This is the published version of a paper published in Event Management.
Citation for the original published paper (version of record):
Nordvall, A., Pettersson, R., Svensson, B., Brown, S. (2014)
Designing events for social interaction.
Event Management, 18(2): 127-140
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Event Management, Vol. 18, pp. 127–140 1525-9951/14 $60.00 + .00
Printed in the USA. All rights reserved. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3727/152599514X13947236947383
Copyright © 2014 Cognizant Comm. Corp. E-ISSN 1943-4308
Address correspondence to Anders Nordvall, European Tourism Research Institute (ETOUR), Mid Sweden University SE-83125,
Östersund, Sweden. Tel: +46 63 195814; Fax: +46 63 195810; E-mail: [email protected]
environment” (p. 40). People decide to visit events
based on numerous shared and individual needs and
motives, both for getting away from the everyday life
and to experience something stimulating at the event
(Li & Petrick, 2006). Motives for visiting events are
often related to concepts such as novelty, escape,
exploration, entertainment, and attractions (Formica
& Uysal, 1996; Lee, Lee, & Wicks, 2004), but the
most frequently cited dimensions in event motivation literature are those of socialization and family
togetherness (Uysal & Li, 2008). Several studies
Every day thousands of planned events take place
all over the world. Different types of organizations
(public, for profit, and nonprofit) plan events of various forms (e.g., cultural, sport, business, political,
and educational events) and sizes (local to global)
for a variety of reasons. According to Getz (2012)
“planned events are live, social events created to
achieve specific outcomes, including those related
to business, the economy, culture, society and
DESIGNING EVENTS FOR SOCIAL INTERACTION
ANDERS NORDVALL,* ROBERT PETTERSSON,* BO SVENSSON,* AND STEVE BROWN†
*European Tourism Research Institute (ETOUR), Mid-Sweden University, Östersund, Sweden
†Department of Tourism, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia
Socialization motivates people to visit events and social interactions between event visitors influence their experience of the event. Consumer-to-consumer interactions in service settings and leisure
activities have received increased attention in research; however, very few studies have focused on
and analyzed the impact of other visitors on an individual’s event experience. The purpose of this
study is to explore how interaction between event visitors influences the individual’s total event
experience and how events can be designed in respect to such social interactions. The conclusions
are based on a literature review and empirical data collected at a Swedish music festival. The research
found that social interactions between event visitors are an important part of the event experience
and the level of satisfaction for the individual attending an event. Social interactions consist of three
main types: known-group socialization; external socialization; audience socialization. Every part of
the event (theme and program, setting, consumables, service) can be designed to facilitate positive
experiences and to constrain negative experiences related to such interactions.
Key words: Event experience; Social interaction; Consumer-to-consumer interaction (CCI);
Event design; Music festival
128 NORDVALL ET AL.
knowledge generated from CCI research can be
used in the discussion of how to design events to
attain the best possible experience for the audience,
independent of the type of event organization and
any desired commercial or other outcome that organization might have for the event.
This article studies the social aspects of event
experiences. The main research questions are: i)
what is the impact of other visitors on the individual’s
event experience, and ii) how can event producers
use event design principles and techniques to influence the social dimensions of the event experience?
To answer these questions the article discusses the
existing literature on the social aspect of the event
experience as well as reviewing the literature on
CCI. Empirical data on the experience of a Swedish
music festival are then presented and policy implications for an event design approach for the planning
and staging event experiences are discussed.
The Social Aspect of the Event Experience
The importance of the social dimension for the
overall event experience has (in event research)
been concentrated in studies of event motivation (Crompton & McKay, 1997; McMorland &
Mactaggart, 2007; Lee et al., 2004). Bowen and
Daniels (2005) concluded in their study of motives
for attending a rock music festival in Virginia (USA)
that festival managers should not only rely on the
music itself to draw large crowds, but that “equally
important is creating a fun and festive atmosphere
that offers ample opportunity to socialize and have
new and nonmusical experiences” (p. 163). Similar
findings were found by Gelder and Robinson (2009)
in their study of two music festivals in the UK stating that socializing is a key motive for such events.
Morgan (2008) studied a folk festival in the UK and
concluded that “the key to a successful festival lies
in creating a space where the social interactions and
personal experiences of the visitors can take place”
(p. 91). Nicholson and Pearce (2001) studied motivations for visiting four different events in New Zealand and concluded that multiple motivations were
the norm, but socialization was common to them all,
although socialization varied in its nature between
The literature on event motivation describes two
types of socialization as motives for visiting the
have indicated that the social aspect of the event
experience is an important motive for visiting events
(e.g., Dodd, Yuan, Adams, & Kolysnikova, 2006;
Nicholson & Pearce, 2001). People go to events to
socialize with friends and family (e.g., Chang &
Yuan, 2011), to meet new people (e.g., Crompton &
McKay, 1997), or to experience the positive atmosphere that is created when people gather together to
have fun (e.g., Gelder & Robinson, 2009). If social
interactions between event visitors are related to
what the audience wants to and, indeed, does experience, events should be designed for this purpose.
