Audience engagement is an important component of the event planning process for festivals and events. Annual festivals face challenges that continuing events don’t. They must find a means for audience engagement for more than the one to three days of most festival durations.
The specific strategy and tactics you use for event engagement must align with the theme, goals, and target audience for the festival. The three-time frames to engage with event attendees are before, during, and after the festival.
Pre-festival engagement is important to create interest and get people to spread the word with their social media followers and friends.
Post-festival engagement is vital to get feedback from attendees regarding their experiences at the event that can be used planning future events. It’s also important to maintain and increase loyalty with those who attended the event.
This post is about ways to engage your festival audience as part of the festival experience when it takes place. I will discuss pre and post festival engagement in a future post on that subject. An event app provides the means to engage over the entire time span.
Event Planning: Festival Engagement Tactics During the Event
Before discussing a festival engagement strategy and implementation tactics, it’s important to remember that whatever event planning you do must align with the theme, goals, objectives, and PKIs of the festival. These are the things that keep you focused on what is important. Otherwise, you might get lost and lose direction during the event planning process with all the various possibilities at your disposal.
Sponsors can be a big part of getting attendees involved in the event with their sponsorship activations. You want sponsors to partner with you in creating both festival and brand engagement opportunities. That’s also why the brands you partner with must also align with the festival’s goals. It always comes down to what you are trying to accomplish as a festival organizer. The more specific you are in defining that while event planning, the easier it is to plan for the appropriate festival engagement experiences.
Community Engagement Is Part of the Festival Event Engagement Strategy
A big part of making a festival successful is getting the participation of the community. There are different ways to incorporate local people into the festival operation. Individuals can be involved in many ways in event planning, being festival volunteers, social media influencers or advocates, etc. The discussion that follows is focused on getting community organizations involved and fully engaged when planning your festival.
Again, we must refocus on the theme and goals during event planning to determine which and how to engage community organizations. A food festival is different from a music festival which is different from a cultural festival. All these types of festivals will usually have an entertainment, food, sponsor, and exhibitor/vendor component. The difference is the emphasis and which groups you will approach to play a prominent role in the event and help achieve the festival’s goals.
Let’s use a festival focused on celebrating the heritage and culture of a community as a festival model for community engagement. The following are some examples of tactics for getting the community involved.
Engage Community Arts Organizations with the Festival
Both performing and visual arts can play a prominent role in a cultural or community-focused festival.
Photo and art shows and competitions sponsored by community visual arts organizations not only provide a way for fine arts and visual arts, but they also offer a way attendees can become more engaged with the festival. Posting their favorite art to social media, voting for the best of show award
Performing Arts organizations are a missed opportunity for many festivals that only concentrate on bands and singers for the entertainment portion of their festival events. Getting performing arts organizations to showcase their talent at a festival accomplishes two things: First, it provides entertainment for festival attendees that has been traditionally focused on local bands and singers. Second an engaged organization will promote the festival to their audience, opening the festival to a new group of potential attendees. This is like the way a brand sponsorship engages and promotes.
Think about chorales, dance companies, orchestras, bands, performing arts magnet schools, ballet companies, opera, theater, etc. Many of these organizations would like to introduce their art to people who might not be aware of their work.
TSE has found that community performing arts organizations are a great resource for getting the community involved with a festival. In one festival we produce and manage, there is a dedicated stage at the festival for such organizations.
Engage Other Organization with Festival-Associated Activities
Focus during event planning on getting other organizations to participate as either part of the festival or with a pre-festival activity is another way to get community engagement with your festival. Examples include:
- Running Events: Get organizations associated with holding such events to host one as a festival associated activity. It could be a pre-festival event for a one-day festival taking place the day of the festival before it officially begins. For multi-day festivals, holding such an event during the festival before the festival activities start for the day. It doesn’t need to be a competitive event. It should be a fun event easily run or walked by families together.
- Exercise Classes: Like running events, exercise classes are a great way to get organizations involved with a festival. Perhaps a local YMCA or fitness club could host it. Another option is a yoga class.
- Workshops: Depending on the nature of the festival, workshops centered around the purpose of the festival are another approach to festival-associated activities outside the festival time schedule. A walking tour workshop is a good way to introduce people to a neighborhood, especially is the festival is a celebration of the neighborhood.
- Parade: Why not use a parade to open the festival? Parades are a great reason for families to come out. If that’s your target demographic, then a parade may be something to consider.
Engaging Attendees with the Festival
There are a myriad of ways to make attendees active participants rather than passive observers of the festival’s activities. It’s vitally important to festival stakeholders that attendees’ experience makes them loyal followers of future events.
Festival engagement can run the gamut from simple things such as asking participants to donate a holiday toy or nonperishable food item when they enter the grounds to immersive experience that require a lot of effort on their part.
Sponsor activations are a great way for the attendees to become engaged with the festival. If the sponsor is aligned with the festival’s goals, the assets they employ should really captivate attendees and enhance their festival experience. That’s why it’s important to partner with sponsors during the event planning process to create the right sponsorship activations that meet not only the brand’s needs, but also helps achieve the goals of the festival.
Using an Event App is the Crown Jewel of Festival Engagement
As I’ve addressed earlier in another post on Why Use an Event App using an event app is the one of the best ways to engage those interested in your festival before, during and after the event. Let’s continue our discussion on engaging during the event.
A well implemented event app will provide the means to engage in different ways with the folks who attend the event. It will allow both the festival organizer and sponsoring brands to reach out and touch attendees, converting them from spectators to participants. The best approach is to have both an event app and a festival website that complement each other. Here’s a sample of the ways a good event app can engage festival attendees:
- Gamification: Get guests involved with scavenger hunts, quizzes, trivia contests and other ways to activity get them involved with certain activities during the festival. Make a contest and post a leader board. Many event apps are versatile enough for you to design a “game” that helps the festival goals and PKIs.
- Instant Polls: Event apps allow you to push instant polls out to those people at certain activities. How did you like the XXX? Rate your experience. These instant polls take only seconds to respond to and you reach out to people immediately after or even during a festival event.
- Photo Booth: Encourage your guests to take photos and share them on social media. Set up places that will entice people to take selfies. Event apps allow the use of filters to enhance the photo. Why not do a photo contest? You can do that thanks to many event apps.
- Provide coupons or promotions to those attending the festival to incentivize them to take certain actions. Whether is a discount on food items or a chance to snatch a ticket to an upcoming festival event, the use of promotions is another way to engage your guests.
- Push notifications: An event app provides you the ability to push text messages to your guest to both inform and engage them. Used judiciously, they can be a great way to involve your guests in activities by notifying them of festival events, so they have a chance to participate.
- Walking tours: Many apps provide the ability to use audio and location information to guide guests through a walking tour of interesting locations within the festival area. It could include such things as historical sites or other locations that would be of interest to attendees.
The keys to good festival engagement include getting community organizations involved with the festival, particularly those which fit with the festival’s goals and objectives. It also means developing a sponsorship program that attracts sponsors that fit the goals as well. The third key is employing an event app that has the features you need to engage your audience. Each of these keys requires partnering with the organizations and sponsors to create good engagement activities that meet their needs as well as the festival’s. Remember an event app is only as good as the features and how the festival organizers use them. With engagement comes fun and loyalty. Today’s festivals, as a part of event planning process, need to design immersive and experiential events within the festival to complement the spectator activities that are common to festivals. Those that do will enhance the loyalty of their fans and will build a following that results in greater and greater attendance and will achieve the festival’s goals and objectives.
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