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Ten social media strategies to build an audience

Shannon Powell

Here are ten fail-safe techniques to harness social networking tools to build arts audience interest and loyalty.
Ten social media strategies to build an audience
In an age driven by social media, the ordinary person with a Facebook profile or twitter account learns to build themselves an audience. But leveraging everything you can from social media is not as simple as updating your status. How do you use social media to enable your organisation to engage new audiences, increase the existing audience’s loyalty, spend budgets effectively and enrich the audience’s overall experience? 1. Choose your weapon Twitter draws attention. Facebook creates a conversation. YouTube is perfect for giving tasters of performance work. Blogger accounts and your own website can build loyalty and enable you to monitor visitor traffic through monitored via Google Analytics. You might want to do all of them but make sure you choose the right forum for the task. 2.Create buzz Timing is essential. In a research project conducted by the Australian Council for the Arts, marketing and communications manager of the Australian Ballet Kate Scott revealed that she puts Facebook photos up as soon as they are shot to give people the opportunity to comment on the performance as it’s playing. ‘They’re commenting on their favourite dancers, favourite costumes, favourite parts of the ballet – and that’s when we see most of the activity,’ she says. The Ballet employs a professional blogger and camera team to record behind the scenes footage of the company preparing for performances. It aims to have audiences invested before the performance commences, creating hype around less commercial and more obscure performances. ‘We changed our approach from a ‘transaction driven’ campaign to a more editorial approach. So, instead of using social media as just another way to push the upcoming season, we used the social media channels to give a greater reflection of what we were doing inside the Ballet.' 3. Add value Social networking tools allow creative organisations to have a constant presence in the audience member’s life. Don’t just use material from your performances. You want to remain in the audience’s view before and after you are in the spotlight. So leading up to the event and after it has commenced it is good to seek feedback and interact with the audience on a regular basis. Claire Butler, from the marketing management team at ACMI, says social media needs to give the audience additional content to what they find in our more traditional channels. Interviews, podcasts, reviews and behind-the-scenes material keep the audience engaged between visits. 4. Establish rapport Butler advises using informality, a conversational tone, and a sense of fun. Help audiences feel they are personally connected to the people involved behind the scenes. This personalisation will encourage feedback as the viewer will feel as though they are engaging in a conversation rather than being hustled for their opinion. 5.Give your audience a voice Audience members are much more empowered than they used to be. Social media and interactive technologies have given the audience the chance to have their say on their own accord. Don’t be afraid to invite opinions in a social media forum. Sure you will get some brickbats but you will also get bouquets and, more importantly, engagement. Smart phones and tablets allow audiences to log in and comment the second they leave the theatre. You can engage them in discussion over supper they are much more likely to spread the word. 6. Ask the right questions Use your social media to elicit useful information about your audience – not the boring stock standard questions about age, sex and occupation but a real understanding of what they like. When questions are thoughtful and interesting an individual feels as though their deeper opinions and thoughts are valued. 7. Be creative Using a creative strategy to seek feedback has shown to be a successful approach. The Scratch festival venue is trialing a number of feedback avenues. Alongside the traditional questionnaires, audience members can tweet their thoughts using the #scratchfestival hash tag, scribble them on blackboards in the building or pick up the special Scratch phone in the foyer of the venue. On top of all this, during a show one audience member also wins a golden ticket entitling them to two free drinks on the condition of sharing them with the artist – a speed date with instant feedback. People are more likely to respond if there is novelty or privilege on offer. 8. Offer something for free To get people talking about what will be on in the capital next year the Canberra Centenary offered 500 free trips to Canberra providing that the travelers took lots of photos and shared them on social media networks such as Instagram, Facebook and twitter. The campaign was marketed very playfully, deeming it as the world's first 'human brochure’. Roses Theatre in England offers free tickets to audience members providing that they tweet about the performance and their experience. 9. Don’t just sell Direct sales tweets are out. ‘ A straight sales pitch and overly formal language puts people off,’ says Butler. You don’t want the audience to feel as though their social media environments have been reduced to a feeding ground for market research or advertising. In order to avoid this happening make sure that the social media relationship goes both ways. Get to know your audience, talk to them about interests outside of your own invested interests so as to establish trust. 10. Be genuine Make sure whoever is tasked with your social media marketing genuinely enjoys communicating and connecting with people. When you are genuine you can expect a genuine response from your audience members. Depersonalisation breeds distrust. If the audience feels that you do not care then they will mirror this behavior. If you can get to know your audience and their wants then you will be one step ahead when it comes to investing your time, energy and money into a new production or event. It really comes down to efficiency. There is so much to learn, the audience is your oyster and their opinion is the pearl - all you have to do is pry them open.

About the author

Shannon Powell is a Melbourne journalist.