Social Media as a Viable Tool for the Arts


Recently, I attended a conference talk about advertising and the arts.  One common question was asked in all the sessions. "Do you have experience in using social media and the inter-web in promoting theatre?"


It makes me think about how the landscape of theatrical advertising and outreach is changing in our modern era. In the "olden days" all one had was the three basics: 1) word of mouth 2) print 3) radio and tv...

Now, we have so many more ways of reaching an audience. We can reach them through mailing lists, Twitter, facebook, Pinterest, KLOUT, flashmobs, viral videos, street art, as well as the traditional methods. It's great because we can reach such a more diverse audience then we ever could before. Our reach can be global in two seconds by making a great YouTube ad. But one must wonder, when the human attention span is getting shorter and shorter, which is the best method of getting hold of new audience members and more importantly... keeping them?

Marketing is an essential part of the theatrical arts. If tickets aren't sold - then the show can't go on. I went back in my mind and started thinking about past campaigns I had worked on and seen in Hong Kong and why they worked.

1) Being well connected
There is something to be said for having a powerful mailing list. If you are a well connected artist with fans you are not only going to be able to produce successful shows. You're also going to be a person people will want to cast because they know you'll fill the house. Making yourself marketable as an artist is an important factor in being a working thespian. We work in a field where people have to enjoy watching you. If you stop entertaining them - you're going to stop working. Simple.

2) Facebook Friends/Getting Twitterpated
I use as many different avenues of social media as I can in order to promote my shows. I have different friends on all my social media devices. I mainly have media/communications/blogger people on Twitter and I have more personal/theatrical connections on facebook. I think all theatre companies in town should have an official facebook page/website so people can search for you easily. There is nothing more frustrating then wanting to contact someone in the theatre world and having no way to find their email address.

My art friends are more likely to use Instagram and Pinterest as it's a fun way for them to share their art. I will share my show posters and photos on these services. I had a trial run with Youtube and vlogging earlier in the year but frankly it was very stressful finding venues to sponsor as locations to shoot in and guest stars for the vlogs. It wasn't worth the trouble and my hits didn't increase that much... Has anyone in town had great success with trailers for their show? I would love to hear some stats.

3)Networking with other communities
I've found that getting a sponsor for a show really helps open up your network. For example, a show I produced had a bar as a sponsor and because of that we were put on their mailing list, their website and their facebook page. This helped link us into their thousands of fans. Sometimes a sponsor can be worth a lot more in ticket sales than actual donation money because if they like you - their fans will "like" you. If you get what I'm saying....

4) Tradition!
I love the traditional methods of outreach. Nothing can beat a well designed show poster or a snazzy radio interview. I have bought tickets because of flyers and interesting interviews. Due to the vast amount of leaflets given out in HK, one has to design a stellar flyer and make a digital version that is equally eye appealing. There is nothing more annoying than a digital flyer where the print is too small to read.


5) Internet Press
The average turn around in internet press is 24-48 hours. Publications like HK magazine and Time Out go to press 2 weeks before the date printed on the cover. There is no way for them to give an accurate review of shows in town because no company, whether visiting or local, has the resources to present a press preview 2 weeks before opening. And because of a limitation of space, it's simply not possible to list every production that is happening.

We as an artistic community need to use the power of the internet to help us get the word out on our shows. Recently HKELD acquired it's 500,000th hit and has grown to be the number one art blog in Hong Kong. This didn't come easy for us. And we certainly accumulated a bunch of critics amongst the way... But you know what? Criticism is ok. It helps you grow, it gives you things to improve and all press is good press. 

To wrap it up, I know some people are not a fan of using social media or the internet to promote shows. They think it's tacky to email and harass people to buy tickets. They even think bad things about me for writing reviews in real time while a show is still playing. My official response: "If they stop being your friend because you tried to sell them a ticket or told them what you really thought of their show - they never were your friend..."


Tips for social media advertising:

*Diversify your content. Something new every day/every couple of days.

*Share other people's things. Start conversations. Don't make it all about you!

*Photos and videos are great! Some people don't like reading anymore.

*Share information and be open to questions about your work.


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