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Can a music festival be amplified? Is there an online conversation to be shared and captured, or should all social media posts be about promotion?

 
This year I have the honour of chairing the committee responsible for delivering Bath Folk Festival. A somewhat daunting task! In this post I explore how my experience as an event amplifier could help us to reshape the festival’s social media strategy, and how aiming to facilitate amplified conversations could produce more engaging social media content.

About Bath Folk Festival

 
Bath Folk Festival is a venue-based festival celebrating traditional music, dance, storytelling and art at venues across the city. It is a relatively new festival, which started in 2010 and has been active on social media since 2012. Like most small, volunteer-run organisations, the festival operates on a limited advertising budget and uses social media mainly for promotional purposes.

The main festival social media channels are:

These channels are very active in the run up to the festival, and usually focus on spreading information about concerts and events. There is some customer care offered via Facebook and Twitter for those with questions, but very little active conversation.

Can You Amplify a Festival?

 
Social media use around festivals is predominantly about promoting attendance and selling tickets. But is there a more engaging conversation to be had? Could we be using the festival as a vehicle to help our audience develop, learn and connect as a community, just like we do at conferences? Or should we just let people enjoy the music and leave it at that?

I believe there are a number of conversations to be had around an event like Bath Folk Festival that might help the audience to engage more deeply with the experience.

Topics might include:

  • What is folk music?
  • How to expand your musical horizons
  • How to get involved in the local trad scene
  • How to present yourself as a professional musician

Part of the festival’s remit includes educating audiences and building community cohesion, so focusing on facilitating open, online discussions could help us to meet these goals, and help us to extend these conversations into the live event.

Amplification Options

 
Thinking of the festival as an opportunity to involve people in an open, online conversation presents new opportunities to engage our audience via social media. As a result, our strategy might include actions such as:

  • Starting a “Year In The Life Of A Folk Festival” blog to start some of the issues and pressures involved in organising such an event so the audience can be involved in solving problems and developing the event
  • Producing conversation starter videos and posts for use on Facebook and Twitter
  • Creating a Snapchat story each day that explores a different issue and invites responses
  • Creating curated Soundcloud playlists to be circulated on Facebook and Twitter and used as tools for educating the audience about different styles/aspects of traditional culture (such as a guide to murder ballads)
  • Live streaming interviews and samples from selected events using Periscope

Whilst some of these ideas may have the added benefit of raising the festival’s profile and attracting more bookings, the primary purpose of these activities should be to engage the audience in an online conversation that can be captured, shared and extended over time.

Issues to Consider

 
The big question with all amplified events is: “Will people engage?” I have written before about the importance of researching your audience to determine whether they are actively using the platforms you plan to use as part of your amplification strategy. Our audience is quite varied – ranging from Bath residents who know nothing about folk to people from further afield who are fully immersed in traditional culture. The scoping work would need to be planned very carefully to determine where we should invest our efforts.

In addition, we need to bear in mind that our subject area here is of general interest. We should do further research to find out if some of these conversations are already taking place online, and if so, where. If there is a pre-existing conversation, we should consider whether there are ways to contribute meaningfully as part of our strategy.

Let the Experiment Begin!

 
I believe there are options to create a more interesting, conversational environment around a music festival that move the audience beyond merely liking and sharing posts. Reframing our social media strategy around the concept of an amplified conversation, rather promotion, has given me fresh ideas and I’m looking forward to exploring these further.

I hope to share the results of our amplification experiment at Bath Folk Festival over the next few months!
 
Image Credit: Northgate Rapper by Rich Pitkin (CC BY)

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