Rotary Embraces Social Walls for Events

“We Wanted to Create an Event in Which Attendees Felt a Part of the Happenings”

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Rotary Pacific Northwest PETS event audience and speaker screen

Rotary clubs go back more than 100 years. But its lengthy history is not in the least keeping the international organisation from adopting new technologies. Rotary clubs around the world have begun using social media to enhance their everyday work and events. And many have embraced social walls as well — among them Rotary Pacific Northwest.

Rotary Pacific Northwest encompasses nine Rotary districts in the U.S. and Canada. The multidistrict Rotary zone has been using social walls for multiple events this year. Among them was the Presidents-Elect Training Seminar (PETS), an annual training meeting preparing Rotary club presidents for their upcoming year on the job.

We talked to Michelle O’Brien, Public Image Coordinator for Rotary Zone 24W, about how Rotary Pacific Northwest has been using, how members have reacted to social walls, and how the organisation is planning to use social walls in the future.

Michelle O’Brien

Michelle O’Brien

Public Image Coordinator for Rotary Zone 24W

Could you tell us more about how Rotary Pacific Northwest uses social walls?

Rotary International, as a global organization, has embraced social media, and we were (regionally) looking for a vehicle in which we could actively engage our attendees and make the event more exciting and interactive. In other words, we wanted to create an event in which they FELT part of the happenings, rather than just seeing speakers on stage.

We had previously used the app at our Zone Conference in Montreal. That multi-day event had approximately 400+ attendees from Alaska, Pacific Northwest, Canada, and the NE United States.

The app was featured on big screens around the plenary session (breakfast, lunch and dinner), and attendees could insert their own photos via social media. The response was tremendous.

We then used again at the Pacific NW PETS event, which had over 800 attendees. We used the same strategy of multiple screens around the venue, and the results were even more interactive.

A hall with a stage at the front. There are round tables set up around the room, with white tablecloths and dinnerware. Chairs around each table. At the front of the hall, next to the stage, is a screen showing a social media wall. The social wall has some posts up — selfies, etc. There are only a few people in the room at this moment, at the front, bustling around the stage.
One of the social walls at the Rotary Pacific Northwest PETS event. The hall for the plenary sessions featured multiple screens like the one pictured.

How did the social wall help connect attendees during the event?  

If you have an event, you need to CONNECT with your attendees. We found that most of the attendees at both events embraced the app and readily hashtagged our event. To us, this was a plus in that it virally promoted our event via social media beyond just our existing followers.

Moreover, our experience has been that people LOVE to see themselves on the screens that are featured. As soon as the attendees got the concept of how their photos instantaneously got up there, they were hooked.

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How did you motivate attendees to use the hashtag?

We pre-promoted the use of the hashtag via social media channels, but more importantly, sent folks around the room on the first day taking photos, very quickly explaining the idea, and hashtagging the event.

When people saw THEIR photos on the screen mere moments after the picture had been taken, they joined in the fun. This happened at both events.

A big screen at the front of a room, showing a social media wall with posts and selfies from attendees.
Once attendees of the PETS event knew about the social wall and how to use it, they got really into it and were excited to see their own posts show up on the social wall.

You published ads from your vendors via the social wall. How did you set that up?

Screenshot of a social media wall for the hashtag #RotaryPNWPETS. The wall shows posts by attendees, selfies, etc. but also features posts advertising vendors other conferences, etc. mixed in with the classic social media posts.
The social wall for the Rotary Pacific Northwest PETS event showing multiple ads Michelle O’Brien set up for vendors and sponsors.

I designed ads on and scheduled them on our Facebook page to be published during times when we knew we would have the wall live. So that was content that automatically happened, and we were able to deliver reports to our vendors on exact times and frequencies in which their ads appeared. Ultimately, this gave them more ROI as a sponsor/vendor and increased our retention rate for future sponsors and vendors.

Another way to schedule ads on your social wall is to use our Sponsored Posts feature. Simply upload your sponsors’ ads as images or videos and schedule in which intervals you want to show the ads. Read more about our Sponsored Posts feature to see how it works!

How is the content you collected on the social wall helpful for marketing future events?

The content that we’ve collected on the wall really shows off the brand of Rotary. Our users are creating their own experience of the event as they see it. They love it!

The value of the wall is the takeaway for attendees in terms of having an interactive experience. And, of course, the residual effect for Rotary will be having those posted photos on social media, which will increase our reach.

What are your takeaways from multiple years of using a social wall for your event?

We’ve been effectively using the platform for three years now. This year, we noticed a substantial difference in the time of adoption by our attendees. As soon as we fired the wall up in the ballroom with all of our attendees, the posts and photos started pouring in! It was incredibly interactive and popular beyond belief with our attendees.

Additionally, our vendors had pre-scheduled posts to our wall that brought enormous ROI to them, and all of them have agreed to return again. This tool has become so popular that we have had multiple other events within the Rotary organization ask about how to utilize it for their own event. We look forward to partnering with again next year!

Treat your sponsors right and they will return

Rotary PNW decided to include ads for its sponsors and vendors on their social walls. This doesn’t just offer an excellent ROI for sponsors themselves but also has positively impacted sponsor retention for the organisation.

If you set up social wall ads for your sponsors, make sure to get a few good screenshots too. Those will help you attract sponsors for future events as you can show them what their ads will likely look like when they show up on a social wall.

Provide support where required

Most of all, Rotary Pacific Northwest’s use of social walls demonstrates that social walls really are for everyone. It’s not unusual to hear marketers worry about whether their organisation and its members are “ready” to use social walls at events.

But this is where providing the right amount of support can be helpful to further adoption of new technology. A social wall at an event with a target group that isn’t used to this kind of tool yet might need more explanation or a bit of a show and tell.

Sometimes, posting your hashtag info on your social media channels is enough to motivate your target group to post. Other times, you will need to use a more hands-on approach at the event to get everyone on board.

Screenshot of a post by Michelle Morrow O’Brien on the PETS 2020 social wall. The post reads: “Put your pics on this wall #rotarypnwpets On Instagram and Twitter”
Depending on the audience, posting and explaining your hashtag on social media might not be enough, but it’s definitely a good start.

Rotary Pacific Northwest has done just that by sending people around at the events to show attendees how to use the social wall. It’s a great way to get even those wary of social media on board and to make sure people are using hashtags correctly.

Give it time

The increasing adoption rate that Rotary Pacific Northwest PETS has seen over the course of just three years also shows that, sometimes, it just takes a little while for new technology to establish itself within a group of people.

With each year, attendees of the event have been able to get used to the social wall. At the same time, the organisers and vendors had a chance to refine their setup and approach, for example, by using Sponsored Posts for vendor ads.

You can really tell from the newest posts on the social wall just how much more relaxed and excited attendees are about using social media and hashtags now.

Once an audience gets used to social walls and accepts them, the technology can really take off and vastly improve an event. So stick with it and keep communicating to your audience about how it works and it’ll pay off.

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