Yesterday I came across a twitter post from SnowCon, a weekend gaming convention held in mid-January in Maine.[1] It’s months after the convention, but here they were, still working on their twitter feed. That’s pretty neat – most conventions with social media accounts only seem to remember to use them right around their event. There’s a quick ramp up to remind people that the show still exists, a flurry of posts from the actual event, maybe a post thanking people for coming (and we’ll see you next year), then about 45 weeks of silence. This is not effective use of social media.

Back when I was running SAGA, the RinCon Gaming Convention was our main event. It was a convention that started at about 225 attendees and grew to around 800 before the organization decided to take a year off and regroup.[2] At the time of the last show, I was working for a public relations agency and had outlined a plan for utilizing social media platforms[3] to increase RinCon’s (and SAGA’s, by extension) market presence in the hobby games convention circuit. This was developed after looking at the social media strategies for several of the PR firm’s clients and how NeonCon handled their social media strategy.[4] When we decided to suspend the show for a year and regroup, we never implemented the strategy. However, it might work for your show.

The first thing with deciding on the strategy was to find a goal for using social media. RinCon’s goal was to become a regional gaming convention. We had two main reasons why we wanted to achieve that. First of all, there was no regional con in Arizona.[5] RinCon could grow to fill the void – we had outstanding industry and media guests (I mean, we had frickin’ Wil Wheaton as our guest of honor at a show attended by 225 people) – and good programming.[6] Secondly, if we grew to a regional (and here we’re talking hitting 2000+ attendees with a sizable number of attendees coming from a circle that reached San Diego/Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and El Paso) show, we would have enough to start compensating the people running the show. We all love gaming and if we could get paid for running the show, all the better!

So then, our goal: Use social media to help grow RinCon to a regional convention. How do we do this? We position ourselves to become a thought leader[7] by making the twitter feed and other social media outlets a resource to the gaming community.

In order to do that, we absolutely must have original content on the main website at least once a week. Ongoing content means we remind people the convention exists in the months between shows. Ongoing content means we can build an audience around the website allowing for a built in audience to market the show to. Pre-show admission purchases only happen at the website – with a regular column, we can have people visit the site and be just a button click away from attending. And for attendees outside our target area[8], if we get them to use our website as a hub of information, we could use that national reach to get other industry guests interested in our show.

We are going to base everything off of the show weekend. That’s our year end. The weekly content is scheduled for Monday, because the show ends on a Sunday and we can prep a “We had a great time at RinCon this weekend” post for the morning after the show. The Monday post means we can have that last big promotional push starting a few days before the show, so in case we completely fall down on updates in the four days before the show, we’ve got something planned early enough to sway undecideds on attending the convention.

Our twitter plan would include at least one daily posting with an afternoon retweet. Social media studies in 2010/2011 show a bell curve when plotting followers against number of posts per day; 22 tweets a day is the magic number. However, this isn’t really aimed at game companies or conventions, who seem to tweet far fewer. NeonCon seemed to do about five a day; Steve Jackson Games maybe twice a day. If we could find some relevant information to pass along, we would, but we were looking at doing daily tweets at minimum.

Facebook was a whole different animal. There, the fewer posts, the better. While the thought was for twitter users to be flooded with messages, facebook users didn’t like seeing their wall covered with post after post from organizations or companies (even when they subscribed/liked the organization).[9] Over there, you wanted to have new content every three days. One piece of content every three days. So our plan would have been a twice-weekly facebook post: Monday morning, Thursday afternoon in the two o’clock hour (the magic hour for facebook).

Our year starts the Monday following the show. The post this week (queued up before the show started) would be about how awesome the show was and how we’re still tallying total attendance (which usually took us a few days) but it looks like this show was bigger than last year’s (which it always had been) and how you can share your memories by sending images to our open flickr account[10] and to tag your YouTube videos with RinCon and send them to us so we can share with… and so on. We’d scour our guest’s blogs and social media feeds and use twitter to link to their experiences at RinCon over the rest of the week. We’d have attendees give optional website addresses when they signed up and check them to see if they wrote about us. That’s good twitter and facebook fodder for the next two or three weeks.

Eleven months until the next show: For the weeks following the show, showcase other links about the show and information about what our guests (and vendors!) are up to next. Didn’t get to see Wil Wheaton at RinCon ’12? He’ll be at NeonCon 2012 in Las Vegas next week! Stuff like that. We would try to split that 50/50: stuff about us, stuff about them. We’re also talking about general geek genre news during this time.

About seven months until the next show: We slowly shift our focus to the upcoming convention.[11] We officially announce the convention. We start looking for volunteers through our social media efforts. (This is one of the problems we had with the convention – getting volunteers to help run the show. The staff that ran the show? Half of it was my personal gaming group. The other half were actual volunteers. We had an incredibly difficult time getting people to come out and help promote the show and staff the necessary positions to have the show run smoothly. I spoke with someone about this after the last show and she said that she knew a lot of people that would have helped, why didn’t we ask her? I responded by asking her how would we have known she existed? A more active social media presence may have gotten our needs to her.)

Our coverage of what past vendors and guests are doing starts to drop off at this point, unless it’s something super-cool. For example, a guest at our past show being named a guest at Gen Con? Yes. A guest is appearing at a smaller convention in Omaha? That probably wouldn’t be mentioned.

