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Five Tips for Using Social Media at Festivals

A look at best uses of social media, with Virginia-Highland Summerfest as a case study.

I'm David Eckoff. I'm on a mission to help businesses and residents in Virginia-Highland use social media and technology to their advantage.

This week we'll explore how to use social media at festivals. We'll look at dos and do-nots, with Virginia-Highland Summerfest as a case study. And we'll hear from Summerfest vendors who made smart use of social media.

1. Use social media to build long-term relationships with fans.

Many artists and food vendors focus entirely on making sales at the festival. But these transactions are typically one and done. Which is not good business.

In addition to making sales at the festival, I encourage vendors to build relationships with fans that continue long after, via social media. Fans are more likely to make repeat purchases. They also help spread the word with their friends – who in turn can become customers. And that's good business.

Or put another way, "put the social in social media."

This comes naturally to Keith Schroeder, founder of High Road Craft Ice Cream, which had a booth at Summerfest.

"They don't call them ice cream socials for nothing," Schroeder said. "It's an inherently social product. Typically, ice cream is part of a shared experience. We're stretching out the framework that was established hundreds of years ago, for what ice cream is all about, having fun and being together."

The good news is you don't have to be in the business of ice cream to use social media to build long-term customer relationships with fans. Anyone can do it. But not everyone will.

How about you?

2. Make it easy for festival attendees to tell their friends about your business.

When I give keynote speeches at conferences, I include my Twitter username @davideckoff on the footer of every slide in my presentation, to make it easy for conference attendees to tell their friends about my speech. As a result, more people Tweet the most interesting things they hear me say, along with my Twitter name. This extends the reach of my message to many thousands of people.

The same principle can be applied to festivals. If you're an artist, display your Twitter username at your booth as prominently as you display your art.

"We are sharing things every day in our lives that we never would have picked up the phone for years ago," New York Times bestselling author Gary Vaynerchuck said at SXSW Interactive this year. "You would have never picked up the phone and called a buddy and said 'this Tropicana orange juice is yummers.' And you definitely wouldn't call everybody. But you do it now."

So it's critically important to make it easy for people to tell their friends about your business.

Unfortunately, I didn't see even one artist displaying their Twitter username or Facebook account at their booth at Summerfest. This made it harder to tell my friends about them. So I didn't. And I'm sure other people who would have, didn't tell their friends.

Don't have a Twitter account? What are you waiting for? It's free. It couldn't be easier to use. And bottom like, you'll sell more art.

Summerfest Success Stories

I'm pleased to say that I saw three vendors at Summerfest who made it easy for people to tell their friends about them.

First up, High Road Craft Ice Cream prominently displayed its social media contact information at its booth.

"Almost all the awareness we've built for the company is word of mouth and social media," Schroeder from High Road Craft Ice Cream said. "We've done nothing else but that and attending events."

Schroeder is finding that Twitter is the social network that enables him to connect with super fans of his business.

"Our Twitter followers are hyper active in their conversations with us," Schroeder said.  "They are the real evangelists of High Road. They are more active, their conversations are more frequent and the level of intimacy we have with our Twitter followers is greater."

Next, Georgia State University Athletics prominently displayed its social media coordinates at its Summerfest booth.

"We typically put Facebook and Twitter on anything we have from a promotional standpoint," Griffith Hunter, marketing coordinator for Georgia State University Athletic Department, said. "Our season ticket brochures and schedule cards, for example."

Finally, Atlanta Beer Festivals had a booth at Summerfest and their goal was to get the word out about their upcoming Summer Beer Fest on Saturday June 25. 

"What excites me is the retweets and the mentions where influential people mention us," Michael DiLonardo, Director of Operations, Atlanta Beer Festivals told me. "For example, Beer Connoisseur magazine has over 30,000 followers and they mentioned us. ATL Events has 9,000 followers and she retweets. That's where I see the value escalating."

