GoForMike Event & Festival Hullabaloo. Words by Mike Mauer.

Oops I Did a Russia Thing: Lessons Learned from Hacking Facebook



The world was a more innocent place. Back before kids were crushin’ Tide Pods for lunch, when Dumb Starbucks was making waves, and Cambridge Analytica was just opening its doors. The nascent data company started scraping user information from Facebook to later sell to the Trump organization and Russian operatives.  It was a bold move, morally questionable, and definitely an invasion of privacy.

Except everyone was doing it.  Including me.

The Backstory

It was also the year that we launched Pemberton Music Festival.  Nestled in the snow-capped mountains of British Columbia, it was our most ambitious project yet — 4 nights, 6 stages, 100+ artists, and one metric shit-load of awesome Canadian fans singing along to Nine Inch Nails, Outkast, Deadmau5, Soundgarden and much more.

Year one was a success, but there was still a lot to learn about promoting such a large Canadian festival from the States.  We were focused entirely on learning as much about the fans as possible.  Surveys, analytics, social listening, etc.  Anything we could do to just learn HOW people find out about the festival and got their crew to come.

So, we started scraping Facebook.

Facebook was pretty loose with its data policy at the time, and we had the majority of the festival fans register their RFID wristband using the “Facebook Social Login” feature.  Bingo!  All that data was ours for the taking.

We wrote a script that pulled a list of each attendees friends lists.  We were then able to cross-reference that list with our wristband registration list.  What did that tell us?  Some pretty powerful shit.

The data

We knew that the #1 reason to attend a festival is because your friends are going.  What we got was a visual representation of that effect.

Now we could see WHAT fans were connected and HOW they knew each other:

  • Each dot represented a Pemberton attendee.
  • The lines represented their connection to one another
  • Larger & redder circles meant that person was responsible for bringing a larger crew out to the fest.

So now we asked — who were the true influencers?  Who was responsible for rallying their entire crew to go to Pemberton (some brought as many as 27 other friends!)?

Not surprisingly, it was people who were super active socially.  It tended to skew younger than our average demographic and leaned slightly towards women.  They also were almost all within a relatively limited geographic range in Vancouver.

The lesson

So how did we use that data?  We doubled down on advertising to that region.  We rewarded the largest “influencers” in the list to get them buzzing and even more socially active. (We were careful to use general language…”Hey, we scraped your data and stalked you….have VIP upgrades!” wouldn’t exactly have gotten a great response.)  It worked like a charm and the buzz from the festival amplified.

More importantly, there was definitely a larger marketing lesson learned.

While collecting this data was legit at the time, it was ‘grey’.  Facebook ended up shutting the loophole down at the end of 2014, but the idea remained — What can you do to gather data on your fanbase?  You might not be able to get friend lists but think about how micro-interactions can help build out a 360-degree view of your fan?

C3 used to have a FB social login module that accessed a music player that allowed data to be scraped (again, Facebook has since shut that down). Services like Umbel specialize in surveys and quizzes that collect first-party data.

So…What’s an interesting way you can you have your fanbase share information about themselves?  Can they fill out a quiz that gathers information about what genre they like the best?  Can they give you info about their hobbies in order to enter into a ticket giveaway?  Keep creating ways for them to share their data with you and soon you will have a much fuller picture of your fan.

Once you gather that information, dive in and learn as much as you can about your fans.  What makes them tick? Why are they coming? Who are they bringing?

That kind of data will keep you ahead of the competition and take your marketing to the next level.  Just please don’t go selling it to the Russians…

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About the author

Mike Mauer

👋 Hey there! I'm a marketer of 16+ years that's been helping produce and promote events across North America for just as long. In 2019 alone, I handled events totaling 1,250,000 tickets. I've been lucky enough to be featured in Billboard, Pollstar, and earn recognition from FlyCon as the "Most Data-Driven Marketer."

I also have a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Hope you enjoy my random musings about events, marketing, and anything else that pops into my head.

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GoForMike Event & Festival Hullabaloo. Words by Mike Mauer.

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