Planning and marketing your event
You should plan on starting this process at least three to four months out. That will give you sufficient time to arrange logistics and market your event.
Pick a date
- Most day-long hackathons are on Saturdays, but that’s not a hard-and-fast rule.
- Look for tech conferences in your area that you might be able to partner with. Tying your event to a conference is a great way to help market it, and you may have a larger pool of developers to recruit from.
- If you want to get government employees or officials involved, you may want to hold part of the event on a weekday leading up to the event. Holding a “kickoff” on a Friday afternoon or evening can give those employees a chance to take part without giving up their weekend.
- Although it may be tempting, avoid holiday weekends and the periods around them. Even software developers go on vacations.
Find a location
Location! Location! Location! Where your hackathon is held can have a lot to do with its success. Make sure you scout out a good location that’s available for your date.
- Pick a location big enough for the number of attendees that you anticipate will come.
- You’ll want a good mix of spaces. You’ll need a big common room with seating and a projector for the event kickoff, demos, and awards. It’s also great to have break-out rooms for teams to work together or where people who like a quiet place to work can put their heads down and focus.
- If your budget is tight, don’t feel like you need to spend top dollar on a venue. Local tech companies are often quite happy to host hackathons as in-kind sponsors. Also, check with local universities, libraries, churches, or hackerspaces.
- Make sure your choice of venue has sufficient power and Internet bandwidth for your event. While extra of both can always be brought in, it can add significantly to your logistics and your cost.
- If your venue doesn’t already have chairs, tables, and whiteboards, you may need to borrow or rent them.
Running a hackathon isn’t free, so you’ll need to talk to potential sponsors to see who you can help fund the event and offer resources. Talk to local software companies, government agencies, and businesses.
Many times if you can’t get a sponsor to donate money, they might be willing to be an in-kind sponsor for the event. Donations of space, food, or volunteers can go a long way to helping stretch your budget.
If you can’t find enough sponsors to fund the entire event, you can also request attendees pay for tickets. While this may reduce total attendance, even a small ticket cost of $5 to $10 may encourage developers who sign up to follow through and attend. For a multi-day event, up to $25 is fairly accepted.
Build a web presence
Make sure you have someplace for attendees to learn more about your event and sign up. Include details about when and where the event will be held, who is invited, and a link to a signup form.
Building a web presence doesn’t have to break the bank. A simple one-page site will suffice, and you can use tools like GitHub Pages or Smore can be used to create them quickly and easily.
Dedicated hackathon platforms such as ChallengePost are also available. These platforms are designed to completely support your event, including showcasing your attendees’s projects.
For creating a quick and easy way for attendees to sign up, I highly recommend EventBrite. They provide all the tools you’ll need, including an easy way for attendees to pay for tickets if you’ll be charging. Your event will also show up in their event calendars, which will help with marketing.
Market your event
At least one month out, and preferably closer to three months, start marketing your event. Depending on its structure, there are lots of different ways to get the word out, but some great ideas include:
- Contact local developer groups and ask them to help get the word out. Visit developer meetups to pitch your event, and email out details on their mailing lists. Ask first, however, to make sure they’re OK with it.
- Post fliers around local universities, especially in the Computer Science building.
- Send out teasers about your event on Twitter, and see if you can get well-connected individuals to spread the word as well.
- Post announcements to forums like Hacker News or Reddit (look for a “subreddit” specific to your area).
- Contact bloggers like Kin Lane from The API Evangelist and ask them to help get the word out.
- If you are using ChallengePost to power your hackathon, they will also get the word out to their local network for you.
- And of course, Socrata will be more than glad to get the word out to our network as well. Make sure you let us know about your event.
Here are some websites to check out for ideas on how to market your event: