Summer is over and as we are stepping quickly into winter, we have already started reflecting on its good and bad moments. For me, open air music festivals are always top priority in my list of summer events. I enjoy the atmosphere, the people and of course the madness of watching lots of artists in just a few hours. But I have had bad experiences as well - many of this summer’s London-based festivals had a sort of bad luck (or maybe bad organisation?). The various social media platforms are nowadays the main channels of communication between event organisers and their audience. In this post, I will focus on three festivals I attended and I will try to analyse how their organisers used social media to create, maintain or destroy customer relationships. These festivals are Field Day , Bloc and Hard Rock Calling. Whenever I reflect on an event, I try to distinguish what happened before, during and after it. That’s what creates the overall audience experience, isn’t it?
Before the event people look to get in the festival mood, to learn more about the artists and maybe win some free tickets to share with friends. Field Day organisers knew that very well and they created the right style of engagement through Twitter, Facebook and other media. Throughout the year they uploaded podcasts featuring artists from the line-up. After the full line-up was announced, they made targeted posts with news about it and launched quizzes on Facebook. Hundreds of comments and tens of shares on Facebook encouraged various friends of existing followers to ‘Like’ the festival page. Closer to the day of the event, they were regularly giving away free tickets to lucky people who answered to a quiz, re-tweeted or shared a post.
What do they gain? Obviously they increase awareness of their festival and keep interest high (who doesn’t want a free ticket?). A few hours before the big day, they uploaded photos from the space and the stages. In that way, they increased the anticipation and ensured their audience that everything was going according to plan. Bloc and Hard Rock Calling organisers followed a similar but more mediocre approach. For example, a ship was to be the main stage at Bloc festival, but fans where kept largely in the dark. Bloc made little effort to stimulate any discussions, retweets or comments among the fans as to their unusual choice of venue.
During the event, festival goers do not check their Twitter (mainly due to the fact that the 3G network is down, they don’t want to risk bringing their smartphones or they have run out of battery). At any rate, the experience is out there and there is no need for Twitter or Facebook news (the romantic approach). Well... that might be true, but only when everything goes as planned. What happens if something goes wrong? I was at Bloc when Snoop Dogg never came on stage. Social media was the only way to learn what was happening. At that time, there wasn’t any official announcement, only tweets with rumours, which eventually became reality.
After the event, people tend to reflect on their experience by sharing pictures, footage or reviews. Field Day organisers shared audience-generated content from YouTube. Hard Rock Calling fans were able to see professional photographs only few hours after the event. You might wonder how Bloc organisers faced their catastrophe. The festival was cancelled due to crowd safety concerns in the middle of its first day. The organisers released an official announcement 4 hours after the cancellation, which made things even more complicated. Their facebook page received thousands of comments from people who expressed mostly anger… at best. Everyone was asking for excuses and refunds, but from the other side there was complete silence. You’d better not visit the festival’s Facebook page today, because you will feel sorry or furious. Only after 2 months, the organisers were able to speak plain language and release an official announcement, but it was too late. Loyalty had been lost. Hard Rock Calling also faced difficulties. Bruce Springsteen was forced to stop while he was playing a duet with Sir Paul McCartney due to overtime (after 11pm there was to be silence). The organisers dealt with fans’ complaints by being the first to write about this decision. They also replied quickly to any followers who complained on Twitter.
This approach to social media complaints is not restricted to the festival space; O2 expertly handled the social media maelstrom in the wake of their 2 day signal outage. Showing empathy and dealing with individual complaints personably goes a long way in calming a social media storm.
Social media strategies are becoming one of the most important factors in the success of your event in terms of attracting and engaging with your audience. Some might argue that the budget can also influence the promotion of the event. That’s absolutely true. Field Day is an independent festival with a focus on new artists, whereas Hard Rock Calling is held by Live Nation, which is one of the largest event organisers worldwide. Budgets can’t be compared, but numbers of followers on twitter are very close if that means anything. Social media is a cheap and fairly easy way to create bonds with your target audience. Nevertheless, in the worst case scenarios, you must also be brave and face negative comments in the same way you retweeted compliments. Either you take the risk or leave it.
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