Social media events- from live chats to product unveilings to webinars- are a fun way to engage customers.  By leveraging social media, you can create an experience for your existing customers and connect with new customers as well.  But there are some best practices to ensure that you are hosting beneficial events that are worthwhile investments of time and resources for both you and your customers.  Below are five tips for hosting an effective social media event.

Give it a reason to exist: If you are going to have an event, give your customers something really exciting to participate in that they care about.  Maybe it’s a chat with your product designers or top executives.  Maybe it’s a chance for them to give feedback and access to limited edition products.  Maybe it’s information from a respected industry authority.  There isn’t a secret formula, other than that it needs to be valuable and relevant to your customers.  If you (or your competitors) host a lot of events, keep it fresh and change up the formula.

Save the date: People are busy, but if a worthwhile event comes along, they will want to attend. Make sure that you give customers enough time to plan and then send a reminder a day or so before to maximize participation.

Preparation counts: Nothing kills a good intention like a lack of preparation or practice.  Make sure that the team executing the event is well prepared, has practiced and has a “Plan B” (and quite possibly a “Plan C”) in case things go south.  Customers are a fickle bunch and don’t give a lot of credit to that whole “it’s the thought that counts” thing, so make sure your t’s are crossed and your i’s dotted for a flawless event.

How about a re-cap?: Not all of your customers will be available at the time you set for your event (especially if you have customers worldwide in every major time zone). Similarly, not all of your customers will have social media accounts.  To maximize the benefits to the majority of your customers, give those that weren’t able to attend access to some part of the event.  It could be a transcript or a re-cap, but throw those who couldn’t participate a proverbial bone to let them know that they are important!

Take out the middle man: Connecting with customers on social media sites is a great way to leverage places where customers and potential customers are aggregating.  But if you are not hosting the event from your site to begin with, offer an incentive as a part of the event that drives the customers back to your site (and hopefully capture their email address or even a sale as well).  This could be done with a special report, a discount offer, an exclusive product or service or something else of value to your customers that take them “back to your place”.   You don’t want to have to go through a middle man to have a long-term relationship with your customers.  It’s ok to have a chaperone on the first couple of dates, but eventually, you want to be able to court your customers directly.