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All Eyes on Smalltown, USA

How small-town festivals can grow over time, and what that growth needs to enable long-term success.

Small-town festivals are all but ubiquitous across the state of Texas. The Luling Watermelon Thump, the Poteet Strawberry Festival, Border Town Days in Farwell and Lickskillet Days in Fayetteville. While some of these have been around for generations, with new bedroom communities popping up left and right, especially along the I-35 corridor, new festivals and annual events are weaving their way into the fabric of Texas culture. Beyond the mere enjoyment of the event by the townsfolk, festivals are a fantastic and fun way to draw tourism dollars into your berg and for some communities across middle America, festivals have such a strong economic impact that they support a large portion of their cities’ annual budget. Let’s take a look at creating a new festival, breathing life into an old one, and ways to keep them healthy to maximize the long term benefit for the community.

First, you need a great event, or at least a great idea for one. Most small-town festivals are tied to things that put them on the map to begin with. Bulls and mosquitoes, peaches and balloons. There is no shortage of reasons Texans believe themselves and the locales in which they reside to be deserving of fame. Maybe you’re a new or recently revived community, and, well, it’s summer and it’s hot and that seems like a great reason to douse your citizenry with water from the fire hydrants in the city park. Who am I to judge how wasteful of natural resources your Springfield Summer Festival might seem? That’s far beyond the purview of this particular blog post. What I’m here to talk about is finding a reason to celebrate and turning that celebration into a tradition.

Give the people what they want… water from a hydrant? Hot air balloons? Live music? Fireworks? Peach eating contests? High-velocity weiner dogs? Any of these present great opportunities to launch traditions and while some cost quite a bit and others [read: wiener dog races] do not, a variety of attractions and a little good weather could be the recipe for the hottest ticket in town. Understanding your market and giving them what they want is your first priority.

Once you have your audience engaged, in this day and age it’s imperative to create avenues for attendees to organically amplify the event across social media. There are several ways to do this, but it goes back to understanding your audience:

  • #create #hashtags #for #your #event #and #encourage #people #to #use #them

    • This is the easiest way to get organic reach on platforms like Instagram and Facebook

  • If your audience is on Snapchat, create a custom GEO filter for them to use

    • The platform’s not what it used to be, but it’s still a popular means of communications for certain age groups

Leverage technology and your fans to make an offline experience amplified online. This turns the crowd into brand ambassadors for the festival. People sharing how much fun they’re having with their friends via social media is a very cost-effective promotional tool.

Post-event, it’s about consistent communication with the fans via social media and email. Keep them up to date and get them excited for next year. Consistent communication before, during, and after the event will create content that allows new fans to find out about the festival. The more content you have from the event, the easier it is for your event to turn up organically in search engines when people might be researching things to do in your little berg.

Remember that social media, while important due to its massive reach, is not a silver bullet. It’s really about using all available channels: Owned (website, emails, social media), earned (press coverage, word of mouth, social media), and paid (advertising, signage, and social media). By effectively managing your owned, earned, and paid channels, you will generate a social media presence that grows and expands the awareness of the event. 90 or 93 percent of all word of mouth takes place offline, then moves online via social media and press coverage.

Finally, if this is a small-town festival that’s growing into a large event, the town must embrace and support the festival. Event organizers – or someone they hire [read: Craftsmen Events] – need to work with the City Hall to help them understand the economic impact the event has on the town. As the event grows, work with the town to invest in infrastructure to support the growth. Here in Austin, we know a bit about organic festival growth: We just celebrated Eeyore’s birthday – one of the most iconic festivals of all – and of course, we are home to a few hip and local festivals, SXSW and ACL that now attract thousands of visitors from all over the world. We are in the second year of working with the City of San Marcos to get Go Wheels Up! Texas, a large airshow and music festival, off the ground. Your festival may not soar away on such lofty wings, but Craftsmen Events can help you set reasonable goals and assess what you need to get there.

  • Jake