The concept of event design is, therefore, central to
any discussion of social interaction at events.
According to Brown (cited in Getz, 2012) event
design is “the creation, conceptual development and
staging of an event using event design principles
and techniques to capture and engage the audience with a positive and meaningful experience”
(p. 222). Based on the premise that the experience
itself can’t be designed, only suggested, facilitated,
or constrained, Getz (2012) suggests four general
categories that are the realm of the event designer:
theme and program (scripted activities), setting (site,
venue, atmosphere), services (service quality, staff/
volunteers), and consumables (gastronomy, gifts).
Few studies have discussed how to design events for
facilitating social interactions between visitors (e.g.,
McMorland & Mactaggart, 2007; Morgan, 2008)
and very few researchers have discussed the literature on consumer-to-consumer interactions (CCI) in
the context of planned events (Gruen, Osmonbekov,
& Czaplewski, 2007; Levy, 2010).
The CCI research focuses on how other consumers sharing the same service environment influence
the consumers’ experience (Gummesson, 2006;
Harris & Baron, 2004). It has been found that other
consumers can contribute to satisfaction and enjoyment (Grove & Fisk, 1997; Huang & Hsu, 2010),
but also to dissatisfaction (Harris & Reynolds, 2003;
Wu, 2007). Researchers have argued that companies
offering services should not neglect the impact of
CCI but instead need to consider and manage such
interactions. It can be argued that event environments and the visitors to that environment (the audience) should not be considered solely as commercial
service environments consumed by customers
(e.g., as would occur with a nonprofit organization
communicating a noncommercial message). The
DESIGNING EVENTS FOR SOCIAL INTERACTION 129
research because the impact of other consumers
has shown to be an important factor for the evaluation of the service or experience (Harris & Baron,
2004; Hennig-Thurau, Gwinner, & Gremler, 2002;
McAlexander, Schouten, & Koenig, 2002). In hedonic consumption situations (e.g., leisure and tourism
settings) consumers are probably more interested in
getting social benefits (Levy, 2010; Miao, Mattila,
& Mount, 2011). However, there are few empirical
studies on CCI interactions in leisure and tourism
settings with high hedonic content (i.e., pleasureoriented experiences) although such studies are
increasing in number (Andersson & Mossberg,
2004; Grove & Fisk, 1997; Wu, 2007).
Several studies have discovered increased satisfaction and enjoyment as positive consequences of
other people sharing the same leisure experience
(Andersson & Mossberg, 2004; Arnould & Price,
1993; Grove & Fisk, 1997; Huang & Hsu, 2010;
Levy, Getz, & Hudson, 2011; Wu, 2007). Studies
showing direct relationships between CCI and loyalty behavior (Guenzi & Pelloni, 2004; Moore &
Moore, 2005) (e.g., intentions to return to a professional association meeting) found these to be related
to CCI (Gruen et al. 2007), but while consumer satisfaction and enjoyment do influence loyalty behavior, they do not necessarily lead to repeat purchase
or positive word of mouth (Gitomer, 1998).
Other consumers can also have a negative effect
on another’s experience—for example, rude behavior and crowding (Grove & Fisk, 1997) or other
negative behaviors by tour group members (Wu,
2007). Harris and Reynolds (2003) also stressed
the potential negative consequences of CCI in their
study of the consequences of “dysfunctional customers” (e.g., drunkenness and violence in hotels,
restaurants, and bars) and how these behaviors may
spoil other customers’ consumption experience.
Factors Influencing CCI
To understand why other people sharing the same
service or experience either contribute to satisfaction or dissatisfaction, researchers have presented
different explanatory models. Common to them all
is that CCI are affected by the characteristics of the
person/group on the one side and by the characteristics of the service environment on the other side
(see Table 1).
event: to socialize with friends and family (Chang
& Yuan, 2011; Mason & Beaumont-Kerridge, 2004)
and to meet new people (Crompton & McKay,
1997). The first type was the primary motive for
visiting a taekwondo championship in Florida
(USA) (Ko, Kim, & Kim, 2010) and, in a study of
three events in Northeast Ohio by Scott (1996), to
be together in the family group was one of the most
important motives. Gelder and Robinson (2009)
found socializing with friends and family to be the
main motive for attending the Glastonbury music
festival, and socializing was ranked third in motivations for attending the V Festival. The other type of
socialization, to meet new people, is not as common
as the known-group socialization motive, but the
chance to make new friends when traveling to away
games was included in a study of what is sought by
event sport tourists (Chen, 2006).
Research also shows that social motives differ
between types of visitors on the same event. For
example, Formica and Uysal (1996) found a significant difference between the motivations of residents
and nonresidents while studying a jazz festival in
Italy. Entertainment was more important for the outof-the-region visitors whereas residents were more
motivated by the socialization. Wooten and Norman
(2008) studied an art festival in Alabama (USA)
and found that socialization was more important
to visitors with prior experience of an event than
first-time visitors. Gelder and Robinson (2009) in
their research on music festivals in UK also found
variations in how respondents ranked socialization.
