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Hundreds of Festival Goers Stranded: Could Social Media Have Helped?

Marie Rose
By Marie Rose on Jul 2, 2012 1:04:00 PM

Over 50,000 music lovers headed to the Isle of Wight last weekend to revel in the songs of Bruce Springsteen, but what they had to face first were mud baths and traffic jams.

From June 21-25, the news was flooded with all that was going wrong at the Isle of Wight Festival. We saw footage of tractors pulling cars through sludge-covered fields, gridlock all over the island, hundreds of people stuck on ferries or up to their knees in mud. This year marked the 11th Isle of Wight Festival, and one would expect that necessary precautions would be taken to get people to the grounds  a little more smoothly. But the effects of bad weather of course can’t be completely controlled. What stands out more from this story, is the failure of  the festival organisers to communicate with festival goers effectively. When unhappy campers turned to social media for information and to issue complaints, they were given very little to calm their frustrations.

On the first day of the festival, while sitting in traffic for hours, many people turned to the event’s official Twitter handle for information on what was going on. All that could be found was two tweets stating that there were delays getting people to the campsite, and that it was taking a long time to park everyone. This was hardly enough to satisfy the hundreds of complaints that were being filed via Twitter. Over an hour later, @FestivalCop began to send out regular – albeit only slightly more informative – updates related to the traffic issues.

The Isle of Wight took a back seat, but could have done much more to ensure a better circulation of information through Twitter - one of the best sources for car-trapped travellers. The festival organisers could have referred followers to @FestivalCop, at the very least. And although some information was being shared online, neither one of the Twitter accounts responded to any of the complaints or questions that were sent their way.

After paying £190 for a ticket to the Isle of Wight Festival, customers wanted answers for the disorganization and lack of planning. Disruption on this scale surpasses what should realistically be expected for a music festival in rainy Britain; but the lack of attention to the suffering of attendees could seriously affect the reputation of the Isle of Wight festival as a credible events organizer.  One customer wrote, ‘no sleep for 24 hours, camped in a car on a road in the IOW for 10. #shambles #amateurs’ while another commented, ‘Awful! Would only recommend #iowfest to lovers of disorganisation, queuing and mudbaths.’ @IsleOfWightFest failed to issue a single reply to individuals who complained.  Two early tweets about traffic were the only responses to the crisis over an entire week.

So what lessons are to be learned?

In this case, what really made matters worse from the customer service perspective, is that @IsleOfWightFest did continue to use Twitter throughout the festival, but simply to retweet posts of people’s enjoyment of different musicians. At the end of the weekend, many customers left the Isle of Wight Festival feeling mistreated, due to a complete lack of service. After such a nightmare of an experience this year, and no sufficient apology, will the festival organizers sell so many tickets next year?

We’ve actually seen problems flare up for many companies that have entered into the social media world, but aren’t prepared to take on all the challenges as well as the perks. Failing to communicate with customers through social networks in a coordinated way can be damaging; ploughing into a crisis with a cheery promotion or hopeful distracting chatter rarely has the desired effect, it just makes things worse. Businesses of all shapes and sizes need to understand the kind of relationship the enter into with their followers when they speak out on platforms like Twitter, and make sure they listen back.


What are your thoughts on the handling of the Isle of Wight festival disaster? Could social media have been used differently to improve customer satisfaction? We’d love for you to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Got any suggestions for what you’d like to hear from us? Just send your thoughts to marie@conversocial.com, or @conversocial. We’re always looking for new ideas.

Topics: Technology, Customer Experience

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