When you think of music festivals, do you imagine crazy crowds, illegal substances, and overall chaos? The connotations may be true, but did you also know that music festivals are crusaders when it comes to creative tech and social media marketing? From SXSW to Lollapalooza, Outside Lands and Coachella, big fests taking advantage of social media may also benefit, present opportunities and/or ignite ideas for small businesses like yours. Music festivals may have notorious reputations, but their mass appeal and large audience exposure also have the ability to spark stardom for savvy startups, small businesses and non-profits!

Location: Austin, Texas
Formed in: 1987
Excellent use of social/tech: SXSW Interactive

South by South West (SXSW) is not only one of the largest music festivals in the U.S., but it’s evolved into multiple festivals featuring some of the greatest emerging technology, small business talent and film. SXSW’s Interactive tech festival, commonly referred to as “South By,” has become a breeding ground and major networking hub for startups. According to their site, South By has become an “incubator of cutting-edge technologies and digital creativity…showcasing the brightest minds in emerging technology.” The festival includes a whirlwind of presentations, conferences and parties showcasing up and coming startups, new websites, video games and fresh ideas. As a small business/startup, dipping your toe into SXSW Interactive waters could present rockin’ opportunities.

Location: Chicago, Illinois
Formed in: 1991
Excellent use of tech/social: Live YouTube Streaming

Let’s face it, music festivals are expensive, hot, and the crowds are not everyone’s cup of (sweat) tea. However, the alternative rock festival that joins 160,000 people into Grant Park each year has everyone in mind. Lollapalooza partnered with YouTube and Dell to provide live streaming of the festival, engaging audiences without a ticket. According to a YouTube blog post, the live streaming has done wonders for increased exposure.

“Live shows by artists like U2, Kenny Chesney and Coldplay have drawn millions of viewers to YouTube, and last year’s Lollapalooza webcast saw viewers spending an average of 44 minutes watching the show.”


The collaboration of music festivals and non-profits may seem unlikely, however, Lollapalooza also understands the power of crowds and exposure. According to their site, “Lolla Cares,” a section within the people-packed festival features “organizations committed to making this world a better, greener, and healthier place.” The festival’s platform for non-profits and political groups has been responsible each year for registering hundreds of fans to vote, finding bone marrow matches for cancer patients and “fostering support for clean energy, education, and park projects in the Chicago area.”

Outside Lands
Location: San Francisco, California
Formed in: 2008
Excellent use of social/tech: Mobile App

Outside Lands is a fresh, young thing compared to its 20-year-old counterparts. However, it’s not naive when it comes to knowing its audience’s love and reliance on smartphones. Steadily improving its mobile app each year, Outside Lands recently wowed festival-goers with stellar mobile app features. The free download included: set times, a map, the ability to scan food vendor menus, create custom schedules, rate food items, take images with Instagram-like filters, and best yet, send messages to friends via the built-in chat, GroupMe. The app also sent push notifications during the festival notifying fans of set changes and secret pop-up shows, like the one Jack White performed making “Outside Lands history.”

Businesses, big and small (including several non-profit partners) who sprawled throughout the Golden Gate park venue also took advantage of smart phone donning attendees:

  • Eco Products, specializing in “sustainable disposables,” set up a booth presenting attendees with silly photo booth props. Fans simply had to snap a photo of themselves in front of the Eco Products backdrop and share the photo online to enter a drawing for 2013 Outside Lands tickets.
  • Other businesses including SugarSync, PayPal and PG&E attracted new fans by providing phone charging stations (some even solar and wind powered!) for attendees low on smartphone juice.

Location: Indio, California
Formed in: 1999
Excellent use of social/tech: RFID Wristbands

The indie music/art festival held in the heart of the desert is notorious for oohing and ahhing fans with unpredictability. This year, a hologram performance of the late Tupac Shakur was by far their greatest feat, however their use of RFID (radio-frequency identification) wristbands also made waves (pun intended). The festival-entry wristbands included an RFID chip in which attendees could tap their bands at stations to update their Facebook status with details about who they were watching. Tapping bands around the festival also entered attendees into contests to win prizes and VIP tickets. According to the festival, the “Live Click” program earned them them an additional 30,000 online fans.

Coachella also teamed up with the non-profit, Global Inheritance to develop the “Carpoolchella” program, encouraging and rewarding festival-goers (with possible VIP tickets for life!) who carpooled to the event.


So, while music festivals may obtain wild reputations, their use of savvy social media tactics, opportunities for businesses big and small, and eager non-profit collaborations make them true rockstars.

© 2012 – 2018, Contributing Author. All rights reserved.

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