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Fall is in the air, which means film fans in Toronto will be skipping work to take in matinee premieres and stake out hotel lobbies for a chance to snap a selfie with their favourite A-lister as the Toronto International Film Festival kicks off Thursday.

Since it began in 1976, TIFF has been an annual launch pad for some 300 films from more than 60 countries. Over the years, TIFF has evolved to become one of the most popular celebrity stops on the festival circuit and it's often where the buzz for next year's Oscars truly begins.

While the festival is a chance for Torontonians to go star gazing – this year Channing Tatum, Bill Murray and Reese Witherspoon are among those expected to attend – TIFF also serves as a debut opportunity for unknown and up-and-coming actors, film directors and producers.

And while major corporate sponsors may dominate the marquees and adorn TIFF programs, for small businesses, TIFF provides a chance to debut or increase brand awareness, often using social media to provide important information and services for movie goers throughout the festival.

Two of the reoccurring themes for TIFF are inclusivity and interactivity. This year, the tagline is: "This is YOUR film festival."

For any brand looking to play a supporting role, it's all about enhancing the user experience. Remember that not all TIFF enthusiasts are the same: It's important to recognize this and to tailor your messaging and actions accordingly.

TIFF attendees can be broken down into distinct subgroups, each with their own needs, wants and preferences. What the die-hard movie-goer craves from the TIFF experience is unique from what the aspiring filmmaker is looking for, and how you connect with each group is different. When you understand the characteristics of each group, you can tailor your campaign for maximum impact.

How can your business step up to grab a piece of the TIFF buzz? You might not have the budget or the bandwidth for a major sponsorship, but by catering your campaign to create a better user experience, your small business can make a splash.

Customizing the experience

Let's look at some successful tactics from past TIFF experiences – what can brands take away from them to build on an even greater experience this time?

In 2012, TIFF launched a campaign for celebrity photo sourcing using Pinterest to announce famous attendees. It was so successful that the festival's marketing team decided to add a new board to announce directors the following year. A link to the board also enabled people to tweet out. This kickstarted the idea that at TIFF, social platforms are proving more effective than one-way guerilla marketing tactics for driving brand awareness.

Last year, TIFF asked consumers what their festival personality was to try to understand the wants and needs of each type of participant. Through social media, TIFF released helpful facts to the different audience types such as the Stargazer and the Rush Line Guru with useful information, including must-do activities and updates on where to find the A-list celebrities.

A more recent example of how innovations in social media can help drive brand awareness is the 2014 Bud Light Digital Dreams Festival. This past summer, festival organizers partnered with Canadian technology systems innovators to create a cashless payment system app that allowed users to pay for items with the swipe of their phone. Understanding the hassle associated with carrying around cash and, furthermore, running out of it, festival organizers used this knowledge to create a service that would improve the festival experience.

Just as up-and-coming filmmakers see TIFF as an opportunity to make a name for themselves, small businesses can take advantage of the star-studded atmosphere to roll out the red carpet on social for their audiences.

Major events represent a golden opportunity for brands to experiment with new ways of getting involved with their audience socially, helping users enjoy five-star experiences long after the curtain goes down.

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