August 19, 2017

Attracting Followers on Twitter

To this point, I’ve told you what Twitter is and how to get your account set up. Now what? You are ready to go, but there is little value unless you have people Following you. This post will tell you how to build an audience.

Twitter Culture

First, it’s important to understand the culture of people that use Twitter.

  1. People like people that like them. Twitterers receive an email notification when someone follows them and frequently will at least look at their new Follower’s profile to see if it is someone they might want to Follow in return. There is a lot of reciprocity on Twitter and that can be a huge benefit to your organization. NOTE: Your profile should have a clear one-line bio that explains who you are and what you are all about. If you are an Asian-fusion restaurant or American period furniture store or vintage clothing store, you should have included that in your one-line bio.
  2. Tweet something of value. If you are promoting on Twitter, make sure your tweets have value – do not post annoying messages.
  3. Recycled Tweets a.k.a. Retweets. People on Twitter are all about the information flow. If your posts truly have value, with an established Follower list, you increase the odds of being Retweeted (think of it as someone forwarding your tweet to all of their friends). For example, if you announce the event of the year then I definitely want to go, but want my friends to be there as well so you get a Retweet. This amplifies your message.
  4. Don’t be a freak with frequency. Advertising on Twitter is fine. Also, being pretty active with your tweets is good (it keeps your name in people’s minds if nothing else), but this can be abused. Tweeting a couple of times a week is fine. Tweeting daily is fine. Even tweeting multiple times a day can be fine if the tweets have different content, but be careful. If you are filling up a Followers stream with posts that are diluting their friends’ posts, you run the risk of losing Followers.

Adding Followers

With an understanding of Twitter culture, we can now get to the good stuff – getting Followers.

Add people from your online address books

If you have an address book on Gmail, Yahoo!, or AOL, you can have Twitter search their database to see if any of them are already members. Go to the Find People link at the top of Twitter, click on Find on Other Networks and enter in your login information for the specific network (selected on the left).

The first screen will tell you people that Twitter has found that have profiles and you can Follow them. This has the added benefit of telling these people you already know that you are on Twitter.

In the next step, Twitter allows you to specify the people that you want to invite to join Twitter. Select anyone you want to invite and encourage them to not only start tweeting, but to follow you. You don’t have to do this if you are uncomfortable about it, but it can build your Followers quickly.

Advertise your Twitter profile

Now that you have a Twitter profile, you need to make sure it is advertised everywhere you promote.

  • Put it on your: business cards
  • Add it to your emails (to the “sig”)
  • Include it on receipts (if you are a business)
  • Email it to all your friends
  • Add it to your website/blog/Facebook profile, etc.
  • Include it in your next direct mail campaign

Search for Twitter Followers

If you are steak house or antique store in Atlanta, then use Twitter’s search function (on your home page) to find people that are mentioning steak Atlanta or antique Atlanta. Check out the profiles of these posters and Follow them to 1) stay informed about what people are saying about your organization’s industry and 2) possibly gain a new Follower for yourself (see point 1 under Twitter Culture). Don’t be stingy with your Follows, they can pay off.

Direct Message Likely Patrons

If you come across someone that expresses a strong interest in what your organization does, send them a direct message. For instance, if you are a steak house and found someone that has a one-line bio that states “I love me some steak” or even if they posted a Tweet saying “I’m on a quest for the best steak in Atlanta,” they could be your next patron. Sending them a message along the lines of, “We would love it if you came in and tried our steak. It’s grass-fed and delicious. Good luck on your search!” Personalizing the message makes it that much more valuable.

  • What is a direct message? Basically, if you put an “@” in front of the person’s twitter name anywhere in a tweet, then you are direct messaging them and they will be notified. So if I posted a tweet that said “@mcrudele and @apfurniture use twitter” then that is a direct message to me and apfurniture. Easy.
  • Don’t be annoying. Personalizing a direct message to someone will most likely catch their attention and might gain you a Follower, but don’t be annoying. If they don’t respond and/or don’t Follow you, leave them alone.

Hunt for Patrons

Serious twitterers – even individuals – use the tips listed in Advertise your Twitter Profile. They promote their profile in emails, on their blog, etc. in hopes of gaining more Followers and this is great for you. If you are a restaurateur, you need to know all of the food bloggers and reviewers in your town and Follow them on Twitter. If you are a clothing store, the same goes for the fashion bloggers.

