DIGIEDUHACK-101: where and how to recruit participants?
Tips and strategies to recruit participants for your event!
Your plan is all bolted up, your challenge ready to roll out and your crew on the deck. You're about to publish your event pages and start recruiting your participants. But do you actually know who you want to take part in your DigiEduHack event? Do you know where to recruit your participants and how? All the answers are in this article.
Participants will give their ultimate flavour to your DigiEduHack event: they are the final touch, the closing human factor, the conclusive unknown element that can make your event a success or a failure. Participants are not an audience: they play an active role in your DigiEduHack event. As a host, your recruitment strategy is as important as good planning or an efficient event crew. If we simplify, you have three recruitment strategies: recruiting among your own ecosystem, recruiting at large or... do both.
The best-recruiting networks? Your already-existing networks!
Recruiting among your own ecosystem
This first strategy is fast, efficient, relies on already existing networks and connections and on a pre-existing sense of togetherness. It's perfect for first-time hosts, for small teams or if you don't have much time left before your event. When recruiting among your own ecosystem, you will use the "circle approach" to determine your reach and your means (remember Google+? Well that's exactly the same). Your first circle is composed of the people that are part of your organisation or organisation who are directly and immediately involved with you and who share with you a common topic of interest.
For example, if you are a university professor in a school of arts, your first circle is made of your own students, the ones you teach to. Your second circle is made of people that belong to your organisation with whom you are not directly involved but who share a direct common topic of interest with you. In our example, this would be the students that are part of the same school of arts as you, but to whom you are not teaching. Your third circle is made of people who belong to the same organisation as you but with whom you are not involved and with whom you don't share a common topic of interest. Again, in our example, this will be the students from the university where your school of arts is located.
You can go on, creating bigger and bigger circles. For each new circle, the reach goes bigger. But for each circle, you lose a bit of both the emotional bond and the sense of togetherness. And in online hackathons, bond and togetherness can mean engagement and involvement: less togetherness means more efforts to convince people to join and actually show up on the day of your event. With the first circle, the involvement is the highest: the emotional bond and the sense of togetherness are naturally the strongest. Recruiting participants from this first circle don't require special gimmicks or tricks. In the second circle, there is no more emotional bond but still togetherness. In the third circle, the togetherness goes thinner. In terms of recruitment, this has an impact: put roughly, the wider the circle the more efforts you will have to make to get people to join and actually take part in your DigiEduHack event. But at the same time, the bigger the circle, the bigger the reach and the more diverse the participants' profiles will be, which is a great asset when it comes to creative thinking and co-creation: participants with very diverse backgrounds and profiles are more likely to explore daring paths to answer your challenge.
To recruit among your ecosystem, you can mobilise and use in priority your existing "organic" networks: these are the informal systems of connections that innerve your organisation and more or less overlap its organisational chart. With organic networks, things can go fast as the distance between the prescriber and the recruit is short and because there is an immediate and almost automatic emotional bond with the proposed project. You can even speed up the dissemination and increase the engagement if you use key people of your organisation as natural relays, a bit like brand ambassadors. In our example, this would be your fellow teachers, other educational staff, parents, class leaders, ... Use all the communication channels that are active in your organisation: social media of course, but also newsletters and physical channels when relevant.
PROs: fast, convenient, relies on existing relays, attendance almost guaranteed, risk-free, stress-free
CONs: can quickly reach some limits, too homogenous participants might be counter-creative, a small pool of prospects
Suitable for : small hosting teams, if you need a fast process, smaller hackathons (20-50 participants)
Increase diversity in the profiles of your participants
Recruiting at large
This is at the same time the most difficult and the most rewarding recruitment strategy: quality open recruitment is a bit the holy grail in hackathons. By gathering participants from different horizons, different backgrounds and different cultures not only do you give your DigiEduHack event a huge diversity boost but you also contribute to creating event-based collaborative alchemy between total strangers, now united in co-creation. To achieve this, you will need to put a lot of effort into your communication until the very last minute of your event: you need to stand out, raise awareness, raise interest, convince, enrol, activate and most importantly you need to keep your online participants engaged at all times until your closing ceremony. And that's tough: with participants that are recruited at large, you have to build from scratch a sense of loyalty towards your event so that they actually feel involved. And you also have to create from scratch this sense of togetherness that will cement all the teams.
In this, your best friends are social media channels. All of them. From the obvious Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/LinkedIn to the more niche TikTok, Reddit and why not, Twitch. Be creative. Be quick and dirty. Be true. Produce a lot of content, share it. Film yourself, your staff, and deliver directly the message rather than using stock footage. This is what will make you actually stand out from the crowd. DigiEduHack is a noble cause, aiming at making the change and creating an impact: use the event values as a banner to gather alike-minded visionaries and turn them into participants.
PROs: high diversity in profiles, huge potential creativity, limitless pool of potential participants, possibility to steer your recruitment campaign to target particular profiles
CONs: it's a looooot of work, attendance not guaranteed, need to engage all the time all the way, you need time to deploy the communication
Suitable for : big hosting teams with a dedicated comm unit, big hackathons (75-a lot of participants)
Get the best of both worlds
You guessed it: the middle way is the safe way. By recruiting among your ecosystem you ensure that you will have a certain attendance almost guaranteed. If you combined this in-house recruitment to a more open crow of participants, you also benefit from the collaboration/co-creation advantages of the recruitment at large. You get the best of both techniques, but there is a downside: you will have a two-headed communication strategy that addresses different messages to different targets using different channels. A nightmare? No, but you need for sure a dedicated communication team for that so you can be coherent and efficient on all the platforms. You actually can use this opportunity to address the participants of your ecosystem in a different way and use the same assets as the one you would use in your recruiting at large strategy!
PROs: secure a base of participants among your ecosystem and spice up the mix with outside-of-your-circles recruitment
CONs: you probably will have to organise a matchmaking pre-event in order to actually allow participants to mingle
Suitable for : both small and bigger teams and medium-sized hackathons