It’s Festival Season: Social Media Strategies for a Complex, Multiday Event

Whether it’s a large convention or a major festival, managing social media for a multiday, multifaceted event is an undertaking that can challenge the most experienced social strategist and is too often relegated to the least. It requires balancing the authentic, in-the-moment aspect of social media with the need to keep your messages on point. And you have to do it all while making sure you’re in the right place at the right time to capture the right moments, complying with social posting protocols of sponsors, and keeping your audience of attendees and prospects engaged. To pull it off is a mammoth feat that requires a great deal of legwork and a solid game plan.

A good case in point is the 2019 Pebble Beach Food & Wine (PBFW) event, which brought 100 celebrity chefs, representatives from 250 wineries and more than 8,000 affluent foodies to the Monterey Peninsula this April. Mower was tasked with covering 45 functions in eight venues over the four days of the festival. Adding to the challenge was the not-insignificant physical distance between one venue and the next.

Because Instagram is the PBFW channel with the strongest foothold, we focused our social feed activity around in-the-moment storytelling on Instagram Stories. Ultimately, that “live from PBFW” storytelling strategy earned more than a quarter million impressions during the festival—a five-fold increase over the year before, and inspired user-generated content that reached hundreds of thousands of interested followers.

On the heels of the event’s success, we’ve documented the strategies that worked for our team and offer them to you as best practices.

Create a master onsite plan.

As soon as you have the schedule of events, assign a member of your team to every function you need to cover. Map distances between venues so you know each person has adequate time to make it from one assignment to the next. When there are two team members covering six concurrent one-hour seminars, as we faced at PBFW, working this out in advance is crucial.

Once you have your team in place, create a master onsite plan that includes assignments and logistics for each event. Give every team member a copy of the plan so they always have it at their fingertips. We found that investing the considerable time it required to create a detailed plan paid off in the mind space it gave us to flex and be creative on the ground.

The first pages of your master plan should include the following:

  • The event’s official social media hashtags and handles.
  • A bank of potential captions on universal themes that you can use for inspiration or lift in a pinch. A few from our list for PBFW: “Hard to beat food, wine and sunshine,” “Yes it does taste as good as it looks,” and “Pinkies up.”

  • Brand voice guidelines. Have a strong handle on your client’s brand voice and make sure your client is comfortable in advance with the style and tone you plan to use in your on-site posts. When minutes count, you want the client to trust you to post without waiting for approval.

Each of the event’s functions should have a dedicated page in your master plan that includes all of the logistics—time, location and the team member covering it, as well as the following:

  • A list of any priority content for that function to ensure the team member on the ground captures the essential stories and images. For a pasta competition at PBFW, for example, our team member knew in advance to take video of the winner’s announcement and images of the chefs at work, guests sampling dishes, and the judges tasting the entries.
  • A few nuggets of interesting, relevant information on the product, business or personality that will be showcased at the function for possible story tie-ins. For instance, we knew ahead of a seminar by Champagne Pol Roger that its Cuvée was shared by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on their wedding day.
  • Handles and hashtags for all major players so you can tag quickly without having to chase them down at the event.
  • Hashtags, brand guidelines and any social media protocols and restrictions for event sponsors, plus a cell phone number for the person who approves their content. The more you know about sponsors’ nuances and needs ahead of time, the better your chances of getting them to approve your posts quickly.

In addition to the advance work, here are some of the strategies that served us well on the ground.

Create a story arc.

For our master plan, we grouped each day’s functions by morning, afternoon and night. That told us where we needed story dividers to help organize Instagram topics so someone watching our stories would be able to follow a clear arc that gave a sense of the day as it progressed. We designed transition slides ahead of time using stock photography and titles to help people follow the story.

Regroup and breathe before you post.

Social is supposed to feel authentic and not overproduced, but it also needs to look professional and represent your client’s brand well. Because we divided our images into time frames throughout the day, we could capture morning content then regroup to pick the best shots before posting and moving on to afternoon assignments.

Use apps to diversify your posts.

A variety of content helps keeps viewers engaged. We balanced static images and video and employed effects like slow-mo, Hyperlapse and Boomerang to keep it fresh. And, we shifted content seamlessly from tongue-in-cheek posts like “How to butcher a 149-lb. tuna in 3 steps” with Chef Morimoto to ultra-luxe images like a spectacular sunset view of a Chef Mallmann dinner in a $37-million cliffside home.

A few tools and apps we found helpful for this purpose:

  • SparkPost to create transitional slides because it enables movement. (Some of our transitions attracted the highest view counts, in fact.)
  • StoryArt to put multiple photos or videos on a page
  • Unfold for streamlined templates
  • Snapseed and Lightroom for editing

To save time, load the apps directly onto your phone and reorganize your phone screen so all apps are quickly accessible. And speaking of phones, always, always have a portable battery with you to charge your phone on the fly—the last thing you need is to run out of juice mid-event.

Keep a handle on user-generated content.

UGC is a key part of your social strategy, but reposting it in the moment while you’re capturing content of your own is overwhelming. We reserved reposts until the end of the day, gathering UGC together under headers like “Friday Fan Club.”

Have separate teams for social and media relations.

While influencer relations might seem to fall under the jurisdiction of the social media team, we had no time to help influencers navigate the experience while we were on the job. Instead, we found it worked better to assign that responsibility to those in charge of media relations while we operated like members of the press.

Pulling a detailed plan together is time-consuming, but when you arrive at the event with your team focused and ready to deploy, you’ll find the effort was well worth it. Ready to learn more? See what Mower’s social media specialists can do for your brand.