All Articles Marketing Social Media Live from Social Media Week: How Comedy Central used social tools to promote the Stewart/Colbert Rally

Live from Social Media Week: How Comedy Central used social tools to promote the Stewart/Colbert Rally

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Steve Grimes and Don Steele learned about Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s “Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear” at about the same time viewers of the “The Daily Show” and the “The Colbert Report” did — about six weeks before the Oct. 30 rally was scheduled to go down on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

But unlike the average viewer, Grimes and Steele are marketing executives at Comedy Central and MTV Networks, respectively, and they’re the ones who had to figure out how to organize and promote the event.

“Early on, we figured there’d be tens of the thousands of people … If you’d told me there’d be 50,000, I would have said ‘great!'” said Steele at a Social Media Week panel discussion on Tuesday. In the end, he noted, Facebook proved to be a pretty accurate predictor of attendance, especially when one factors in the thousands of people who tried to attend but were unable to fit onto the packed-to-capacity sections of the Mall the rally was being held on.

The rally attracted more than a quarter of a million people and was the largest event check-in on Foursquare to date. But six weeks out, no permits had been filed, no guests had been booked and the two hosts had only the vaguest ideas about what the event would look like. While the creative aspects of the rally were being hammered out by the shows’ hosts and writers, Grimes and Steele used social tools to help organize and promote the event.

Promoting awareness of an event hosted by two popular television shows may not sound that difficult, but the pair said the real challenge was in making sure potential attendees understood basic logistical details about the event.

“Local news will often warn people the day before [events] that traffic is going to be bad and there won’t be parking and such and that can scare people away. … We could tell people, ‘Here’s where you park,here’s what you do,” Steele said.

The pair said the lists of attendees they built through Facebook and other social platforms helped them create a Comedy Central fan community that they can use in the future when promoting new shows — and that’s changed the way the network looks at social technology.

“Social is now a part of show development … Not just, how can social media promote a show, but how can social media be a part of the show from the beginning,” Steele said.

The pair, along with Minassian Media President Craig Minassian, who helped Grimes and Steele coordinate logistics on the ground, offered three tips for event organizers looking to use social tools to promote events that aren’t being backed by two popular television shows.

  • Don’t try to do it all yourself. Take stock of what you need to get done and then look to form strategic partnerships to accomplish those goals. The team worked with Flickr to integrate photo-sharing features into the event website and mobile application. and it also looked to software developers who’d worked with major music festivals to help develop an app.
  • Understand what you’re promoting. Minassian notes that early on it was difficult to explain the rally to people who were expecting it to be a political event, rather than a comedy event. It’s important to carefully define your event and give potential attendees a clear understanding of what the event offers them.
  • Don’t assume you know what sites your attendees use. Social media marketers are often told to concentrate on the channel their audience is most active on, but Grimes and Steele say that even organizers shouldn’t assume they know what channel their fans will use to look info on the event. Early on the team was approached by, asking if they wanted help setting up satellite events in other cities for fans who couldn’t make it to Washington D.C. The team members initially declined, but then changed their mind when they saw how many fans were asking for permission to hold their own rallies.

Have you ever used social tools to promote an event? What did you learn from that experience?

Image credit: geopaul, via iStockphoto