Most amazing home haunts have humble beginnings. They often start small and simple and evolve into month-long, full-yard projects over the course of several years as more and more people tell them their kids look forward to the “awesome house” every Halloween. Word of mouth works great so long as you are content being the spookiest house in the neighborhood, but to truly draw a crowd often requires active advertising. And, if you’ve put dozens of hours and hundreds of dollars into your incredible haunt, wouldn’t you want to draw a crowd?
Traditional advertising mediums are perfectly viable options, but a full-page ad in your local paper is likely cost prohibitive. Social media allows you to connect directly with those most likely to want to attend, and ensure they’ll have the information they need to actually show up. Best of all, it can be effective no matter how much (or little!) time and money you have.
The Ground Work
Step One: Determine Your Budget
It’s important to understand that there are three main types of media.
- Owned (the information you put out about your own brand)
- Earned (engagement from other people that results in increased traffic to your content)
- Paid (content engagement that was driven by paid promotion)
All three can be valuable parts of a social media strategy, but if your budget is literally $0, that’s perfectly fine. You can still get traction and advertise your haunt organically, especially if you are willing to put in more time to get earned media that you’d otherwise pay for. However, if you’re willing to throw even $20 behind advertising, all the work you put into your social media strategy will be that much more effective.
Step Two: Get Your Story Straight
- What are you? Do you consider yourself a really cool trick or treat stop for families, a full backyard haunt destination, or something else. Defining the experience guests can expect will help clearly set expectations in your advertising. Are kids just trying to make it to your porch for candy, or will you have a whole cider buffet?
- Who are you? Are you Hackman’s CarnEvil every year, or are you The Hackman House presenting CarnEvil for 2017? Even if you do a different theme every year, now is a good time to develop a core “brand” you can use from year to year.
- What day(s) and times are you open? Decide if your end time is set in stone, if you’ll stop selling tickets at that point, or just stay awake as long as there are people that want to visit.
- Where are you? What’s the address and nearest major intersection? Are you in a neighborhood with a recognizable name?
- How do people get there? What is the parking situation? Can you recommend a nearby parking lot if street parking gets tight? Are you close to a bus route or any public transport?
- What ages should attend? Is it fun for all ages, or more appropriate for the 12+ crowd that can handle some serious gore? Is there a milder front yard and intense backyard haunt?
- What hazards are there? Are there strobe lights used in your haunt? Significant amounts of fog in your graveyard out front? You certainly do not need to include this information in every advertisement, but it’s good to take stock of what may potentially need to be mentioned about your particular attraction.
- How much is your event? Are you charging admission, taking monetary donations, or collecting other donations like food? Charging admission technically makes you a commercial haunt, so you will need to be very careful about using anything from soundtracks to fonts that are not licensed for commercial use. On the flip side, collecting donations for a specific cause lets you raise awareness of something you believe in, gives you something special to talk about in your content, and helps your haunt be viewed in a positive light. If you’re taking donations, decide on a benefactor and what sort of donations you’ll be accepting.
Step Three: Gather Your Tools
You can use a personal email address to set up any of the accounts we’ll discuss in this guide. However, we recommend setting up a dedicated account for your core haunt brand. If you have a website that provides email hosting at your domain name, by all means use one of those, but a Gmail account will work just fine. Having a dedicated account for your haunt lets you keep all related information together and gives you an address you are more likely to feel comfortable sharing with a partner or giving out to strangers that want information.
Photo Editing Tools
Gimp is an incredibly powerful photo manipulation tool that is open source and free for everyone, but it has a bit of a learning curve. The average haunter won’t need to do much beyond basic photo editing, coloration, and text overlays, so tools like PowerPoint or even Paint will likely meet your needs – use whatever you’re comfortable with. When I create an image outside of a tool that gives me pixel dimensions, I use Pixlr.com/editor to resize or crop my images to the correct dimensions.
Social Media Channels
Before we can get too far in a social media strategy, you will need to decide which media channels to occupy. I prefer to claim all channels with the haunt’s chosen name then focus on posting to 1-3 core channels. Home haunts seems to get the most value from Facebook, though we will also cover Instagram and Twitter. We recommend claiming your name on the big channels even if you do not intend to be active, just to be alerted if someone tries to interact with you on that medium. A thrilled guest will still tweet out that they had an amazing time, but won’t be able to tag you if you do not have a Twitter account.