To give you an idea of how this works, I did a Google search for atlanta restaurant blog. This very quickly led me to:

… and that was just from page one of the search results.

If you Follow these influencers and direct message them a personal message, you are well on your way to gaining influence.

Tweet Content

I mentioned that your tweets should offer value to your followers, but I want to tidy up by giving you some examples. Some tweet ideas include:

  • Upcoming events
  • Daily specials
  • New shipments of inventory
  • Organizational news – a new chef, new hours of operation, your intention to attend at an upcoming seminar/convention, and new partnerships are all tweet-worthy
  • Web links to articles that are related to your industry
  • Other news related to your organization’s industry – a restaurant providing info on e-coli outbreak would be fine

Keep in mind that people are following your organization, not you, so posts about the terrible traffic downtown or your political thoughts (unrelated to your organization) are annoying. Stay on message.

I hope this helps get you started, but I’m really interested in anything I might have left out. Let me know any thoughts you have!

Getting Started with Twitter

For us that deal with social media on a daily basis – Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, RSS feeds, etc – there is a risk that we become disconnected with understanding where the rest of the country is in their understanding of the tools we take for granted. This point was emphasized to me last week through a conversation I had with Bob and Carol Marek – owners of American Period Furniture on Ponce in Atlanta.

Twitter

Twitter

Bob and Carol are great people that have run the store for years. As with any business owners, they want to reach their target audience – they have a high quality product with great service and know there are patrons that would love to find them, but the challenge remains how to reach them? They have heard all of the buzz about online promotions, but don’t know where to start – what is Twitter, what is Facebook, what are blogs, what are iPhone apps? More importantly, how does an organization use these technologies and which ones are best suited for changing needs? This conversation has inspired me to write some very basic posts about this new world… starting with Twitter.

What is Twitter?

To answer this question, I refer people to my post for a super basic introduction – http://www.o2p.org/twitter-super-basic-intro-for-organizations. This covers the topic in a very easy to understand way. My next post in this series will cover the topic of how to gain Followers on Twitter (http://www.o2p.org/attracting-followers-on-twitter).

What is the value of Twitter?

In my conversation last week, I emphasized that tools like blogs and mobile apps are more about delivering unique to people and not direct advertising. Twitter, however, seems like a good place to start for someone that is used to traditional promotions, but wants to move efforts online. It’s a place to start building a more intimate relationship with patrons, but can still be used to announce special offers and business-focused news without offending Followers. Twitter is a way for organizations to connect to patrons real-time (or close to it). Users choose the people and organizations they want to Follow – they want information from you!

Setting Expectations

  • Your Followers will not see every announcement you post (called tweets).
  • Your Followers are looking for short posts that tell them what is new with your organization – upcoming sells, new shipments, change of hours, special events, etc.
  • Your Followers will not respond to every tweet they read. They won’t come in for every sell, event, etc., but you will have a way to keep them informed.

Think of Twitter as a bulletin board that is full of short messages. Some posts get read and some don’t, but it’s a public way to connect with your target audience and every now and then your message gets to the right person at the right time, leading them them to take action (come in and buy something, attend your event, whatever). If this sounds ineffective, think about advertisements that you might have posted in newspapers or other print publications – there are lots of people that flip through the pages, but how many see your announcement much less take action? The advantage of Twitter is that people have indicated that they actually want to plug into you. Extending the analogy, imagine a newspaper where the classifieds are limited only to the organizations of interest to the reader – when they want to find information, they only see posts from organizations they like. Here’s how it works:

  • People discover you on Twitter (more information in later posts)
  • They choose to Follow you, which means all of your tweets will be sent to them in Twitter alongside everyone else they Follow. Sometimes they are paying attention and sometimes they aren’t.
  • By periodically looking at their stream of tweets (ordered chronologically) people are able to take the pulse of what’s going on with everyone they follow.

Creating your Twitter account

Twitter Sign up page

Twitter Sign up page (click for full size)

This is super easy. Go to https://twitter.com/signup and follow the directions to setup your profile. Make sure to select a username that identifies your organization. For example, American Period Furniture chose APFurniture, meaning that their profile can be viewed at www.twitter.com/APFurniture. This isn’t rocket science and creating your account is super simple, so don’t be intimidated!

