Case study: Using an event to build an online momentum

Case study: Using an event to build an online momentum


Events and The Fifty Shades of Grey

Conferences, workshops, advocacy events, fora… We’re all been there. And many times, been bored.

With the introduction of social media, we have been able to put a boost into the lives of our events. Using social reporting to actively involve event participants and the online public, we can make events exciting and involving again.

Social media has also become a pivotal tool enabling us to stretch the momentum of an event beyond the event itself. Not only can we climax on the day itself, but we can build up the climax towards the event itself, and stretch it for weeks after.

A climax higher and longer than ever before. Eat this, Mr Grey…

The media outreach of an event before social media

Before the birth of social media, the media outreach concentrated on the event itself. We were limited to mailing a couple of media updates, organized one or two onsite press conferences and we issued a few press releases.

Everything was aimed at the “tradition media”, newspapers and magazines, and traditional reporting through the official conference proceedings. The peak merely concentrated around the event days.

Social reporting

Social media allowed us to report from the event itself, in real-time, using a plethora of tools: From the event itself, we can now live-tweet, live-blog, live-vlog, use pictures and aggregation tools to report in real-time on what is happening on the ground, while involving our on-line public with the on-site happening.

Here is a good case study and tutorial how to organize onsite social reporting, and how to organize an onsite social reporting team. Or check out the social reporting efforts from a past event, which even grabbed the attention of the president from the host country.

While onsite social reporting is an excellent way to involve the online public, to generate a great momentum, it is still concentrated around the days of the event itself.

Building a true online momentum around your event

Nowadays, the art of creating an event’s online momentum is no longer concentrated merely around the days of the event itself. The challenge has become “how to create a longer online momentum”, beyond the event itself.

Using online media, we can now stretch that momentum: we can build it up way before the event, and way past it. We can use different tools and techniques to achieve this, and capitalize on our investment in the event itself, to generate a longer term discussion and interaction around the topics of the event.

But it takes strategic planning, all concentrated around “building a purpose”.

There is no single “turn-key” solution to build a longer term momentum. But here is one example on how we went about it.

The online momentum for CGIAR Development Dialogues

The CGIAR Development Dialogues (#CGIAR_DD) was a one day event (in New York, September 25th 2014). It was organised by CGIAR, a global agricultural research partnership, consisting of a dozen different research centers, research programs and many partners. The event aimed at putting the importance of agricultural research on the agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals.

And here laid our challenge: The event was a one day gathering of researchers and donors working on food security. How could we stretch the momentum of that event before and after that single day’s gathering?

For online media, it all begins and ends with “content”: You need to have substantial content around your event’s topics. If you can excite a group of people in generating engaging content, you can tweet it, facebook it, and spin it through the social media spectrum in many ways to build momentum. But you need content.

In some cases, content can be generated around the event’s input papers, and interviews with those people who submitted it. However, for #CGIAR_DD, we approached it in a different way, we initiated online competitions around the topics we would cover at the event.

For #CGIAR_DD, we kicked off two competitions:

  • “Talking Science” was a competition where scientists could submit their blogposts illustrating how their own research impacts longer term food security and contributed to the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • “Living Data” was a competition where our research centers submitted their data, facts and figures, and we asked the online public to present those in new and innovative ways.

For both the scientists’ blogposts, and the data representation competition, the online public could vote and comment on the individual entries.

The obvious and the ulterior goals

Using these online competitions, we tried to achieve a number of upfront and ulterior goals:

  • Obvious: Asking our scientists to showcase their projects, directly contributed to the core purpose of our event: show how our research was critical to longer term development goals.
  • Ulterior: As we published these competition blogposts, all participating scientists and supporting research centers would spin those posts through their social media channels, increasing the online momentum around the event’s topics.
  • Ulterior: Knowing that our scientists are always reluctant to write about their research, it was a way to help them discover the power of blogs and social media communications, to get their research out.
  • Ulterior: It gave our communications teams an entry point to build links with their scientists, showing how professional communicators can help in sculpting the messages around their research.
  • Obvious: While collecting the facts and figures, the data around our research, we showed objective data on how our research had a direct impact on the longer term development goals.
  • Ulterior: As we collected those fact sheets, we got content, which was spread through social media channels, which, once again, increased the online momentum.
  • Ulterior: As we invited the online public to convert those facts and data into enticing infographics or videos, more people got familiar with our data. AND we discovered new ways on how we could represent our data in ways which are appealing to the public.
  • Ulterior: As people submitted their data competition entries, they plugged into their own social media channels, asking the online public to vote on their entries. This helped us to spread our messages and, once again, expand our online media momentum.

