Shay Thornton updates the Cal Rep Facebook page. Updating Facebook regularly keeps your audience growing. (© Tiffany Moon)
A theater marketing department's goal is quite simple -- to put butts in seats (this is a technical term used by my Theatre Management professor).
What sounds simple in theory isn't always quite so easy to put into practice. Due to economic hardships, patrons are choosing how to spend their limited entertainment dollars carefully. The economic decline is certainly not doing the theater any favors, nor is declining arts education doing anything to create new arts patrons for the future.
Last week, I was calling Los Angeles area high schools to get drama teacher contact information for our upcoming Theatrefest, and became distraught upon hearing that two out of the ten high schools I called had discontinued their theater programs entirely. The National Endowment of the Arts has some very interesting studies on their website, nea.gov, about how the decline in arts education programs is directly affecting future arts participation.
So, how can a theater hope to sell more tickets and cultivate new audiences in this kind of economic environment?
Bil Schroeder, the Marketing Director at South Coast Rep, told us during his marketing workshop at CSULB that the single most effective thing you can do with an extremely limited marketing budget is create and implement a strategic social media plan. We discussed ways of connecting to the audience through Facebook and Twitter, including an insider look at the plays, interesting news and real-time announcements, contests, and special offers. Let's look at each of these separately.
Insider Looks These are the posts that help your audience identify with your theater and your work in a very personal way. It can include anything from design renderings to artist interviews to funny or quirky backstage stories. These small glimpses behind the scenes really bring your audience into the action. For example, recently South Coast Rep posted design renderings of the puppets that will be used for The Borrowers. The picture was really cool, and definitely generated a response. Whenever possible, utilize photos, drawings, and videos to get the largest reaction.
Interesting News This can be about your theater directly, or about people who have worked with your theater, or even interesting stories indirectly related to your theater. I remember a few months back a news story stating that people were happiest exercising, during sex, and going to the theater. That article showed up on a lot of theater Facebook pages that day.
Contests and Special Offers I love contests. I am competitive by nature, so I really love when theaters do fun challenges to generate interest in their offerings. Hartford Stage recently ran a Facebook contest promoting Boeing-Boeing by hiding three flight attendants around the city of Hartford. Patrons were asked to find them, snap photos of them, and e-mail the photos to Hartford Stage to be entered into a drawing for a first class package to see the show.
Special ticket offers can generate a lot of interest as well. Recently, to celebrate their 5000th Facebook like, Musical Theatre West did a special promotion which you had to be following their page that day to get in on. The announced a few hours prior that at 5pm they would be offering a promotion unlike any they had done before. They kept promoting the 5pm deadline throughout the day, and finally when the hour hit they revealed that for five minutes only they would be selling $5 tickets for select performances of Man of La Mancha. Surprise, social media only contests and offers encourages your audience to check in with you often.
Perhaps the best feature of social media is that your audience can respond to you by liking your Facebook post, sharing your information with friends, commenting on your status, and re-tweeting your latest Twitter tidbit. The more your patrons interact with your pages, the more visible you become to the entire internet community. Suddenly, your core supporters' friends and friends of friends become new likes and followers of your social pages -- and growing this number is essential to the success of your campaign. It is a generally accepted observation that 1000 likes on Facebook and 1000 followers on Twitter are the point at which your social media marketing really starts kicking into high gear.
Our California Repertory Company page only has 714, so what are you waiting for? Check us out here and like us!