Social Media and The Arts: Focus on content, make the most of USPs, get your stakeholders involved!

Social is not your personal megaphone - use it wisely, and avoid quick fixes.

This article is intended for smaller arts organisations, but I hope that it will be somewhat useful to arts marketers of all shapes and sizes. A huge thank you to Opera’r Ddraig for agreeing to be featured as an example in this article. You can find more about them (and their upcoming production) on their website.

Can social media be used to sell tickets?

Social is not your personal megaphone - use it wisely, and avoid quick fixes.

Social is not your personal megaphone – use it wisely, and avoid quick fixes.
Photo by tranchis (via Flickr)

The short answer to this question is: no, not directly. Social media is, for the most part, a passive medium; its users consume far more than they contribute, and they will only respond to others’ posts when they feel that have a genuine reason to do so. With this in mind, how can a tweet or Facebook post convince anyone to part with cold hard cash? One tactic (the ‘hard sell’ approach), is to offer large discounts to people who purchase via social media, greatly reducing the purchase barrier. This tactic is often expensive and does a disservice to the audience members that are paying full price. There is, however, another way. Here’s the long answer:

If you want to sell more tickets to your production, social media can help you do this. Achieving results requires considerable planning and time investment (and time = money, as they say), but I promise it will be worth it. Your use of social media should also be as part of a wider marketing strategy, so think carefully about how it fits in with what you’re doing already. Every arts organisation is different, but here are three tips that should help you to make the most of social media:

1. Content is everything.

The most effective way to engage your audience using social media is to give them what they want: photos, videos, previews, interviews, and anything else that will give them an insight into your production(s) and/or your organisation. An endless stream of tweets is pointless if you’ve nothing to talk about, but genuine content will engage, inform and entertain. Even more importantly, posts that include or link to interesting content are much more likely to be shared or reposted by your followers

So, with this in mind, make sure you take the time to create meaningful content that you can share with your audience. If you do a flashmob, film it and upload it to YouTube. Take lots of rehearsal photos, plus some quick vox pops with cast and crew – show the world what they’ll be missing! Social media is also a great place to share content from traditional media such as radio interviews, press coverage and past reviews.

2. Exploit your assets and unique selling points.

Social media is a noisy environment. Everyone wants you to read their blog posts or buy their stuff, so you should stand out among the crowd by demonstrating what makes you different to others. For example, here’s the key assets of Opera’r Ddraig, a Cardiff-based opera company:

  • Youth – There isn’t an established opera company anywhere else in the UK that is run entirely by young people for the benefit of young people. This is appealing to all sorts of groups, from the young opera sceptics through to seasoned opera lovers looking for something fresh.
  • Accessibility – Opera’r Ddraig has always gone out of its way to make established repertoire easy to understand and bang up to date. Their productions are also accessible in the sense that everything is on display: there are no fancy special effects and their instrumentalists and conductor aren’t hidden away in an orchestra pit.
  • Credible – with excellent performance quality and proper staging, an Opera’r Ddraig production is just as good as a multimillion-pound staging but in a more intimate setting and at a fraction of the ticket cost!

If you want your social media activity to have more bite, then work out what your unique selling points (USPs) are, then put these on full display. This strategy can be applied to all your marketing activity, by the way.

3. Get your stakeholders involved

If you’re not familiar with this term, a stakeholder is an individual or group that affects, or is affected by, you and your activities. An arts organization’s stakeholders will include:

  • cast and crew
  • friends and supporters
  • existing audience members
  • your local community
  • other arts organisations
  • business partners

These people are already emotionally (or financially) invested in your production, so it should be much easier to get them on your side. Let them know how they can help you to reach a wider audience. If your production has a hashtag (which it definitely should!), make sure everyone knows what it is and tell them to use it when they tweet about the production. Encourage cast and crew to share rehearsal photos and tidbits of information – these will be much more interesting when they come from real people, and will provide you with even more content to share with your audience. Another good tactic is to encourage audience members to post reviews on social media – yet more genuine content and a powerful persuasive tool.

Summary

I hope that you’ve found this post useful, and that it will help you to promote your next production, big or small. Here’s a final summary:

  1. Focus on content, not the method of delivery.
  2. Make the most of your USPs.
  3. Ask your friends and supporters to help get the word out.

Final Thoughts

For arts organisations, social media is so much more than a marketing tool, or a means to sell tickets. The ultimate purpose of the arts is to enrich the lives of others. This goal is far more important than bums on seats or making a profit, and social media is a great way to achieve this. Not all of your followers will be persuaded to come to your production, but if you can inform, educate or entertain them along the way then your time, and theirs, will have been well spent. Keep this in mind when talking about yourself and your production, and you won’t go far wrong. Good luck!

