Cafe Witness

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Liquid Sundays: How to Make YOUR Event More Social

This past Sunday, the minds behind Liquid Sundays, Pittsburgh's bi-monthly fusion of music / art / fashion, invited several bloggers and podcasters to attend their latest event at Olive or Twist downtown. The night featured music from:

* Central Plains (a Pittsburgh semi-supergroup)

* TheeAdora (femme-fronted pop rock)

* The Lost Sea (country folk rock, and my personal favorite of the night)

These performances were interspersed with a DIY fashion show featuring designs from local boutiqes Sugar and Pavement. Plus, discounted drinks, which is always good.

The upside? Decent bands, fashionable people, trendy-yet-functional locale, and a collective of artists and promoters who truly care about Pittsburgh and are endeavoring to help build out its social scene by bringing people from numerous artistic backgrounds together.

The downside? A few lighting issues (the first runway interlude was barely lit, which seemed to defeat the purpose) which were quickly corrected, and a few audio issues (like the space being ill-designed for multiple sonorous amplifiers), which couldn't be.

But my primary observations of the night have less to do with what WAS there than what WASN'T there:

* Apart from the drunk guy who tried a little too hard to get to know me, I didn't meet any people at this event that I didn't already know, and

* Live art / music events are still notoriously averse to the actual idea of connecting people, but they could very easily become better at it - and so can YOUR event.


Identifying the Problem(s)

Admittedly, the main reason I didn't meet anybody new at this event is because I didn't try. I already knew a dozen people in attendance, so I had more than enough conversation to go around. Plus, it was sonically impossible to hear anyone over the din of the speakers, so it didn't make sense to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger when I could barely hear myself.

On the other hand, this event -- like most concerts and performances -- wasn't designed to introduce people to one another. It was designed to showcase the work of the people organizing it, and in that context, it makes perfect sense to drive all of the focus toward the art on display.

But why invite bloggers and podcasters to an event that makes it a challenge to gather information about the people and personalities involved? If we can't divine your story, it's much harder to then explain your story to other people, and isn't that the whole point of putting yourself out there -- to generate a discussion?

Solutions: A Performance Isn't a Conversation - But It Could Be

The Lost Sea perform at Liquid Sundays

In no particular order, here's a laundry list of 10 ways all future art events / gallery openings / concerts / meet-ups / etc. can improve their social functionality.

1. Make nametags available, regardless of the type of event. Even if it's an ultra-hip shindig, give people the option to make their names or other info public. At all levels of conversation-dom, icebreakers are key.

2. Artists: post multiple contact streams. Email signup sheets are functional, but leave out full-contact postcards for visitors to take away: email, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, etc. Give people the option to contact you in the way that's most convenient for them (and therefore the most effective for you).

3. Liveblog each event. Posting handbills before an event is a necessity. Liveblogging / Twittering / Brightkite-ing an event should become one. This not only gives the live attendees another avenue to meet each other, but it allows people at home to enjoy the event without being there -- and they'll be more inclined to show up next time.

4. Announce your tags. Create search tags for your event / art / music, or hashtags for Twitter, so people will be able to find evidence of the event more easily. Then let people know what those tags are, so they can properly tag all their photos / videos / blog posts that they're creating on the spot. List the tags in all promotions, or call them out from the stage if necessary, but don't let people's media go forth anonymously - or else you lose out on valuable (free) promotion.

5. Schedule "quiet time." Dial down the "between bands" music for a few moments, and give people a chance to meet each other without shouting.

6. Give something away for free, just for coming. Bands: make an MP3 available for download -- maybe even a live cut from the show. Artists: make a photo or image available as a downloadable wallpaper for laptops or cell phones. Let attendees take part of your show home with them, and then they'll have something to show others. (If content control is an issue, post this free media in a secure part of your site, and give attendees directions / passwords during your social network follow-up; see below.)

7. Collect media your attendees have created. If people have tagged their media properly, you should have no trouble finding photos and video from your event. Repost the samples you think are the best on your event's groups / blog, and give credit to the people who enjoyed your event enough to celebrate it afterward.

8. Use Twitter to centrally connect your attendees. Twitter is promotional, but it's also functional. Multi-location or multi-day events can use it to keep attendees posted on schedule changes, location switch-ups, upcoming showtimes, etc. That means fewer questions for your volunteers to answer, and fewer opportunities for your attendees to miss something important.

9. Overlap with similar events AND completely different events. You can use social networks to find people who share interests similar to those offered at your event - armchair photographers, foreign film fans, etc. - but why not reach out to people who have NOTHING in common with your event? Mash up your fashion show with a beerfest, or your gallery opening with a rap battle. It may sound crazy, but how many new ideas -- or buzz -- do you see generated by people speaking strictly within the same echo chamber? (Hint: Not as much as you get from mixing it up.)

10. After the event, add attendees to your network. Include the URL of your event's group on Facebook / MySpace / LinkedIn / NING, etc., on all signage and promotions before and during the event. Encourage people to join / follow your event on the social network of their choice. Reach out to the people who did attend, or who join your network after the event, and thank them personally -- don't let your interaction stop when the lights come up.

In short: give people handles and they'll carry your story onward to others.

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