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2017 Social Media Marketing Trends for Fairs
A MCW roundtable discussion

5/17/2017

By Timothy Herrick

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Carnival Warehouse Roundtable features a virtual discussion by professionals, experts and observers on fair industry issues

Annual fair traditions like 4-H competitions, a Ferris Wheel on the midway and fairgoers favorite Funnel Cake may be the same year in and year out, but the social media promotion of those belevoled traditions will definitely not be same. 

Change - an more often than not, rapid change - is inherent in social media. From expanding their social media staff, developing new content exclusively for social media promotions or adding a new platform, fair organizers and their marketing teams are developing new strategies, either adding new parts or building on what worked last year. 

The social media audience cannot be overlooked - and certainly fairs of all sizes have become more professional about using this medium to reach more fairgoers. According to a November 2016 report from the Pew Research Center "On a total population basis (accounting for Americans who do not use the internet at all), that means that 68 percent of all U.S. adults are Facebook users, while 28 percent use Instagram, 26 percent use Pinterest, 25 percent use LinkedIn and 21 percent use Twitter. 

What are  the 2017 trends for fairs when it comes to social media marketing? To explore the current state of social media marketing for fairs, Carnival Warehouse decided to hold its first virtual round table discussion with three authorities not just in social media but in fair marketing and of course, in fairs (and festivals). Mark O'Shea. Co-Founder, Noise New Media; Mary Weber, Social Media Manager, Innovative Marketing/Weber Consulting; and Jill Walls, President, Main Gate Marketing. These professionals have successfully used social media to market and promote dozens of fairs and if anyone has their fingers on the social media pulse of the fair industry, they do. 

This virtual dialog is both honest and revealing about how social media is changing and how fairs can either ride this wave or flounder in its wake. As revealing are their differences in opinion on many key issues may be, what they do agree on is that social media can longer be treated an afterthought. Many fairs are still deciding on what their 2017 social media strategy  will be and this discussion can hopefully provide some astute perspectives to aid the planning process all fairs are going through. 

Carnival Warehouse: How has Social Media Marketing Evolved for Fairs?

Mark O'Shea: Social media now makes the fair its own media outlet. In the old days, you wouldn't give your most closely guarded secrets to the newspaper or radio station to reach your audience, but now you are own media outlet to reach your own audience. 

Mary Weber: Facebook has become pretty much the perfect medium for fairs. It has matured into a medium used by adult women with children while kids have migrated to other platforms. About two years ago most people probably were thinking Twitter was the next big thing but it is really the only social medium that has fallen. As an industry, we're still trying to figure out how best to use Instagram and Snapchat; we still haven't found a completely successful way to use those two media.

Jill Walls: The big benefit of social media is that it gives a brand a direct line of communication with prospects and attendees. These medium, in particular, give fairs an opportunity to promote areas of their event beyond traditional advertising channels. Social media also provides the opportunity for fairs and events to connect with their audience and create a real community online.

CW: What social media platform is the most effective for fairs and why?

O'Shea: It's a difficult question, there's not necessarily one size fits all, but it depends where your audience is. Facebook is the most effective for selling tickets, and has the most opportunities for marketing. We try to sell tickets, for that Facebook works the best. 

Walls: Each form of social media offers its own benefits and audience. Facebook certainly has mass appeal, but there are really great ways to reach particular target audiences by using a mix of social media platforms to market fairs and events.

Weber: Facebook because it reaches the core audience for fairs. It is important to keep people engaged with your posts. You must be creative with your posts and be authentic to create a large follower base. Facebook gives you the opportunity to use multi-media posts, video, pictures, text to get your messaging across. People can look at past ads, a history of posts, gather information and do it easily and effectively

CW: Which social media platform will be the weakest in 2017?

Weber: Twitter and Instagram - they're closed loops and not as public facing. When you post you only reach those who are following you. Its more of a one to one interaction-type or for small groups. Facebook is a multi-layered platform, people can look through your page and see what's happening not only currently but also in the past. It's almost like flipping through a yearbook whereas Twitter and Instagram don't allow for this diversity in posts, they're much more limiting.

O'Shea: All the platforms have their strengths, and there are certain audiences for each of the platforms. But if you are looking for platforms that directly translate into ticket sales, than Pinterest is probably not the best, but for fairs that have a large creative arts components, Pinterest is very effective, and can work great for different facets of the event. But, if you are trying to the move needle in terms of ticket sales, and grow the attendance, Pinterest is not the best.

Walls: It depends on who you are trying to reach. Certain platforms resonate with certain audiences. It is important to use a mix of social media channels based on your demographics.

CW: Which social media platform do you anticipate growing the fastest in 2017?

O'Shea: Snapchat is on a roll. Any industry professional is now on Instagram, but Snapchat is the rising platform, and it's huge with millennials. All the kids these days are on Snapchat. 

Weber: If I'm trying to be cool or trendy I would say Snapchat because there is some use of filters and hashtags that generate buzz but the true answer is Facebook because they're doing work with businesses to better reach audiences. Facebook will become more useful and prominent then as they continue to innovate and build the brand. 

Walls: Facebook Live continues to perform exceptionally well. Platforms like Periscope and Meerkat, who were at the forefront of live streaming video, have lost share to Facebook Live.

CW: How can fairs best utilize Facebook live in 2017?

Walls: Pre-Fair, use Facebook Live to show set-up, do some behind the scenes interviews, conduct contests and create buzz. During the Fair, use it to do man on the street interviews with event attendees, go live from some of the shows, and share the energy of the event. People want to be where others are having fun. Facebook Live gives them a real taste of the event from those who are actually there.