Older visitors to the Glastonbury Festival ranked
socializing with friends and family higher, but for
the V Festival it was the younger age group that
ranked the same item high (perhaps unsurprisingly
as the festival is targeted at a younger audience). For
the V Festival it was also found that women ranked
socializing much higher than men.
The concept of CCI covers both the direct interpersonal interactions between consumers sharing
the same service or experience and the more indirect interactions when consumers affect one another
by just being part of the same environment (Bitner,
1992; Grove & Fisk, 1997; Wu, 2007). CCI in service settings have received increased attention in
130 NORDVALL ET AL.
Ability—the MOA model (MacInnis, Moorman, &
Jaworski, 1991)—were used as an explanatory framework for how consumer-to-consumer exchanges are
facilitated or impeded. Motivation was interpreted
as the force that directs individuals towards goals.
Opportunities reflect the extent to which a situation
is conducive to achieving a desired outcome. Ability is the extent to which actors have the necessary
resources (e.g., social competence). Gruen et al.
(2007) found each of the MOA elements to play a
role in the level of consumer-to-consumer exchange
but that motivation had the greatest effect.
Why people react strongly to other people’s
behavior in certain situations can be explained by the
ideas of scripts and protocols. Miao et al.’s (2011)
study of restaurant guests shows that consumers’
emotional responses towards other consumers are
largely script based. This means that the behaviors
of other consumers are judged against some mental
schema of predetermined sets of activities or scripts
(Gioia & Manz, 1985). Only script-incongruent
behaviors in the Miao et al. (2011) study were found
to have elicited salient emotional responses. Similarly, Grove and Fisk (1997) found that many of
the negative effects that other visitors had on other
visitors’ theme park experiences were related to
“protocol incidents.” For example, rude behaviors
of others while standing in lines violated expectations of protocol. Other people’s behavior can also
influence the consumer´s experience more unconsciously. The results of the study by Ramanathan
and McGill (2007) show that sharing the experience
of a television comedy show with another person
may cause the direct evaluation to be become more
like that of the other person. The phenomenon is
Harris and Baron (2004) studied conversations
between strangers in service environments and
identified four stimuli for such conversations: the
individual characteristics of the consumers; consumer needs; service employee actions/inactions;
and the service environment. Levy et al. (2011)
found these stimuli factors useful for understanding
what influences the level and quality of CCI for a
heritage tour experience. The individual characteristics in this setting were the demographic and personal and impersonal factors (e.g., values, moods);
the consumer needs were represented by the social
motives and level of consumer involvement and
the service employees’ actions/inactions were the
ability of the personnel to facilitate CCI. The fourth
stimuli, the different characteristics of the service
environment, were the utilitarian or hedonic nature
of the service, the duration of the service, group
factors, and the weather.
To understand the impact of other consumers in
restaurants, Miao et al. (2011) used ideas from Social
Impact Theory (Latané, 1981) and Price, Arnould,
and Deibler’s (1995) conceptualization of dimensions of the service encounter. Miao et al. (2011)
identified that three dimensions moderate the magnitude of consumer responses to the behaviors of others: temporal, spatial, and relational. The temporal
dimension is the duration of the presence of other
consumers, the spatial dimension is the crowd density, and the relational dimension describe the type
of relationship (e.g., acquainted or unacquainted).
Gruen et al. (2007) used another conceptual
model as a framework for studying the experience
of those attending a professional association meeting. The concepts of Motivation, Opportunity and
Factors Influencing CCI
Person/Group Environment References
Demographic element; Values;
Moods; Motives; Involvement;
Service employee actions/
hedonic; Duration; Weather
Harris and Baron (2004);
Levy et al. (2011)
Temporal; Spatial; Relational Temporal; Spatial Miao et al. (2011); Price et al. (1995)
Motivation; Ability Opportunity Gruen et al. (2007);
MacInnis et al. (1991)
Miao et al. (2011); Gioia and Manz
(1985); Ramanathan and
DESIGNING EVENTS FOR SOCIAL INTERACTION 131
by Gruen et al. (2007) concerning the professional
association meeting: “planners can structure meeting schedules to allow adequate time for members
to interact, provide moderated exchange sessions
at the meetings, create membership directories
that list members’ areas of expertise and interests,
or provide a discussion board on their web site”
(p. 548). Huang and Hsu (2010) suggest that cruise
ship managers organize group activities that require
team work, offer special interest activities that could
bring like-minded people together, and organize
welcome reception or singles’ parties to help passengers to break the ice and open up communications. To incorporate changes to the physical setting
has also been a strategy to enhance the quality of
CCI proposed in Moore and Moore’s (2005) study
of the hair salon where it was suggested that positive
perceptions of atmospherics could lead to positive
Researchers have to some extent discussed how
to manage social interaction at events, including
the practical implementations of such interactions.
