How Has Social Media Changed Nightlife Promotion?

In yet another example of “All the News That’s Fit to Print”, The New York Times ran a somewhat unexpected story yesterday on the trials and tribulations of running a successful college bar in the social media age. According to the Times, bar owners in the party-friendly college town of Ithaca, New York recently got desperate enough to hold a joint strategy session: How could they get more college students to frequent their dives?

We always felt like social media was perfect for nightlife promotion purposes. Turns out that foursquare and other networking tools have made the young folk pickier when it comes to drinking and socializing. They also seem to have become more frugal with their pocket change—or at least more interested in efficiency when it comes to alcohol consumption. One subject in the article explains that “I drink liquor because it takes too long to drink beer.”

OK then! Social media has also made the process of organizing house parties easier, so students no longer have to trek to the local watering hole to meet their peers—and they don’t have to pay bar prices for drinks or worry about carrying fake IDs either. On any given night, they can immediately find out where the parties are and get a fairly good idea of who is in attendance.

We see how this might be a problem. So how have business owners responded?

Bar owners have supposedly cleaned their acts up by renovating their spaces, adding hip new furniture, planning more special events and offering more of the sort of fancy drinks you see so often in your friends’ Instagram pics. They’ve also become more attuned to bad press, because dissatisfied customers now have more power thanks to Yelp and similar sites.

We can’t imagine that too many readers have clients that describe their businesses as “college bars”, but we found this story amusing, and its lessons could apply to any nightlife establishment. In short, it’s not enough to be the biggest game in town any more. Owners of businesses like these have to bombard potential customers with news about deals and special events. They have to establish their brands and set themselves apart more aggressively. Like everyone else in the social media age, they have to actively engage their audience.

Some things haven’t changed, though: Turns out that nearly every supposed Cornell University student quoted in the article either gave a fake name or doesn’t actually attend the school! And this somehow only makes the story better.

What do you think, PR pros? Has social media really changed the art of nightlife promotion? How has it affected you and your clients?