Cinco de Mayo festival dancer (courtesy fotogail at Flickr CC)Are you responsible in some way for a festival or special event, and would like to get jump-started using social media to promote it?

I always advise including social media as an integral part of your overall marketing plan, not sticking it on as an afterthought, but sometimes you do need to push the train forward a bit even if all the track isn’t laid to the end.

Hey, it worked for the US Transcontinental Railroad….

If your festival or special event is coming up quickly, here are some things you can do to enhance your online presence, and then you’ll have a platform to build on more thoughtfully for next year:

1)  Get a Facebook Page.  Not a Group – a Page. Give more than one person administrative access to it. Your event logo is fine as an avatar. Put it in the Organization-NonProfit category; that’s probably the one that applies best to festivals.  Fill out the Info section thoroughly, with event dates, location and times, simple directions from the main access points, links to your website and any other social media sites you have, and a contact email and phone number.

Put up a few Wall posts, especially some photos and short videos from last year’s event if you have them, and get the word out to your networks that some “Likes” of your Page would be appreciated. Once you get to 25, um, “Likers,” you can switch the Facebook URL to a more personalized one with your name.

Connect with your local CVB, DMO, state tourism office, town government, Chamber of Commerce and the businesses that sponsor your event, at a minimum.

Here is why special events expert Penny Reeh likes Facebook (direct link to the video on YouTube if you can’t see it below)

2)  Get a Twitter account. Make sure it’s something that approximates your event name, but is not too long (that uses up valuable characters and you only get 140 per tweet.)  Make sure that more than one person can tweet from the account, and that you’re set up to tweet from mobile devices.  Don’t worry about amassing a ton of followers right away; many won’t be the right folks anyway (unless you want to lose weight with acai berries.)  You want people who care about and want to connect with your event.

See the Texas Book Festival – @texasbookfest – as an example.

Connect with your local CVB, DMO, state tourism office, town government, Chamber of Commerce and the businesses that sponsor your event, at a minimum.

3)  Create a hashtag for your event.  You don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to do so. A hashtag is a unique identifier for tweets related to your event, plus it can go in the descriptions of Flickr photos, YouTube videos, etc. Pick something short.

Take a look at #TBEX (a travel blogger’s conference) tweets as an example of a very engaged bunch following a hashtag.

Make sure your followers know to use it; if you can get folks to use it, it will be easier to monitor your event as it occurs (I use hashtags all the time to follow conferences from a distance.)

4)  Start thinking visually about coverage.  Not a photo or video expert? Don’t let that stop you. Simply think hard about what sort of compelling visual opportunities may be coming up in your event….backstage excitement? Anything you can catch up close in rehearsal? Fun moments at the cotton candy concession?  Get that digital point-and-shoot camera in your pocket and remember to use it liberally, including the video function that most of them now have.

Photos and videos are popular and evoke emotion and interest. They really amp up your Facebook Page and can also go up to Twitter via services like TwitPic and TwitVid.

If you have a smartphone, learn ahead of time how to shoot a photo and upload it from the phone to Facebook and Twitter. You can’t beat the ease and convenience of such coverage.

5)  Tell your fans and supporters where to find you online.  Put it up on posters, at the event entry and exit points, print it out on flyers and the festival map, announce it on the PA – let visitors know that you’d like to hear from them (before, during and after the fun) on Facebook and Twitter, and that they can post their best photos and video to your Wall.

Did that about cover it for quick-launch?

In addition, Lesson Five from our Tourism Currents online course is all about special events promotion.

I’ll be speaking at the 2010 TFEA (Texas Festivals and Events Association) annual conference this week about social media for special events;  say hello if you see me there, or please leave a comment below if I missed a good tip.