O'Shea: Generally speaking, a post on Facebook, with just texts, with no photos has the lowest organic reach. With Facebook Live, can have a higher reach than an average post. You can showcase your exciting event, from sky ride and show the whole carnival. It is critical for fairs and festivals, to use Facebook Live, and also use social media to acknowledge sponsors. You can reach a higher number of people and keep them engage for a longer period of time than just a post. 

Weber: I'm not sure the "live" aspect adds a lot to the fair since we can already take video and post it when we want to. Maybe a live ribbon cutting or press conference would be a good way to use it, like for major announcements for a fair but otherwise there's plenty of opportunities to use video on Facebook instead of being live. There could be a few interesting opportunities or immediate use ideas for it to come into play. I'm sure people will be experimenting with it throughout 2017 and maybe when we have this conversation next year we'll be able to determine if it's beneficial to our purpose.

CW: What common social media pitfall must fairs avoid when its comes to 2017 marketing?

O'Shea: The biggest one is that philosophically, a fair would never leave the running of their livestock show or their sponsorship department to an intern, so why would they delegate the marketing in the most forward facing media and the most important outlet for marketing to an intern? That's a mistake. You need quality content. You need somebody who knows what they are doing, to strategize about the content and what is the content, and to time when you post and what you post. 

Weber: The most common pitfall is that they don't have a plan for posting. You need to plan when to post, who to target, when to do it, and make an editorial calendar. It is a campaign like any other advertising or public relations campaign. Unfortunately, a lot of fairs just put up random pictures whenever they can but just because it's a new medium doesn't mean it shouldn't have a plan like any other marketing tool. You need to be creative and look spontaneous but you also need content and some discipline with posting.

Walls: I encourage my clients to think beyond the expected and be creative in the delivery. Our events are about people, and it is important to encourage and make connections to experiences rather than just tangible elements.

CW: What are the most effective Fair posts?

O'Shea: People don't want to read anymore, so most likely something very, very short. 
Video now work bests, but it depends on who you are targeting. With somebody 13 for instance, video works best but for somebody say 63, then a graphic with more text. People from different generations digest information in different ways.  

Walls: Some of the most effective posts I have used are ones that encourage action and engagement from fairgoers and event attendees. What is so special about this industry are the experiences people share across generations at our events. Memories, stories, photos...these are what fairgoers share with us on social media, and they are what make the medium so effective for us from a marketing perspective. This also is great content for future marketing of the event.

Weber: Facebook contests are definitely the most effective in terms of reach and engagement. In the contest, we have strategies we've developed to gain more followers on the page and start a conversation about the fair. Strong incentives with free items is always a winner, no matter the medium.

CW: How often is too often? 

O'Shea: Up to the audience. You can cycle within a day five times, if they are five great pieces and it is right before or during the fair. If the fair is not for a few months and it's snowing outside, then it's not the best time to do a lot of posts. It depends on the quality of the comments, sometimes it those fifth posts that go viral, and the impact of that is quite real. 

Weber: I think it's more of a quality issue than a frequency issue. You want your post to be well thought out, creative, and engaging for your followers.

Walls: I think it important to remember that social media should play a consistent role in the evolution of the Fair or event as a brand. It is not something that should be done just during the event or even in the weeks leading up to the event. It should promote and support the efforts of the facility in a year round capacity. Social media requires constant two way communication, and that should not be overlooked or even delayed.

CW: What component of a fair marketing works best on social media?

O'Shea: People love food, people love fair food.

Walls: In my opinion, every aspect of the Fair translates well on social media 

 Weber: Facebook allows us to delve deeper into other aspects of the fair not highlighted in the general market ad and bring them out to our followers. Whether its the agricultural aspects of the fair, entertainment that doesn't make it into your general marketing ad, or musical acts that aren't headliners, it's a really great way to put a spotlight on other aspects of the fair in a very specific way. 
   
CW: What component is the biggest challenge for social media marketing?

Walls: Even though I own a technology company, I am a traditional fair person. I believe that the historical foundation of fairs relating to agriculture and commerce is vitally important and should not be downplayed. 

Weber: I'm not sure it's a challenge but we can't think of social media as a pure advertising medium. It's more of a PR medium so we have to be creative and put a little more thought into what we're trying to accomplish but do it in an organic way that appeals to people. So it takes a little more time and thought to put something together that will be engaging to our followers. 

O'Shea: Selling the tickets. Getting people to part with their hard earned money.

CW: How can fairs improve their social media marketing increase millennial attendance?

O'Shea: The growth market is kids, and you want the kids to fall in love with the fair. It is a little difficult with teenagers, they are a little quirky, but they will go to shows. The millennials with young kids and their families, you want them to fall in love with the concept of going to the fair as a family, seeing the entertainment, and loving the experience. That starts early.

Weber: Social media can help build audiences and get your message out but you still need programming (concerts, entertainers, activities etc.) that will attract this group to the fair. Millennials are not a big homogenous group: some have kids, others are young professionals that spend 70-80 hours a week working so it's not like social media is a magic wand that can attract all millennials. Social media can certainly help but you still need to have programming that attracts them and advertise it well. How we reach them may have changed but we still need the content to back up the outreach.

Walls: It is important to include a mix of digital platforms to best reach the wide fair/event audience. Social platforms like Snapchat and YouTube are very popular. In fact, according to Hootsuite, Millennials account for more than seven out of 10 Snapchat users. Younger audiences are engaged in digital platforms on a fundamental level, so reaching them this way makes the most sense. Overall, it is important to develop a marketing program that includes both traditional and non-traditional media to be most effective. 




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