The bottom line results

Typically, our one day event would only have generated a significant online momentum around the day of the event itself, through our onsite social reporting: live-tweets, our webcast and live-blogging. However, using the online competitions, we not only increased the online peak, but also spread it for two months around the event itself:

cgiar_DD web stats

Through the web statistics, we see a distinctive peak of web traffic on September 25th, the day of the event, but we also see:

  • A gradual build-up of online traffic towards the event (from 6 weeks before until at least a month after.
  • A continuous traffic during the month after the event, peaking around end of October, the end date for our online competition.

How much did the competition contribute to our online momentum? Some figures covering the two months around the event:

  • We had a total of 131 blogposts, of which 86 were competition entries or input posts
  • We received 601 blogpost comments, which were almost all related to the competition entries
  • The online competition received over 12,000 votes from the online public, and over 42,000 pageviews from a total of 104,000 pageviews
  • Covering the three months around the event, 50% of the web traffic came in the 5 weeks after the event, showing a clear “stretching of the online momentum”

These web statistics show that, in objective figures, how we were able to stretch the online momentum from one month before the event, to one month after.

But these statistics are not the only figures which are significant: In a post-event survey amongst the communications staff from all research centers and programs, 86% said the online media coverage was either “excellent” or “good”, and 81% said that the online blog competition was either “good” or “excellent”. It clearly sparked an interest and enthusiasm amongst our own communicators.
Many of the participating scientists said this was the first time they wrote a blogpost about their research, and discovered “how they wrote it”, to be even more important than “what they wrote about”. Most scientists felt encouraged in seeing the amount of public visibility blogposts could give to their research.


This project showed that even for a single day event, one can generate significant content, discussions and involvement from your online public, way beyond our single day of the event itself.

Our challenge, as communicators, is to find a way to stretch the momentum. Be it through a competition (as we did in this example), or any other way: You might ask people to submit blogposts instead of submitting conference papers, you might ask anyone to showcase related projects, or you might sponsor some young people to speak at the conference, by submitting their applications online, and you publish these on your site… The sky is the limit, so be creative.

Do it purposely, though: The art is not only to build an online momentum, but also to build up content which is directly related and contributing to the topics of your event, which can truly spark an online discussion about your core issues. Don’t pump up website traffic just for the sake of the traffic.

The cost

From past events, here are some ballpark figures:

  • It costs about US$200,000 to $500,000 to organize single day event (including all indirect staff cost, travel and accommodation).
  • It typically costs US$5,000 to US$10,000 to gather the onsite social reporters and organize the onsite live reporting. This cost includes building your online community on forehand, provide onsite training before the event, and coordinate the social reporting team onsite.
  • It costs US$20,000 to US$25,000 to combine onsite social reporting and execute a strategy to stretch your online momentum. This includes both the social reporting and training (previous point), as well as designing a strategy, and executing it: reaching out to your target audiences, publishing the posts, moderating comments,…

A last thought: the true longer term effect

While this post concentrated on stretching an event’s online momentum, mainly though web traffic, you might give some thought on how to capitalize on your event’s momentum yo achieve some longer term goals.

Have you been able to “convert” the new public you reached into longer term subscribers to your online media? Have these people subscribed to your RSS feed, newsletter, Twitter of Facebook feeds?

That would help you to truly capitalize on the investment made in your event.

The “Talking Science” project was based on a proposal by Abby Waldorf (WLE), Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba (IFPRI) and Thor Windham-­‐Wright (IWMI).
The overall #CGIAR_DD communications project was collectively designed and executed by a group of 152 CGIAR communicators. Special thanks go to Piers Bocock, Hannah Edwards, Pete Shelton, Samuel Stacey, Michael Hoevel, Michael Marus and Sherwin Pineda.

Infographic courtesy Samuel Stacey and CGIAR

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