Customizing your Twitter Profile

At any point after creating your Twitter account, you can customize it by logging in and going to Settings (http://twitter.com/account/settings). You can play around with the properties, but the most important are:

Twitter Settings (click for full view)

Twitter Settings (click for full size)

  • Name – this helps people find you on Twitter. American Period Furniture should be used for APFurniture, for example.
  • More Info URL – this provides people with a link to other places you might promote online, such as your organization’s website. You can also use a link to your Facebook page, profile on a local search solution like Yelp or Citysearch, etc.
  • One line bio – enter something descriptive here so that if people find your profile they can determine if they want to Follow you. Also, think about keywords – if you deal in antique furniture, include that in the bio.
  • Location – make sure to indicate what town or city you are. A big driving factor for people is local organizations.
Twitter Design (click for full size)

Twitter Design (click for full size)

You also want to make your profile stand out a little more by customizing your background.

Under settings, there is a link to Design where you can set this. At the very least, you should choose one of the pre-defined templates, but at the bottom you can also upload your own custom image.

Finally, make sure you click the link to Picture. This allows you to set an image for your profile that will show up to the left of any tweets you post as well as showing up on your profile. Try to choose a picture that represents your organization – for instance:

  • A DJ might show turntables
  • A restaurant might show pictures of entrees
  • Any physical location might choose a picture of their building

Congratulations, you are now a Twitter user! Watch for additional posts to see where to go from here.

Notes:

American Period Furniture is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/APFurniture and is located at:

1097 Ponce De Leon Avenue (map)
Atlanta, GA 30306
(404) 892-8576

Help them get their feet wet by Following them!

Lynn Lilly with Blackout Productions and Lilly White Events

Lynn Lilly

Lynn Lilly

Lynn Lilly is the founder of Blackout Productions and Lilly White Events. She started Blackout Productions about 1 1/2 years ago with the goal of changing the landscape of events in Atlanta by focusing on innovative event marketing, production and design that closely aligns with clients’ objectives and target demographics. These have been created to be distinct, buzz generating, “must attend” events that people don’t want to miss and will talk about the next day, with an emphasis on the restaurant industry and nightlife. Her clients have include Three Olives Vodka, Whiskey Park, and Straits, with event participation into the thousands.

About 4 months ago, she created Lilly White Events to address an under met demand for similar services for the private event market – events for corporate, bridal and non-profit organizations. These are events with a greater need for planning than promotions, but for both companies, the focus remains on client centered services and showing results.

In this interview, Lynn discusses her experience getting “butts in seats” for her diverse client list with each having a different target audience. Listen to the entire interview below.

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Audience

Blackout’s clients include restaurants, clubs, boutiques, and alcohol brands whereas Lilly White’s clients are mostly corporate (real estate agents, doctors, lawyers), non-profits and bridal. This is a wide-ranging base that has an equally diverse target audience varying from women interested in high end fashion (Jedal Italian Fashion in Phipps Plaza) to nightclub goers (W Hotel’s Whiskey Park in Midtown Atlanta) to brides.

These audiences require individualized promotions, although the tools used are fairly consistent.

Entice

To entice these audiences, Lynn creates cutting edge, innovative events unlike anything people have seen in Atlanta, creating must attend events. With both Blackout Productions and Lilly White Events, she emphasizes that she will take the headache out of having an event while providing metrics to prove success. This has built a reputation for her that has led to a referral-based sales channel.

Promotions

Promoting to these audiences is not just an issue of getting people to show up, but reaching the audience that matches the client’s desired demographic. Someone attending an upscale event for high end fashion that can’t spend $1,000 on shoes is not a successful attendee. This is a tough challenge and Lynn uses a multi-pronged strategy.

The Personal Touch

Skyy Infusion Event

Skyy Infusion Event

In some cases, to make sure that the right people show up for events, Lynn takes a very active personal approach. For example, when Skyy Vodka Pineapple Infusion launched, they wanted to reach influencers at bars and restaurants so she sent personal invites to owners, managers and bartenders to make sure they showed up. In some cases, she visited businesses to deliver the invitation personally. It’s all part of understanding your audience and making the connection that most influences them.

Flyers

When she first started, Lynn’s initial efforts focused on handing out flyers to reach her audience. Now that she has a strong reputation and an impressive database of contacts, this practice has tapered off.

Facebook

Social media is one of the principle ways Lynn promotes and when a client hires Blackout Productions, they aren’t just getting a great event, but access to Lynn’s sphere of influence. Facebook is a great tool for this. Lynn will help build out a client’s Facebook presence to promote their event while encouraging her contacts to become Fans. This has lasting value beyond the event, providing the client with a receptive audience for future messages. Additionally, Lynn encourages attendees to look at pictures from the event on the client’s Facebook page and tag themselves… of course, the ability to tag photos requires users to become a Fan first. All of these tags propagate to news feeds that help to further promote the client even after the event.

She has used paid ads on Facebook when trying to reach a very targeted demographic. Most relevant are ads for bridal events through Lilly White Events to reach women in Atlanta that have a relationship status of “engaged.”

Twitter

Lilly White Events cake

Lilly White Events cake

Lynn promotes events on Twitter through her personal account as well as Blackout Productions and Lilly White Events. The viral nature of re-tweets can not only get feet in the door, but increase the client’s number of Followers.

Local Search

Lynn describes herself as being hard to sell to, but she was convinced to subscribe to Citysearch’s service.  It was a terrible experience:

  • Delays in Getting profile setup. Blackout Productions had to rely on Citysearch to put their content online, so they submitted all of their information (photos, video, copy, etc) a week prior to their first month of service, but the information was still not right 2 weeks into the month (wrong logo, no content or wrong content, etc.).
  • Budget overages. Of course, Citysearch was still charging them for traffic even though the information was wrong or incomplete, but instead of the agreed upon budget of $25/day, they were being charged $50/day.
  • Lack of communication. Lynn was sold, in part, by the sales person’s description of Citysearch’s excellent customer service. However, she was given inaccurate information about where to send content (leading to some of the delays) and phone calls and emails went unanswered. All of this led to a battle for a refund from Citysearch.

The sales person was very good at selling, but the responsiveness, customer support, and effectiveness they had been promised was a huge disappointment. Lynn canceled their subscription and has no plans to use Citysearch again. Her experience with local search left such a bad impression that when Yelp called a few weeks later, she immediately said “not interested.” She would recommend social marketing to her clients 100x over before recommending local search like Citysearch.

Google Ads

Lynn has considered using Google Ads, but hasn’t had time to investigate in detail. She has heard good things about it, though.

Email Campaigns

Lynn uses her contact database to email event announcements to relevant demographics. Similar to her efforts in social media, she encourages new subscribers to also register with the clients’ newsletters – providing residual value that lasts well beyond any single event.

Blogs and Online Publications

Blackout Productions has had great experience with blog and online publication posts about their unique events. Lynn uses Google the day after an event to track what’s being said and connect to those contributing to the buzz. Influentially writers get added to her media list.

Print Advertising

Blackout Productions has paid for some print advertisement with publications like 6 Degrees, but Lynn doesn’t think there’s a lot of value to the print promotions. However, in many cases, these outlets provide additional promotions through their website, Facebook pages, email lists, etc. that Lynn does think have a lot of value and reach. Summation – it’s OK to pay for print if it gains access to a big online presence. (Sounds like print publications are selling the wrong thing)

Television and Radio

Lynn hasn’t used paid advertising on television or radio because she hasn’t felt that it was suitable for any of her events to this point.

Other Online Advertisement

Depending on the type of event, other online advertisement has proven useful, including sites like Atlanta Occasions, Atlanta Bridal, and Access Atlanta.

Blackout Productions

Blackout Productions

Leverage

Lynn leverages Word of Mouth through a number of viral, online tools. Facebook, Twitter, and blogs all generate content that is easily shared and email campaigns give people an easy way to forward information to friends. It’s a multi-channel world and you have to take advantage of all of the avenues available.

She is constantly looking for new tools that can increase her ability to harness word of mouth, although the challenge has been that each new technology is yet another place that she has to manage information. Keeping up with all the tools is becoming more and more of a challenge, but pays great dividends.