Nicholson and Pearce (2001) stressed the need to
identify the form(s) of socialization desired by the
targeted visitors to guide the design of the event.
Considering the variations in motives of different
groups of visitors visiting an event, Schofield and
Thompson (2007) recommended to the organizers
of a sport and culture festival in Mongolia the need
to highlight the socialization dimension in their
communication with potential domestic visitors.
Wooten and Norman (2008) suggested the marketers
of an art festival in Alabama (US) needed to communicate images of attendees eating and chatting at
picnic tables while enjoying musical and theatrical
performances to place emphasis on the opportunities
for social activity at the festival. McMorland and
Mactaggart (2007) gave examples of how organizers of traditional Scottish music events could facilitate social interaction by “having breaks between a
band playing, spaces for people to network, and the
chance to meet the performers or an opportunity to
join traditional Scottish music clubs” (p. 67). For
a UK folk festival Morgan (2008) identified places
to meet, socialize, and wind down before and after
the main performances as an overlooked element
that should be provided by the event’s management team. Levy (2010) also suggests that event
planners can influence social interaction through
explained by emotional contagion, which means
that peoples’ expressions of emotions may “rub off
on” each other during joint interactions, so that people acting together come to align with each others’
moods (Neumann & Strack, 2000). Behaviors as
well as emotions, however, can spread to other consumers. In Harris and Reynolds’s (2003) study of
dysfunctional customers, one of the negative consequences was found to be “the domino effect.” That
is, the bad behavior of one customer can spread or
rub off to others. These studies indicate the different levels of how consumers influence each other. If
emotional contagion and behavioral spreading are
examples of how consumers influence each other
on a more elusive level, scripts and protocols are
examples of the more obvious level.
In their 1991 research, Dunn Ross and Iso-Ahola
(studying sightseeing tourist motivation and satisfaction) addressed the idea of managing CCI:
“Social interaction, for example, was an important
motive in the present study and suggests that tour
companies have to try to facilitate social interaction
and contacts through their services” (p. 236). Other
studies also argued for managerial involvement
in facilitating CCI (Aubert-Gamet & Cova, 1999;
Grove & Fisk, 1997; Levy, 2010), and Andersson
and Mossberg (2004) argued for more research on
how to facilitate CCI.
Several strategies and ideas have been proposed
for how social interaction might be managed. Wu
(2007) suggested that travel agencies should convey a clear position in the market place to help
“compatible” customers to self-select into the service environment. To communicate for the code of
behavior is an idea shared by researchers (Grove
& Fisk, 1997; Miao et al., 2011; Wu, 2007), which
can be realized verbally or through signs, symbols,
and artifacts in the physical environment. Miao et
al. (2011) suggested hospitality training programs
for staff on how to handle negative interactions
between customers. In Levy et al.’s (2011) study
of a cultural heritage tour, several activities was
found to successfully facilitate CCI, such as: producing name tags; shooting group photos; doing
introductions; and conducting socially interactive
games. Another list of activities was recommended
132 NORDVALL ET AL.
and the survey was then held open until June 5,
2009. All returned questionnaires were checked and
three copies were deleted because of inconsistent
or duplicated answers. The final number of useable cases was 701. Out of the 701 respondents, 580
respondents reported that they were likely to visit the
festival and were consequently used in this study.
During Event (Interviews)
During the Storsjöyran music festival, visitors
were interviewed by six interviewers (three researchers and three trained students) using a semistructured method. In the semistructured interviews the
interviewer had a number of topics/problem areas
that needed to be covered as well as some specific
questions. From that base, the interviewer was free
to generate new questions or ask the interviewee to
develop his/her expressed ideas further, or to ask
for additional information in relation to a question.
This method was used to obtain as much depth as
possible from the interviewees without the discussion losing focus or ignoring important aspects of
the investigation. Single visitors, couples, and group
of visitors were interviewed during each day and
night of the festival. Potential respondents were
randomly approached at the main festival area and
also at the festival’s camping site. All together 259
interviews were conducted. The interviews included
• Event visitors’ positive experiences
• Event visitors’ negative experiences
• Opinions about the festival’s program, setting,
service, and security
• Experiences in relation to expectations
• Price and value
• Recommendations to festival’s organizers
The time spent on each interview was approximately 4–8 minutes. All interviews were recorded
and later transcribed.
A profile of respondents in each of the studies is
presented in Table 2. The typical respondent was
20–25 years old, with women in the majority for both
samples, before and during the event. More than half
programming and “atmospherics” (e.g., cocktail
hours, ‘‘icebreakers,’’ face-to-face seating arrangements, and creating a cozy ambiance).
The festival under investigation—the Storsjöyran
Music Festival that is held late in summer each year
in Östersund, Sweden—was approached primarily
from the perspective of the event experience rather
than (but not excluding) a customer service, commercial perspective. When analyzing the initial
data the social dimension stood out as an area of
special interest, and triggered a closer analysis of
this dimension. This article focuses on data pertaining to the social dimensions of event experiences
that were collected before (web questionnaire) and
during the event (interviews).