Step Four: Build Your Brand
You know how you can recognize a Target commercial by the style before you ever see the bullseye? That’s what you want people to do with your haunt. Everything you publish should have such a consistent tone, look, and feel that people differentiate you from the glut of Halloween-related posts this time of year. This voice should come naturally for you since you are talking about something you understand inside and out, but it’s always worth thinking about how you want your brand represented. This becomes especially important if you are also taking advantage of traditional media like newspaper ads or flyers to put up around time. Take the time to define and collect:
- The feel and color scheme. If you had to describe your haunt experience in 3-5 words, what would they be? The vibe of a spider themed yard may be creepy and be best portrayed in greyscale, while a gruesome murder-shed haunt will want to use rich blood reds.
- Your fonts. Ideally, define a “boring” main font like Calibri or Times New Roman you will use for blocks of text and a specialized accent font for headlines. Take some time going through a site like dafont.com to find one that resonates with you.
- Images that you’ve taken. It’s always better to use your own imagery over stock photography, especially when you are trying to prove that your haunt is worth visiting. Take pictures of props, scenes, and actors as often as you can at every stage in your process. If you do need stock photography for something, use a site like unsplash.com that lets you use their images without restriction.
- Your Hashtags. You will use generic tags like #zombie and #hauntedhouse as appropriate in your posts, but take the time to create 2-3 clever or informative hashtags specific to your haunt. For example, #HackmanHalloween, #HackmanHouse2017, and #HackmanCarnevil would all work well. These tags are more than catchy phrases – they are how you will track engagement on several different media channels.
Step 5: Create your Media Kit
Once you’ve defined your brand, it’s time to assemble the media you’ll use to support it. Though we do list the recommended dimensions below, you may want to bookmark a comprehensive guide like the one from Hubspot.com. You will need to create:
- A strong tagline/mission statement. This will go in the “summary” field for all your channels, be your go-to statement if someone asks you to describe your haunt for an article, and likely appear on traditional media like flyers or t-shirts. Make it as short and punchy as you can while conveying exactly what makes your haunt special. It can be something as simple as “You’ve never seen arachnids like this before”, but make sure you love it.
- Profile Image. Most social media channels ask for a square image, then crop it into a circle. Plan for this by creating or choosing a square image that looks good in its entity, but does not lose meaning when you can only see the middle circle. We create these images to be 500×500 pixels, but always try to keep them under 20kB in size. If you have a core brand and a seasonal brand, create images for both.
- Cover Images. Facebook and Twitter allow you to upload a rectangular image that displays at the top of your page. This is a great place to show a wide shot of your haunt or a collection of your favorite tombstones. Twitter will only need one cover image, but you may need two images for Facebook if you have a core brand and a seasonal brand. You will use the seasonal branded cover image as the header for your event.
- Facebook shows your main cover image as 823×315 pixels on a desktop computer, but crops it down to a 180×180 square on mobile. Like for your profile image, keep this in mind and design accordingly.
- Facebook event header images are 784×295 pixels, because why would something be easy? This is not quite proportional to the profile cover image field, so you will get the right and left edges of your image cropped if you attempt to use the same one. Again, you can plan for this in your main image, or just make two versions.
- Twitter’s header window is 1500×500 pixels and scales proportionally for mobile.
- An editorial schedule. Map out how many weeks you have until your event and decide what your goal is for each week. For example, you may want to “tease” props and scenes for the first two weeks of October, give information the 3rd week, and heavily encourage people to come during the last week leading up to the 31st. Don’t forget the wind-down week right after your main event! Share pictures of people that attended, thank people for coming, and encourage ideas for how to make next year even better. This schedule is not meant to be a strict set of rules, but rather provide ideas you can use to create content. Having an overall strategy can help you overcome writers block when you’re due to post but still fixated on why your monster mud isn’t dry yet and how the tombstones have to get out of the garage before you can build the mausoleum. I feel you.
Go with the Flow
Social media can be a fantastic way to share your haunt with people and dramatically increase the number of people that come to see it. It can also be stressful. There are rules and best practices for everything under the sun, but always remember that this is your haunt, and you may represent it however you want. You do not have to have multiple media accounts and worry about retweeting 2.5 times a day. You can create an event from your personal Facebook page and just invite your friends. At the end of the day, you’ve likely spend scores of hours creating something spectacularly spooky that you are choosing to share with people. If you’ve gone to these lengths already, spending a few hours setting up a social strategy is a great way to ensure as many people get to experience your haunt as possible! Come back next week for a thorough rundown of how best to use each social media channel.