Is Your Social Media Strategy Just Digital Flyering?
A number of weeks ago, before a major piece of uni work was originally due and the bereavement which postponed it, I was sent an email asking an interesting but pretty simple question: is it possible to generate theatre ticket sales from Twitter?
Having got the email, I set about straight away and tried to craft a succinct answer. I’m pretty pleased to say that the words I managed to get down into my iPhone at the time still form the basis of this post, but it was the decision to turn my answer into a blog post and do a bit more research, fleshing out my quick response, which has really delayed my answer to a seemingly simple question. So here we go… I think the number of commercial theatre productions and building based companies at least paying lip service to social media proves that as part of your marketing mix, social media should help you shift some tickets. But can a social media campaign alone help you fill your auditorium? Can you actually generate ticket sales through Twitter?
If you look at any social media activity from a theoretical point of view, the one thing that marketing professionals and new media mavens will say over and over again is that you need to have a conversation with your audience. This is a step change from the traditional practice of just delivering a marketing message to them. In many ways your actually marketing message should come second to the relationship that people are developing with your company and you should almost make a point of not talking directly about your brand.
This conversation can take many forms and may include spending time talking about the industry at large, the personal experiences of the person tweeting, passing on messages from those in your network through re-tweets or endorsing people’s followers and promoting them through activities such as Follow Friday.
The beauty of tools such as Twitter is that they are opt-in marketing opportunities. The recipient is actually making the point of listening to what you have to say. In that respect you should look at ways of building your follower count so more people are listening to your brand. There are a few ways of doing that:
• Organically, by following a few people or friends and waiting for people to follow you. This is likely to be slow, possibly time consuming and there is no guarantee as to who you will end up following you.
• You can actively seek out people that you think will be in your target audience for the show. Using Twitter’s search functionality you can look for people taking about your subject areas, playwright, or theatre. As well as people tweeting on these topics you can also look into people following accounts. If you are performing at the Lowry then you could go through and follow people who follow them. There is a relatively good chance that if people have actively decided to engage with the theatre then they are interested in hearing from you as a company performing there.
• As an organisation it is also possible to use your Twitter account as a secondary marketing tool, behind another method promoting it. You could for example do a prize give away where the winner will be picked from your Twitter followers. You would have to promote such a competition away from your Twitter account, encouraging people to follow you, however if the prize was desirable enough it may also create online buzz with people sharing your message on Twitter, generating a larger following from your current follower’s followers opting in.
• Depending on whether your organisation already has a effective digital strategy you could convert the company’s existing fans to followers simply by asking them. If you have a large email list within your organisation you could add an invite to follow you on Twitter to your next mailshot. You could also run the list through Twitter’s Find Friends feature and start following people from your email list on that basis.
In each of these strategies it is important to ensure that you look authentic and engaged with your followers. It is also important that if people choose to engage with you then you make it easy for them to get the information they need about you when they need it. Make sure that your Twitter profile is properly filled in, that you have a bio which includes things like your location and box office phone number and that your link box actually includes a link to your website. There is nothing worse that someone deciding they’re going to check out the Shakespeare production you keep raving about, and then give up when they can’t find any way of buying tickets a few clicks away from your Twitter profile. Have a read at my 10 Things I Have Learnt From My First 2000 Tweets post to get my take on Twitter basics.
If you choose just to broadcast your marketing message, spending your time talking about about nothing but your product, not engaging with the audience you are trying to market to, people will take a short glance at your post, clock it as advertising and completely ignore it. You might be familiar with this happening in other parts of your marketing mix. Its a lot like flyering.
Just about every artistic endeavour on the planet has at some point turned to themselves and gone, “Do you know what we need? Do you know what will make this show sell out within the half hour? I think a stack of small A5 flyers will do it!” Now I’m not saying that there is no value in flyering at all. I have seen them used to great effect in Fringe venues where, laid out on a table, potential audiences pour over flyers trying to work out what to see that day and when they see something they like they are able to pick the flyer up and put it in their pocket, they’ve just opted in to receiving the message on that flyer. The main issue, the image I am wanting you to have in your mind’s eye through the rest of this, is when you encounter someone flyering on your high street.
Someone standing in the middle of the pavement, enthusiastically thrusting small, sharp pieces of card at anyone who gets too close does exactly the opposite of marketing, they scare people away. People pretend to be on their phones, cross the street, or stick both of their hands very firmly in their pockets. There is no way that they are going to be able to absorb your marketing message, no matter how incredible your latest production is, they’re too busy being scared away by the simple fact that you’re flyering.
Now some people might take a flyer from you as a way to get past you without having to take avoiding action. This might mean that you’ve managed to get rid of another flyer, but it doesn’t actually mean anything for your campaign if all they do is keep it in their hand until they pass the next bin and ditch it, or worse, walk 20 paces and drop it as litter.
If your social media presence is the digital equivalent of flyering then you have to take a real look at why you’re doing it. There is an argument, which may not be too popular amongst the marketeers in the audience, that the reason arts organisations embark on a social media campaign is the same reason that they send people out onto the streets with fists full of flyers – it makes the Marketing Manager feel better. Both can form a very visible action in response to concerns that the most recent production hasn’t sold any tickets. “Oh, but we’re active on Twitter” may have become the new, “Oh, but we gave out 500 flyers at the weekend.”
There is of course one counter to this which quickly pops up when you start raising that sort of argument around arts managers, and it certainly appeared pretty quickly when I floated my thesis in the office. Your response might be that flyering costs money and Twitter is free. I think that might miss an important point that many marketing departments might be missing. Yes, flyers cost money because they are physical things which need to be printed, they also will cost money to distribute. Social media also costs money! It might be free to set up your Twitter, Facebook and Flickr accounts but even if you get the lowest, most intern-y member of your office staff to work on your social media presence they are going to have to spend real time on the platforms to get real value from them, and that is time that they could be spending doing other things. That time also equals money.
Social media isn’t free, it takes time, effort and dedication to deliver results. Twitter should be able to deliver you increased sales at the box office through increased audience engagement with your brand but that does not mean going out into the world of social media and frequently screaming at the top of your lungs that I should come and see your show. It wouldn’t work if you were flyering on the high street and it won’t work when you appear in my Twitter stream either.
I know many arts organisations are doing a great job experimenting with Twitter. I was going to go into them in greater depth here, but I think I’ll save that for another time. Plus, you can tell which ones are doing a good job too, they’re the ones with the really high follower counts, adding value to the social media landscape and their communities.
Photo credit: Guilherme Kardel on Flickr