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All a Flutter over Twitter?


Making sense of the latest way to engage your audiences online and real time


By Lauren Palazzo


Is your theatre on Twitter? Everyone from Senator John McCain to Shaquille O’Neal to Coldplay to even my Mom is tweeting away their daily activities, uploading photos, plugging their websites, and starting conversation with their followers. Twitter is a social media site that asks users a simple question: What are you doing? It is a micro blog allowing only 140 characters of text at a time. The appeal? Well, it is basically like having a constant stream of info, pictures, updates from your friends, family, celebrities, and favorite organizations throughout the day. Twitter boasts, “Simplicity has played an important role in our success.” Setting up a Twitter account is uncomplicated–all you have to do is enter your name, password, email and info about your theatre and you are up and ready to tweet.

Gregory Crafts of Theatre Unleashed, Los Angeles shares, “We use Twitter to get a relationship going with our followers…create a bond and a community with our patrons using 140 characters at a time.” It’s true that you do get a sense of intimacy with the places, people, businesses you follow that you didn’t have before. You can use Twitter in a variety of ways : the internet, cell phones, and a deluge of delightful apps for your phone and desktop. Twitterriffic and TwitterFon are popular to use from your iPhone; Twitterberry, the alternative for the BlackBerry. Tweet from your desktop using Tweetdeck. Or tweet directly from Twitter.com. Twitter is different than blogging or any other social media because of its brevity and its accessibility. Brian Feldman, performance artist of Orlando, puts it best, “Brevity is the soul of Twitter.”


The Basics

A few Twitterisms require explanation to the Twitter-illiterate. Following someone means that you are receiving their Twitter updates. An @ and the person’s name your are messaging is a public message that anyone can view. People also use an @username when referencing others on Twitter. DM stands for direct message which is private; you can only DM someone who is following you. RT stands for retweet and is used before a message to indicate that you are reposting another person’s Twitter update. Hashtags are the # sign and keywords or events, they are a way to flag keywords so they can be easily searched. The Twitter url for any person is www.Twitter.com/username.

Why use Twitter?

For any theatre using Twitter there should only be two main reasons for their tweets: 1) entertainment for their fans or potential fans and 2) To spread the word about their theatre and programs. Any other objectives will turn-off your followers and will make your efforts a waste of time and energy. Examine your current marketing plan and determine how Twitter can complement it. Twitter should not replace traditional marketing or other internet marketing; instead use it to expand what you already have in place.


How does Twitter integrate with other social media?

Twitter can drive your followers to your other social media sites such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Flicker, LiveJournal, Digg, Vimeo, blogs, podcasts, and your website. Erik Schroeder of The Lookinglass Theatre, Chicago explains their use, “We mostly use Twitter to link patrons to our other websites– like articles or reviews written about Lookingglass or something related to the company i.e. Lewis Carroll’s birthday, new blog post, or touring productions.” Another option is to link your Twitter updates to your Facebook account by going to your applications and adding the Twitter application. If you do not want every tweet updating your Facebook account, you can use the Selective Tweets application. Once downloaded it will only update your Facebook account when you have hashtag #fb at the end of your tweet. Many theatres already have a large number of Facebook fans so doing this will add to your Facebook numbers and Twitter followers.


Who’s in charge of tweeting? How much time does it take to manage?

At the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington D.C. resident production stage manager Matthew Shiner is the only tweeter for the theatre. He tweets mainly the physical happenings of stage rehearsals, performances, etc. However for the majority of theatres, tweeting falls on the desk of the marketing manager or PR staff. Most theatres tweet between 3-4 times a day on average and more often during special events. Since you are limited to 140 characters the tweets only take a few seconds.


Results from using Twitter? Signs of ROI?

Yes, something that is working! A Twitter success story from Erik Schroeder of Lookglass theatre, “We put out a last-minute discounted ticket offer on all of our social networks. We ended up selling 40 tickets on Facebook, 10 tickets through Twitter, and 2 tickets through MySpace. Given the fact that on Facebook we have 1,752 fans but only 249 followers on Twitter, the result is almost twice as significant for Twitter than Facebook.” Trisha Panico of Portland Center Stage shares “We used Twitter to help fill a totally empty Halloween house by tweeting a special offer with a post-show costume contest and free beer after the show. And right now we’re running a promotion on Twitter where anyone whose name is Charlie (lead character in our current show How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found) can get a great deal on a ticket this week.” Creative offers are not only bringing in results but can also spread the word about your theatre and programs. Rachel Applegate of Signature Theater, Arlington, Virginia shares how Twitter got them out of a jam, “During Les Miserables we had a huge storm hit DC and a group of 50 couldn’t attend. Since we didn’t want that gaping hole in the audience we needed to move the tickets the day of the performance. We posted that we had comp tickets for that night’s performance on Twitter. A local reporter picked up the tweet and reposted it on their blog. The phones went crazy and we moved all the seats in about an hour. The reporter posted we had a Twitter account on their blog and we gained about 150 followers that day. “


Ideas for your Theatre and Twitter

Give the behind the scenes story by having an actor, actress, or crew tweet before, after, and at intermission.


Portland Center Stage had a Fake Scrooge tweet about current events, cheep deals around town, and general humbug messages for their Christmas Carol production.


Have Tweet stations in the lobby for before, after, and at intermission. Allow people to write about the show. This remarkably builds a deeper sense of community between patrons. Gregory Crafts of Theatre Unleashed shared that they were able to get a computer donated and that having live tweeting has increased audience interaction.


Twitter phenomena

Brian Feldman, performance artist in Orlando, Florida, directs and tweets many of his projects on Twitter. I conducted my interview with him completely on Twitter and as he answered my questions he rushed around Orlando pasting up posters for his next performance-art piece Sleepwalk. His most famous Twitter project is the Twitter of the Shrew, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. The idea was to follow each of the characters of Taming of the Shrew and to receive the lines in the play one at a time throughout the day. Another project, The txt_show in Orlando, the performance was driven by the audience’s tweets and texts. Brian shares “Txt was utterly anonymous and uncensored and was quite accurately described as a digital séance, albeit even more out there.” He also noted that the txt_shows are becoming his first “real” sign of ROI.


Pieces of Advice Tips

“Realize that the number of followers you have directly impacts how effective the medium is.” Trisha Pancio of Portland Center Stage recommends searching the followers of the originations you like and following their followers. Eventually this will build your Twitter audience.


Erik Schroedier of Looking Glass Theatre, “Use the Twitter search function to look for people who are tweeting about your organization (www.summize.com or search.Twitter.com).”


Need to find more followers? Heed designer Adrienne Levin’s tip (www.theartofadrienne.com) “I use Tweetdeck to search through people’s tweets, relevant by subject or keywords. You can even search for phrases like “need a designer” and have updates sent to you in real time.”


Rachel Applegate of Signature Theatre suggests, “Get local reporters, community bloggers, whoever is out there that is creating news and follow them. Normally they will start following you back. When your theatre has breaking news these people will help spread the word.”


Recruit tweeters if you can to tweet about a large event or program. Having multiple people tweeting about your event will increase your audience on Twitter.


Lastly, do not forget that theatre is about entertainment and about community– reflect that in your theatre’s tweets. If you truly aim to entertain and connect you will reach new patrons and develop closer relationships with your current patrons.

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