‘Leveraging informal communications networks’ may not be as snappy a title as social media marketing, but that’s what we did recently when the Beijing Municipal Tourist Board approached us with an interesting communications task.
Having been let down by their appointed PR agency, they asked us to fill (at a fortnight’s notice!) the Dublin Convention Centre with 2,000 guests who would all attend a one-off cultural performance of Chinese theatre and so witness, at first hand, the highly acclaimed Chinese production – The Magical Beijing Tour of Pandas.
We knew that Dubliners would go, providing they knew about it in time.
As the event was by invitation only – each guest had to be sent an invite and given a pre-assigned seat – then using social media would not have been appropriate. Promoting the event via purely social media would simply have created demand that we could not satisfy and so risk destroying, rather than building, closer relationships between China and Ireland (which was the reason behind hosting the event in the first place).
As we had less than a week to fill the auditorium, then we had no time to use traditional marketing tools, such as advertising in the Dublin papers, using PR or even direct mail.
We even briefly considered a telephone-based campaign, but rejected it on the basis that we had no time to source the lists, or the manpower to make the necessary number of calls.
In the event, we opted for a tried and trusted strategy. We phoned our friends and asked them to cascade the information through their own personal communication networks.
In some cases these communications channels were highly formalised. For instance, our friends the Irish heads of communications at IBM, Dell, Yahoo! and HP all circulated the information through their internal communications channels and suggested that their staff contact us.
In some cases, these channels were semi-formal. For instance, we contacted Dublin schools, who in turn circulated the news to the pupils’ parents via their email lists. Secretaries at martial arts clubs and department heads at Irish educational establishments who were interested in Chinese affairs or performing arts did the same thing.
In some cases, these were highly informal. Such as good old fashioned emails to friends of friends who worked in the Irish Government, or in professional bodies.
In all cases, whether formal or informal, they were effective because we reached our target of 1500 acceptances within a matter of days.
The interesting thing to note here is how we made use of an existing communication channel. We made an offer that we knew would appeal to the audience. And we provided content.