Ideas for Festival Organizers

Festival organizers can make it easier for people to follow all the tweets about an event via Twitter Search. Define and promote a hashtag for people to use when posting about the event (for example #summerfest) and this simple step can yield big results for viral word of mouth. People who follow the event on Twitter are likely to retweet messages to their friends, extending the reach of your festival's message.

There are numerous other ways festivals can make it easier for customers to tell their friends about a festival, as well, and Hunter from GSU offered a few ideas.

"Summerfest could include the event's Twitter and Facebook accounts on the festival T-shirts to promote them," Hunter said. "Also, if Summerfest had a Twitter account, we could have retweeted their messages and interacted with them more as well."

Summerfest did a good job with its Facebook page. But it doesn't surprise me that people didn't know about the Summerfest Twitter account. It wasn't promoted well. And it was used sparsely, with only three tweets during the three day event.

3. Encourage photographs.

I might not buy a particular piece of art at a festival. But many of my 3,000 followers on Twitter might.

Despite that, I saw several artists with signs at their booths saying "no photography," which made it hard to tell my friends about their work. Yeah, I get it, your art is your copyrighted work and you don't want people to duplicate it. I also think you're being shortsighted. If you believe your "no photography" sign is really protecting your work from someone who wants to rip you off, you're deluding yourself. It's not. You're only discouraging people from telling their online friends about your art and limiting the audience for sales of your work.

How about this? Instead, put up a sign that says something like:  "We encourage you to take photos of our art and share them with your friends on social media! We're @YourTwitterName on Twitter."

Festival organizers can also have a big influence on photos. Before, during and after the event, encourage vendors and attendees to take photos at the festival and post them to Twitter, Facebook and Flickr (with the event hashtag). Then showcase links to the very best photos in a post-event recap on your website.

4. Avoid social media marketing overload

Some business people push a non-stop stream of marketing messages through social media.

"The word 'social media' tricked all the people that are just executors, the ones that aren't thinking," Vaynerchuck said at SXSW Interactive. "They hear the word media, and they think one thing. Push. All they want to do is push. And it's not their fault. Because marketing for the last hundred years has been push. Radio. Print. Billboards. TV. Email newsletters."

Don't do that.

Think of social media like a cocktail party. No one likes the person who comes up to them at a cocktail party and immediately starts trying to sell them something.

"It is my firm belief that everybody in social media marketing today acts like a 19 year old dude," Vaynerchuck said. "They try to close too fast. You need a little patience."

Put another way, don't be the social media version of the marketer who puts marketing flyers on parked cars.

Be a smart marketer and have conversations via social media with people who are talking about the festival. Build relationships with people through social media.

"When you post, it has to be content, it can't be advertising or overly self promoting," Schroeder of High Road Craft Ice Cream said. "You'll see an immediate drop in number of followers if it smells like advertising. It has to be a genuine dialog."

5. Monitor Twitter and provide real-time customer service.

My advice to businesses: monitor social media for mentions about your products and services and .

The same principal applies to festivals.

Festival organizers: assign at least one or even more volunteers to monitor social networks (Facebook and Twitter are musts) and respond in real-time.

Your attendees are talking on Facebook and Twitter. Listen and respond and you can win loyal fans.

The bottom line:  Make social media a core part of the festival experience for attendees, so that their experience of being at the festival is made even better.

David Eckoff June 22, 2011 at 05:01 PM
There wasn't space in the article for this tip, but it's a good one: A protip for Summefest (and all festivals): lock into your preferred vanity URL for your Facebook page to make it easier to promote. Instead of the ugly and difficult to promote URL: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Virginia-Highland-Summerfest/164811550248874 You could have something like this URL: http://www.facebook.com/VaHiSummerfest Here's how: http://www.facebook.com/help/?page=900
David Eckoff June 23, 2011 at 09:44 AM
A follow up to my article: my friend Todd Schnick wrote a good blog post "How To Use Twitter – The Arts Festival Method". Todd is a smart marketer, here's the link to his article, which is worth reading: http://intrepid-llc.com/social-media/how-to-use-twitter-the-arts-festival-method/trackback/

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