WASHINGTON, D.C. When leaders from more than 50 African nations gathered for a historic summit in Washington earlier this month, the government of Equatorial Guinea saw an opportunity for its own event.
Held after the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit at the St. Regis Washington, D.C., the daylong Equatorial Guinea Economic Forum drew insiders from business, politics, and non-governmental organizations such as the World Bank who heard from Equatorial Guinea President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and other top government officials.
A social media strategy was part of the planning from the start, said Will Milligan, whose Washington-based Will Milligan Events planned the forum over a span of eight weeks. As a political event, the forum had different publicity goals than, say, a corporate campaign. It wasn't trying to market the event to the public, since the guest list was invitation-only. And the seriousness of the occasion meant planners couldn't use the hashtag as event decor as a splashy corporate event might do. But it could educate the community about economic opportunities in Equatorial Guinea—a country of about 700,000 people that recently started to develop its oil reserves—and give non-attendees a glimpse into the event itself.
Expectations for the event started low, and there were skeptics—Milligan was aware of a side bet from someone who didn't think it would draw even 40 people. So the social strategy was essential. The first step was devising the event tagline, “EG in DC,” a brand Milligan called “contemporary and catchy.” It was used to create a dedicated website, a Facebook page, and Twitter and Instagram accounts for the forum. Milligan worked with Event Farm to promote the event and manage the invitations and R.S.V.P. list.
“The goal was to have a full room and a good showing,” Milligan said. “We didn't have a set goal [for social media interaction], we just rolled with it.”
The efforts paid off: The event drew a capacity crowd—220 for a dinner the night before and 250 for the forum, with another 30 or so in a tent that had a live feed from the ballroom. The Facebook page collected 1,800 likes and will continue to be active with content such as interviews with forum attendees that Milligan's team filmed at the event. The forum's website has all of the presentations available for download.
“The sensitivity we had with our media efforts was to show the positive side of an emerging country,” Milligan said. “The speakers and ministers did not shy away from mentioning the challenges they have, but we wanted to stay on message that there are positive things going on and they are open for business and open for investment. It was a well-rounded approach to educate people and redefine Equatorial Guinea.”
The events were presented in partnership with the Corporate Council on Africa and Greenberg Traurig.