Hosting a hackathon? Here’s how to market it!

Hackathons are exciting events that bring communities together, drive innovation, inspire action and are an exhilarating experience. If you haven’t participated in one, give it a try. They are an excellent opportunity to directly contribute to a cause you care about.

Our President @gndv starting off the 2016 #VODDay #OpenDataDay Hackathon

A photo posted by Open Data Society of BC (@opendatabc) on

Some hackathons are competition focused – full of budding entrepreneurs with ideas to flush out and prototype. Others are focused on social good – tackling local or global problems, or bringing transparency to important issues through storytelling and data visualizations.

Hackathons are often run by hardworking volunteers, nonprofits, or on the side of your local “do-gooder’s” desk. As a result, hackathon organizers  may not always have as much capacity as they would like to create a rockstar hackathon. But what they lack in capacity they make up for in passion. I also believe that if you’ve organized a hackathon and haven’t suffered (at least a little), you probably haven’t done it right – just like a good work out.

It’s my appreciation for these hardworking hackathon coordinators that draws me to lend a hand to local hackathons and provide advice based on my experience. I find effectively marketing their hackathon is an area where many need the most help.

Create a solid web presence
  • Create an event landing page. This page will be the virtual hub for your hackathon. This is the page that all other promotional pages and posts should point to.
    Make sure it includes:
    –  event date, time and location
    –  event schedule
    –  link to your hackathon RSVP page
    – an event logo or event day infographic
    –  your hackathon story – what are you trying to accomplish, why is it important
    –  competition details if you’re hackathon includes a competition
    –  awesome prizes
    –  any speakers or panelists during the day and why they are awesome
    –  any mentors during the day, the role they will play, why they are awesome
    –  any competition panel judges (if you have them), and why they are awesome
    – linked logos of your sponsors and panelists
    – your media kit if you have one
  • Set up an hackathon event RSVP using an event registration service that works for you.  You might use Meetup, Eventbrite or Picatic for example. This should include a summarized version of the hackathon information and a link back to your hackathon event page.
  • Create event branding materials, such as an event logo and an event day infographic / poster.
  • Decide on a hackathon #hashtag (keep it short and memorable).  Include it on your hackathon event page, event sign up page, and incorporate it in event graphics.
  • Share hackathon details, using the event hashtag and event graphics using your organizations social media profiles.  Don’t forget to link back to the hackathon landing page.
  • If you have a blog, turn your hackathon into a story with an engaging blog post. This is a great opportunity to bring awareness to your theme or cause.
Map out your community
  • Identify everyone you see as a direct or indirect stakeholder – grassroots groups, organizations, nonprofits corporations, governments and public sector offices, community leaders.
  • Collect all the related contact information, event post links, social profiles and hashtages and identify where you have gaps and how you will fill them in
Develop your community plan
  • Plan out how you will engage all the communities you have identified. Identify what you want to ask from them.
  • Prepare the materials needed to enable communities to get engaged in your hackthon. Consider their digital presence and provide materials to help with an event listing or blog post on their site, creating a meetup post and social media posts.
  • This is the one opportunity you have to get your event out there  so make sure you get it right, with all the required details, event graphics, event #hashtag and signup link. Make it easy for other communities to share your event!
  • Engage the communities you’ve connected with in your social media. They’ll appreciate the mention and you’ll benefit from the retweet. Make sure you’ve got the event hashtag and signup link in your tweets with room to spare (120 characters). Make sure you’re connected with their facebook page, and consider mentioning them or suggesting a post.
Develop your media plan
  •  If you haven’t developed your community plan yet, stop and go do that! You’re media plan will add to the awareness of your hackathon and your organization, but it may not always result in increased participants.
  • Plan out what media channels you will connect with to help share your hackathon. Think about the audience you are looking to reach and the media channels they are engaged with. Consider which media channels would have an interest in your hackathon’s theme or cause. Leverage all those journalist / PR connections that have made their way into your LinkedIn.
  • Think about the messaging for your hackathon. This is a great opportunity to bring awareness to your theme or cause. Turn your hackathon into a story.
  • Prepare the materials needed to help media channels talk about your event easily. Cover the Five W’s. Consider developing a media kit that includes the event details, event graphics, event hashtag and signup link, as well as listing your sponsors or partners and background information on your organization.
  • Invite media to participate in your event. A speaker start-off at the beginning of your hackathon or project sharing, competition judging and awards at the end of the day are great opportunities to invite media to get involved. You can also consider livestreaming these activities – I love using Periscope or Meerkat to up the impact of any event.
  • Engage the media channels you have targeted in your social media and watch for articles or posts about your hackathon to share.
Involve your sponsors and Partners
  • You’ve probably got some awesome sponsors or partners backing your hackathon. They’re excited about the event, and want to see it succeed. Help them help you by clearly identifying how you would like them to help share the event and sharing all the materials and information required for it. Some sponsors may also offer the time and efforts of one of their marketing professionals – make sure take them up on this and clearly identify the areas they can help the most in.
  • Similar to sponsors, if you have panelists, speakers or hackathon judges, make sure you ask them to share the event, and provide them with the information and materials required.