Building A Digital Community – Irvington Halloween Festival

The Historic Irvington Halloween Festival just wrapped up its 66th annual celebration since being founded in 1947. I’m pleased to report that 2012 was our most successful year ever, shattering the 2011 attendance and sponsorship intake records.

Not only did the festival grow from 10k attendees in 2009 to 23k attendees in 2012, we did so without spending a dime on traditional advertising.

How did we do it?

First, a little background:

About Irvington

Founded in 1870 by Sylvester Johnson and Jacob Julian, Irvington was originally created as a suburban town of Indianapolis. Johnson and Julia believed the area to be reminiscent of Sleepy Hallow, and so named Irvington after 19th century writer Washington Irving. Butler University (then named Western Christian University) relocated to Irvington in 1873 and stayed there until 1928. Through the early 1900s, a commuter rail/trolley system ran from Irvington to downtown Indianapolis along US 40. Irvington was annexed by the city of Indianapolis in 1902.

Irvington Halloween FestivalAbout the Irvington Halloween Festival

The festival was founded in 1947 and is now organized by the Historic Irvington Community Council. Spanning over a week of events – including a 5 mile run, a scholarship pageant, Halloween-themed movies, storytelling, ghost tours, live theater, roller derby, a haunted puppet show – the festival culminates in a day-long street fair that includes over 150 vendors, food trucks, live music and children’s activities.

From Outbound to Inbound

Transitioning an entire marketing strategy from outbound (paid print/tv/radio) to inbound (web/SEO, social media and content) was admittedly a risk, especially for a non-profit festival that relies on consistently high attendance to attract sponsorship dollars and vendor participation.

However, in order to reach those young families who consume information digitally and secure their patronage of the festival for the next 66 years, we decided to center our communications plan entirely around inbound marketing strategies.

Social Media

Through initial research, and due to the nature of our event, we identified Facebook as our primary network.

The biggest challenge that an event like the Irvington Halloween Festival presents is one of seasonal engagement. Because the festival is centered around an annually occurring holiday, interacting with the digital community throughout the entire year is challenging.

It should be no surprise that we see our highest engagement numbers during the month of October, and especially during the week of the festival. Observe the growth curve on our Facebook page over the last three years. You’ll see a spike around September which levels off in November:

Facebook Fan Growth

Not only was it critical for us to stay active during the month of October, but we needed to keep the festival top of mind throughout the year.

Facebook posting cadence:

  • December-August: at least one post a week
    • Topics: Irvington events, Irvington business news
  • September: at least two posts a week
    • Topics: Festival previews, sponsor/vendor/volunteer info
  • October: at least one post a day
    • Topics: Festival previews, festival events, sponsor/vendor/volunteer info
      • Week of the festival: at least three posts per day
  • November: at least two posts a week
    • Topics: Attendee feedback, festival event summaries

The increased posting frequency in October paid off:

Facebook Stats: October

Twitter was most-utilized during the week of the festival, particularly on the day of the street fair. Dozens of requests for information about parking, event times and locations and other general questions were fielded and responded to quickly.

One benefit of inviting more food trucks to the 2012 festival was the multiplier effect of their Twitter followings. Social media followings/web presence were also taken into consideration during overall vendor selection.

In the 2013, we’d like to explore crowd-sourcing content via Twitter and Instagram (attendee street teams, live-tweeters, etc.).

Video

In 2010, a considerable (volunteer) investment was made in video production. Every event was captured in video, and since virtually every event repeats year-to-year, we’re able to re-use that content in order to give potential first-time visitors an idea of what each event looks and sounds like.

More on http://www.youtube.com/irvhalloween

Earned Media

An interesting by-product of an increased digital community was an increase in media requests. In 2012, we sent out zero press releases while increasing earned media coverage by 33% – all of which were unsolicited. WIBC, Fox59 and the Indianapolis Star all reached out to us, resulting in a recurring radio interview, coverage in the IndyStar community guide (print and online) and a live report on the day of the street fair.

Strategic partnerships with entities like DoItIndy (web video series) and Yelp (newsletter, WTHR segment) bring additional promotional firepower.

Web

In 2009, the festival corporate web presence was limited to a Blogger blog. In 2010, we migrated to WordPress and built a dynamic site that included a blog. Festival-goers could access event information and view embedded videos. Through integrated MailChimp forms, we were capturing prospective vendor and volunteer information. Increased traffic year-over-year became a true value-ad to sponsors.

Traffic YOY

2011 vs 2012 http://irvingtonhalloween.com

  • Visits: +32.27%
  • Unique Visitors: +31.84%
  • Pageviews: +80.53%
  • Pages / Visit: +36.48%
  • Avg. Visit Duration: +15.29%
  • Bounce Rate: -15.62%

Festival Growth

By focusing on inbound marketing strategies, we were able to grow festival sponsorship intake by 33% in 1 year and attendance (Street Fair alone) by 130% in 3 years:

  • 2009: 10k
  • 2010: 12k
  • 2011: 15k
  • 2012: 23k 

Can’t wait to see what 2013 has in store!

Steven Shattuck

Steven Shattuck

VP of Marketing at Bloomerang
Steven Shattuck is VP of Marketing at Bloomerang, which helps nonprofit organizations to reach, engage and retain the advocates they depend on to achieve their vision for a better world.
Steven Shattuck
Steven Shattuck

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