I've seen a few of these work well and not so well, and here are my tips:
To hold a successful event, you will need:
- a vision
And keep it under 100 characters for easy retweeting. Put it out there and see if it flies. If it doesn't, you've only wasted five seconds. If it does, you and your prospective volunteers will need to make a commitment to make it happen, otherwise it won't.
- a structure
A website which will lead you, intuitively, through all the key decisions once you've entered your location. Twestival had images, videos and copy that could be easily re-used for pretty posters and posted onto social websites. That saved a lot of time for local organisers. The Big Lunch has gone a step better, with very cute tick-boxes to indicate whether you will have music, home-grown food or limbo-dancing.
- not too much structure
You will need people to take the lead in their own locality and you won't have complete control over what they do. If you don't like the sound of that, better to stop now.
- ...but just enough
If you don't have a strong core vision, people will have trouble communicating it onwards. Participants will express irritation that you didn't give them enough direction (I know, only above we learnt that they don't like being told what to do, but people are like that).
- nice pictures
See Twitter, I Can Haz Cheezburger, Twestival and the Big Lunch. Pretty pictures (preferably of animals) make us warm to your furry inner heart rather than just seeing you as a cold screen. Why? I don't know. But Obama knows people are much more likely to rush to read about his new puppy than his economic policy and then trust that his economics will be OK because he kept his promise over the puppy.
- a very, very simple website that doesn't rely too much on people signing up
Because they don't. If you've got a small core of organisers and volunteers who can capture content in the run-up then you can avoid that awkward feeling that nobody is involved.
- ...launched not too early... and not too late
I know, this sounds like the three bears. But it's true. A holding page when people are following links to you is really bad. You need to capture people while they are interested and then send them compelling emails (not too often) to make sure they come back to your site. Some people will get involved at the early planning stage, others only when it's time to go knocking on doors, but you need all of them on your database or Twitter follow list.
- the right amount of real life people
One person can create a brilliant event on their own, but they will work incredibly hard at it and most likely get a bit annoyed that they did it on their own. Two people can collaborate on a website, but it won't necessarily go anywhere in the local area. From experience of volunteer organisations, I reckon you need at least six committed volunteers working offline to make something great happen. If those six are on Twitter, things can happen quicker and more often than they would have done when you were just a committee.
- a few borrowed ideas to sprinkle over the top
Steal ideas from the Americans. Especially if you're doing a video. I don't know why American videos are so much cooler than British ones, except that I know that the word awesome sounds awkward from a Stokie but cool from a Californian. If you can work it out, you're probably on the path to being as sexy and web 2.0ish as they are.
Get to it! Be awesome!