Back in 2001, an event changed the landscape, not just locally, but for the entire world. The event in question took place on September 11th, 2001. With all that has gone on since then, Muslims in North America had to bear the brunt of the backlash, the scrutiny and in some cases, violent acts of Islamophobia. Muslims then recognized that there was a problem in their community, such as radicalism that could creep into the younger generations. Also, a lot of the outreach and connection to the public at large, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, was either non-existent, or hasn’t possessed more of an impact.
In 2003, Taha Ghayyur – Organizer of Muslimfest – along with his team thought of ways in providing a positive image of his community to the broader public. Over the course of history in such parts such as Turkey, the Middle East and now in China, Islamic Art has caught the eye of the world with the intricate calligraphy, geometric patterns and shapes that make up its artistic canvas. This was the selling point that Taha and his team would use to formulate an idea that has grown to such a level that it is now known worldwide, and has just completed its 13th year in existence. Muslimfest is a community festival held out of Mississauga, Ontario and was designed to bring about the Artistic and Creative features of Islam to everyone with its educational classes, bazaar environment to shop, eat and enjoy the atmosphere for young and old alike.
One of the biggest parts of the marketing strategy for Muslimfest was their social media component. Over the years, Muslimfest has welcomed and encompassed new and improved methods of social media and has effectively engaged people young, old, living in the city, outside the city and making it accessible for people all over the world, Muslim and non-Muslim. We sat down with Taha to discuss how his strategies evolved over time and what he may see in the future when it comes to his social media techniques.
When we spoke to Taha and asked him what the main challenges encountered in marketing his idea were, he didn’t hesitate to say “we need to go where the people are!” He then listed three main groups of people that he wanted to target:
1) Young Muslim families
2) Youth that were aged 14 to 22
3) People outside the Muslim community
Defining the demographic and finding ways to attract them were the main challenges because the intricate features of social media still weren’t as refined back in 2003 like they are now. Another challenge was how to attract those individuals that not just possessed some of the creative and artistic talent, but also use Muslimfest as a platform to educate the general public. And finally, would the Muslim community even engage with such an idea that would convince other small business proprietors in the fashion, food, and service industry, purchase booth space to display their goods and services?
In the initial stages, Muslimfest incorporated a more print media and email blast campaigns. Printed posters were taken all across the GTA and plastered on large swaths of wooden boards demarcating construction zones. This print campaign was mainly focused on high traffic areas such as downtown Mississauga and Toronto as the flurry of foot and vehicular traffic usually prevalent in these areas.
On top of that, emails were sent out along with e-vites to as many contacts as possible in hopes that they would be forwarded onto more and more people. These methods proved to take up a lot of time, effort, and the printed flyers carried heavy costs. However, these methods didn’t really give Taha and his team some feedback of engagement. As the years went by, Muslimfest started to gather some steam as the well-organized event started to turn heads and garner some exposure in the community, media, and among political types as well. Turning to street mobile signs and also radio advertisements started to create more of a buzz in not just adults in the Muslim community, but the adult demographic from the non-Muslim public as well. The youth still weren’t being engaged as much however, and they needed to change their strategies to attract them.
In a Gallup survey last year, 26 percent of Muslim youth in the United States reported feeling angry as compared to 14 percent of Protestant youth and 18 percent of the general American population. They are angrier than their parents. This survey had 10 questions on mental health and almost all results when it came to young Muslims revealed that they were the least happy and the most angry. ~Soundvision
Muslimfest then got younger by empowering their formidable force of young volunteers. They then encouraged them to use whatever means they had to market the event via social media utilizing channels such as Facebook, Twitter and most recently Instagram and Snapchat. They then started to bring about celebrity personalities that attracted the youth and put them up on the main stage to perform. Came up with catchy hashtags and cool videos and graphics online started to attract more younger entrepreneurs to springboard their business ventures at Muslimfest. Along with this, Muslimfest keeps the audience engaged with their spectacular videos and highlights on Youtube.
In addition to this, Muslimfest got very proactive in following metrics and analyzing the data from respondents to their social media methods. They started to see where people were engaging their brand from. They started to notice that some areas of the Greater Toronto Area weren’t even getting exposure to the event or very little to no engagement. Their large Facebook ad campaign also yielded valuable data and with all that information, the Muslimfest team started to concentrate their efforts in marketing to those locations and demographics that weren’t relating nor even made apprised to the event that was slowly growing in popularity.
