To truly understand how to promote a hackathon, we need to educate the public on what a hackathon is. The term hackathon might be familiar to most in the tech industry, but if you're just getting started, this will help you dive into the world of collaborative thinking. This new trend in the world of tech is sparking interest in the minds of students, new programmers, designers, and developers all over the globe.
So what is it? Well, a hackathon is, for the most part, an event hosted by technology companies who want to collaborate with different developers, designers, or students through a competition-style event where the goal is to complete a project in a short period, sometimes 24hs, with no sleep. The outcome can help up-and-coming programmers make a name for themselves, and of course, a flashy first place prize. However, a hackathon can also be an internal event where a company can shine a light on a new product and promote new ideas to help its employees advance quicker. There are many layers to a hackathon, and this guide goes in-depth for a deeper understanding!
You might be thinking, "so I would be basically promoting a competition?" no, this isn't your regular: post a flyer on Facebook and wait for people with minimum requirements to apply. There is a complexity when it comes to a hackathon; the participants need to add value to the competition, and getting word of the event to the right group of individuals takes some time.
Ready to compose your own hackathon?
What are the best promotional tactics?
Rule number one: stand out from the crowd! Most of the time, the target audience of a hackathon is students, developers, and startups. This group of people is constantly getting contacted by outreach agencies, companies, and campaigns that might be irrelevant to them. The point is, you don't want your hackathon to fall into that category.
Let's begin by defining the type of hackathon we want to bring to life, the prime audience, and the objective. The “why?” is essential, not only to your company but to the participants. Why should they apply, and why is this different from any other pitching event. The big question these possible participants will be asking themselves is: "What are the benefits of applying to this event?" But before you can answer this question, you need to lock down the perfect target audience for the hackathon; once this is done, your promotion plan will have a direct impact.
Let's organize ourselves:
- Demographic: what will be the age, location, and professions of the participants
- Benefits: why are the participants going to click on that "apply now" button
- Location: will this be an online, onsite, or hybrid event (both online and onsite)
Now we know exactly where we're aiming towards, the following steps will demonstrate how well we're good at hitting the target.
Press Release, Social Media, and Engagement
Let's tackle a press release
It's time to inform the media that you are conducting a hackathon through a well-written and well-targeted press release. This press release should include everything your corresponding audience needs to know: timeline, goals, benefits, theme, and the prizes you're offering. Try not to give every detail away because we want our readers to go straight to your event's landing page!
If this isn't your first time working with media agencies, you may know that you must tailor your content to fit their audience. But, if you're new to the game, pay close attention to this part. Journalists and bloggers will not be advertising the event for you unless the content in the press release fits their criteria. So this is your shot to display your event in a conveying manner and engage with the audience in a personal but formal way; you don't want to make your audience feel like they are registering for a corporate event.
What should your focus be when writing a press release for a hackathon?
Let's think about engagement: your hackathon needs to have a sense of originality, right? Why else would you be conducting it if someone else already did it? What innovative technology are you trying to drive forward? Try bringing your readers into a new environment.
Maybe you're a company that wants to conduct an annual hackathon to help your brand go the extra mile, resonate with a larger audience, and help you find the exact talent you've been seeking. The focus here should be your target audience; for example, if this was a student challenge, the press release should concentrate on degree programs and universities.
Remember that a press release has a community feel; try targeting journalists, influences, and bloggers that will resonate with the type of hackathon you create. These individuals will be glad to work with you for upcoming press releases if done right.
Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and Instagram are your best friends!
It's time to tell a story with the help of these social media platforms. As most of you know, every platform has a unique way of broadcasting media, and each has a stronger audience than the other. Taking that into account, the shareable content should be modified to match these platforms' criteria and strengths.
This platform only allows for 280 characters per post, meaning this is not the right platform for transmitting every single detail of your hackathon. But that's the fun part, small glimpses of your event will allow readers to feel curious enough to click on the link.
When composing your tweets, a relevant hashtag should always be included and any important handles. For example, if prominent corporate leaders are sponsoring the hackathon, tag their Twitter and let their names do the marketing. Twitter is big on communities; use hashtags that identify with your event attracting the right people.
