Q & A with #ChiHelpsJapan: Social Media for Social Good

On the morning of March 11th, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the news reports of the devastating earthquake in Japan. My immediate thought was, “What can I do?” so I tweeted from my @BriteChicago account and asked if anyone wanted to combine forces and hold a fundraiser. Within minutes, I heard from Sami—a Chicago Eventbrite user very well known for his “tweetups.” Sami had already found a venue and was working on sponsors and donors for a silent auction. By 5pm that day, the event was live and the first ticket had been sold! With just 11 days of planning, #ChiHelpsJapan was a HUGE success, raising over $12,000 for relief efforts. Sami wrote a great post on his personal blog about what inspired him to make a difference, but as planning an event on a “normal” time frame is no small feat, I wanted to ask him some questions on how he uses social media to plan and promote events, as clearly he is an expert!

1. What sparked your interest in social media?

It’s funny, but I only got into it after I heard that Lily Allen was giving away free tickets to some of her Twitter followers and I was looking for a way to get into her concert last minute. It wasn’t until a month or two later that I started going to social media events and meeting people through Twitter and Facebook. I then realized that how great of a tool social media is to interact with a wide audience: from businesses, to people in your community to friends across the world. I then started thinking of ways to bring this connection from online to offline. After all, an online connection is just that—missing the human element.

2. What have you learned in planning your tweetups and other events?

I’ve learned and am still learning a lot. I think the most important thing I have learned is that the stereotype that people online are socially awkward is far from the truth. Often times when people hear about tweetups they assume that everyone will be in a corner using their phone. I admit, we do tweet at the event but by no means are we are antisocial! We’re there to meet and connect with other people and we make sure we do. I’ve also learned that just because you’re on Twitter, it doesn’t mean that you’re someone who works in the tech business. I’ve met people who are professors, lawyers, marketers and every profession in between!

3. In your opinion, what is the best way to get the word out and promote an upcoming event?

Because I host tweetups, the best way to promote it is through Twitter. There are many tools to do so. I make sure I send out tweets about the event during the mornings, afternoons and nights because we all know that not everyone is online at the same time. Using a hashtag is also important so people can follow the conversation about the event, find out who else is going and even follow what’s going on at the tweetup during the event! Besides using it as an event management and ticketing tool, Eventbrite is a great way to promote any event. With very few clicks I can send the event info to my contacts on LinkedIn, import it to create a Facebook event and email it to my contacts. I also schedule out reminders to be sent out few days before the event.

4. What difficulties or challenges have you faced in taking your online personality  into successful “real life” events?

I think, just as anything else you set out to do, it’s very important to not give up on an idea because it doesn’t give you the results you want right away. My first tweetup had only 3 attendees. Now, it’s anywhere from 85 to 250.

5. What advice would you give someone who wanted to organize an event or benefit similar to #ChiHelpsJapan?

When you plan any event it’s important to be you. It’s crucial to be the same person online and offline because there isn’t a bigger downfall than being a certain person online then being someone else when people meet you face-to-face. Don’t worry too much about the details or what could go wrong during the event. You might encounter a problem at any given point of the process but you learn by making mistakes. Never be afraid to experiment with a new theme, venue or reaching out to people for help. You will be amazed at how generous most folks are with their time and knowledge. You can start by asking me!