Social Media, Crowdsourced Reviews and the Edinburgh Festival

As usual, I spent the last few weeks of August at the Edinburgh Festival.  For those who have never been to the Edinburgh Fringe, it’s billed as the world’s largest arts event.  This year there were over 40,000 performances from 2,453 companies throughout the course of the month, selling over 2 million tickets.  However, I think that’s only around 40% of the potential tickets that could be sold.  As a result, throughout August, Edinburgh is consumed by a mad scramble of promotion, with companies handing out flyers, sticking posters all over the City and engaging in all manner of publicity stunts.  This year I expected to see companies starting to use social media and mobile phone apps to help promote themselves. Sadly, few appeared to use these at even the most basic level.

2010 was the year when the Internet finally overtook the local press.  For many years the main guide to what’s worth seeing has been the star ratings given by professional reviewers, notably from the Scotsman’s daily review section.  Over the past few years a growing number of web based review sites have emerged, with reviews contributed by audience members (and quite often by cast members).  As a result, anyone can post their own four or five star review, irrespective of the quality of the show, or their competence as a reviewer.  So every company capable of performing a Google search has been able to plaster their posters and handbills with a five star review, even though they may have submitted it themselves.  Seemingly unaware of the existence of the Internet, this triggered the Scotsman to pen a splenetic tirade about how people voicing their own opinion is devaluing the review process. 

As someone who is working with emerging location based social networking, it was disappointing to see how little has emerged at the Festival.  I came across no references to Foursquare, Gowalla or Loopt, surprisingly limited use of Facebook and Twitter and no Bluetooth marketing.  However, the growth of public reviews and the start of social media promotion by a few companies suggest that 2011 might be the year when things change and the position of the professional reviewer is finally undermined.  So what happened this year, and what do companies need to do in the future?

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