The questionnaire was conducted in late spring,
2 months before the festival was held. Potential visitors’ motives and expectations were studied through
a web-based questionnaire containing both questions
using Likert-type scale and open-ended questions.
This method opened up the possibility of obtaining
a large amount of both quantitative and qualitative
data. The survey included questions about:
• Demography (sex, age, home area, and connection
to the festival site)
• Prior festival experiences of the event and other
Swedish music festivals
• Expressed motives for visiting the event
• Desired experiences
• Unwanted experiences
• Estimated importance of different experiences on
The questionnaire was designed in the web-based
computer program LUVIT e-Val 4.0 and was first
tested by researchers, discussed with the event organizers, and then sent out to approximately 4,500 on
the Storsjöyran festival’s direct news mailing list on
May 18, 2009. On May 19 the questionnaire was
published on the Storsjöyran festival’s homepage
DESIGNING EVENTS FOR SOCIAL INTERACTION 133
smaller stages, two of which are indoors. The main
attractions are the performing artists and bands,
most of which are national or regional. Some international performers are also presented every year.
Motive, Expectations, and Worries (Preevent)
Two months before Storsjöyran 2009 was held,
580 people described the main reason they planned
to visit the festival. The top three self-expressed
motives for visiting Storsjöyran were: artists/music
(51%), atmosphere (13%), and socializing (12%).
The following comment is an example of a motive
categorized as “atmosphere”: “The atmosphere!
Especially the spirit among the campers on the festival camp.” From an analysis of how respondents
used the word “atmosphere,” it is reasonable to infer
that respondents referred to the atmosphere that
they had created themselves (social atmosphere)
rather than the atmosphere or ambiance created by
the programmed music, lighting, and décor. When
respondents talk about the atmosphere as a prime
motive for the visit, interaction with other visitors
can be seen as crucial to the success of the event.
For “socializing” the subcategories were: knowngroup socialization (friends, old friends in town,
family members, “meet up with friends who are
scattered throughout the Nordic region”); partying
and mingling; and external socialization (meet new
people). Three other categories of motives were also
identified: tradition/earlier experience; good event
quality; and fun/amusing/nice. It is conceivable that
socializing is the underlying motive in statements
such as: “It is a tradition since 2001” (tradition/earlier experience), “It is the best festival in Sweden”
(good event quality), or “Because it is so fun” (fun/
Motivation was also measured by letting respondents indicate the importance of 13 items on a 5-point
Likert scale (1 = no importance, 5 = very important).
the respondents were tourists (though approximately
40% of the tourists in the preevent web survey
had previously lived in the region) and 92% in the
preevent study had previously visited the festival.
Most respondents visited the festival with others; the
majority with friends (two thirds), with family/partner, or with a mix of friends/family/partner.
Social Interaction at the Storsjöyran Festival
Background to the Storsjöyran Festival
Storsjöyran is a Swedish music and community
festival held in the center of the Mid-Swedish town
Östersund during the last week in July every year.
Östersund Municipality (60,000 inhabitants) is the
county seat of the sparsely populated and Switzerland-sized Jämtland county (130,000 inhabitants).
The festival is one of the biggest community music
festivals staged in Sweden. One week before the
actual festival, festivities start with a free program
of street artists, theater, exhibitions, and movies.
These activities are primarily concentrated to a festival area with temporary restaurants and nightclub
tents. Activities are also programmed to take place
in other parts of the town. Approximately 50,000
people visit the festival area and related activities
during this period.
During the music festival, parts of the town center are fenced off and tickets are required for entry.
During the last few years this part of the festival
program (starting on Thursday night and lasting
until Saturday night) has had about 25,000 paying
visitors. Visitors are primarily from the region but
also from other parts of Sweden. Many of the visitors are “home comers” or expatriates who used to
live in the region. A small number are international
visitors mainly from Norway. The festival has two
large outdoor stages (25,000 and 10,000 audience
capacity, respectively), and some midsized and
Overview of Respondents
Time of Study Method No. of Respondents Women/Men (%) Median Age Regional/Tourist (%)
Preevent Questionnaire 580 66/34 24 50/50
During event Interview 259 55/45 20 39/61
134 NORDVALL ET AL.
not the very oldest respondents, that were least interested in meeting new people.
The respondents also described one important
positive experience they expected during a visit to
the Storsjöyran festival. Experiences categorized as
“experience performance/music” were mentioned
by 49% of the respondents, followed by “social
experience” (19%) and “experience the atmosphere”
(13%). As discussed previously, the category social
experiences consist of three subcategories (with
respondent comments in parentheses): meet friends
(“Meet new and old friends!”); get new friends
(“Getting to know at least three new people”); and
be in a positive social environment (“That everyone
is positive and happy, because it rubs off on everyone and everything”).
