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Blog: Expanding reach with online events

Blog by Shelley Johnson, Head of Marketing at NewcastleGateshead Initiative


In March 2020, NewcastleGateshead Initiative were among the first event organisers to have to cancel a live event due to the Covid-19 outbreak. With the North East England Tourism Awards due to take place on Tuesday 24 March, it was becoming clear earlier in the month that hosting a gathering for 400+ wouldn’t be the responsible thing to do.


Why did we choose to host an event on Facebook?

The disappointment in our office was clear – a lot of work had gone in to managing the awards process and planning the event over the previous 12 months. We knew that we needed to announce the winners of the awards as the UK was dealing with the growing impact of the pandemic, not least because the regional winners go through to the VisitEngland Awards for Excellence judging process. We could have issued a press release but that would bypass the excitement of an awards event all together – so we looked to our options for giving the award ceremony an online home.

At first we considered filming a behind-closed-doors ceremony, live streamed to our audience (this was before we knew that we’d soon all be working from home), we thought about Zoom so we could virtually let our shortlisted businesses in the room but we settled on Facebook – a place where everyone could join in. And they did! We saw a number of businesses connecting via Zoom, Skype or other services while watching our event from their homes, we saw people dressed in their finest and others toasting with a glass of fizz. The picture above shows the team from Sage Gateshead celebrating their award wins.

We chose to post a series of 30+ videos over the course of an hour. The videos included a welcome, words from our sponsors, announcements using animated words and images and to-camera notes from the judges. We invited the shortlisted businesses via email and phone and also set up a Facebook event so we could extend the invitation further.

What results did we see?

Using Facebook reach and engagement insights, we estimate that 1,000 people came together to celebrate the quality and diversity of the North East England tourism industry at the virtual event. At a very difficult time for the industry, this was lovely to see. It was encouraging to hear from so many commenting on our posts and sharing them. On the day, the reach of the event was over 60,000 and we had 11,867 post engagements. For a page with 700 followers, that’s not bad!

We found that people were watching the videos. On one post we had 1,560 10-seconds+ views. Our audience was keen to hear insight into the Large Visitor Attraction of the Year award.

Things to consider if you’re running a similar event

Resource on the day

If possible have one person to ‘play’ the event (they’re in charge of making sure attendees are seeing the event you planned), have at least one person engaging with the attendees (liking and replying to their comments and being prepared to moderate) and another person looking after other social media channels. Of course you can schedule posts on Facebook but I still couldn’t help checking that each one was posted in the right order throughout the event – the event would have fallen down if they didn’t.

Share on various social media channels

We posted the winner announcements, just as text with an image, on Twitter too. We scheduled these in advance to go a few minutes after the announcements on Facebook. We had really good engagement on here too. As mentioned above, it would help to have one person engaging with people on other social media channels as the activity is quite intense when an event takes place within an hour.

Use your extra social media reach as an opportunity to grow your audience

That’s a simple one but if people are liking your posts, invite them to like your page.

Video can often be done in-house

If you have some budget then an event production company will be able to advise on platform, run the event for you and produce your videos. We had zero budget to play with for our virtual event but our marketing and communications manager Deb Bell devised the format and created all our videos using PowerPoint, text, images and smart phone video contributions from the judges and facilitators.

Hybrid events

The move was made to allow the awards to take place during lockdown but the new ‘venue’ didn’t let us down. Looking ahead, we might choose to run our Tourism Awards as a hybrid event. The virtual element extends the audience for the event beyond the shortlisted businesses who attend the ceremony and for future events, we can hopefully incorporate elements of the live ceremony into the virtual piece with live or almost live video.


You can see the posts from the event here: www.facebook.com/pg/NorthEastTourismAwards/posts/


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