Award-winning association shares social media secrets

After winning 'Event of the Year', the UK freelancer's association, PCG, reveals how its marketing campaign reach 6.5 million people and become a top trending story on Twitter.

PCG recently won the Trade Association Forum’s 2012 award for ‘Event of the Year’ for National Freelancers Day (NFD), which was held in November 2011. The event included a live evening lecture in London, 16 expert webinars and a virtual quiz.

Exactly, 341,022 people were reached by the event’s hashtag on Twitter via 1,497 tweets. The PCG website received 10,000 hits because of the online webinars and, at 11am, National Freelancers Day was the top trending story on Twitter in the UK. So how did they do it?

The webinars

On National Freelancer’s Day, 16 20-minute webinars were launched on the association’s website where visitors could view the webinars on demand from that day until 31 December 2011 for free. Tim Bradburn of Blue Cricket Consultants, who worked closely with PCG’s in-house team, said: "The webinars were aimed specifically at our freelance audiences and were designed to provide practical, actionable advice.

"We invited 16 speakers, a mix of high profile experts and seasoned freelancers, to provide tutorials on key freelance skills and were grouped into four subject areas. It was valuable educational content that gave a tangible reason to visit the website and to recommend it to others.

"In combination with all the other elements, it fuelled discussion across all social media channels and spread ideas around best practice in freelancing."

The quiz


Freelancers were invited to participate in a fun online quiz in the weeks before the event to test their knowledge on running a freelance business. A number of supporting organisations hosted the quiz on their websites, fuelling the viral effect as people shared their scores via social media.

The quiz focused freelancers on key business issues and highlighted any critical gaps in their knowledge. It also acted as a ‘save the date’ teaser for the event by releasing it in the weeks before with ‘National Freelancers Day’ branding and it also helped to motivate freelancers to download PCG’s Guide to Freelancing in order to spread best practice in the sector.

Bradburn explains: "We created a widget that allowed the quiz to be embedded on any website. We then approached a range of organisations who shared PCG’s goal of spreading best practice in the freelance sector. These partner organisations hosted and promoted the quiz to show their support for National Freelancers Day.

"Visitors were asked nine questions to find out how much they knew about the business of freelancing. The final score told people if they were a Grandmaster, Ninja, Apprentice or Novice.

"Although the quiz tackled weighty business issues such as tax, regulation and compliance, it was framed in a fun way, using accessible language and light-hearted images to make it engaging – as a result people were quick to discuss their scores and share the quiz across all social media.

"The quiz was circulated to an audience of 200,000 freelancers outside of PCG’s direct network, hugely increasing awareness of the forthcoming event."

The live event

"The live event was the centre-piece of the day," says Bradburn. "It was important to make the keynotes and panel discussions available to the widest possible audience – this is why it was streamed live."

All sessions were streamed and remained on the website for months after the event so that new and returning visitors could view it at any point. To view the live stream online was free of charge, but the fee to attend the live event was £20 for members and £30 for non-members.

Bradburn explains: "NFD was about the spread of ideas, not the revenue. Costs were covered out of the overall event budget. The ROI comes from member satisfaction (post-event PCG had the highest member retention rate in its history) as well as from the surge in new members as more people become aware of PCG’s efforts to promote the sector and create a better working environment for freelancers."

Social media: how to encourage Tweets

The hashtag on Twitter was promoted early on and used consistently in all press releases, web and marketing copy in the run-up to NFD. "The official hashtag allowed us to aggregate the Twitter conversations on the homepage, to give a sense of the whole story by displaying the dialogue between people all in one place," says Tim. "This further helped to highlight key concepts and issues as people debate them online – it gets people thinking, even if they disagree with what is being said by someone else. The hashtag also provides a tracking mechanism to obtain an independent audit of the overall reach."

So how do you encourage people to Tweet? "Constant engagement with followers on our main account @insidepcg, as well our more specialised accounts @FM_Mag and @PCG_Policy was key. Personal accounts of the team members involved were also used to engage in Twitter dialogue.

"We hired a ‘live tweet’ specialist network called Amplified to provide live Twitter coverage. This was a group of active Tweeters with a loyal following and a strong personal interest in the subject matter, which made it credible. They passionately engaged with the Twitter community before, during and after the event."

The 16 webinar experts were very active and influential on Twitter and joined in the conversation. The PR team obtained the support of high profile business and political figures who believed in the goals of the event. Many of these were very vocal on social media, which drew other celebrities into the fold. The top 20 most influential Tweeters talking about the day had half a million followers between them.

PCG press releases alerted all the key journalists to the event, many of whom commented via their personal Twitter accounts. Traditional PR activities worked in parallel – the first result was a mention on the BBC’s Today programme at 6am, which fuelled activity across all social networks. Overall there was wide national and regional coverage in press, radio and online.

"All of this working together created a snowball effect, resulting in NFD becoming the top trending story in the UK – the most important result being that key freelance issues were being discussed up and down the country – extending the debate far beyond the event’s own content channels," says Bradburn.

Podcasts and Youtube

An animated short film was posted on PCG’s YouTube channel and a podcast from provocative business author Dan Pink was placed on iTunes. The goal was to maximise the content across a wide range of channels, creating maximum shareability. The main goal of the event was to generate the spread of ideas – these additional channels helped to create an event that took place across the whole of the internet and not just on the event website. "We made sure every bit of content was consistently branded as National Freelancers Day, making it easy for people to recognise each piece of content as being part of the overall theme, wherever they might happen to stumble across it," says Bradburn. "Each element also had a strong call to action to visit the website and sign-up for news so that we could continue the relationship further down the line."

Special publications

Distributing 15,000 copies of PCG’s flagship magazine to commuters at busy London rail stations was part of the overall strategy of integrated educational content working in tandem across a wide range of media, meaning that certain people might come across particular concepts more than once, in different formats, throughout the day.

"Commuters represent the broadest end of the audience we were aiming to engage. Articles in the magazine were designed to build an overall picture of the future of work and the emergence of flexible working as a force to be reckoned with. Again, it served the goal of filtering key ideas through society as a whole," says Bradburn.


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