Connect

Social marketing tools like Facebook and Twitter have been great at connecting to people and keeping them informed about upcoming events, leading to “butts in seats.” The only monetary cost is related to the paid ads she posts on Facebook for bridal events – generally a few hundred dollars – and isn’t that significant .

However, there is a significant time-cost promoting with these tools, which takes away from time she could spend on “creating a better event or spending more time on event design or cultivating new business.” Time is money.

“It’s a lot of repetitive work. It’s the same thing over and over again for each site and it’s time consuming and it’s boring and it drives me nuts.”

Simplify

Lynn has been fortunate enough to find vendors that she can trust when putting together events. Knowing her partners are reliable reduces the number of things she needs to worry about and helps simplify the number of spinning plates she has to manage.

One of Lynn’s biggest challenges is managing all of the avenues of social media marketing. Updating websites, Facebook, Twitter, etc takes a lot of time (although I did recommend she look into solutions like Tweetdeck to consolidation her efforts a little). One thing she does to simplify this some is integrating her Facebook status updates with her tweets.

For RSVP’s, Blackout Productions and Lilly White Events use a dedicated email account designed for responses and then checks people off at the door as they arrive. They also track people that show up off the street and use that as an opportunity to capture new email addresses.

Email campaigns are managed through GoDaddy, but she is not completely happy with them as a solution (it’s not very user friendly). She has also tried Constant Contact, but didn’t like it either.

Blackout Productions Event

Blackout Productions Event

Success

Lynn is a big numbers person. One example involves monitoring the ratio of received RSVP’s to the number that actually shows up. This provides her with statistical information so she knows how many people to expect based on responses – categorized not only by the type of event, but by factors like weather (if it rains, how will that effect turnout) and the day of the week. When a client says they want 1,000 people to show up, she knows how many RSVP’s she needs to secure based on this information.

That method is great if you focus solely on head count, but for organizations like restaurants, bars, clubs and lounges, it’s all about the bottom line. For these clients, Lynn looks to other tools, such as POS systems. For Whiskey Park at the W Midtown Atlanta, she’ll look at bar sells by hour as well as a break down of what drinks are being ordered – especially important when she partners with a liquor company.

The numbers are there and, by analyzing them, lessons are learned about how to make every event more successful than the last. Additionally, by following trends, Lynn is able to provide clients with proof that their efforts are paying off as well as give them insights about their patrons’ behavior.

Closing Words

Promotions that get noticed by Blackout Productions

Promotions that get noticed by Blackout Productions

The biggest challenge is promotions. It’s difficult to reach the right audience and takes a lot of hard work – you have to be creative and keep up with the latest tools. In all of your efforts, you also have to have the right team that is driven and represents your brand well. Finally, always measure your metrics.

Upcoming Events

Friday, December 18. Winter Wonderland event at Whiskey Park to benefit Toys for Tots and co-sponsored by Van Gogh Blue Vodka. What’s not to love – Van Gogh Blue Sno Cones, a gelato bar, and midnight lingerie fashion show by LiviRae Lingerie.

August 2010. Atlanta Food Rave. A huge culinary event that is still under wraps, but will feature a number of Atlanta’s top chefs.

Shout Outs

Connect with Lynn Lilly, Blackout Productions and Lilly White

Blackout Production (map)
15 Lenox Pointe NE
Suite C
Atlanta, GA 30324
404.842.9944
info@blackoutproductionsatlanta.com

Background

Lynn has been planning events for non-profits since high school. This continued through both her sorority and student government when she attended Auburn University – sophomore year, she planned the biggest fundraiser on campus, raising $40,000 for breast cancer research in one night. As a junior and senior, she was responsible for handling 3 events and PR for the Student Government Association.

After college, she went into advertising and marketing in Atlanta while networking every night of the week. This allowed her to build connections that led to her first event – promoting Ludacris’ Straits Restaurant in Midtown Atlanta. Blackout Productions has been growing ever since. Some of her honors include:

  • Featured in 6 Degrees magazine
  • Trendy Atlanta wrote about her as an up and coming young entrepreneur
  • Her work with Lilly White Events led to her being listed in CRAVE Atlanta‘s first book as one of Atlanta’s top 100 young entrepreneuress that you have to know
  • Lilly White was selected as a sponsor and the event planner for Save A Smile’s Atlanta Holiday House

Trackur – Reputation Monitor Overview

Trackur is yet another social listening / reputation monitoring tool and this video provides a brief overview of what it’s all about. Overall, it’s not too bad, but I don’t think it is the great, low-cost solution I would still like to find.