Another feature of social media that has been taking the world by storm is the broadcast live feature that Facebook has installed. People who aren’t able to attend Muslimfest now had a chance to experience it live with this feature and implementing this feature in the overall online strategy for the event.
Muslimfest ran its first event back in 2004 and now has just completed its 13th year in August. The enormous response and popularity of the event has seen rise to many features that seemed almost unattainable back in its early years. The event boasts over 35,000 attendants at Mississauga’s Celebration Square. Almost all of their educational classes teaching calligraphy and other arts courses get filled very quickly. Business and new entrepreneurial ventures are utilizing Muslimfest as a springboard to launch themselves into the market. And the attractiveness of the event to many celebrity-types and politicians in and around the city and across the world has given Muslimfest that much-needed repertoire of being a legitimate go-to event in the summer. The artists and celebrities that were in attendance also started to share their experiences in real time with their hordes of subscribers and followers that garnered Muslimfest even much more attention.
Taha Ghayyur and his team have now designated certain individuals to take care of their social media needs exclusively. They have implemented all the main channels the youth are using and with that, they have found a way to attract younger crowds to attend. Just this year alone, Taha mentioned that “five million impressions were made all across our social outlets” and that “close to10,000 youth attended and many of them have either no affiliation with Muslims or have some small degree of it”. Their strategy in utilizing Instagram and Snapchat paid dividends as people didn’t just see what main performances on stage, but also the happenings on the ground such as camel rides, face painting and the hussle and bussle of the shopping bazaar.
Taha, however, also discussed the flip side of all the notoriety. “When you get a lot of excited youth, social media and celebrity singers and artists attending a free event, you can also invite a lot of problems as well.” Taha went onto add that, even though it was a welcome sign that the youth were getting attracted to the event, it got very difficult to control them and their excitement at times. Some situations caused near-stampedes and over-crowding which unleashed a negative response from a lot of the attendants at the 2016 Muslimfest. Even though no major incident took place, the elements were in place where it could have happened and Taha and his team will be utilizing this as a learning curve to find solutions for next year to alleviate any potential disastrous situations. And because of the negative feedback, they issued a response to that which was widely accepted and showed the community that the Muslimfest team was willing to make improvements and changes.
And earlier we mentioned that almost five million impressions were made on all Muslimfest social media channels. That was largely due to the Facebook Live broadcasting that was introduced at the event. The live broadcasting deemed to be a huge hit for viewers as they were able to see the performances in real time if they weren’t able to attend.
Lessons for Others
After sitting down with Taha Ghayyur, one of the board members for the annual Muslimfest event, he mentioned that when dealing with social media and implementing the techniques that are growing in popularity, you have to “ensure that narcissism doesn’t get in the way of your integrity”. Taha goes onto add that audience engagement should be genuine and should also address the negatives along with the positives. Organizers of such events should not be sitting in the shadows, but also get out on the ground and engage with volunteers, attendants and the general public physically, rather than just digitally. This will build the repertoire of your event and give a more positive outlook whenever issues arise.
For the future of social media, Taha agrees that accessibility to a wider audience is becoming the norm. The implementation of live feeds and online streaming through social media is more prevalent and is becoming mandatory to allow events to be experienced by people who are still in the comfort of their own homes. These live feeds and social media use is allowing Muslimfest to be more contextualized in the sense that information can be easily attained and processed instantaneously.
Taha even goes onto add that maybe Virtual Reality could be next wave of the future with social media whereby the attendant can feel as if they are at the event themselves without even having to get out of their chair at home. This was further enhanced with the introduction of the Samsung VR and Oculus brand devices that are developing high interest among the general public.
The conventional wisdom, of course, is that the future of the social network will just be Facebook with some interesting virtual reality add-ons. Instead of posting photos and videos, for example, you might post a 360-degree experience showing you immersed in some virtual world. ~Chris Ziles, SocialMedia HQ, Sept 26, 2016
These type of events in and around the Greater Toronto Area from the Taste of the Danforth, to the Punjabi Virsa Day are very effective in helping communities understand one another and experiencing each other’s cultural and religious practices. This is now even more practical since tools of ‘accessibility’ are now in play. The world will now have the opportunity of seeing and experiencing a side of any vibrant community – whether marginalized or misunderstood – that they would never have thought of experiencing before. This would definitely allow all faiths and cultures to come together, and bring about a more accepting society.
Industry: event planning, community
Name of Organization Contact: Taha Ghayyur, Organizer
Authored by: Safi Habib
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