The respondents were also asked: “Is there anything that could lead to a negative experience? If so,
please mention ONE such a negative experience.”
There were 485 respondents who answered the
question, and the total list of categorized potential
negative experiences is presented in Table 4. Categories including experiences as a result of CCI were
“fights/violence/threat,” “drunkenness,” “crowding,” and “bad social experiences.” These combined
categories accounted for 44% of all responses.
“Fights/violence/threat” were comments about
potential incidents either affecting the respondent
directly (e.g., victim of violence) or indirectly (e.g.,
watching the fight). The category “drunkenness”
included comments of unwanted and extreme alcohol consumption of others (e.g., “Too many drunken
people!”). Young people being too drunk were
The items were developed with the festival organizers and represented typical episodes, conditions, or
activities associated with the Storsjöyran festival
experience. The list of items and their mean values
is presented in Table 3. The results from the data collected during the festival align with the result of the
self-expressed motives collected prevent, with atmosphere, socializing, and music ranking highest. The
item “the atmosphere at the festival site” was graded
and ranked very high by all groups of respondents
regardless of sex, age, place of residence, number of
earlier visits to Storsjöyran, or experience of other
festivals. Age did affect how respondents graded the
items “spend time with friends” and “meet new people.” Spending time with friends was not as important for the older visitors (28+), but still (overall)
one of the most important factors for a good festival
experience. The extent to which respondents wished
to meet new people varied even more between the
age groups. Once again, the younger demographic
(peaking for 18–19-year-old respondents) was more
interested in meeting new people than the older
demographic. However, it was the 28–34 age group,
Importance of 13 Typical Storsjöyran Experiences for
the Total Festival Experience (n = 580)
Typical Storsjöyran Experiences Mean Valuea
The atmosphere at the festival site 4.64
Spend time with friends 4.53
That someone/some of your
favorite artists perform 4.49
The concerts on the major stages 4.32
Meet new people 3.80
The discovery of new artists 3.67
The president’s speechb 3.56
The celebration of the
County Jämtland 3.51
The concerts on smaller stages 3.45
Visit the Krogstråket areac 3.24
Eat good food 3.23
Drink alcohol 2.88
Visit the amusement park 2.04
a1 = no importance, 5 = very important.
bThe region is a self-proclaimed “republic” (started by the
people behind the festival) and has its own president. The
president’s speech on the last night of the festival each year
is a humorous spoof that is eagerly anticipated.
cKrogstråket is a temporary restaurant, nightclub, and beer
Potential Negative Experiences During
a Visit at Storsjöyran
Potential Negative Experience n % of Responses
Bad weather 97 20
Fights/violence/threat 96 20
Drunkenness 85 18
Poor performance/music 73 15
Poor service quality 55 11
High prices 18 4
Crowding 17 3
Bad social experience 16 3
Other 28 6
Total 485 100
DESIGNING EVENTS FOR SOCIAL INTERACTION 135
here to stay at the festival camp!” (male, 25 years).
During the festival nights when the concerts took
place, there were people who spent more time at
the campsite than on the actual festival site, even
if they had paid for tickets for the concerts. “There
is lots of action at the camp, we didn’t visit the festival area yesterday” (woman, 18 years). Another
aspect that differed between ordinary visitors and
those who stayed at the campsite was that campers emphasized the feeling of togetherness. “The
togetherness . . . everyone is so damn social!”
(male, 18 years). It was found that the campsite had
developed into a temporary community and that the
members (the campers) received important positive
values as an outcome. “You can go to a tent and talk
to anyone, no one is unfriendly” (male, 18 years).
Respondents also provided information about
what they thought was not good with festival experience and how they thought the event could be
developed. Many comments were related to the
social dimension of the experience. Visitors complained that they had to spend too much time in
queues to get into the festival area, into beer tents,
and into toilets. Standing in queues was perceived
to be taking time from other things that the visitors
wanted to do (e.g., socializing) and social exchange
in the queues was described as more negative than
positive. Young respondents thought that organizers should create more places where people could
socialize. Visitors under 18 years did not have
access to the beer tents, which had the unintended
consequence that there was a lack of places for
this group to socialize. “It should be a tent where
you can stay if you are not 18 . . . being there with
friends” (female, 15 years). Those under 18 wanted
a café or dance hall.
Several respondents thought that there were
not enough people at the festival and wanted the
festival to be packed because this contributed to
a positive atmosphere. “I think there are too little
people here!” (female, 40 years). Other respondents perceived the same situation as too crowded
and negative, and wanted more personal space, and
there were those who complained that there were
too many people and that the festival was crowded.
“We walked away because it was such a mess.
There were so many people there” (female, 60
years). The respondents’ perceptions of audience
frequently mentioned. “Bad social experiences” was
concerned with the risk of meeting unpleasant people who might behave badly.
Actual Experiences (During the Event)
Data collection during the event comprised 259
interviews with event visitors. When asked “What’s
the best thing about this festival?” approximately
50% of the ordinary visitors (not staying at the
festival camp) referred to some social aspect of
the event experience, including those who emphasized both the social dimension and the music.
