The Make-A-Wish Foundation is known for going above and beyond to grant the wish of a child diagnosed with a life-threatening condition. They lived up to their reputation on Nov. 15 when they granted Miles, a five-year-old fighting leukemia, his wish of becoming Batman.

San Francisco was transformed into Gotham for the day. Miles, dressed up as BatKid, saved the day by rescuing a "damsel in distress" while fighting crime and apprehending both the Riddler and the Penguin, red-handed.

Participation was projected at just 200. What resulted were 12,000 participants, national press and attention, an honorable mention from President Obama, and an unprecedented official indictment issued by the Department of Justice for the "Gotham criminals."

Not quite as visible was the heavy influence of social media in raising awareness before, during and after the event. Similarly, you can raise awareness for your next event, or for products and services offered by your business, by following the same social media concepts. You don't even need a mask and cape!

With a detailed plan already in hand, the Make-A-Wish Foundation reached out to the local community on Nov. 1 to raise awareness. Note the date - the day after Halloween - which allowed other high visibility events to pass before they started their awareness campaign.

Notices were posted on the popular Reddit website as well as on the local SFlst blog. Each website received about 30 enthusiastic comments and inquiries about volunteering. Those initial posts led to additional coverage by BuzzFeed and many others websites. The early excitement resulted in Make-A-Wish being flooded with participants and volunteers.

Make-A-Wish, and the early champions they created, spread the word through multiple social networks. A Facebook page was organized on Nov. 7 and generated 23,000 likes and countless posts of encouragement. Each time a person posted on Facebook, his or her personal network became aware of the event. The twitter hashtags #SFBatKid and #BatKid circulated and continued to raise awareness before and during the event.

Dedicated hashtags are powerful tools because they not only allow people to search for related tweets, but also raise awareness that an event is unfolding.

Tweeting constant updates during an event, also known as live tweeting, serves as a means to connect remote participants with those in attendance. Although having 12,000 live participants is impressive, the virtual participation was even more so. According to the San Francisco Business Times, there were 522,000 tweets during the event which reached more than 750 million people with 1.74 billion impressions. Now that's marketing reach.

By leveraging multiple social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and prominent blogs, Make-A-Wish ensured the widest possible distribution of its message. Don't get stuck using just one platform to spread your message - leverage as many as possible to capture diverse audiences.

The grassroots effort was quickly noticed by celebrities such as MC Hammer who tweeted about it days before the event.

Adam West, who played Batman in the '60s, offered his assistance in advance as well. During the day of the event, other celebrities such as the Batman actors Ben Affleck, Val Kilmer and Christian Bale all tweeted words of encouragement, as did some of the players from the San Francisco 49ers and several politicians. The endorsements culminated with a Vine - a 6-second long video - recorded by President Obama, tweeted by the White House and re-tweeted more than 7,000 times.

High profile endorsements are powerful. They provide a strong means of independent validation for your offering. Although it's nearly impossible to be opposed to Make-A-Wish's mission, obtaining high profile endorsements unquestionably raised awareness for Miles' wish as well as for the foundation's long-standing mission.

With proper planning, finding early champions and communicating in real-time through multiple social networks, your event and marketing can also experience significantly greater participation than expected.


Also published in Inside Business on Nov 27, 2013.