Susanne Rea saw how social media propelled an event to raise money for polio eradication, and figured she could use the same tools to encourage Rotary clubs around the world to hold similar fundraising meals. To date, clubs and districts have raised over $1 million for Rotary's polio eradication campaign through more than 600 dining events.
"At the peak of our registrations, it became an almost around-the-clock commitment," says Rea, a member of the Rotary Club of Cairns Sunrise in Queensland, Australia. "Social media really gave our project momentum."
In early January, Rea consulted her friend Mukesh Malhotra, a member of the Rotary Club of Hounslow, Greater London, England, and a past governor of District 1140, about her idea to encourage clubs to hold a meal to celebrate Rotary's anniversary on 23 February and benefit the polio eradication campaign. Their clubs agreed on a joint project, which they called the World's Greatest Meal, to spread the word. A Facebook page was launched, then a website, and a video was created for YouTube. As a result, hundreds of individual clubs promoted their own meal events through their Facebook pages.
What Rea did for her event, you can do for yours; all it takes is a little bit of social media know-how. We consulted several Rotary members with the right sort of expertise and came up with this list of "must-do's":
1. Create a page for your event on Facebook.
If you're not using Facebook yet, find someone in your club to serve as page administrator, and follow the easy steps at Facebook.com.
When creating an event page, add some news before inviting friends. Keep the text short and snappy, bearing in mind that social media is designed to entertain. Avoid Rotary jargon and abbreviations. You want your page to sound like what you would say to a friend who doesn't know anything about Rotary.
You can also download Rotary visuals for your page from the Brandcenter (My Rotary login required).
2. Use active photos that show people doing things.
Photos of active people having fun will generate the excitement you want to portray far better than check-passing photos or group shots. Get up close for compelling portraits. Five photos provide a good start for a Facebook post or gallery. You can tag people in the photos so they appear on their timeline, but don't go overboard.
3. Use Twitter and hashtags often.
Rotarian Rich Lalley, who manages social media campaigns for District 6440 in suburban Chicago, explains why Twitter is absolutely essential.
"Every reporter in the world uses Twitter; they are addicted to it, and use it constantly to get story ideas," he says. "Why would you not want to use it?"
Hashtags are a way to group social media posts on Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest, Facebook, and other social networking platforms. A hashtag is created by putting "#" in front of a word.
Using one or two hashtags per post makes your posts visible to anyone who shares your interest. For example, Rotary is using #ricon15 to amplify our message and generate enthusiasm about the Rotary International Convention in São Paulo in 2015. And the hashtags #endpolio and #WorldPolioDay built excitement about polio eradication and Rotary's live-streamed event on World Polio Day, 24 October.
Find more pointers on using hashtags.
4. Get all members involved in social media.
Social media works as a public relations tool because likes, shares, and comments spread the original message beyond the creator's immediate network and into the networks of friend's friends. It's much like a stone skipping across a pond: Each bounce produces new ripples. Every member needs to play a role in sharing posts.
5. Spend a little money on a Facebook ad.
Facebook has made changes over the years that limit the number of people who automatically see your posts. In the past, Lalley explains, posts would be seen by 60 to 80 percent of the people in your network. "Today, you are lucky if 8 percent of your network sees any of your posts," he says.
The good news, Lalley says, is that an investment of as little as $25 to $50 can boost your reach significantly. For example, if your club is planning a 5K race, you can take out an ad that targets people who live a certain distance from your community and who are runners, and reach several thousand people.
Once you have set up account information with Facebook, you need only click on the Boost Post button that appears on many of your posts to create an ad.
"If you want people to see your post or if you want to target people who have an interest in your event, a Facebook ad is really an inexpensive way to get results" Lalley notes.