These respondents referred mainly to two different
social aspects of the Storsjöyran experience. First,
the majority of respondents mentioned the special
atmosphere that they experienced at the festival,
an atmosphere that they primarily linked together
with the (other) visitors. Both the number of visitors in the audience (approximately 25,000) and
the behavior of the audience were important for
the special atmosphere experienced. “That there
are so many people and it’s so great atmosphere”
(female, 20 years) and “The atmosphere is actually
the best thing, people are happy and it’s just a nice
atmosphere!” (female, 25 years).
To experience this social and special atmosphere
and the positive values of being among happy people did not require close interaction with other visitors (e.g., talking with others), but the opportunity to
spend time with friends, meet people (both friends
whom they meet regularly and friends they have
not seen for a long time), and to make new friends,
does require close interaction. “First of all it is for
the friends who you can hang out with . . . and to
meet friends who revisit the town after many years
away . . . and then it’s for meeting new people”
(male, 29 years).
The social dimension of the festival experience
was even more important for those visitors who
stayed at the festival campsite. When the question “What’s the best thing about this festival?”
was addressed to the campers, 80% highlighted the
social dimension. To socialize, partying and have
fun together at the campsite was for this group
more important than going to concerts and listening to music. “This is what is best about the whole
thing . . . this is what’s funny . . . you want to come
136 NORDVALL ET AL.
additional and important factor was that the visitors
liked the attitude of the security staff. “Extremely
nice guards!” (female, 18 years). Another factor
that also contributed to the sense of security was
the mixture of younger and older visitors. “Here
you can also find many older people also. Other
Swedish music festivals just have people from 15
to 25 years” (male, 50 years).
Discussion and Conclusions
Understanding the Social Aspect
of the Event Experience
In order to create events for best possible experiences for the audience, event designers need to
understand the impact of other visitors on an individual’s experience of the event.
Positive and Negative. Previous research has
indicated and is supported by the analysis of the
Storsjöyran experience, proving that other visitors
can influence an individual’s event experience both
positively and negatively. Other visitors can contribute to strong, positive feelings of belonging and
shared joy, but confrontation with unpleasant and
threatening visitors can also contribute to insecurity and fears.
Differences Between Visitors. The social motives
(to experience the social atmosphere, spend time
with friends, and meet new people) were (besides
musical experiences) the primary or secondary reason for visiting the Storsjöyran music festival. The
priority for, and the manner of, socializing differed,
however, between the different types of visitors.
At Storsjöyran the motives of spending time with
friends and meeting new people were especially
important for younger visitors (27 years and under)
than for older visitors (28 years and above). The
research also showed that the visitors who stayed at
the festival camp emphasized the social dimension
of the experience a lot more than other visitors.
Worries Versus Actual Experiences. Visitors to
Storsjöyran had more concerns about negative consequences of social interaction than was actually
experienced at the event itself. Many respondents
density were also dependent on the actual location
within the festival site. In the audience area in front
of stages, high density was desired. On the walks
between stages, high density was often regarded as
A few respondents complained about other visitors’ behaviors and attitudes (e.g., drinking behavior). High sound levels was a subject for discussion
with some respondents saying that the sound levels
were too high in the beer tents, making it difficult
to talk (socialize).
The most common comment from campers
regarding other visitors was that the number of visitors who lived at the camp was too few. “I think it’s
a too small camping” (male, 22 years). In comparison to other Swedish festival camps, the Storsjöyran
camp is relatively small, but the number of visitors
staying at the campsite was also fewer this year
than the previous year, which was a consequence
of a new ticket strategy. This year, visitors had to
buy a 3-day ticket to the festival to have access to
the campsite. People who only wanted to pay for
single-day tickets or just wanted to hang out at
the camp (without visiting the concerts) were not
allowed access. On the other hand, respondents
believed the system to some extent contributed to a
better atmosphere at the camp, because troublemakers stayed away. The older campers (22–23 years)
thought that too many young people stayed at the
campsite. A suggestion from this group was to raise
the minimum age for camping from 15 to 18 years.
The camping area became littered and this was not
appreciated among some respondents, although it
was thought that the problem was not just about
visitors’ behavior but also about the insufficient
number of bins on the campsite.
Visitors also discussed what they thought about
the safety and security. In general, most felt safe
and secure inside the festival area and had not
experienced any problems with threats, violence, or
fights. No respondent reported having been threatened or subjected to violence. However, respondents felt more insecure outside the festival area.
“When I´m here in the festival area I feel safe, but
not when I go from here” (female, 21 years). The
festival organizers had made an increased investment in safety measures for this festival and the
large number of guards and policemen visible contributed to the perception of safety and security. An
DESIGNING EVENTS FOR SOCIAL INTERACTION 137
audience, and the behavior of the audience collectively and of audience members individually.
