Just five years ago, if you were sitting at your campsite at the Ichthus Festival wondering, "What's going on over there?" at the festival site, you'd have to get up and go see.
Now, you can whip out your smartphone or tablet, or just check your texts.
The annual Wilmore Christian music event's social media strategy has been evolving continuously; it now incorporates Facebook and Twitter, apps for Apple and Android devices, a text messaging network and even an old-fashioned radio station.
Ichthus also has created more wireless Internet zones at the festival site and strengthened its cellular signal to keep the data flowing.
"The most exciting thing about social media is it gives us a direct connection to the people we serve in a public forum," Ichthus director Mark Vermilion said.
Tim Gerst, the festival's I-media coordinator, says, "We want social media to be our No. 1 marketing tool because, for the most part, it's free."
It is a network that has been building over time.
Gerst recalls with a laugh when the festival's text messaging service "was a guy sitting in a trailer sending out texts from his phone."
Now, he says, the texting system is through Moses, a computer-based system used by many artists and institutions. And fans may elect to get all or just certain types of texts about general festival information, emergency and weather alerts, and gathering alerts for flash mobs.
"Like, last year, we had a kickball game with Family Force 5," Gerst says, referring to one of Ichthus' most popular bands, which is back and will play Thursday night. "But the only way you knew about that was if you were signed up for the texts."
Vermilion and Gerst say the texting system is the backbone of the Ichthus communication strategy, because it is widely available to festival goers. But high-tech visitors may get apps available for iPhone, iPad and Android. The Apple product apps include features that will let festival goers mark the positions of their tents with GPS, build their own festival schedules and get alerts when the bands they want to see are going on and, when the device is flipped to a horizontal view, see who is on each stage at that moment.
Vermilion says the app, available only since 2010, was almost dropped due to budget constraints, but First Southern Bank provided funding to support the app. The Android version of the app is a bit more primitive, but Vermilion says he hopes it will be developed more for future festivals.
Facebook has been used primarily for building anticipation for the festival, particularly announcing acts.
"It used to be we had a party to announce the lineup in the winter," Vermilion says. "It was nice and generated some excitement for a moment. But by announcing on Facebook as we book bands, it keeps the excitement going, and people feel like they're part of it."
Through Facebook, for instance, Vermilion says, festival officials have learned about artists with growing fan bases before they start affecting sales charts.
"We were one of the first festivals to put LeCrae on its main stage," Vermilion says, referring to the popular hip-hop artist. "And that was completely because of the excitement we were seeing for him on Facebook."
As they have learned to use social media effectively, fest officials also have learned lessons. For example, last year, Family Force 5's set was delayed due to rain. When the showers had cleared, a text was sent announcing the show was starting again, and the band went on.
"We didn't realize it takes a few minutes for the messages to process through the system," Vermilion says. "People were complaining that by the time they got the message, they had missed several songs. So we learned the next time we will send the message and then wait a few minutes before we start again."
Vermilion values the interaction the social media provides.
"Facebook allows people to share what God did in their lives at Ichthus," he says. "That's the kind of feedback we don't get in any other way. I could read those posts for hours because that's why we do this festival, so that lives can be impacted in meaningful ways."
Rich Copley: (859) 231-3217. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @copiousnotes.