Social Media Success Story: How Bonnaroo Used Wristbands to Foster Massive Engagement

By Mitra Sorrells June 19, 2012, 3:46 PM EDT

At four locations around Bonnaroo, concertgoers could swipe their wristbands to take a photo that would post to their Facebook accounts.

Photo: Erika Goldring

As the 80,000 attendees at this year’s Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival celebrated on a Tennessee farm June 7-10, news of their daily activities was posting to Facebook, creating nearly 1.5 million social impressions. But the attendees weren’t pulling out their smartphones to connect to Facebook; instead they were swiping wristbands with radio frequency identification (R.F.I.D.) technology at one of 20 check-in portals around the 700-acre venue.

“It was funny watching people walk up to these portals [and] swipe their wristband,” said Chad Issaq, executive vice president of partnerships for festival organizer Superfly Presents. “It would beep green twice and they would just jump up and down like a 6-year-old. It was a social experiment. This was the convergence of social in the live and digital space and watching how it fused together. It was really interesting.”

Of the 80,000 people who purchased wristbands (which served as the only form of ticket to the festival), 74,000 registered them online and about half of those people connected the wristbands to their Facebook accounts. Those people swiped their wristbands more than 200,000 times, generating check-ins on Facebook that allowed their online friends to see what they were doing at Bonnaroo. Issaq said on average each of those 200,000 check-ins received about seven “likes” or comments, leading to the calculation of 1.5 million social impressions.

Bonnaroo also used R.F.I.D. wristbands from Intellitix in 2011, but this was the first year of the Facebook integration. In the weeks leading up to the festival, organizers encouraged guests to register their wristband online, offering incentives such as V.I.P. upgrades and festival merchandise and the chance to win a Ford Escape from Ford Motor Company, which sponsored the social check-ins.

“We also drove home the message of registration as a way to personalize your wristband,” Issaq said. “We didn’t want to focus on ‘register’; it was ‘personalize.'” The registration allowed Superfly to stem counterfeits and also provided security for guests. “We pointed out that if you lose your wristband, we have proof it was associated to you,” he said.

About 55,000 individuals opted in for a chance to win the car and another 10,000 agreed to receive future communications from Ford. In addition to that data, the auto company benefited from having its name associated with each Facebook check-in: the online posts included a graphic saying “Checked in by Ford Escape.”

“No other festival had really tapped into the technology of R.F.I.D. in such a broad social reach,” said Ginger Kasanic, Ford’s experiential marketing manager. “This intersection of cool technology and social conversation is the heart of the Escape persona and the perfect platform to connect the Escape to the Bonnaroo audience.”

The focus of Bonnaroo is music, with five stages hosting performances from acts including the Beach Boys to Radiohead to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Organizers placed two R.F.I.D. portals near each stage. Guests who swiped their wristbands got a check-in on their Facebook page indicating the name of the stage and the act that was performing. At the end of the day, the system made a second post to that guest’s Facebook: a recap of all of the acts the person had seen that day with a link to Spotify that provided the act’s Bonnaroo set list and a playlist of studio tracks of those songs.

“I think that was the most valuable piece—the content on the back end,” Issaq said. “That’s what people were most excited about.” Organizers plan to take what they learned this year to develop strategy for 2013. “I would want to communicate earlier,” he added. “We pulled this together in about four or five weeks. I would also want more incentives, more special offers, and at the physical event, more strategically placed portals.”

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