Why Theatre Promoters Should Tweet: Urban Arts Case Study, Part IV

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Note: I was contacted by Adrian Chamberlain, the journalist I used as an example in the post because of his centrality to the Victoria theatre scene, after the initial posting. He clarified a few points about his use of Twitter and arts reviewing in general. Some of that exchange is archived in the comments; the rest was conducted via email. I have since made some revisions to the post based on our discussion.

How do you explain the usefulness of Twitter, the Internet’s primary microblogging platform, to someone who’s never used it before?

If you’re a cartoonist, you might create something like this:

Surprisingly, this is actually fairly accurate.

If you’re in the promotions game, the data is likely more compelling:

  • over 200 million users
  • generating 65 million tweets a day
  • spawning an average of 800,000 search queries
  • making it one of the 10 most visited websites in the world

Run a Twitter search on a smartphone the next time you’re at a live event (like a Bon Jovi concert, a Raptors game, a TEDx public lecture or a global event like the 2010 Olympics) and you’ll experience what’s quickly becoming a ubiquitous twenty-first century phenomena: being able to monitor and participate in the collective response to a shared social experience in real time.

If your job is to promote a theatre production, is Twitter going to be the lynchpin in your strategy? Probably not. But it does present intriguing possibilities.

Victoria-based Urban Arts Productions had a great product in their adaptation of Marie Antoinette: The Colour of Flesh, but weren’t able to translate that creative success into large audiences or a key critical review.

This is my fifth post in a six-part case study on what they and other independent theatre companies might do to better-promote their creative work, capture larger audiences, and engage key critics.

Playing catch-up? Here’s what you’ve missed:

Whom Are You Targeting? Do They Use Twitter?

Adrian Chamberlain’s Twitter profile.

Adrian Chamberlain is a reporter for the Times-Colonist newspaper in Victoria, BC. He covers the theatre beat. And if you’re Urban Arts Productions, convincing Chamberlain to come see your show and write a review is a crucial to your promotional success.

(For background on Victoria’s theatre scene, my brief conversation with Urban Arts’ co-director and recent trends in the Canadian newspaper industry and how that relates to Urban Arts’ promotional efforts, read my overview post.)

Like many reporters, Chamberlain is on Twitter. Here’s his profile:

Although Chamberlain uses this account to focus on the column he writes about pug dogs for the same newspaper, he notes:

“I do use tweets, in fact, to write about the arts. I do this through the official Times Colonist feed. Not often, but sometimes – such as during the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival.”

Remember that no matter what kind of presence individuals publicly maintain through Twitter or any social networking platform, they may be using its back-end features (in Twitter’s case, private lists and other categorization or search features) for entirely different purposes.

Consider: there are people who use Twitter as a kind of public RSS feed for topics that interest them and never tweet a word.

Regardless of whether Chamberlain and journalists like him are overtly using Twitter to monitor information related to their beats, the fact that  journalists — to say nothing of the major news outlets themselves — are creating presences there tells us something about the value their industry perceives in the medium.

Look no further than the Wikileaks scandal or the ongoing political unrest in the Middle East to see examples of how Twitter and other social media platforms are changing both journalism as a field and the way we exchange news as a global society.

(If you want more information about the evolving relationship between social media and journalism in general, I suggest you follow Alfred Hermida, a journalism professor at the University of British Columbia, who frequently posts on this topic.)

Ultimately, it comes down to this — if you believe journalists are key figures in getting your message out, adopting their social media platform of choice is a no-brainer.

Still need convincing?

Five Reasons to Consider a Twitter Account

1. Twitter is free

All it’s going to cost you is time and energy to learn the system and get comfortable with it. Yes, it’s a bit weird with all the RT and # and @ symbols. Play with it. Talk to friends who use it. You’ll figure it out.

2. Tweeting spreads existing web content to broader audiences

If you’re blogging, using Facebook or generating web-friendly content already (video, photos, etc.), tweeting your content extends its life to another social medium for relatively little effort. You can even use specialized social media dashboards like Hootsuite to coordinate your posting efforts, avoid duplicating work and save some extra time.

3. Retweeting = cross-promoting

Twitter’s retweet function allows you to share tweets by other Twitter users to your community. So let’s say the director and two of the actors in the company are tweeting interesting content — you can use the production’s central account to cross-promote their activity and share relevant comments with your audience.

Use your quality judgment and don’t retweet everything — your ability to curate content will be a big reason people opt to folow you.

4. Target your content to interested sub-segments

Tagging posts with # in front of a keyword, such as #theatre or #YYJ flags your content as relevant to people who use hashtags to follow specific conversations.

#YYJ, for example, is a hashtag used to flag all conversation relevant to Victoria, British Columbia, as opposed to other cities of the same name worldwide.

5. Keep tabs on your industry

Are other theatre companies in your area tweeting? You can use Twitter’s list feature to follow what they’re up to and stay current with your competition.

What about production companies on the national or international scene who aren’t competitors but whose ideas are incredibly influential or inspiring? If they tweet, you’ve also got an easy way to stay current with trends they may be setting.

What about your audience? Is anyone talking about theatre in your area? If you choose to, you can also share positive audience comments through your Twitter account, convincing other potential customers about the merits of your product.

If the comments are negative, that’s also useful — engage those individuals and find out why they were turned off. As everyone from major airlines to the cancer drug regulation boards is learning, it’s not a sound strategy to stick your head in the sand and pretend the conversation isn’t happening.

(If this topic interests you, I recommend this Slideshare presentation on social influence and websites.)

6. Embedded tweets = cheap, frequent website content

You may not get to write a new blog post or update your Facebook account each day, but if you’ve got access to Twitter on a smartphone or a desk top, generating 140 characters every 24 hours is not onerous. Tie that feed into your homepage and you’ve got something new that’s updated each day.

As you may have noticed on the Analytic Eye homepage, I have adopted this trick myself.

Summing Up

Oh, xkcd. So very true.

Okay, that was six reasons.

In my personal experience, Twitter is one of the most unpredictable social media platforms. When I started the account I maintain in my working life, it was a genuine experiment. I had no idea who would follow it or where those conversations would take me.

In some ways, I still don’t.

I do guarantee that no matter where you live and perform — be it Victoria, St. John’s or Whitehorse — there are other theatre enthusiasts out there listening, thinking and ready to engage you in discussion.

So start a conversation. You may be surprised where it takes you.

Looking Ahead to Part V

Next time, I’ll wrap up this series by talking about the last mile in theatre promotion — packaging all your legwork.

Catching up? Here are links for the whole series: