E is for effort.

04.07.10 | 5 Comments

CATEGORIES about 2am, audiences, conversation starter, ideas, rabble rousing, social media, theatrical ecosystem

So there you are, surfing the Twitter streams with your interface of choice–sounds like something out of William Gibson, doesn’t it?–and up comes a tweet from one of the theatre companies you follow. There’s a link in the tweet. You’re curious, so you click on it.

The next thing you know, you’re in Facebook, reading a status update that’s exactly the same as the tweet. And this one doesn’t have a link, it doesn’t lead anywhere. It’s the same message, nothing more. You’ve just hit a dead end in the world of social media.

If you learn only one thing about how to use social media, it’s this: Twitter is a conversation. Period.

The other day, the hashtag #artslabsf covered a workshop called Leveraging Social Media, presented by Beth Kanter at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. (That link will take you to Beth’s blog post about the event, with the full slide show and more.*) One of the ideas that popped up on the Twitter stream was the Four E’s of Twitter…

Engage. Excite. Encourage. Empower.

When you create a dead end–and lure your followers into it–you’re not doing any one of those things.

Here’s an example from a large regional theatre, whose name has been redacted.

You might see this come up in your Twitter stream and think, “But I’m already following you on Twitter, or I wouldn’t have seen that.” Maybe you click the link to see what’s going on. And that leads you to this.

Same message, nowhere to go. This example is worse than their average post. It’s not a dead end, it’s a cul-de-sac right back to Twitter.

Clearly, their Facebook and Twitter accounts are linked. What goes in one posts to the other. More and more, you’ll see “/fb” in the tweet to indicate that it’s a dual post. But more and more, you should stop doing that entirely. You’ll find that most of the folks that follow you on Twitter have also “become a fan” on Facebook, so right there, your message is redundant.

This is common for this company and, sadly, most of the theatre companies I see on Twitter.

Not all social media is alike.

Facebook is for static status updates. Yes, you can comment and interact, you can “like” items, but it’s not engaging your audience in the same way. It’s a news feed, not a conversation. For too many theatre companies, Facebook is becoming the landing point, the end of the journey, instead of a gateway to their own website. Whether it’s a status update or an “event page” at Facebook, the audience is staying in the Facebook environment.

Twitter is interactive. You don’t have to sell us, we’re already following you because we like your work or are at the very least interested in your work. And it’s more direct than a mailing list, either a real or virtual one. If you have to put a link–and by all means, links are good–then send me directly to your theatre’s website. Send me to a video or a blog post, show me your next production, let me see your theatre’s personality, your theatre’s style. At the very least, send me to your home page. Don’t send me to the blue and white Facebook page that looks like every other Facebook page.

And don’t expect the user to click through from Facebook. The more layers you put between your audience and your site, the less likely your audience is to follow through. If all you ever do is link to an identical Facebook status–if all you do is send the audience to a dead end–pretty soon, they’re going to stop clicking on your links. On the contrary, you’ll be driving them away from you. Odds are, they’ll unfollow you on Twitter.

“Maybe” is the new “no.”

If you think about it, Facebook is nothing but layers. News feeds, recent news, all friends, fans, events. None of them lead back to your site. Sure, you may put links from there, but there’s no guarantee the audience will click through, and given the Facebook structure, there’s no real need to click through. Facebook is designed to keep the user on the Facebook site.

I know what you’re thinking. What about Facebook event pages? They pop up and remind people of our show/event/soiree/etc. Yes, but that’s just another convenient layer. You may invite someone on Facebook to your event, that’s great. They have the choice of yes, no or maybe. Even if they say yes, that’s not a reservation, that’s not a ticket sale, that’s just being polite. It certainly doesn’t mean they’ll actually show up. Of course, nobody has to say no, either. Maybe will do–it’s polite, it’s non-committal, it’s a no in disguise.

Saying “maybe” will keep the event popping up on your Facebook calendar, and it is handy for that. But how many events have you said “maybe” to that you end up passing on?

Twitter doesn’t have the same distance between you and your followers. You should talk with them, not at them. Let them peek behind the curtain. Share the process of selecting the next season. Have “tweet-ups” at local restaurants, bars, cafes, preferably your sponsors’ places. Answer questions. Heck, ask questions and see what they say. Don’t think of this as a direct line to your audience, think of it as your audience having a direct line to you.

Effective use of resources?

In the Theatre Communications Group’s Taking Your Fiscal Pulse study of member theatres this spring, aside from financial concerns and other depressing statistics, one detail jumped out at me. Apparently, only 7% of the theatres surveyed plan to find ways to share resources with other organizations or to use social media.

This boggles the mind. The idea of sharing resources is something we’ve covered before and will again. It’s the social media stat that I’m looking at right now. It bears repeating.

Only 7% of the theatres surveyed plan to use social media.

In case you hadn’t noticed, this is all free. All it costs is a little time and some creativity. You will need to engage with your audience for these networks to be effective, but it really is worth the effort. Engage them and the other E’s will follow.

Think of your Twitter followers as your “street team,” to use a term from the music industry. This is your first line of evangelists–another E–spreading word about the exciting things going on at your theatre. They’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends and so on and so on and so on. I may have dated myself with that reference, but that’s all right. That shampoo ad is the essence of viral media and social networking.

Twitter is the simplest, most dynamic way of connecting with your audience members short of walking into their homes and sitting on their couch to talk. And it’s free. Why wouldn’t you take the opportunity to engage, excite, encourage and empower your audience?

One more “E” before I go…

I’ll leave you with this quote from E. M. Forster, who said quite simply, “Only connect.”

Think about this. If it weren’t for the engagement and connection offered by Twitter, this site–this 2am Theatre community–would not exist. This group of people using the #2amt hashtag has grown and spread around the world. And now, this group is doing more than share ideas and debate marketing strategies. You get creative people together, they’re going to start getting creative. But that’s a post–and a project–for another day…

Only connect. Thirteen characters. Couldn’t have tweeted it better myself.

* It might not surprise you to learn that Beth featured the #2amt hashtag and this website in her talk. I thought I should mention that in the interests of full disclosure.

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David J. Loehr

David J. Loehr

Writer / Producer, The Incomparable Radio Theater :: Artist-in-Residence / Producer, Riverrun Theatre Company, Madison, Indiana :: Artistic Director / Editor, 2amt :: Panelist, The Incomparable podcast :: Husband, father, cat owner, cat bed.
David J. Loehr

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  • devonvsmith

    I totally agree that Facebook and Twitter should carry different messages, and be a different point of contact for your audience.

    But I disagree that Facebook is just another layer keeping you away from your audience. FB has grown to be the #1 or #2 top referring source for many websites, often now replacing googled searches. See an example with these 3 theatres: http://siteanalytics.compete.com/pcs.org+kcrep…..

    I actually think *more* of your theatre's website should be on facebook, especially if you've got a link to your box office on it. Most theatre's websites will never break 50K users in a month, Facebook already serves 200 million per *day*, and continues to grow. And you can use static FBML to make your site stand out from the “same blue and white page” as everyone else.

    And yes, social media is “free.” But there's a significant learning curve in the first few weeks that make it take up far more time than is worth it for those 10 fans you've acquired. Even once you “get” how you can best connect with your audience via social media, it takes even more time to keep up with what's happening in the world of social media. And staff time costs money–especially when so many staff have recently been cut, so everyone that's left is essentially working two jobs.

    And that 7% number? Somebody got the survey methodology pretty messed up. I'm half way through a TCG social media study. So far, 95% are on Facebook, 75% are on Twitter, and more than 50% are on YouTube.

  • Good points all. That 7% number seemed odd to me, too. But I wonder if it's a question of semantics–they may be on Facebook et al, but are they using it effectively or at all? Or do they plan to allocate a person or people and resources to try using it? How many of them are already giving up on it because of the investment in time if not money? In the end, it was probably just a poorly worded question.

    And yes, each medium needs to be distinct. Steppenwolf in particular does a good job of keeping content unique to each. Their links from Twitter lead to actual content, not duplicated status updates. Their links on Facebook have more information, more context. Overall, they drive more people to their own site and provide a richer experience. More theatres could–and should–learn from their media strategy.

    The main point I was trying to make was about trapping people in a Facebook status that doesn't lead anywhere. I get frustrated and ignore them, and I'm like a fish in the social media waters. The idea of Facebook-as-layer sidetracked me from that a little bit.

    I've heard about how Facebook's overtaken Google for searches and referrals, but I'm still dubious about Facebook's utility in the grand scheme of things. I see it as similar to AOL in that it is its own community and ecosystem, duplicating what's already out there information-wise. Personally, I'm not interested in spending time on a FB page; over the last year, I've used it less and less. It's a way for me to touch base with people I don't see/talk/write daily, nothing more.

    And yes, I could learn the ins and outs of their programming to customize it, but I don't have the time to learn a whole new system that's only useful in the Facebook world. Just navigating through their “ads and pages” system is frustrating enough.

    For most people I know that use FB, it's a brochure or a listing, not a destination. Granted, this isn't a large sampling of people, but it cuts across a wide range of ages and experience. We do need to be listed, we do need to have a presence there, but to my mind, that presence needs to drive people to our actual website instead of keeping them at FB. As a portal, I'm all for it. As an endpoint, not so much.

    The beauty of Twitter, to me, is that while it does take a little time to learn, it's simple to grasp and simple to teach. Its interactivity is unique, it doesn't duplicate efforts you might already be doing, and maybe after a how-to workshop for your theatre's staff, anyone on staff could use it, share it, etc.

    In that sense, I see it as more about the quality of interaction than the quantity. FB is becoming background noise, where Twitter can be direct and immediate. Maybe it's just me…

  • devonvsmith

    To quote a smart man, good points all.

    The real value in Facebook isn't what's on the (Fan) page, but what's behind the scenes. Facebook will soon make my social network portable. Meaning, it will become easier and easier for me to see the activity of my Facebook friends all across the web. Facebook.com will just be the warehouse where all of my data is stored. In that, I totally agree that theatres should be using Facebook to connect with fans, and then drive them to their own website. I think theatres should be thinking of their Facebook fan page as their blog–a repository of information, a visual representation of their community, an email listserve, and an incredible opportunity for market research.

    I like the idea that Twitter's value proposition (at least to you) is in the quantity and quality of constant interaction, and that it doesn't duplicate efforts elsewhere. I use Twitter as a news-source, as a pick-up conversationalist, and a way to find micro-communities. The thing is I find people much more interesting than brands on Twitter. The info brands broadcast out is useful to me, as is being able to find the contact info of the “people behind the brands” (a la our quick run in with @square), but essentially it's a one-way info stream.

    Ultimately, of course, I can't help but applaud and adore the intent behind your original post. Absolutely, a theatre should have different strategies (and thus tactics) for Facebook and Twitter. They're different platforms, they need a different voice, and it's near social-media-sacrilege to just auto-post from one to another.

  • We ran an on-line survey here in Ottawa amongst theatre practitioners. One of the questions asked: which form of communication do you prefer? A whopping 88% said email. Social media came a close second at 7%. Remember also, this was on-line. So we probably captured the more tech savvy segment.

    It was an important wake-up call for a social media junkie such as myself. As exciting as all this is, we are still a very tiny minority of all communicators. Social media is important and the wave of the future but the wave has barely begun to rise for most communicators. People may be on SM but is doesn't mean they use it. In all likelihood, they don't use it like you or I do.

    Like you, I don't think FB is a very useful platform. I think it's useful in the same way random card drops and poster campaigns are useful. We can look at them and say, “hey, look at us” and that's about it. So, I mean not useful at all. Having said that, I don't pay attention to any mass media any more. I'm pretty sure I'm not a typical user.

    All in all numbers alone will resolve whether or not FB is a good platform for our purposes — be it community building or ticket sales or both. It doesn't matter if FB has 200 million users, even if all those users stumble across my page on an occasion. I'd much rather have ten users who live in my community who come back every day.

    There is I think promise in FB ads, I haven't tested it yet, but that's a different kettle of fish.

    On a positive note, as far as it goes with SM, I like to think we are like those first settlers who headed West when it was first opened and no one else wanted to be there. It seems valuable to us because we are here, it isn't really that valuable because not everyone is interested yet, but the return on our early efforts will be huge when everyone catches on that it is valuable.

  • heathermarie23

    For me, Facebook has definitely become background noise. Even though I maintain the rule that if I don't know you, I'm won't add you as a friend, I am inundated with invites to events and fan pages. A FB invite means very little to me, and chances are I won't respond to it at all. Not because I am deliberately ignoring it, but because I visit FB less and less and when I'm there it's not because of event invites. I also agree that those dead links from Twitter are really annoying.

    Twitter does require a form of social relevance that FB does not – by that I mean, if you are one of those theatre companies posting generic tweets in a one-way broadcast, you become irrelevant pretty quickly. You're not connecting with anyone or participating in any conversations or trends, and you're not engaging people by getting them excited about you and what you have to offer. By contrast, you can post stuff anonymously on FB and it becomes another 'hit' – a reminder that your show or event or whatever is happening. Just like seeing a poster, or being on a mailing list.