How we are using Facebook events at Bradford Council

We have had some success with Facebook events at Bradford Council recently. I’d like to share with you what we’ve been doing and some of the things that we’ve learnt.

For several years I had mostly disregarded Facebook events. The number of people ‘going to’ a Facebook event rarely translated into people turning up to the actual event, and a lot of people ignored all invites anyway.

But Facebook events have quietly become more relevant again. Events have become so useful for our City Park Facebook Page that we have refocused our content priorities in favour of events. Facebook events now account for three quarters of all our posts on the City Park Facebook Page.

While you can create events as an individual, or in a Facebook Group, all our recent events have started life on Facebook Pages. Here are a few things we’ve done that you might like to try.

Encourage people to subscribe to event alerts

As the admin of a Facebook Page, you can’t invite people who like your Page to an event. But you can encourage people to subscribe to your Page’s events. If someone subscribes to your Facebook events, they will get a notification every time you add a new one near them.

The Facebook Page for Bradford’s City Park has 10,000 likes, but just as importantly it has 1,000 event subscribers. That’s 1,000 people who will get a notification whenever a new event is added.

Considering how hard it can be to get organic Facebook content into people’s newsfeeds, it is a real advantage to be able to notify people every time an event is created.

We have also stopped automatically publishing new events to our timeline and to our followers’ newsfeeds. Our event subscribers will get an immediate alert for new events, but we have control over the scheduling of how new events are shared publicly to people who like the Page. This helps us spread out our Page posts, but also adds an extra incentive for people to subscribe to our events alerts. Subscribers will find out about new events a day or two earlier than people who simply like our Facebook Page.

How to change whether new Events will be published to your Page timeline
How to change whether new events will be published to your Page timeline

You can also use other channels to encourage people to subscribe to your Facebook events. You could include a subscription link in newsletters, blog posts or on Twitter. Our City Park Twitter account has this Tweet pinned to the top of our profile:

As well as promoting events subscriptions through other channels, we have also promoted specific Facebook events in other channels too. For example, our blog post about events remembering the Battle of the Somme included links to several Facebook events.

Add one event to multiple Facebook Pages

You can add any public Facebook event to your Facebook Page. This is useful if you have multiple Facebook Pages and an event is relevant to more than one, or if you are working on an event in partnership with another organisation. This feature avoids the problem of event duplication.

Subscribers to each Page’s events will get a notification regardless of whether that Page created the event or imported it.

You can only add an existing event to your Page on the Facebook website, not through any of Facebook’s apps. If you click on the three dots at the top right of an event, you will see the option to ‘Add to Page…’.

Add Facebook event to page
Add an existing Facebook event to your Facebook Page

Adding events to different Facebook Pages has been useful for us. Several Bradford Council owned Pages regularly create events, for example City Park, Bradford Museums and Galleries and Bradford Libraries. I will regularly add events from those Pages to the main Bradford Council Page. Similarly, if a local organisation creates an event for something they are doing in City Park, this gets added to the City Park Facebook Page.

You will also see in the above screenshot the option to copy an event. This is a useful time saver when you’re adding a series of similar events on different dates.

Potential for huge organic reach from events

If your event hits the spot with people, your organic reach can snowball, and this can result in more people ultimately attending your event.

Every time someone engages with an event to say they are ‘interested’ or ‘going’, their response, and a link to your event, will appear in their friends’ newsfeeds.

In October 2016, Bradford City Park hosted a spectacular light show called Forest of Light. We created a Forest of Light Facebook event approximately six weeks before the event. Within the first 24 hours, this event had reached 130,000 people. That was virtually all down to event subscribers responding and inviting their friends.

By the weekend of the event itself, the figures for the Forest of Light Facebook event were quite staggering:

  • 589,000 people reached
  • 13,000 people interested
  • 5,700 people going
  • 3,300 people invited

Those numbers were all reached organically. We didn’t spend a penny on Facebook advertising for this. It all started with those 1,000 events subscribers.

Think of Facebook events as temporary Facebook Groups

Facebook events share some of the discussion features of Facebook Groups. In fact, a Facebook event does sometimes feel just like a temporary Facebook Group.