For many visitors a large and happy crowd created a good atmosphere. The feeling of being one
of many, to be part of the group, to be where the
action is, and to meet many happy faces were all
positive aspects of visitor-to-audience interactions. Negative incidents can also happen when
people gather. Before the festival, respondents
were concerned about crowding, drunkenness,
fights, violence, and other forms of bad social
experiences. During the festival, some of the
negative experiences were connected to other
visitors’ behavior, but the incidents were not as
serious as respondents’ prior concerns.
Designing Events for Social Interaction
This study has revealed the importance of the
social interactions that occur between event visitors
and the need to design events for social interaction.
That these interactions are so central to the kind
of individual experience that an audience member
might have suggests that these interactions should
not only be managed during the event, but also
designed for and facilitated (and, if necessary, constrained) proactively by the event designer.
The three types of interactions identified in this
study provide a starting point for the ways in which
an event can be designed for social interaction:
1. Known-group socialization.The event designer
should create suitable conditions for the visitor
to be able to socialize with friends and family. This might include chill-out areas that are
low sound level areas with comfortable seating
where talking is possible in an intimate setting.
Marketing the event as a family-friendly event
and/or detailing family-friendly locations and
activities and social areas in the festival would
2. External socialization. The event designer
should create opportunities for visitors to meet
new people. The event design elements in place
for facilitating known-group socialization are
also appropriate for external socialization. To
facilitate meeting new people, the event designer
can also create purpose-built meeting places
had fights, violence, and drunkenness in mind
when they were asked to mention potential negative experiences, but these were not experienced by
respondents during the festival.
Three Types of Interactions at Storsjöyran. The
impact of other visitors can be described by three
different types of interactions: 1) known-group
socialization, 2) external socialization, and 3) audience socialization.
1. Known-group socialization. These interactions
are about spending time with friends and family
and were seen by respondents as the second most
important interaction required for the delivery
a positive festival experience overall. Typical
experiences for the visitors to the Storsjöyran
festival were the opportunity to meet old friends
not seen for a long time and also people who
had left the town or region but had returned
during the festival to also visit the city, family,
and friends. To unexpectedly meet a dear friend
from the past was described as one of the most
positive experiences during the festival.
2. External socialization. Meeting new people was
also found as a motive for attending the festival,
although not as important as the known-group
socialization motive. Some visitors expected
to get new friends during the festival and some
respondents confirmed that this had occurred.
Young visitors had a greater interest in meeting new people than did older visitors. Getting
in touch and socializing with new people was a
common occurrence at the festival campsite.
3. Audience socialization. Interactions with and
within the audience (the mass of other visitors)
affects the experience for the individual. This
occurs either by being part of the collective
experience or by interactions with other visitors
(anonymous, not friends or family) comprising
the audience. The respondents, both before and
during the event, talked about the special atmosphere existing at Storsjöyran. This was cited as
a motive for visiting the festival, and some of
the best moments experienced by visitors were
related to atmosphere. The research showed
that the event atmosphere was composed of two
main factors: the total number of people in the
138 NORDVALL ET AL.
by the event designer. The program of the event
attracts certain types of visitors (demographic elements, values, group factors, homogeneity). How
the event is promoted affects motives and expectations. Information about how to behave may change
the scripts and protocol used.
The Event Design Categories. Designing events
for social interactions is to consciously design every
part of the event for best possible social experience
for its visitors. Based on the knowledge of factors
influencing social interactions, the impact of other
visitors for the individual´s experience, and the
types of interactions that take place, a framework
for the application of event design principles and
techniques can be developed (Fig. 1).
The items listed in each category are suggestions
based on data from the event study, a review of the
literature, and a dialogue with representatives from
the event organization. The lower part of the framework illustrates that the event design work needs to
consider how any measure affect the different types
of social interaction.
This framework for designing social interaction
can be used to raise the consciousness of event organizers and designers on the possibilities of improving visitor experiences in terms of social interaction.
Apart from an understanding of these possibilities,
knowledge of visitors’ motives and expectations at
with design and program elements that encourage audience members to interact.
3. Audience socialization. The event designer
should make the individual visitor in a crowd feel
comfortable, excited, and safe. Apart from visible safety measures (e.g., security staff), designing the program to reduce inappropriate behavior
has been trialed effectively at the Big Day Out
music festival in Australia (S. Sewell, personal
communication, February 3, 2011), and event
design techniques such as enclosure can influence an audience’s sense of safety and security
while not lessening the impact of the performance or programmed activity (Brown, 2010).
Factors Influencing Social Interaction. Research
on CCI has identified several factors influencing
interactions between consumers. Some factors
are related to the characteristics of the person or
group, whereas other are more related to the characteristics of the environment. It is these factors
the event designer could and should play with to
influence the social aspect of the event experience.
Factors related to the environment are under the
direct or indirect control of the event designer (e.g.,
employee actions, duration of experience, space,
opportunities for socialization). But factors more
related to the person/group could also be influenced
Figure 1. A framework for the process of designing events for social interactions.
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