Any time I read, well, practically anything, I always wonder how the lesson can be applied to live independent theater. A recent article from Nielsen Ratings proved no different. "Award Shows are Big Winners on Social Media" got me thinking "How can live theater use social the way the awards shows do?"
After all, the two events are very similar. For starters, they're both live events. Attendees are all in the same room together. There's often alcohol involved. There are distinct phases to the event: the pre-show, the live event itself, and post-show discussion.
Secondly, like awards shows, theater productions should be culturally relevant, at least to the community in which the theater resides. These productions may even feature local celebrities or have other local cultural cache.
I am a firm advocate that social engagement is but one leg of the three-legged online marketing stool. A regular email newsletter, a regularly updated website, and good, engaging, timely social content should all be feeding each other in a beautiful circle, driving audiences to engage with every platform. Besides, with the increasing confusion of how many people will see each post on Facebook or Instagram, and the real-time nature of Twitter, posting more is always preferable to posting less. Very few people are going to complain that you've posted too much, and even if they do, so what? Invite them to help with the next show: they need something else to do with all the time they've been spending on social media.
I can hear my theater friends going, "But, Devra, I'm only one person of a two-person team and we're already producing/directing/acting in/buying props/covering stage management/etc etc etc. How am I going to add a full-blown social media plan to this show?" Have you gotten your 501c3 status? Call your local high school and see if someone needs community service hours who also loves social media. Call a social media influencer and see if they want to participate in the show in this volunteer capacity. Tap your board (because you do have a decent sized board for your nonprofit organization, right? [suspicious look]) and see if they know anyone who could help. I'll do it, for a generous consultant fee.
So, How can small independent theaters/shows use social media like their award show cousins? Here are a few ideas:
- Build your promotional plan from the beginning of planning. Don't wait til the week of the show. Oscar social media blitz starts 4-6 weeks in advance, basically as soon as the new year rolls over, and that doesn't include the screener coverage.
- Decide a hashtag early and make sure all available social media channels are included on all marketing material. Make sure your entire team knows the hashtag.
- Use every aspect of your show for content: actors, director, designers, rehearsals, props, costumes, sets, music, dramaturgy, etc. You know the Grammy winner for best small market radio station is still crowing about their win, even if they aren't featured on the telecast!
- Can you release content that highlights both the actor AND the character they are playing?
- & don't forget to call out your sponsors! Best if you can find a way that integrates into the show itself, like Taco Bell sponsoring an award, but even if you can't, it's value added for the sponsor, which (hint hint) makes them more likely to sponsor you again in the future.
- Invite local social media influencers to a final dress rehearsal and encourage them to post in real-time, take pictures, whatever.
- While the theater company (network) puts out content through official channels, encourage the individuals involved (talent) to post on their preferred network. CBS did a ton of social media for the Grammys, but so did Alicia Keys, and all the other talent associated with the show.
|What is your Billy Porter moment?|
Opening/During the Run:
- Ok, so have we all given up on tweet seats? I actually really liked the idea, if it can be done unobtrusively and not bother other patrons.
- Provide all the relevant social media information (AND WI-FI, if necessary) in your lobby/bathrooms/waiting area so audiences can engage with your show online right away.
- Live-stream your Q&As. It's an easy way to re-engage those audiences who have already seen the show and gain new people who may want to come see the show if they hear a little more about it.
- For muse's sake, and I wish this could go without saying, but it can't: HAVE ACTOR PHOTO-OPS AFTER A PERFORMANCE. People have just given you two hours of their time and hopefully you've provided great value for that from your performance. Reward them by being available afterwards and graciously taking photos that we all know are going straight to social afterwards.
Outside of Showtime:
- Repost. Repost. Repost. This is a big thank you to your audiences that have not only given you their money and time but are gifting you with content! If you want to ask permission, by all means, but many posts/accounts/platforms are public. Share an Instagram post on your Story. Retweet. Comment. ABC/CBS/MTV do this all the time. Remember when "Dancing With The Stars" had a live twitter feed on the live show?
- Integrate a hashtag feed onto your website so that the conversation from Twitter or Instagram shows up there.
- Is there a moment or phrase from the show that would make a great GIF or meme? Make it so! One way you'll know is if there's a particular moment or character that audiences keep referencing.
Yes, the networks and talent who participate in awards shows have cumulatively hundreds of people who can post social content. But that doesn't mean the small theater shop gets a pass on engaging with their audience in this way just because they don't have as many people. Because this is the crux: the small independent theater must engage with their audiences in every way possible in order to deepen relationships and increase their audience overall.