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Social Promotion of Events and Festivals

Techniques for promoting events and festivals have become a lot more creative and wide-ranging since the advent of social media.

The meaning of the term “promoting” actually has changed now because of what social media can do. These technologies don’t just create awareness, as traditional advertising and marketing methods do. They create activity and personal involvement. They expand an audience beyond the event itself, turning it into a center of online attention.

The gold standard for social media festival promotion has been set by the South by Southwest Festival , which took place March 11-20 in Austin, Texas. The annual music, film, and interactive conference and festival created a whole new platform called SXsocial as the official communications hub for SXSW 2011 registrants. It was the key to bringing people together across the vast festival, which this year was spread across four campuses.

Registrants could use the platform before, during and after the festival. They could build an extended profile including a photo, bio, links to their profiles on other networks, and tags of their interests both professional and personal. They could search for other registrants based on this criteria and flag their favorites, and add links to their profiles on TwitterFacebookFlickrLinkedIn and other sites.

If they were looking for a hotel, registrants could connect with the SXSW Housing Desk through Sxsocial, request a room and even change or cancel their request later. Other services included scheduling tools and maps.

All these services encouraged people to create unique memories and build lasting relationships based on the event, so they would want it to be part of their lives each year. More than that, the social media created what we might call a “global tailgate party,” meaning that the festival took on a life of its own even for those outside the gates.

Dedicated blogs including The Unofficial SXSW Insider’s Guide (www.ningunofficialguide.com) and SXSW Baby! enabled people anywhere to experience the festival vicariously. Twitter and Facebook were buzzing with content from the festival – and not merely with on-the-fly messages. Twitter now enables the sharing of photos and videos as well as hashtags (a hashtag is a # symbol placed before a word in a tweet as a way to categorize messages, so that clicking on the word shows viewers other tweets in that category).

Through Facebook, festival attendees could broadcast their homemade videos by live streaming. An entire unofficial site, http://sxswvideos.com, was devoted to broadcasting festival videos in various categories.

The SXSW experience has demonstrated that there is endless potential for the expansion of audience communication and involvement from a festival or event, as soon as people begin to be involved with it through social media.

Social Media Tips for Events and Festivals

Here are some of the ways that social media can be used to promote events and festivals, over and above the traditional marketing objective of spreading awareness.

  • Help attendees connect – Your event does not have to be on the scale of SXSW to benefit from the interactions that social media inspire. You can easily set up a Facebook Fan page and a Twitter account and feed them with announcements, news releases, bios of performers and any number of links pertaining to your event and its community. Even small communities can reap major benefits from building interactive communities in which enthusiastic people do their own marketing of your event. The small community of Plant City, Florida, has mounted an exemplary Facebook Fan page for its Florida Strawberry Festival, which by mid-March 2011 generated almost 23,000 “like” responses.
  • Provide recreation – Discount airline JetBlue used its Twitter account in March 2011 to announce specific times and locations in New York where it was giving away free two-way flights to various destinations, including the SXSW festival. The promotion created mob scenes in the Financial District, one of the locations. How much creativity could your DMO apply to create contests, interactive games or other recreational ideas to keep audiences engaged with your event and the fun surrounding it?
  • Recruit sponsors, exhibitors and volunteers – People are well accustomed to responding to solicitations through social media, especially for charitable or non-profit causes. The BlogWorld conference set a Guinness World Record for the distribution of the largest mass message through social media with a #Beatcancer hashtag. Social media can be a springboard to solicit involvement with an individual event or festival, and even for an entire community’s volunteer culture. In the city of Victoria, British Columbia, people network through a blog called Volunteer Victoria. There they can find not only postings of opportunities for volunteers, but guidelines for social media policies applied to charities and events.

Conclusion

There seems to be no end to the creativity that spreads exponentially from events and festivals through social media. The number of relationships that can grow through social media sites, and the number of organizations that can become involved can bring a surprisingly high return on your investment.

Some best practices to help maximize your return include:

  • Have a clear focus on your goals. Use social media within the communications strategy for your event and relate it to the goals of your organization.
  • Remember to expect the unexpected. A visitor might have an unpleasant experience that generates messages of distress from your event. Social media can help you stay aware of the mood of your event and respond to unexpected incidents right away.
  • Be consistent in the messaging you deliver through the various channels. In particular, ensure integration with your event website.
  • Provide links on all social media sites back to the website, especially for purposes of ticket purchases, sponsorship contacts and organization of volunteers.
  • Monitor what is posted to your social media sites. Know who it is that you want to engage with and why, and be prepared to deal appropriately with different types of content.

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