Don't be afraid to post 3-4 times a day; engagement and relaying the message are the priority.
With Facebook, you have more control of what you can post. A great way to utilize this platform for events is by creating a fully dedicated page for the hackathon. With this page, you'll relay important information to the participants. In addition, you can create a public event page to attract traffic and awareness about the event and a private one for the participants you have already admitted.
One daily post will suffice; make sure that the post has all the necessary information to convey your message: timeline, goal, benefits, and prizes! Also, a banner or image should be included and a link to the event's landing page.
If you already have a big community on Linkedin, this platform will help you find stronger candidates for your hackathon. Prioritize using Linkedin when your hackathon involves startups; most startups are looking for the next event to increase their target audience. Remember to use hashtags and handles for more traffic.
With Instagram, you can easily monitor your online activity, which will help you record data for your next event. Furthermore, it is encouraged to have a verified hashtag for your hackathon to increase and keep an eye out for the type of traffic it is generating.
The banners or images you are posting on this site should represent your hackathon in an aesthetically pleasing manner. Include the most critical information on the image: dates, baseline, name, and prizes (if applicable).
When it comes to actual posts, once a day will do the trick; however, posting on your story multiple times a day will quickly relay the message. Constantly check your direct message request for FAQs from potential participants!
Persistence is key!
Now that your hackathon is in the eye of the public, it is time to contact your target audience directly. The saying "quality over quantity" is the only code you should live by; a participant who extensively fits the criteria will elevate your event.
What if my target audience is startups?
If you're targeting startups, then look within your community. Contact incubators and accelerators; the goal of these organizations is for the startups they are representing to succeed and boost their reach in the fastest way possible. Remember that both of these businesses are getting approached by multiple companies trying to get in touch with their startups. That's where a cold email that grasps their attention comes to play. We want the startups to believe that it is a privilege to join the hackathon because of the high visibility and potential for partnership. Those two key components are what incubators and accelerators are looking for.
What if my target audience is students?
Contact University professors that are affiliated with the theme of the event and could help get the word around to high-quality participants. When contacting such a group of people, it is critical to keep in mind that they are constantly being notified of numerous things. Don't let your email be just another spam; try building a relationship with the University and the corresponding professors. A visit to the campus can further the professional alliance and become a long-term asset.
Get in touch with universities that have already participated in multiple hackathons or events that fall into the same category. Besides universities, community colleges are also very fond of getting their students to partake in such events, don't overlook them. The type of departments you should be reaching out to are, Physics, Computer Science, Design, Engineering, Mathematics, and Business Studies. Although many other departments might also fit the criteria, these are a great start to spread word of mouth throughout the campus.
Expand through webinars
Although webinars are used to teach the audience about your business and new aspects of it, hosting one can extend your networking opportunities. You can use this tool for advertising your event by talking about previous events that your company was involved in. As previously mentioned, hackathons are taking over the world, but many individuals are uninformed of their potential. Continue to bring awareness to its benefits and why it would not be a waste of time to participate in.
Educating the public will go a long way for your business.
The right mentor will do your bidding
Contacting the right mentors will help you not only have a successful event but expand your pool of participants. How? Most mentors have already participated in a hackathon as mentors or participants, so they might know some individuals who could benefit from joining. In addition, these individuals are always part of a community that could be interested in spreading awareness about the event.
A great tip is tagging these mentors on Linkedin, stating they will be mentoring the event, and having them share it on their page for their connectors to see. This form of direct marketing will narrow down your niche.
Track your results
Make sure to get the metrics of every form of marketing tool you used to promote your hackathon. After your first event, you will start to realize which methods were critical in drawing traffic to your landing page and increasing engagement.
Analyzing your conversion rate can be essential when looking at the quality of startups or students that applied to the program. For example, if 100 individuals submitted an application and only 20 of them fit the requirements and you need 50 for a successful event, try to have a marketing effort of 300 submissions.
Keep in mind every event is different and needs a unique approach.
The most crucial tactic is knowing the purpose of your event, what you want out of it, and how it will benefit the people joining. Once you know this - you will be able to understand which of the methods above are going to be the most effective.
Always note that your employer branding is on the line; you can get the awareness you've been hoping for or, well, let's end it on a good note.