Writing a Social Media Strategy – Part 1 (before you begin) – featuring Rhys Gregory

Rhys Gregory - Digital Marketing Specialist

Rhys Gregory is a Digital Marketing Specialist based in Cardiff, UK. He helps businesses use social media and digital technologies effectively, assisting with planning, strategy and development at every stage of the process. He is also an active blogger and a volunteer with Canton Social Media Surgery. You can visit his website, or connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.

This article is the first in a series of posts intended for small businesses (or their employees) who are thinking about using social media as part of their marketing activities. The posts assume a certain amount of basic knowledge of Twitter/Facebook/blogging etc. but you certainly won’t need to be a social media nerd like me to get the most out of it! Please do share these posts with anyone who might find it useful!

As some of you may know, I work for a small software company (LexAble) based in Cardiff as a ‘Marketing and Business Executive’. As the company’s first employee whose primary focus is Marketing, it’s been a fantastic opportunity to really hit the ground running, putting into practice my existing skills and learning new techniques along the way. As part of this I’ve written the company’s first social media strategy, outlining how (and, perhaps more importantly, why), we will use social media. So I thought I’d share a few tips based on my experiences. I’m also grateful to Rhys Gregory for his contributions to this post.

Before you begin

It’s very tempting to dive straight in, outlining in explicit detail the things that you’ll be tweeting about or how to present yourself on Facebook, but before you do it’s a good idea to consider the following:

  • What do you want to achieve?
    First thing’s first: social media is not a direct sales tool, and anyone who tries to use it for this purpose is doomed to fail. Furthermore, it’s often difficult to quantify in simple terms the benefits (financial or otherwise) that it will bring to your business. Therefore, in your social media policy you should outline how you want social media to benefit your business. Example aims could include:

    • Increasing awareness of your business and its activities.
    • Positioning your business as an authority or knowledge-holder in its field.
    • Connecting with new and existing customers.
    • Reducing the time or money that you spend on support and customer service.
    • Organically improving your search engine rankings.
  • Is social media right for your business?
    Unfortunately, not every business will be able to properly benefit from social media. Some factors to consider:

    • Do your customers use social media? If, as a general rule, they don’t, consider why that might be (e.g. age, income, social class, lifestyle). (But you should never just make assumptions – ask them instead!)
    • How about the potential customers that you haven’t reached yet? Think about the markets that you’ve yet to tap into and whether social media would be a good way to break into them.
    • Is social media an appropriate forum to talk about your product? Is there a way that you can create relevant and interesting content that other people will want to share or view?
  • How much time do you want to spend?
    Social media is often thought of as free, but remember that time spent using it is time that you’re not spending on other things. It’s therefore very important to clearly define how much time you and your colleagues will dedicate to it. Another issue with social media is that it’s not always possible to predict when you’ll be using it – you can check for replies and new followers (and respond to them) once a day, once an hour or once every 5 minutes. Pick a schedule that works best for you, and stick with it as much as possible.

To conclude this post, here’s some salient advice from Rhys:

It’s really important to set out objectives before doing anything, that way you can measure its success. You’ll need to consider how much time is involved, the cost, and who’s responsible for what. Do you have the necessary expertise, or do you need to bring in an external training or digital agency to help get you started? Your overall goal might be to increase brand awareness or even increase leads, but you’ll need to know exactly how you want to measure this.

Measurement tips:

  • Make everything trackable – You want to be able to measure the effectiveness of everything that you do. Use a service like Bit.ly to track the number of clicks on the links that you post. What type of content is most popular? Is there a best time to post? Example – http://bit.ly/linkedin-me+
  • Define a lead-process – For those businesses that want to generate leads from social media, and trust me that’s probably all of you, you’ll need to define a nurture-path. When someone clicks on your blog post link, what do they see on that page? Make sure you have clear call-to-actions (CTAs) that take the user to the next step. Whether that be signing up for your newsletter to continue the path, or hitting the contact us button.

This is the first part in a series of posts about developing a Social Media Strategy. If you’d like to be notified when the next post arrives, you can subscribe to my blog, follow me on Twitter, or leave a comment below so I can notify you manually!

Some Twitter tips for #ElectionsCSU candidates

First thing’s first: social media can (or rather should) only ever be part of a larger campaign strategy; no one is going to get elected simply by endlessly Tweeting, blogging or Facebooking until they’re red in the face. But social media, if used well, can bolster your physical campaign, get you noticed and, hopefully, win you more votes. Of course, every single candidate will have a Facebook group and/or event with hundreds if not thousands of members, clogging up everyone’s News Feeds and contributing to the giant melting pot of noise and spam that is Elections Week on Facebook. But not everyone will be using Twitter, and of those who do not everyone will be using it effectively. With this in mind, I’ve compiled a few tips to help CUSU Elections candidates and their campaign teams to make the most of Twitter:

  • Engage.
    Twitter (or any other form of social media) is a very different ballgame to the real world. Making as much noise as possible simply won’t work unless you’re willing to join the conversation and get involved. Here’s a few things you can do:

