Let me tell you a story of something insane that happened.
In 2014, I started helping my friend, Fons, promote his monthly outdoor Swing dancing at the Third Street Promenade and Santa Monica Pier. Basically I would create a Facebook event and maybe post some photos. Sometimes we’d have a decent turnout of dancers, but attendance seemed to be dwindling. We’d be lucky to get ten dancers to show up. Someone on Facebook said that we should retire the event. The future of our outdoor Swing dance event was looking bleak.
In November 2015, we decided to move the event to Culver City and things improved dramatically. Our first time there, we got almost a hundred people over the course of the evening. Our second event in Culver City on January 17th, we got almost two hundred. Needless to say, Fons and I were stoked by the turnout! But that was nothing compared to what was to come.
The Insanity Starts
On January 18th, I created a Facebook event to promote the next outdoor Culver City Swing dance on March 6th, and it immediately exploded. After 24 hours, Facebook served the event to 113,000 people with 1,700 people “interested” and 320 RSVPs. Any L.A. Swing dance promoter would be thrilled with that kind of turnout. That was only the beginning.
The numbers continued to grow at a crazy rate. When I sat down to write this article, the Facebook event had been served to over 700,000 people. Over 10,000 people were “interested” and 1,700 had RSVP’d. I have never seen anything close to these numbers in any Swing dance event before.
How It Happened
Our event proves there are thousands of people in the Los Angeles area interested in Swing dancing. I’ve been thinking a lot about why this event went viral and why so many other Swing dance events struggle and die.
I believe there are four factors that made our event go viral.
1. We did Good Marketing on Facebook
This event went viral on Facebook, so of course creating a Facebook event was necessary.
But in addition, we had awesome photos taken by Jennifer Stockert and me from previous events which we shared on the page (I mean REAL photos taken using a DSLR, not a cell phone). Jennifer’s photos show people smiling and having a great time, which I think is key. In addition, Jennifer took and shared some awesome videos.
One thing that we did the last two events was to take a group selfie. I think that had a big impact, because once you’re in a group photo, you feel like you “belong”. One of the most basic core human desires is to “belong” to something, whether it be a family, cause, gang, etc. Other people saw this and said, “that looks like fun – I want to belong to that too”.
Photo by Jennifer Stockert, January 2016.
Technically, most of our reach was due to people clicking that they were “interested” in the event and Facebook broadcasting that to all of their friends. They got a notification that said, “a friend is interested in attending an event”.
Another thing that helped was that I created the FB event far in advance of the event date, only a day after the previous one.
2. It Was Beginner-Friendly, with Lessons
The vast majority of the people interested in our event were beginners. There are not 10,000 veteran Swing dancers in Los Angeles. In fact, most of the “advanced” Swing dancers that I know actually were not interested in the event (probably because there was no live band).
How exactly did we make it “beginner-friendly”? To start out, in the Facebook event description, I simply said this event was “beginner-friendly”. In addition, I added something new: having roaming instructors giving lessons throughout the night.
But, I think another key to making a Swing dance event beginner-friendly is to provide some non-dance activities. A number of folks said said in the comments, “let’s do this and get drinks at Culver Hotel afterwards”. Beginners don’t want to be trapped in a venue where there is nothing to do except dance. That gets pretty boring after they’ve done the three moves they know.
There are lots of great Swing dance events that I love, but would never invite my beginner friends to because they would be bored silly. Contrast this to a venue like Clifton’s, where I would (and have) happily brought non Swing-dancers to, and they’ve had a great time.
3. We Had a Great Location
We had some of these elements before when our event was near the Santa Monica Pier, but that location had some huge problems. It wasn’t centrally-located. Traffic and parking in that area were horrible.
Contrast that with downtown Culver City, which is centrally-located and easily-accessible. It has an amazing ambiance, with the beautiful Culver Hotel right next door, as well as many other restaurants and bars. It’s a prime location.
4. It Was Low Cost (Free)
Our event has always been free, but I think that was one of the key elements in our success. So many of the people who signed up were young folks in their 20’s (with not a lot of money, I am guessing).
Why Beginners are Key
It’s simple math. How many Swing dancers are there in LA, i.e., people who go Swing dancing regularly? Somewhere between a few hundred to a thousand max?? On the other hand, there are 18 million beginners in the LA area. Which group should you target if you want to get a big turnout?
The problem is, we advanced Swing dancers and promoters are a bit biased (perhaps unconsciously) against beginners. They are clumsy. They take up too much space. We want to see our friends, who are also great Swing dancers.
But, embracing beginners is key to getting a big turnout, or even for just maintaining your attendance as there will be natural attrition of the advanced dancers as they move away, do other things, etc.
How to Make Your Swing Dance Event Go Viral
So, here are the takeaways for how to make your Swing dance event go viral:
- Create an event on Facebook as far in advance as possible.
- Populate it with great photos and videos of people having a good time at your previous events, and include a group selfie.
- Target beginners, with lessons at the beginning, or even better, throughout the night. Mention “beginners welcome” in your marketing.
- Make sure there is other stuff to do than just dance. Offer drinks, live band to watch, etc.. Or, have it in a location close to other fun things, like restaurants, bars, etc.
- Have it in a great venue which is centrally-located, easy to get to, has easy parking, and has great ambiance.
- Make it cheap or free.
And finally, you need some luck. We had been having this event for years at the Third Street Promenade, which has many of the positive qualities as downtown Culver City, but it never hit it big for us. It only went viral when we hit the perfect storm at downtown Culver Ctiy.
There are some pretty big caveats here. The first one is that our event was free and of course Swing dance promoters need to make money and can’t do this for free every time. I think the key takeaway is that for Swing dance events, demand is very dependent on price. Do your pricing calculations accordingly. I believe that one of the reasons that Lindygroove is so popular is the low price (among other things).
Second, I am assuming that you already know that good music is important, so I didn’t mention it so much. Live bands are good for drawing beginners because they can enjoy the band when they are not dancing.
This whole experience has been pretty insane for us. I never thought we’d have 10,000 people interested in a Swing dance event, but here it is.
Unfortunately, we had to cancel our event due to overwhelming demand, but we’ll be back, probably creating an event a few days beforehand to limit attendance.
What are your thoughts?? Please comment below! – Brian