In part one, Rethink VBS: Plans and Invitations we discussed programming, online planning with volunteers and effective physical and digital invitation tactics. Now we will outline promotion ideas and how to keep people connected after VBS has ended.
PROMOTE, PROMOTE, PROMOTE...
Promotion is vital to any successful gathering. Tons of social tools are available to spread the word about your VBS. Choose the tools that you want to use (and that are relevant to the community you serve), and use them well.
Host a pre-VBS block party. Hold a free outreach event two to four weeks before VBS. Host a barbecue, a carnival with bouncy rides and free food or another event that will provide family fun and encourage people to register. Invite families to register by providing their name, address, phone number and email so you can contact them about VBS and other family events. You might offer door prizes to encourage guests to share their contact information.
Ask organizations in your community to spread the word. Create invitations to hand out at preschools, community centers, neighborhood swimming pools, local clinics and any other place you can think of where families go. Local businesses may be willing to help. Some may even place an invitation in shoppers' bags as they check out. Place one invitation on the store's bulletin board and make sure there are more for families to take home. Consider making placemats with the date, location and other information to use on the tables of local diners and restaurants.
Spread the word with yard signs. Find a local company or one online to create signs for your members to display in their yards for three weeks prior to VBS. Avoid making a generic sign, if possible. Spend the money to create a custom sign for your event. It will have a stronger impact and a higher likelihood of generating a response. Make sure to include the church name, the dates of VBS, a phone number and a URL that people can contact to learn more and register.
Publish engaging content on YouTube and Flickr. Your church needs to have a YouTube channel for videos and Flickr, Instagram or Pinterest accounts for photos. Create an event video to post on Facebook and Twitter and encourage people to share it. Provide a link to last year's VBS photos that show the highlights that will make people want to come this year. It lets people know what to expect.
One word of caution: Make certain you have permission to use the pictures of the children who attended VBS in your video. Give parents who do not want their children photographed or recorded for a video an opportunity to tell you that — and then honor it!
Encourage sharing invitations via Facebook. Facebook's focus is on your friends, colleagues and personal connections. Make it easy for your congregation to spread the word to their friends. Create a Facebook page to keep everyone in the loop and create an event linked to it. Invite everyone in your congregation to "like" the page and encourage them to share it.
Spread the word using Twitter.Twitter focuses on distributing and consuming information. Use your church's Twitter account to promote your event as well as to link to blog articles talking about it. Encourage others in your church to retweet your tweets to let more people know. Create a VBS hashtag. Promote it to help you follow the conversation.
Link to community calendars and event websites. Most local newspapers and radio and TV stations have community calendars online. Find the ones in your area, register your event and include information to direct people to your event site. Also, use social calendars like Upcoming or Meetup.com to make everyone aware of the date.
Tie everything back to your event blog or micro-site. Point all of your promotion back to your central site. Make sure a new visitor can understand what VBS is, when it is and why it is important. Include a strong call to action to register so you can follow up periodically in the weeks and days leading up to the event.
Invite the media. In many towns, the local newspaper and radio and TV stations are looking for local stories. Invite them to your VBS. Develop a press release and then make it special. Create a package that includes a handwritten invitation and a completed craft for the recipient to enjoy. Highlight the special elements, especially a key event or activities that would make good photographs or video content. If your VBS is raising money for a mission, include what the mission is and why you selected it. This can provide a unique angle for news coverage.
Promoting VBS or any other event is not a matter of throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks. It is being intentional as you use the tools with which your community connects and creating a drumbeat of communication leading to your event.
KEEP THE CONNECTION GOING
VBS is not over when participants sing the final song and go home. This is the time to turn a weeklong event into a lifelong connection. Request social media and email contact information for both children and parents so you can stay connected. Send them a thank-you note, provide updates, invite questions and promote friending or following of your social media accounts.
Send a thank-you note. People attending VBS or any other event at your church are giving a gift of their time and energy. Send an electronic or handwritten thank-you note or postcard. Include a specific invitation to engage with your church by visiting Sunday morning worship or attending the next family event.
Post a highlight video. Turn the pictures you took at VBS and into a two- to three-minute highlight video reel. Show some of the key moments. Make sure to have good music in the soundtrack. Say "thank you" and create a strong call to action at the end. Post the video on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter and include it in your thank-you email. Again, be certain you have permission to use the children's images.
Share photos and videos. Share photos via your Flickr, Instagram or Pinterest account and post videos on your YouTube channel or other channels related to the event. Tag each video with relevant key words to increase your search-engine ranking. Post key two- to five-minute videos from the event. Be certain they are focused.
Keep communicating. Add people's information to your email list and keep communicating. Use Constant Contact or other top email service providers for churches to provide a relevant newsletter and other information to attendees. Use your list for the next event, and invite them.
IT'S THE BEGINNING, NOT THE END
Good communications can turn an "OK" event into a significant outreach effort. It takes time to plan, invite, promote, execute and connect with others, but isn't that the goal? Aren't we trying to connect with others?
Eric Seiberling is a digital nomad who blogs about church effectiveness, marketing and social media at www.flockology.com. He is also a consultant assisting Fortune 500 companies and non-profits to facilitate change using a people-centric approach. Originally published April 2013.