Anybody who is attending, or “interested” in, an event can post text, a photo or video to the discussion tab of an event. But unlike a Facebook Group, in which only individual people can contribute using their profiles, your Facebook Page can post content to the event discussion as well.

In the days building up to Forest of Light in Bradford, there were so many questions in the event discussion about what time the event started and finished that we edited the event title to include the hours. This is despite the details clearly saying what time it was on. This does seem one flaw of events. Depending on how somebody ends up in your event, particularly on the mobile app, the event details are often not easy for people to spot.

Another problem you might come across with discussions in a Facebook event is that you may not always get notifications when people post something in the event discussion. So the discussion tab can be a hotbed for spam and unanswered questions unless you keep a regular eye on it. Facebook does seem to have started providing discussion notifications for Page admins recently though, so this should become less of a problem.

Post new content directly into your events to stimulate engagement

Posting directly into an event (posting as your Facebook Page) can help raise awareness of the event and stimulate engagement. Anything you post into the event will appear in the newsfeed of people who like your Page, just as any other post from your Page will.  They don’t need to have already expressed interest in the event. The screenshot below shows a photo shared by by Bradford Council in the Sneaky Peeks event.

Photo shared directly into Facebook event
If a Page shares content directly into an event, this content will be shown in the newsfeed of people who like the Page

Also, anybody who is ‘attending’ or ‘interested’ in the event will get a notification about content you post directly into your event, regardless of whether they like your Page.  This can give you a larger organic reach than for a normal Page post, as you are not simply relying on Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm.

Your Page’s posts into an event don’t actually appear on your Page’s timeline, even though they do appear in people’s newsfeeds. And a photo or a video posted directly into an event will not appear in your Page’s photo or video library. This is worth bearing in mind. It can be useful to post lots of content relating to an event without it dominating your Page’s timeline. But at the same time, if you want to use this content again in the future, you won’t find it in your Page’s photo library or video library.

After the Forest of Light event in City Park, I published a video on the Bradford Council Page that would be permanently visible on our Page. We then shared the video (posting as the City Park Page) in the Forest of Light event. Both posts had high levels of engagement and reached thousands of people.

As well as posting existing photos and videos into an event, you can now also use Facebook Live to broadcast to all Event attendees.

Monitoring and measuring your activity in events is not easy. If you use a third party social media dashboard to monitor comments and questions, you may miss activity in an event. And although event metrics do appear in your Page Insights, the metrics are fairly basic, and don’t show activity on your individual posts in events.

Making decisions based on Facebook event responses

We use the level of engagement in Facebook events to judge how popular an event is likely to be, and plan accordingly. In the Forest of Light Facebook event we posted a poll asking which day people were planning to be there. We got over 500 responses to that poll, clearly showing that Saturday was likely to be the day with most people attending. So, our events team could then plan for that being the busiest day.

In June 2016, we held a vigil in a Bradford for the victims of the Orlando shooting. Within hours of us creating a Facebook event for the vigil, the number of people who were ‘interested’ or ‘going’ prompted us to move the planned site of the vigil to accommodate more people.  That Facebook event ended up reaching nearly 60,000 people. Most Facebook posts on our Page don’t even get one tenth of that figure. Sure enough, the vigil ended up being well attended.

Add formatting to text in event posts

You might also be able to use markdown add formatting to your text when you post in an event. The above screenshot of the Law Court photo shows that I was able to make text bold and add a hyperlink in the text. I’m not sure this feature has been rolled out to all users yet. But if you do see that option, it’s worth experimenting with.

The future of Facebook events – a standalone app

Facebook recently announced a standalone events app. It is unlikely Facebook will force all users into the new app like they did with Messenger. It is more likely that the dedicated events app will be optional, as with the groups app.

The ability to sync existing calendars into the Facebook events app could draw people in.  And if the new app can give people push notifications when their Facebook events are due to take place, this could help increase conversions from simply being interested in a Facebook event to actually turning up.

Over to you

Have you found Facebook events useful? Have you anything else to add you think I should have included? I’ve not talked about using events in Facebook Groups, although that’s probably what we will try next, for instance events for neighbourhood forums.  If you have had success with Group events or anything else I’ve not mentioned, leave a comment below or find me on Twitter.

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albfreeman

I am a digital communications and marketing officer for Bradford Council and a musician.

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