggers on your web site, and you’ll add a rich new layer to your audience’s experience.

Be Consistent and Timely.
Timing is everything when it comes to communicating about an event. Now, it’s likely you have other stuff on the go too besides just social media, so you may not be able to sit and spend all day tweeting and Facebooking and blogging. So, carve out some time each day to work on developing content and scheduling it. The Schedule function in Hootsuite is wonderful – you can sit down in the morning and poke several of your posts for the day, and time them so that they go out around critical events. You can pre-write a batch of blog posts and schedule them to be posted at the perfect times. However, scheduling doesn’t replace actually being there – you still need to monitor the channels and reply as necessary, and be present as much as possible. It will be busy, no doubt, but scheduling can help you to keep on top of it, maintain consistency and not forget to post important stuff.

These are just a few things to note about event-based social media. It’s an extremely busy job and not one that you can do half-way. You will pull 14 hour days, posting a LOT of different content, keeping an eye on the activity and interacting a ton. But in the end, giving your audience a rich, multi-media experience will enhance your event greatly. So have fun, and remember, you can sleep when it’s over!

Do you have any tips for running social media for events? Please share them here!

[photo by Pink Sherbet Photography]