Four months before the convention: We’re getting our guests lined up and finding out what programming we’re having, which is more news for the blog. Where we spent the two or three months following the show talking about the recent show’s guests, we spend the three or four months talking about the guests at the upcoming show. We also start talking about vendors as we get signed contracts in.

Three months before the convention: The frequency of original content increases on the site which leads to more posts on facebook and our G+ community. There are five main areas of original content from here on out, two of which are starting around this time. The first one is a focus on our guests: each post would have the guest’s bio, what they will be doing at the convention, and (for returning guests) some quotes about their experiences in prior years. If we had feedback on a panel or gaming event that the guest ran, we’d include that too. The second group of posts would be about a behind the scenes of getting the convention started up. This last one would let gamers get a peek at what goes on to run a big show and see what progress is being made.

Two months before the convention: Our social media ramps up big time. From now until the close of pre-registration ticket sales (I think about three weeks out before the show), the frequency of posts slowly increases to each weekday. We have the other three types of posts showing up now: promoting Tucson, retrospectives of last year’s show, and showcasing our programming.

This is a crucial time for getting undecideds from out of town to come. We promote Tucson to show out of town attendees that there are things to do in the city – especially near the convention location. The big obstacle to overcome is the city’s location and weather. Tucson is near the desert[12], so everyone thinks OMG HOT HOT HOT. But during the time of the year when we have the convention, it’s perfect weather, nice and cool. It’s a perception that people from further out in our regional range have to overcome.

The retrospectives are there to remind people how much fun they had last year. They’re there to show undecideds that people actually did have fun last year. Gosh, last year was amazing! You missed out? Get in on the fun this year!

And, of course, we spotlight the games and panels offered so you can see what fun you’ll be having this year. These will start with general posts (“We’ve got fun and games!”) and get more specific programming posts once we hear about them from our captains.[13]

The two weeks before the show: We’re going to mine our guest posts from a few months ago to have guest spotlight days on twitter: five or six facts about each guest per day (as in “Today we’ll be spotlighting RinCon 2014 gaming industry guest James Ernest. #RinConGames”). All of these would be written at least a month ago and scheduled.

During the convention: When the convention hits, we have several scheduled posts ready for twitter, facebook, G+, and other sites announcing scheduled starts of events. All this is set up a week or two before in Hootsuite or some similar application. Then, when the show is over, we start the cycle again with the “We had a great time at RinCon this weekend” post.

During the whole year, we’re also looking at other shows to promote because we are a resource for gamers to find things to do. We’re looking at game releases, because we’re a resource for gamers. If any of our guests or vendors are doing anything interesting, we’re sharing that information with them. SAGA runs monthly gaming events – they get spotlighted on the twitter feed as filler posts. We’d also be checking in with local (and some near-regional) game stores and help to promote what they’re doing in store.

So, that’s how I was planning on doing it. Most of the stuff that’s coming up for the convention and all of the stuff during the convention can be written weeks earlier. With the social media strategy above, we keep our attendees interest and become a resource for non-attendees (with a goal of converting them to paid attendees). For me, the most important thing is we’re posting all throughout the year. People know we’re still alive; people still think of RinCon even when the show isn’t going on. The show becomes thought of as something bigger than just a con in October. It becomes something bigger.

[Image courtesy Carlos A. Smith Photography]

  1. Check out http://snowconmaine.com for more info. []
  2. The convention is now growing again, under newer hands. It did a bit of refocusing and honestly, I can’t be more proud of the show still going on after I left the Tucson area. Check out http://rincongames.com for more info on the convention. []
  3. I’ll try to keep the PR-speak to a minimum. []
  4. OMG, NeonCon was/is great at social media. Even now, nearly two years after NeonCon shut down, the twitter feed is still going on. @NeonCon is a great resource for geek news, still run by Doug Dalton, NeonCon’s “the guy”. Go follow. []
  5. The regional convention, Phoenix ConGames folded the year before we came on the scene. We rented our pipe and drape from them. The closest thing to a regional convention were the Strategicon suite of gaming conventions, but they were smaller than what we were planning for. The closest big gaming convention was KublaCon, based in San Francisco, a 13 hour drive away. []
  6. The big thing we were going to have in that coming year? A movie festival, which would have brought in more attendees. []
  7. More PR-speak. Just be glad I didn’t use the word “guru”. []
  8. That San Diego/Las Vegas/Albuquerque/El Paso line. []
  9. This was before facebook started throttling back the number of users a company/organization’s page would be seen on and way before pay-for-promotion posts. []
  10. We’d use instagram or pintrest these days. []
  11. Each year, we locked the date for the next convention during the current one, so we knew it was going to happen. We had to put down a big chunk of cash on the convention space a few months out or, if someone else wanted our space on our weekend, we would have to pay right when they came in. We were okay doing this because each year we were profitable enough to turn around and run the exact same convention immediately. []
  12. You know in cartoons where they have that cool cactus with the bent arms? They only grow around Tucson. []
  13. Some of the captains in charge of the game runners were, well, simply horrible with submitting the details of what they were planning at our convention. The way it would work is a captain would have game runners submit games to them and then the captain would send them to us to include in the printed book. For some game tracks on some years, this wouldn’t show up until after the con book was published. See the earlier note about needing volunteers. []

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