What I like about Trackur:

  • It seems to do a good job of pulling tweets, which other free solutions seem to struggle with (for some odd reason).
  • The overall layout is easily navigable and easy to understand.
  • Trackur includes search of “media” sites, most notably YouTube.
  • It also includes search of blogs and online new articles… seems to do a decent job of that as well.
  • You can save searches for quick launch.
  • It automatically refreshes results every 30 minutes.
  • You can subscribe to saved search results through RSS … and email, but the RSS is super cool.
  • It indicates that sentiment is automatically determined, although my experience showed that all results came through as neutral. Maybe this is something they are still working on. I was corrected on this point. Sentiment is NOT automatically determined, but Trackur does allow the user to manually determine and specify this. Based on the effectiveness of other sentiment tools I’ve seen, this is probably better anyway.
  • The user can update the sentiment setting. This allows the user to override any automated calculation.
  • The basic package cost is inexpensive – about $18/month – and there is a 14 day free trial so you know what you are getting.
  • You can exclude specific records so they don’t show up going forward. (one of the bullet points in my next section was inaccurate on this point and has been corrected).

What I don’t like about Trackur:

  • The search filters are very basic. It doesn’t look like you can use more advanced search strings like “multiple words” OR “other words” What’s up with that.
  • Because of the limitations of the search criteria, there is a lot of garbage in the result set and no obvious way to remove irrelevant records. This shortcoming is compounded when you consider these results are sent to users subscribing to RSS and email notifications. I was corrected by the CEO… there is a red “x” the the right of the “Source” of each post that allows you to filter on a record by record basis. However, it looks like if you delete a record from a saved search, that record will be exclude from all future searches other than the saved search. From a practical standpoint about how this tool might be used, that probably isn’t a big deal, but it might be an issue in some cases.
  • There are some basic usability issues that are frustrating. If you play around with it, you’ll see what I mean.

What I’m on the fence about:

  • In order to be able to export results, the package price jumps to $88/month.

Trackur claims you can set up your first search within 60 seconds and I think that is actually pretty reasonable. If you are looking for a low cost solution, I would recommend you at least check it out and see what you think.

Link Centre- Tupelo’s non-profit Community Cultivator

Link Centre - Tupelo

Link Centre - Tupelo

Over Thanksgiving, I was able to interview Melanie Deas and Rebecca Lane who head up the Link Centre in Tupelo, MS. Tupelo is a town of about 40,000 people, the birth place of Elvis Presley – king of Rock n’ Roll – my hometown, and consistently impresses me with the cultural density and talent it produces. I’ve been going to events sponsored by the Tupelo Ballet, Tupelo Symphony and Tupelo Community Theater since I was a kid and have high school friends that have had their bands featured on national TV shows and have even played at Carnegie Hall.

The Link Centre is a organization that furthers this history of cultural and community development as a “non-profit that helps bring together arts, entertainment, culture, education and health” by serving several purposes:

Hoop-elo fun

Hoop-elo fun

  1. Community Cultivator (I’m willing to share the title). They provide a training facility for senior services and art studios, sponsor events such as music classes for kids, a culinary arts program, real estate education classes, hula hooping classes (Hoop-elo), film and music series, after school programs, etc.
  2. Community Coordinator. By “linking” the efforts of other local non-profits, they help bring people together for the purpose of improving Tupelo’s cultural footprint.
  3. Multi-tenant non-profit center. The Link Centre is housed in the old Harrisburg Baptist Church where the Salvation Army and Girl Scouts also serve as anchor tenants. Additionally, they provide affordable office space for other local, non-profits and act like a non-profit incubator for the community which helps to foster collaboration opportunities.

Listen to the entire interview

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Audience

The programs organized by the Link Centre are targeted at providing value to the entire community – from infants to elders. Their independent film series has included everything from a documentary on the furniture industry to the animated version of Flatland (very cool) and generally includes someone involved with the film, such as the director, writer or producer. Typically, this attracts a subject-specific audience as well as local film makers that benefit from conversations ranging from cinematography to production. This taps into the huge film community around the Mid-South and draws an audience ranging from 20-somethings and up.

