How a nonprofit TEDx event adopted digital marketing (& how you can do it too)

Some might think that digitization would usually cost a bomb or too difficult to implement. Fact: it can save you time, improve revenue and possibly not costing you money at all. It can be easy to get started, here’s how a nonprofit event does it.

Looks good? It’s not designed by me.

Few years ago, I joined a local TEDx event in Malaysia called TEDxPetalingStreet as the youngest volunteer, and proposed to the team to achieve more with digital marketing & automation.

I introduced tools like Piktochart to create infographic, and I did a very bad demonstration to them. The infographic design I did was so bad that I’m not willing to share it here. 😝

Yet, the team was still very open in accepting new things that I introduced to them, which I will share a few below:

  • Email Marketing 📧
  • SEO — Search Engine Optimization 🌐
  • Brand Monitoring 💼

Note: if you’re runing a TEDx event, you may request to use Podio (online project management tool) for free!

In 2016, there was a point we asked ourselves ‘why are we still using the hard copy forms’ that is prune to:

  • human error (sometimes you can’t read the handwriting)
  • need of passing the form around (time-consuming)
  • less environmental friendly?

So, we started to use Google Form to collect information. Not only it saves a lot of time, it provides instant data visualization that can be easily understood, and we can simply share form & data around.

We can quickly identify which division has the highest ‘demand’.

We embedded the form into Facebook page too. (Ooops, the 2016 form is still there! Please do not repeat my mistake for not updating timely)

The organizing team members consisted of people aged between 20 to 40+ years old. I was expecting the leaders (older people but with young heart) to leave the ‘digital tasks’ to younger members, but they surprised me with this:

“Soon Yik (this is how they called me), teach us! So that we can do it too!”
“On la!”

1. Email Marketing 📧

Email has been around for a long time but it is still an effective channel — especially to send important notice to paid customers (transactional email) or to promote new stuff to potential or past customers.

You may take a look at the video below to see how easy it is to create a professional email using free tool like Mailchimp. It also allows you to blast personalized emails, automated campaign, and more.

In the video, you will notice there is a section to download a mobile app called Whova, an event management & networking app.

Whova was kind enough to sponsor all TEDx organizers to use their app for free. Although they never asked for it, we promoted them with our media partners.

If you visit the ‘Press’ page in their website, you will find that the only TEDx event being featured is TEDxPetalingStreet; not once, but twice. Both sides received some potential ‘boost’ for SEO too. (SEO: Search Engine Optimization, this topic will be covered below).

All these win-win partnerships and media PR were achieved via just email communication.

Sponsorship team often have to send email to potential sponsors but have to guess whether the recipient opened or read their email.

By using a simple ‘email tracking’ tool, they would know if someone had read their email (& possibility how many times they read it) and make better follow up actions.

Note: I don’t usually use tracking tool, but I’m actively using anti-tracking tool.


2. SEO — Search Engine Optimization 🌐

In 2014 (or 2015?), I realized that the search result ranking (on Google) of the 1–2 year old official website is quite low. When users searched exactly ‘TEDxPetalingStreet’, our official website appeared on the first page but not as top result.

The curator told me she got a SEO expert that helped to improve Google search ranking of her another website, the site then received ‘penalty’ from Google and was banned from appearing in Google search result (it was really bad for that product-focused business). Despite having that bad experience, she allowed me to play around with the site without any hesitation. 👍

After a quick diagnose, we proceeded to do just 1 very simple amendment: updating the title tag of the site to: TEDxPetalingStreet: Malaysia’s First Chinese TEDx

Within just few days, the ranking reached the top position until today. It brought us higher site traffic & greater exposure (even for users who did not search exactly ‘TEDx Petaling Street’).

Certainly, there are more things that can be optimized too.

Other than ‘TEDxPetalingStreet’, we rank quite well for the following keywords too:

  • Malaysia TEDx
  • Chinese TEDx
  • 中文 TEDx ← on Baidu too

Note: I didn’t contribute for content writing, the team is amazing at it. The continued & collective effort (online & offline) by the whole team over the years contributed to the stable ranking too.

Why is this important? Over the years, more and more people ignore the results with lower ranking position on Google, and are always seeking instant gratification for what they looked for.

If you’re running a profit-driven business site, there are more things you have to consider that can affect your search engine ranking:

  • site speed, security, information architecture, domain authority
  • content, links (how others link to your website)
  • user experience & more..

3. Brand Monitoring 💼

After I left the team in 2017, I still keep myself aware of any PR opportunities & ‘threats’, by receiving not-so-frequent email notifications.

This tool called Mention (works like Google Alert) would alert me when someone publicly mention TEDxPetalingStreet online.

Above: someone attended the TEDxPetalingStreet speaker audition and posted on Instagram.

When people talk about your brand, that is the opportunity for you to:

  • discover problems & make improvements based on the feedback
  • appreciate their support & engage with your community
  • identify influencers or anyone who can help everyone to do better, together

Thankfully, I couldn’t recall receiving any bad public review before.

By the way, I always received mentions about ‘TEDxPickeringStreet’ because I set ‘TEDxPS’ as keyword too 🤣 . It seems like they’re doing quite well!

Tips: you may also use it to monitor other brands (similar industry or competitors) or specific topic that you’re interested in.


If a non-profit event can adopt digital marketing & strategy to do better, anyone or any organization can do it too.

There are way more things for you to explore:

  • Run targeted FB Ads with the contact list (mobile number/email) that you collected before.
  • Track your email, ads, search, social to check which one is your most ‘profitable’ channel by using Google Analytics.
  • Google Tag Manager — to easily run more advanced marketing tools on your site without help of developers.

And.. now, everyone can use a simple URL trick to let people communicate with you via Whatsapp.

Example: Try click on this to reach me via Whatsapp 📲

🤞 I lied. If you click on the link above, you will chat directly with the person in charge of TEDxPetalingStreet sponsorship, you can become an angel sponsor to support students to attend the event 👼

This is the full URL: https://api.whatsapp.com/send?phone=60123291024&text=Hi%20William,

If you wish to try the same thing, just copy the URL above, then edit the phone number & text message. Anyone who click on that link will be able to chat directly with you via Whatsapp.

Note: remember NOT to put + in phone number, %20 = space


Hope you find this article helpful.

One shares, everyone wins.

Kay-Thanks-Bye!


If you wish to attend a TEDx event near you, just visit: www.ted.com/tedx/events

If you can understand Chinese, there are 2 upcoming Chinese-speaking TEDx events in Malaysia:

See you there!

Yes, this article is part of digital marketing too.