Just because you have a Twitter account, doesn’t mean you’re ‘doing social’

BrandBuilder recently did an article on ’10 things you still need to know about social media’, and there was one point in particular that stood out to me in relation to how the theatre communities ‘do social’.

“Marketing on social media channels isn’t “social.” It is just marketing on social media channels.”

Olivier makes the comment that

“Just as publishing marketing content on a blog doesn’t make marketing content any less manufactured and biased, publishing content on social media channels isn’t “social.”

This is something that has irked me for quite a while. It seems that the standard strategy for theatre companies is to set up a Twitter and Facebook account and constantly bombard their followers and fans with stock-standard marketing messages, and maybe one or two quirky blog posts. What they don’t seem to get, in any consistent, real way, is what makes social social: the engagement.

I especially feel that the opportunity is being missed on Twitter specifically. What I’ve found over the past two years of immersing myself in both Facebook and Twitter is that audiences behave very differently. On Facebook, people tend to use it in a personal capacity, with not much bleed into their professional lives. From personal experience, I’ve found people will rarely like a page unless they are really passionate about it, or they think they can get something out of it. However, on Twitter it’s a lot more ‘network’ oriented, with those you follow often falling into professional or passion related networks, and not because you have a personal connection with them. What happens because of this is that interlinked networks of influencers start cropping up, and can be easily identified and reached.

This is where I think arts companies are missing a trick with their day to day community management, by not making the most of what is on the cusp of being a captive audience.

Now for the analogy, because everyone loves an analogy…

A blogger, a journalist and an audience member walk into a room…

Imagine that as a theatre company, you had a room full of journalists, bloggers and audience members, all of whom are rather important when it comes to improving your awareness, the perception of your theatre and, ultimately, ticket sales. They have chosen to enter the room, knowing that you’d be there, but as is the way when you have people in a room, they start to talk to each other. Conversations start. Interesting topics are being discussed. Now it’s time to decide how you are going to talk to everyone…

It seems the the current way of behaving on social media can be categorised into three distinct ways…

Let’s just shout from a corner

First up we have the stock standard way of behaving on Twitter. Your way of getting your message across is to enter from a side door, shout ‘WE’VE GOT SOME THEATRE AND STUFF GOING ON COME AND CHECK IT OUT WHY DON’T YOU YEAH’ then exit, stage left. Don’t give the people in the room a chance to strike up a conversation, but you might get a few people repeating what you’ve said as part of their conversations. However, it is a bit awkward.

This is what Olivier’s talking about when he talks about marketing departments not having a social media programme, but having a marketing programme that uses social media channels as a broadcast channel (I’m not going to call out companies individually for this one, but I’m sure most people can think of one or two examples). Traditionally, marketing and advertising aren’t used to the concept of putting messages out there in a social environment. Traditional marketing is a one-way channel that works well on broadcast mediums, but isn’t the best when trying to get ingratiated within a community.

We’ll set up a table and people can come to us…

Next is often the next step companies take on Twitter. Instead of just shouting, you set up a table and if anyone comes to you and asks you a question about your theatre company, you’ll give them an answer. While not leaving the table to go out and jump into random conversations, you will keep an ear out for when people are talking about you. You’ll then chip in with some useful information and go back to your table, waiting for someone else to come along.

This kind of reactive comms is what most theatre companies are picking up as the new, ‘right’ way of managing a Twitter account (The guys at Lyric Hammersmith were early in picking this up, and accounts like Get Into London Theatre do it well). First off, this is a perfectly acceptable way to engage online. However, it is only the first step into a comprehensive social programme. In my opinion, this should be the bare minimum of a theatre company’s social activity.

Joining and starting conversations…

For anyone who has been to a networking event, they’ll know that the best way to get value out of such a gathering is to work the room, joining in on and starting conversations. Adding your voice to the room is the quickest way to gain trust, influence and friends. Starting and joining conversations is also the best way to start being seen as a thought leader within the theatre industry, and gives you a platform to speak from, and an audience to talk to at a later date.

This is usually the moment when people within theatre companies start freaking out, citing that they have no time to devote to being on social as well as delivering on marketing and advertising campaigns, as well as sorting out press and PR. To begin with, the interesting thing is that the marketing/communications managers usually do this without thinking. They will partake in conversations with industry professionals online, talk about the things that they’re doing with their theatre companies and generally be everything social should be (Alex from the Lyric is a prime example, especially with his heavy involvement with AMA).

Why not devote some of that time to doing it from the main account? All it may take is a way to convince your boss, which is where the ‘sometimes it’s easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission’ ethos may come in handy. The interesting thing is, once you’ve gained trust, it allows you to talk about yourself a little more, and surprisingly, more people will listen.

So, what next?

So, if you were interested in getting your hands dirty and jumping in to the pool of Twitter to start, join and spread conversations, what would you do to get this started? Well, the first step is to spend some time mapping out who you want to talk to and where they live. Twitter lists are a good place to start, and you often find someone may have done the work for you. Identify one person you want to engage with and see where they’re listed to get a good start. From there, set up a column on Tweetdeck or other Twitter tools that shows you a feed of those lists, so you can filter out and keep an eye on their conversations. Tools like Tweetbe.at are great for managing lists and compiling your own. Rowfeeder is a brilliant tool to keep track of conversations, and Twiangulate is a great tool to make sure the network your following are well connected and to highlight key influencers.

So why not start a conversation with some people about the importance of arts criticism? Creative ways to deal with arts funding cuts? Whether OP Shakespeare pronunciation is better than Modern Shakespeare pronunciation? Jump in on the current debates around whether theatre should be faithful to the texts?