    • Search for tweets using the #ElectionsCSU hashtag, and use this hashtag in your own tweets. You should also reply to tweets containing this hashtag, but don’t spam or you’ll end up blocked.
    • Follow and engage with election-related accounts, including the official @DemocracyCSU account, the current sabbatical team and influential commentators such as the brilliant and often hilarious @electwit, who has been providing sardonic yet informative coverage of CUSU Elections since at least 2010.
    • Although this might seem counter-intuitive at first, selectively tweet about other candidates (not necessarily your own rivals!) and their slogans, banners, posters and campaign strategies. It will show that you’re not a complete egomaniac and hopefully they’ll return the favour!
  • Presence is everything.
    How you appear online is just as important as how you appear when campaigning in person. So make the most of the tools available to you:

    • Twitter Bio: Although you’ve only got 160 characters to play with, a good bio can make all the difference. Make it clear who you are, what position you’re running for and what you stand for. If you have any room left, link to your video manifesto (use a link shortener like bit.ly) to reinforce your message.
    • Website: If you have a campaign website, you don’t need me to tell you that it should go here. Otherwise, link to your online manifesto.
    • Profile Picture: If you have a campaign logo, this is the place to put it. Alternatively, use an image that has something to do with your campaign, be that your face, a campaign gimmick or even your poster design.
    • Location: If it’s short enough, this would be a good place to put your campaign slogan.
    • Username: This is a very personal decision, but the best usernames are short and distinctive. If your campaign slogan incorporates your own name then you can probably get away with having your name as your username. Otherwise, this is a good place to use part of your slogan or a campaign gimmick. For those who already have a Twitter username, consider starting a new account or temporarily changing your username for the purposes of the elections, but again this is up to you.
    • Background: Use your campaign poster here. If you don’t have the digital version, email elections at cardiff dot ac dot uk to have it sent to you.
    • Profile Design: For bonus points, make your profile match the colours of your poster/campaign logo.
  • Content, content, content.
    If you want to gain followers and get noticed, you have to catch people’s attention with interesting and varied content. Here are a few ideas:

    • Tweet photos of you, your campaign team, your banner, the lecture hall you’re about to give a shout-out to, the view from the crossroads, whatever you think will add interest.
    • Videos are even better! Share your video manifesto as often as possible, and you can take things further by making your own campaign video and uploading it to YouTube. Other video ideas include flashmobs, lecture shouts and vox-pop style interviews ( “I’m voting for X because …). Whatever you do, use your imagination and don’t be afraid to think outside the box! In terms of what platforms to use, pick YouTube for pre-recorded/edited videos and use your smartphone to send out spontaneous footage whilst out campaigning.
    • Vary your content by retweeting endorsements from friends, and retweet more general tweets from election-related accounts (see the Engage section of this post for where to look for these).
    • Don’t forget to tell people how and where to vote!
  • Don’t go it alone.
    • Ask friends and supporters to tweet about you, retweet you, or preferably both. Do this regularly until voting closes.
    • By all means give your Twitter password to members of your campaign team, but make sure to lay down some basic communications guidelines to keep things consistent.
    • You can boost your exposure by asking local businesses, club promoters, societies, sports clubs to retweet you. However, remember that the election rules state that no external businees or organisation is allowed to provide benefits to one candidate unless they are also willing to offer the same benefit to all other candidates. In other words, if the only reason a club promoter is willing to retweet you is because one of your mates is a club rep, don’t do it. As always, if in doubt ask for clarification by emailing elections at cardiff dot ac dot uk or by speaking to Jemma Mallorie, before you Tweet.
    • If you have any Twitter-obsessed friends, ask them for advice on your campaign. They will be able to tell you if you’re committing any unforgivable faux-pas and suggest more ideas for you to try.
  • Some final tips:
    • Keep it positive: starting a Twitter hate campaign against one of your rivals isn’t going to win you any votes. Quite the opposite, in fact.
    • Have fun: Just like your real-world campaign, don’t take yourself too seriously. If you can make people laugh or smile whilst also telling them to vote for you, then you’re more likely to get noticed, followed, retweeted and talked about.
    • Keep it real: Tweeting into the ether with no one following you is a waste of time. So, if you haven’t already, add your Twitter username to your banner and your Facebook group/event. You could also tell people to follow you on Twitter during lecture shouts and when you talk to individual people and hand out flyers. Shout it from the crossroads if you must!

I hope that you’ve found these tips useful and informative. If nothing else, I hope that it convinces you to embrace Twitter as part of your campaign. Campaigning in CUSU Elections will be one of the most challenging and exhausting experiences in your life (after marriage, kids and actually performing the role to which you’ve been elected, of course), and to win you need to exploit every single opportunity available to you. Leave no stone unturned, and don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

Finally, if you’d like any more advice from me* then post a comment here or send me a Tweet. I’d be delighted to help in any way I can 🙂

*For the benefit of any election monitors who might be reading this post, I am offering this service for free and to any candidate who asks for it, as long as they ask nicely!