One crucial element that the world’s most iconic and influential festivals share in common is the communities that they have built around the event. These essential bonds that are formed at the festival and endure long after the site is broken down, can’t be made by just dope lineups, or top tier facilities. They exist in Facebook groups and on Reddit threads, are fueled by memes and inside jokes, and build the unique culture of your fan experience year on year.
Perpetually clad in purple doubloons and brimming with an infectious zeal, Eamon Armstrong is perhaps the most active and recognizable participant in the global festival community. As the Creative Director of Everfest and Fest300, he has been building connections, facilitating relationships, and driving discourse on festivals for the last several years.
As someone that knows how to build the kind of active ambassador networks that exist year round, we asked Eamon for some advice on how to invoke that crucial sense of ownership in your attendees and how you can make community the driving element of your festival.
Build that Trust
“There has to be a deep sense of trust between the event and its audience,” Eamon explains. “The fans need to know that the vibe is going to be preserved and that it’ll feel like the same event that they loved last year.”
While some of that trust will derive from vision or consistency, having a likeable public face of the festival—be it the owner or a longtime act—helps to give an event a human edge, and can do wonders for the fans perception.
“Pasquale Rotella of Insomniac has established a trust with his audience to the point where they feel like they know him personally. Of course they trust his events too, but he personally interacts with his fans and I think that goes a long way.”
Don’t Overlook Vendors and Volunteers
Many festival vendors, particularly in the transformational festival scene, are part of a broad and intricate network and community, and the participant infrastructure that they bring to the event is key.
“The vendors make up a group of people that are always connecting at events throughout the festival season, and a lot of them use community to build their brand,” Eamon explains. Some of the most vibrant parts of the festival are the vendor villages, and the general bustle of this community in action often overspills back into “real life”.
“Volunteers are one of the most understated elements of a festival’s success,” he adds. “You have this group of people that come to your event, work for free, year after year, they are such a crucial part of the environment and it’s really important that festival organizers treat them well and ensure that they want to come back and be part of the family.”
Online Groups are Key
“A lot of festival promoters bemoan the fact that they have two spikes in engagement, one when they announce the lineup and around the event. Danny Wimmer once said to me that if you could get his attendees to talk about his events year round, he would pay whatever you asked!”
Helping to nurture online groups on Facebook and Reddit is a great way to keep your fans talking about your event year round. By establishing rideshares or ticket exchanges, posting memes, or discussing their memories of the event, these fans are becoming advocates and contributors to your festival.
Eamon manages the fervent Fest300 Inner Circle Facebook group, which is largely made up of festival professionals (and the odd super fan). He engages the community and shapes discussion about how the industry can develop, while also using the group to give feedback to willing festival promoters.
A central element of Burning Man that has spread its influence to the wider festival community is the principle of participation.
“Participation is key to building an attachment to the brand and to sculpting the identity of the festival,” explains Eamon. “Burning Man is entirely built by its participants, and most of the other transformational festivals have this element at their core. But for other events, that participation comes from the staff, volunteers and the vendors. Community shouldn’t just be thought of as the attendees. The staff build the entire event and are on site the longest. They should be encouraged to feel ownership.”
Without attendees there is no event, and many festival promoters share in the desire to sell out before the lineup is announced. Fostering and investing in your community should be an essential element of a long term festival strategy, because when your audience and your staff are encouraged to participate, they will go the extra mile to make sure that the event is the best it can be.
Eamon Armstrong is always open to talking about festivals and help in the mission of creating a global network through the human celebration. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.