Social Media Activation: 5 Tips for the Perfect Branded Experience

Music festivals take place online as much as they do in grassy fields or huge arenas. The major, institutional festival brands—Coachella, Bonnaroo, SXSW—are cultural events that are the anchor point to a whole lifestyle and a whole media, social, and marketing ecosystem results in their wake. These events have achieved this status, in part at least, by harnessing social media in a multitude of forward-thinking ways, from advertising to brand activations to influencer engagement. The most effective methods have shown to be a bit of all three in one, and the past few years have seen fans and influences engaging with brands in novel and unique ways that have rewritten the script on event advertising. When connecting with sponsors, brands, influencers, marketing, and content teams, keep in mind these tips to come up with unique experiential, social media, and branded marketing campaigns for your event.  

It’s All About the Soft Sell

It should be taken as fact: People, particularly media-savvy young people, can spot corporate advertising from a mile away. Heavy-handed branding and traditional marketing tropes are not as effective with the festival-going audience, who expect an activation or a marketing push to add to their experience. A good rule to go by is: treat fans like partners, not targets. If an activation attendee feels like they’ve taken part in an experience with a brand rather than being sold to, they are likely to be much more receptive to the message.

Nobody exhibits this philosophy better than Red Bull, who sponsor festival stages and events around the world with many of the world’s hottest up-and-coming artists but make sure that their branding is discrete and doesn’t get in the way of the experience. You can always count on Red Bull to pull off a near-perfect execution of their brand activations.

You Have Multiple Markets

A well-run event enterprise—even a smaller event with a niche demographic—is about more than just one thing. Whether it’s the personalities of your talent, the music, the food, the environment, the fans, the art, every aspect of your event can be activated in specific ways. For example: If your event has excellent food, make sure images of it get on Instagram by engaging influencers and artists who are foodies. Have a cool VR experience? Invite a tech blog to take part. The possibilities are endless. By taking advantage of the different market segments that comprise your audience rather than relying on one monolithic marketing push, you can reach people more directly and effectively.

A great example of this is when underground dance music legend and well-documented foodie Seth Troxler teamed up with Amsterdam Dance Event and 10,000 Hours, a charity organization, to cook for the homeless during the week-long festivities of ADE. The plan matched an artist with a niche of the festival and a unique brand entity to put together a unique social media activation.

You Have to be Visual

The best social networks for brand partnerships—Instagram, Snapchat, even Twitter—are visual. Communication happens through images and videos. If you intend to utilize these networks, the content produced by your activation has to be visual: think bright colors, unique concepts, high-quality imagery, recognizable themes. For something to be shareable, it has to be worth looking at, and that applies whether it’s people, food, music, or art. 

Everyone Loves Free Stuff

An old adage, but one definitely worth remembering: If you want people to take part in your activation experience, it really helps to give them something special for free. Sometimes that’s a unique experience like VR or 360 video tech, but free food and merchandise also tend to do well. But you’ll have to think harder than a boring old t-shirt or hat: Unique choices that fit the demographic and exhibit an understanding and relationship with the community your product serves will engender the most positive reaction.

A great example of this is State Farm’s “Here to Help House” partnership with Live Nation, in which festival attendees could stock up on free and useful items like sunscreen, toothpaste, and even free tows and fix-ups for cars stranded on the way home from a festival! You can bet that anyone who State Farm “Helped” at these events now has a more positive perspective on State Farm as a company. 

Content is King

Brand activation by Google
Google Brand Activation at Bonnaroo 2019

Planning and executing an excellent social media activation is nothing if it isn’t photographed, recorded, written about, shared, tweeted, or liked. A well-struck branded partnership maximizes its effects with a full suite of content in terms of blog coverage, YouTube videos, documentary video, a photo-set at the ready, a vibrant snapchat story, and a hashtag to tie them all together.

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