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How #Coachella Does Social

A series of Instagrams tagged with #coachella2014. At top is a shot of the "smart" festival wristband. Other shots are geo-tagged with festival locations.
A series of Instagrams tagged with #coachella2014. At top is a shot of the “smart” festival wristband. Other shots are geo-tagged with festival locations.

You may have heard of a little music festival held in the California desert near Palm Springs known as the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

Since its inception in 1999, Coachella has grown into an annual three-day, two-weekend event with 8 stages featuring popular and up-and-coming musical artists performing each day from 11:00 am until well after midnight. The festival also exhibits a wide variety of large-scale art installations displayed throughout the venue.

Goldenvoice, the producer of Coachella, announced that this year 90,000 people purchased tickets for each weekend. You can imagine the kind of social media activity a huge event like this creates. Last year, more than 120,000 images tagged #coachella2013 were uploaded by Instagram users. This year, that number rose to 195,038 photos tagged with #coachella2014, and the number of photos tagged #coachella was well over one million.

Considering the popularity of Coachella among the “Selfie Generation” and the sheer volume of attendees, these numbers aren’t in themselves all that surprising. But much can be learned from the creative steps Coachella organizers took to encourage the high level of social media engagement that continues building buzz for their brand online.

Harnessing the power of social through technology

For the past three years, Coachella attendees could use their wristbands (their “ticket” into the venue) to check-in at various spots around the festival grounds. The Coachella wristband is equipped with an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tag read by an electronic reader.

Festival-goers were instructed to activate their wristbands online prior to their arrival. During this activation process, guests created an account and had the option of connecting their Facebook and/or Twitter profiles to this account. Connecting profiles to the account allowed users to share tweets and status updates directly from a mobile app Goldenvoice developed for Apple and Google devices. This app features maps of the venue, artist lineups, and a social feed where users can view the official Coachella Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds. The app also features a camera and photo editor with filters (which are really more like frames featuring the Coachella name) users can choose from and then share directly to their social media accounts.

New this year, Coachella teamed up with the music streaming service Spotify to also give users the option of syncing their wristband with their Spotify accounts, which allowed them to collect custom Spotify playlists based on the stages they checked in at and who was performing at that time. Spotify branded this service with the hashtag #WeWereThere. After the festival, guests could access “reviews” of the artists they saw at Coachella on the Spotify website based on their check-ins.

But what good are these fun social tools if your phone dies? Surely a likely occurrence during a twelve-hour day at the festival! Concert organizers covered this possibility as well, providing several charging stations in shaded areas and air-conditioned tents to aid guests in keeping the social media party going throughout the festival.

#IWasThere: my Coachella social experience

I mostly used the Coachella mobile app to view the artist lineups and the map of the venue. I also created a customized artist lineup in the app using a feature named “Coachooser” that let me filter the schedule of set times to just show the artists I wanted to see. This was a very convenient feature given how many musical acts performed each day.

I only checked in once using my wristband, and I did see others using the check-in locations. From what I could see, the check-in points I passed never seemed crowded. I didn’t bother bringing my phone charger because I knew I wouldn’t want to take time out to sit on the sidelines and wait for my phone to charge up.

The biggest issue my friends and I had with our mobile devices was the lack of service once the grounds started to reach full capacity around dusk. At times it was difficult to get texts to go through, and uploading a video or picture to Instagram was nearly impossible. It will be interesting to see how Goldenvoice will tackle this issue in coming years, as it seems to be the only major hole in an otherwise very well-planned social media marketing strategy.

Did you go to Coachella this year? What do you think the organizers did best?

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