You’ve got a bunch of great opportunities to throw a kick-ass party this time of year: Halloween, the World Series, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, New Year’s, maybe a birthday or two. It’s starting to be that time of the year when everyone seems to be going to a big bash. And even if you’ve got no major reason to celebrate, putting on a big affair—a block party or warehouse party, for example—is a great way for you to promote yourself, a product, another person, or, you know, just have a good time.
Problem is, when throwing a party, the reality of who shows up is often drastically different from the fantasy; and it’s hard to get people to a party with so many distractions out there.
How to get the word out and manage the invitations to throw a roof-raiser that’s truly memorable? Use a little tech.
Create an invitation
Before you share your invite, make sure it tells an amazing story via the images you’ve included. After all, an email or alert on social media will only capture someone’s attention for a few seconds before they move on to the next million things clogging up their inboxes—so to stand out from the competition, yours had better be memorable.
Images should tell the story of your event as simply as possible. Think about why people might want to attend: Is it taking place in a biergarten or cool abandoned warehouse? Then use a pic of the venue. Or are you pouring free drinks all night? Then go with a pic that shows off some of the cocktails.
In particular, look for high-contrast images with bright colors that will jump off the screen and grab people’s attention. Sometimes cute pics—puppies, say, or cartoons—will do the trick and make it seem unmissable.
If you don’t have a great picture already sitting in your library, don’t fret. Hop on a stock-image site like the Dollar Photo Club, iStock, or Fotolia, at which you can pick up cool images without breaking the bank, or just search for a few on Google Images.
But if sitting at a computer and creating and managing invites is starting to sound too much like work, don’t worry—there are painless ways to get the job done. For example, with Paperless Post you can not only design and send snazzy evites straight from your smartphone, you can also track RSVPs and communicate with guests as well. Or take things to the next level: Paperless Post also lets you send out actual paper invites (remember those?) by snail mail.
Another way to create an invite that leaves a lasting impression is to use a service like Fiverr (fiverr.com) to hire someone to make a video invitation for you. On Fiverr you can get everyone from an Obama impersonator to a puppeteer to record a few minutes of footage from a script you provide for $5.
Build a party site
Though a simple invite can do the job, there’s also a chance it will be ignored. But build a whole website around your party, and you give it major credibility.
It’s not that difficult and doesn’t have to take up too much of your time—check out Splash (splashthat.com), which helps you build a quick, beautiful page for your event that looks great on both desktop and mobile. Using Splash, you can send out a classy email, gather RSVPs, and even sell tickets. During the event itself, you can also use Splash’s app to show off guests’ photos in real time on a TV.
One of the biggest problems with managing an event is avoiding all the hangers-on who’ll try to crash it. But, unlike some other apps, Splash lets you limit the party to a preapproved email list so that only those on it can actually RSVP. Sure, you’ll still have to check names at the door, but you’ll have a better-than-average chance of getting the crowd you asked for.
Tame the Facebook dragon
Facebook Events are still an easy and popular way to reach a huge crowd.
Unfortunately, with everyone and their mother blasting out an endless series of invites, no-shows are high—the people who RSVP either forget about it amid the loud buzz of other events or don’t actually care about it in the first place.
Because of recent Facebook changes, invites are now shown in a calendar format; many users even subscribe to these event calendars on their phones. So, while a long descriptive title like “Hey, put on a coat and come celebrate the winter solstice!” may work on other platforms, on Facebook’s event calendar, that’ll be reduced to “Hey, put on a coat and come”—not much to help people remember it by.
So keep the title simple and memorable: “Mario’s Birthday Party” or “Warehouse Party for Grandma” might not be the most creative line out there, but it’s the best way to go on Facebook.
If you’re throwing a big party and want to reach a much wider audience, then leverage a Facebook advertisement to get the word out. You can target ads on Facebook using a huge number of factors, including geography, gender, age, likes, education level, and even relationship status, to get the people you want at your event. And lucky for you, while you’re free to go crazy moneywise on FB ads, since the minimum is only $1 per day.
Make a #hashtag
Once the word’s out, you’ll want to use social media to reach as large an audience as possible. I’ve got a few tricks for that as well.
First, select a hashtag. The best are short, unique, and easy for people to type. Use Twitter’s search feature to try out a bunch of different ideas, from #Halloween15 to #BrooklynWarehouseBash—if you find a good one that just a few other people are already using, that’s OK, since your and your invitees’ tweets will get more exposure by joining in another conversation. But definitely avoid hashtags in heavy use, or news about your party will just get drowned out. And don’t get childish with it. No one, at least who I know, wants to go to #FaN$YPartay. (That hashtag doesn't work anyway, since special characters will break up hashtags.)
Once you’ve selected a hashtag, you can put it on anything—the invite, every post you make on social, every Instagram image you share. Getting people to associate the party itself with the hashtag is a great way to maximize its value.
To manage all your postings about the party, social media management is a must. Lately, I’ve been loving Buffer, which makes it easy to preload a ton of posts on different platforms into different categories. Buffer then goes through your queue, sending messages at the optimal time so you reach the largest audience.
Go the extra mile
While digital enticements make managing the party-planning process fairly easy, people are always inundated with invitations—so there’s no guarantee yours will be any more memorable than others’ unless you go the extra mile.
One idea is to use a service like TaskRabbit (taskrabbit.com), through which you can hire freelancers to complete almost any task you can imagine.
Or find someone willing to get dressed up in the theme of the party—got a friend willing to wear a cape and fangs to play a Halloween vampire?—and have him go out and hand-deliver your invites. It’s shock and awe, but everyone will remember. And they’ll definitely be at your party.
Manage the RSVPs
Different kinds of events require varying amounts of diligence and knowledge to properly manage your RSVPs. Especially huge ones. To get some behind-the-scenes know-how on the best way to handle RSVPs, I talked to Katherine Elsasser, co-founder of the boutique experiential marketing agency Rood Studios.
For a smaller dinner event, Elsasser recommends you “send your invite more than a month in advance, and follow up diligently—right up till the last minute—to get an exact head count.”
For a professional event with a larger head count, she warns, “Your RSVP rate is generally lower, and the odds that someone’s going to RSVP yes and then no-show is higher.”
Elsasser also warns about flow—the number of people who come in for a short period of time before bouncing. The bigger the party, the more flow, which means you might be able to increase the number of RSVPs you accept because you expect many guests to duck out early.
Handle the party tasks
Of course, managing a huge party is about more than just sending out invites. You could have a budget to set and stick to, social media promotion to schedule, and even a seating chart to juggle.
For planning events or anything where I need to stay super-organized on a variety of tasks, I turn to the app Wunderlist (wunderlist.com), which can be synced to both phone and Web browser. Rather than make a list of all the top-level things you’re trying to accomplish, you can use Wunderlist to break down each item into smaller sub-tasks, which you can knock out and feel you’re making progress right away. Plus, adding to the list from any device is fast and easy, so you can write down quick tasks when they occur to you (like: call the caterer) so they aren’t accidentally forgotten.