To familiarize and, in some cases, introduce members to social media, the American Immigration Lawyers Association held a contest for members who agreed to use social media to discuss the conference 180 days leading up to it.

“We realized that social media is something that we as an organization want to put more emphasis on,” says Loren Crippin, new media associate at AILA, Washington, D.C.  “We wanted to show our members who don’t usually use social media how they can use it to be social as well as to get and disseminate information.”

AILA named the competition AC 180 and opened it up to anyone who wanted to participate in exchange for free registration to the annual meeting, which was held June 13–16 in Nashville, Tenn. There were more than 20 applicants and AILA officials chose 11 based on their submissions and backgrounds. Most were relative novices who wanted to learn to use social media, while a few were more adept but wanted to improve their skills.

Participants were required to post at least once per week about the upcoming conference or immigration law in general. They typically posted on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest. Overall, the 11 participants generated about 2,000 posts related to the conference. The posts were made to the individuals’ social media pages as opposed to the association or conference Web site because it was important for participants to build up their own networks. However, says Crippen, staff made sure posts were tagged so that they would repost to the AILA site so the rest of the membership could see them.

At the end of each month there was a competition that focused on different areas of social media. One month the competition related to blogging about the annual conference. Another month, members had to put together a Youtube video about which session they most wanted to attend and why. Prizes included gift certificates, subscriptions, and spa treatments during the conference.

Here are some of the video entries:

Immigration Rock!

AILA Film Fest

Animated Cartoon

Nashville Promo

“We were very pleased with the results,” says Crippin. It was a fun contest that required little money, but delivered a great return for both the participants, who learned how to use social media, and the association, which got some 2,000 posts about the conference. A blog post by a member about which session they are excited to attend typically carries more weight than if it came from someone on staff, he says. “Even months after the conference, a lot of [the participants] are [still] very active on social media and active in terms of pushing out AILA’s message.” 

 The association plans to run the contest again for the 2013 conference.