Social Media and Festivals: Distraction or Necessity?

I had a great question the other day from Nicole of Little Acorn Management:

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This is actually something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately, given that summer festival season is in full gear here in Ottawa. I’ve been a festival-goer for years, since well before the days of social media. I’ve watched as the way we connect to one another has grown and changed and seen first hand the impact this has had on any sort of large scale event.

But time and again, the questions get asked – does social media and this new layer of connection and conversation actually benefit events like music festivals? Or is it more distraction – taking away from the real-time, real-life experience as a whole? If everyone is nose-down in their smart phones, are they really paying attention to the performers? Are they having as rich an experience as they could be if they are more concerned about getting that perfect Instagram pic posted to their Facebook page?

Well, I believe there are a few sides to it.

Organizers Heart Social Media

There’s no doubt that, from a festival organizer standpoint, social media has revolutionized the way we are able to share, in real time, the experience of the festival scene. We can post photos, videos, audio clips and more and really engage with people about what’s happening on site. We can even encourage people who may not have been inclined to attend to show up. I’ve experienced this first hand with my work on the Cracking-Up the Capital Comedy Festival. We’ve been able to leverage social media before, during and after the event to give our audience a great layer of experience, including sharing behind the scenes pieces, which people love. While there are definitely some pitfalls to using social media from an event organizer perspective, overall it’s been a great addition to getting the audience involved in the festival experience.

Fans Can Help or Hinder

When it comes to fans and their use of social media at festivals, are a couple of sides. Organizers do love that fans can tweet, post pics, and more from the festival grounds. They help extend the experience beyond the gates and can do a lot to extend the brand on behalf of the organizers.

On the flip side, it takes just a few unhappy fans to cause a PR debacle that organizers must work to counter. This takes resources on the ground to be listening to the stream, addressing potentially negative issues before they spin out of control (and it can happen fast, trust me).  If line ups are too long, or sound bleed is too high, you’re going to hear about it via social media, and fast. It takes a savvy PR team to be able to fix things that are wrong and ensure that communication is happening at all levels.

6950249475_669810c0af_mWhat Experience Do YOU Want to Have?

On the question of whether people are missing the true festival experience because they are too busy trying to capture and share the experience with the online world, I do think that there’s a risk here of losing out because of the distraction of technology. While it’s fun to see the odd photo from your friends who are at the festival, I do sometimes wonder if part of their experience is being lost because they are waiting for a photo to upload on the cell network that’s bogged down by the 15,000 other people trying to do the same thing. It’s the same reason I’ve never really understood live tweeting at events – if you’re so busy trying to compose 140 character snippets of what’s happening in front of you, are you really paying attention to the actual live experience?

Ultimately, it’s up to each of us to decide how we want to experience any form of entertainment. For me personally, I tend to take one or two snaps, then leave my phone in my pocket (unless I’m posting as part of my job, which is different). I’d rather be face to face with the experience. After all, if I’ve paid $60 or $80 or more to attend a show, I’d rather spend my time enjoying it than surfing Facebook. That’s my take. You may have different reasons.

At the same time, companies like my friend Allan Isfan’s FaveQuest are doing some really cool things to bring technology to the festival space in a truly engaging way. What they are doing really works to augment the festival experience, not hinder it.

In the end, I think that social media has added a great layer of interaction and sharing to the festival experience for both organizers and fans. It’s allowed me to be able to connect with other people who love music and other forms of entertainment, and the festival vibe and culture certainly transcends the technology.

I hope that answers your question Nicole! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Photo Credit: theqspeaks via Compfight cc

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  • July 10, 2013 at 8:13 am

    Great question for sure. I totally see the benefits from a PR point of view but I personally think it has become an obsession and in now way see it as a necessity. What I see and not only at festivals is that people are having more of a hard time paying attention to the present moment and the people in front of them as you described some of it above.

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  • July 11, 2013 at 9:57 am

    So right! From so many angles!
    The points you raise say to me that one of the most radical effects on the festival experience — or the experience of any event, really — has surely been how differently we participate in “the present moment”. As an artist manager, I often hear artists’ concern when they catch sight of someone texting during a set. Concern ranges from wishing listeners would pay better attention, to “am I losing my edge?” I frequently counsel artists to remember: it isn’t your job to guilt people into paying attention – it’s your job to be compelling on that stage. And perhaps more importantly, nothing says that that listener isn’t texting out “Ya gotta get here, the music is awesome!”
    The potential pitfalls you describe – a complaint being just one tweet away! – certainly loom over the head of an event’s success. And though we may appear to be deficient in our attention to the present moment, by using social media, we might indeed be changing the scope of that present moment. Tweeting, Instagram’ing, Vine’ing, checking-in and posting… all of these may be increasing the event’s appeal, and drawing others into that very moment, even when they are not there! A new, social-media-presence. Hm… radical.
    Thanks for combing out some thoughtful issues on this, Susan. Insight like this keeps us talking and keeps us connected.

  • July 11, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    It’s a necessity for festivals. No doubt.



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