Another example of the diverse audience attracted by the Link Centre’s events is the monthly music series that features a different genre each month.  Typically, patrons for these events are in their 40′s and up, but there is also an appeal to a wide range of local musicians interested in collaborating with their peers.

Extending the audience even further are events like Hoop-elo that have had participants from 2 1/2 years old to 80.

Entice

Because of the diverse programs offered by the Link Centre, there is generally something for everyone. Patrons that are aware of these efforts are able to monitor upcoming events and select those that appeal to them – they look to the Link Centre as a highly localized organization that provides an ongoing stream of activities and serves as a consolidated source of local information.

Promotions

One of the challenges that accompanies a wide-ranging target audience is knowing how to reach that audience. Melanie describes the Link Centre’s efforts as shotgun marketing – they have to use a variety of efforts to be effective.

Link Centre's diabetes support event

Link Centre's diabetes support event

Community College Collaboration

The Link Centre works in conjunction with Itawamba Community College to define and promote events. ICC utilizes Link Centre’s physical space and takes on the management and promotional role of specific events through their workforce development and continuing education programs. In two years, this has led to the participation of over 700 students.

Public Displays of Activities

Hoop-elo at night

Hoop-elo at night

A guerrilla tactic used to promote the Link Centre is public displays highlighting their programs, such as Hoop-elo. Not only does the Link Centre have classes in Hula Hooping, but this group goes to various community events to show off their skill. “You take people hula hooping with light up, LED hula hoops to a concert and … people notice.” There is even an integration with the Tupelo Public School PE programs.

Synergy

The Pre-Symphony Dinner Series is an example of how Link Centre cross-promotes events for synergy. Before every symphony performance, the Culinary Arts program prepares an affordable, multi-course dinner in the same building as the event. Diners walk across the building after their meal and have reserved, VIP seating – which not only helps to promote the symphony, but the culinary arts program. In another effort, they doubled down on this strategy by hosting the dinner among a a city-wide art exhibit.

Online / Social Networking

Using social networking tools like Facebook, Myspace and Twitter is a new effort by the Link Centre, but has proven very effective. It allows them to quickly and cheaply (free) propogate information about upcoming events and offers a platform that patrons can use to provide feedback. There is still a struggle about how to most effectively use these tools and there is a limitation to the audience reach – elderly patrons frequently aren’t online – but they are happy with the experience so far.

One of the time costs for promoting online is the management of sites. New and updated event information must be posted on Tupelo.Net, Myspace, Twitter, Facebook, the Arts Commission website, etc. In fact, Rebecca has 2 pages of sites that have to be managed. Keeping all of this information current is tough, but the audience reach is worth the effort.

Email Campaigns

Historically, emails were sent from a standard email client, but this led to a 6-month backlog of updates and additions related to the mailing list. Melanie was able to resolve this issue by implementing the email campaign tool Constant Contact. Not only does Constant Contact allow individuals to manage their own subscriptions to emails, it also provides metrics about how effective these campaigns are – how many people are opening the messages, forwarding them, etc.

There is one criticism – Melanie would like some instruction on how to improve open rates. The data is great, but what do you do with it? Overall, though, it is direct, fast, inexpensive and seems effective.

Direct Mail

Direct Mail is successful for certain efforts such as reaching older patrons, fund raising and sending announcements to Symphony Dinner patrons. The general advice is: know your audience and use direct mail accordingly – and definitely use bulk mail to reduce costs.

Print

Homemade Jamz

Homemade Jamz

In cities that have higher population densities, there are numerous publications that promote local events, but in areas with less density, these publications have limited effectiveness because either they 1) don’t have suitable focus (state wide versus town/region) or 2) aren’t published in a timely manner (yearly, quarterly).

That being said, the Link Centre does do some print promotions in the local paper, especially in the free event postings section. There is also a new local publication the Link Centre is working with called ShakeMag that focuses on community activities in the Tupelo area.

Television

Melanie has had a television spot produced and was happy with the quality, but it was not clear what effect, if any, the ad had. Her opinion now is, while there might be an event in the future that seems more suitable for this type of promotion, for the time being she is avoiding it as an expensive option that is difficult to measure the success of.

Loyalty Program

The Link Centre has dabbled with a Donor Program that offers free or discounted events to donors based on their contribution amount with levels starting at $100. This program is still in its early phase so the results aren’t in yet.

PSA’s (Public Service Announcements)

Local television stations and radio stations have budgeted time for PSA’s and Melanie makes sure that the Link Centre gets its fair share. One example is being included on the Weather Channel’s crawl (the news that scrolls across the bottom of the screen).

Leverage

As always, word of mouth rules. While this is harnessed in part by the viral tools built into social networking, there are also powerful case studies of influencers spreading news to their personal networks. In one case, the mother of a home grown star of the Lawrence Welk program did a great job promoting her son’s upcoming show in Tupelo to her friends (big fans of Lawrence Welk). Word of mouth gets people in the door which creates an opportunity to turn these consumers into passionate patrons that will return again and again.

Word of mouth is also the primary way that other non-profits keep up with what their peers are doing. This is great to generate peer support of programs, but the information flow can be inefficient – you hope that relevant news makes its way to you.

Connect

People stay connected in different ways and the key is to promote in the various places that your patrons look for information. Social networks and online resources, email, direct mail, and local publications lead these efforts, but it’s important to know which are best suited for the specific information you are trying to disseminate.

Simplify

There are a couple of key ways that the Link Centre simplifies their efforts:

  • Constant Contact makes email campaigns much more effective and easier to manage.
  • Adobe’s Contribute is used to manage the Link Centre’s website and allows Melanie and Rebecca to update the site without having to rely on a web developer.
  • Paypal is used as a quick and easy way to process ticket purchases. It is a “very simple and cost effective tool” for the Link Centre to add this functionality for patrons. Very, very clever.
  • The partnership with Itawamba Community College has allowed the Link Centre to off load some of their promotional and organizational efforts.
  • Quickbooks is replacing the Link Centre’s traditional use of physical books and has made things much easier while consolidating information.

Success

The first measure of success is how many people show up for events. Beyond that, the Link Centre monitors web traffic of their site on a monthly basis and has discovered most people are focused on the events page, buying tickets and making donations. This provides Melanie guidance on where to spend time… making sure this information is up to date.

Future efforts of measuring success might include in-house surveys to find out how people discover events. This not only would provide supplemental information to metrics available from web promotions, but would help close the loop on determining the effectiveness of off line promotions like newspaper advertisements.

Words of Advice

Running an organization like the Link Centre is challenging, but don’t give up and try not to get frustrated. Cultural development is a valuable service and shouldn’t be viewed as extraneous, but as a critical part of the community.

Upcoming Events

  • December 5, 2009. Gallagher. It’s unknown if he will be using locally sourced, organic watermelons, but it should be fun nonetheless.
  • December 12, 2009. Christmas by Candlelight Symphony with Pre-symphony dinner and post-concert reception
  • January 8, 2010. Marty Stuart Concert to benefit the three anchor tenants of the Link Centre (Link Centre, Salvation Army and Girl Scouts)
  • Every Tuesday at 1PM – CPR and AED courses sponsored by the Weston Reed Foundation
  • Every Tuesday at 6PM – Hoop-elo
  • Monthly (resuming in January). Independant Film Series
  • Monthly (resuming in January). Monthly Music mix

Keep up to date with the official calendar.

Connect With Link Centre

Link Centre (Map)
1800 W. Main, Box 12
Tupelo, MS 38801
662.690.4011
f. 662.690.4012

Website: http://www.link-centre.org/
Make a Donation: http://www.link-centre.org/support.html
Facebook Group: http://www.facebook.com/LinkCentreTupelo
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/melaniedeas
Twitter: http://twitter.com/linkcentretup

Background

Melanie Deas

Melanie has been the Executive Director of the Link Centre for almost 3 years where she is responsible for a variety of roles, including event planning, box office management, and house management. She has a background in theater and university tour and event planning with an undergraduate focus on History and Literature (Harvard) and graduate work in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism (Yale).

Rebecca Lane

Rebecca has been the Community Developer for the Link Centre since June of 2009 and supports Melanie’s role as well as spearheads Link Centre’s social media efforts. She focused on Elementary Education at Itawamba Community College and owned and operated Gum Tree Montessori and More attended by her two daughters.