Advertising with social networking

An article I wrote was published today in the newsletter for Pioneer Drama Service (publisher of my plays A Family Reunion to Die For and Murderous Night at the Museum). This article provides some tips for using social networking to market your show. If you’re looking for more theatrical tips, subscribe to Pioneer Drama Service’s newsletter.

Pioneer Drama Service

The full text of the article is below:

Newsletter: Promoting your Production – Advertising with Social Networking

By Mike Steele

September 30, 2014

When I began directing school plays nearly a decade ago, the only way I could really utilize the internet to market our productions was to send an email to local newspapers and cross my fingers that one of them would be interested in running an article about the show.

Since then, Facebook has become available to high schoolers, YouTube has taken off, and the boom in social networking websites (Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Vimeo, Flickr, etc.)  has changed the way we interact on the internet.  It’s now much easier to personally reach a score of local theatergoers over the internet in ways that were not possible ten years ago.

But just because interacting via social networking has become a part of our daily lives, that doesn’t mean we’re all internet marketing experts.  Sure, we’ve all created Facebook events for our shows and posted a few status updates about how to buy tickets, but can’t we do more?

The answer is yes!  And it’s a lot easier than you’d think!

First, establish a professional social networking presence. You’re probably familiar with the various different social networking websites out there, and chances are, you have personal accounts.  If your school or community theatre troupe doesn’t have its own professional social networking accounts, create them.  Sure, you can promote the shows on your own personal accounts, but establishing a professional presence for the theatre troupe will allow people who might not know you personally to follow the happenings of the company, and you will reach a broader group of theatergoers.

(Have you seen Pioneer’s Facebook page?  It’s a great example of the variety of posts you can share to keep your community of supporters involved and interested in your activities.)

Show off your show with photos. They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, right?  Social networking users are drawn to visual content, so keep them intrigued by posting production photos on all your theatre troupe’s various social networking accounts.  Pictures from the actual performances will show followers what they can expect to see if they buy a ticket, but you can also give everyone a taste of what goes on “behind the scenes” by posting candid photos of rehearsals, backstage shenanigans and cast parties.  When your followers see how exciting your production looks, they will want in on some of the fun, and this will translate into fuller audiences.

Film a sneak peak trailer. We’re all familiar with enticing film trailers that draw us to what’s playing at movie theatres.  Pique the interests of potential theatergoers by creating a video featuring production photos, video clips, and information on how to buy tickets for your show.  It’s possible to film, edit, and upload a video entirely on your cell phone, allowing you to create a simple trailer in minutes.  If you want to create a more professional looking montage, chances are, someone involved in your production has a high quality camera and some video editing skills.  Upload your trailer to a free online video account (such as YouTube or Vimeo) and encourage your cast and production staff members to share the video on their personal social networking accounts.

(Here’s a fun movie-style trailer that a Pioneer customer made for the show they were doing, Dr. Evil and the Basket of Kittens.)

Brand your production with a hashtag. Hashtags are a popular way for social networking users to find content centered around a specific topic on websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  Create and use a hashtag for your production so that theatergoers interested in the show can see what others are posting.  Keep your hashtag simple so it’s easily remembered by your cast and production staff members who want to promote the show on their personal social networking accounts.  Your hashtag might include the title of the production and the year (such as #PioneerPlay2014) or it might include your theatre troupe or school’s name (such as #NHSfallplay), but be sure to remain consistent with one hashtag so that anyone searching will see all of the content available.

Entertain followers with frequent and diverse content. We live in an age where we’re bombarded with information the moment we log onto the internet.  News becomes outdated or forgotten in a matter of minutes.  Make posts to your theatre troupe’s social networking accounts often so that your production will remain on the minds of your followers.  Post to the social networking accounts several times per week, and try to keep the content interesting.  Repeatedly posting the same message of, “Come see our show…”  can get stale, so think of a variety of content your followers would find interesting.  Maybe every Monday you will post a bio of a different cast member, every Wednesday an interesting fact about your show, every Friday you will run a contest to win a pair of tickets, and sporadic days in between you will upload photos.  Create a schedule of what to post on the different social networking accounts to keep yourself organized.

Designate a Social Networking Manager. Whether or not you’re a social networking whiz, chances are that if you already have a major commitment in some other aspect of the production, it will be difficult to keep up with your theatre troupe’s social networking accounts (especially as the production draws closer and you get busier and busier).  Create a Social Networking Manager position on your production staff, and assign this person the responsibility of handling all social networking so that the posts are organized and the wording is consistent.  This is a great job for a student or an intern.  It’s a good idea to choose someone who is personally active in social networking and will know what kind of content your target audience would like to see.  For example, if you’re working on a school play and want to attract students to come see the show, a student Social Networking Manager will probably know the types of things his or her peers are posting and viewing online and can generate some great ideas for content.  (In fact, it was one of my own school play students who came up with the idea several years ago to film a trailer for our production, and she was able to convince the principal to play the video in the cafeteria during school lunches as well as posting it on Facebook.)

Look to the pros. Not sure what type of pictures or posts will attract followers to your show?  Take a look at the content professional productions are posting on their social networking accounts.  Broadway shows, for example, outsource social networking to marketing companies who specialize in creating content that appeals to theatergoers.  Are the backstage photos on your favorite Broadway musical’s Facebook page garnering a lot of “likes?”  Then there’s a good chance your theatre troupe’s followers would like to see backstage photos, too.  You won’t be able to mimic all of the professional content you see on these professional social networking accounts, but keeping an eye on these pages will certainly give you some ideas.

Offed at the Bake Off soon to be published

Last week was a busy one, but in the midst of all the chaos, I was stopped with some exciting news: A play I co-wrote with my brother, Matt, titled Offed at the Bake Off, received a publishing offer from Eldridge Publishing.

Offed at the Bake Off

This will be my fifth full length play published and also the last in my queue of finished plays to submit to publishers (which means I better start writing some more).  This play also holds my record for shortest evaluation period, as I sent the script to the publisher only two weeks prior to receiving the contract (it normally takes several months to hear back).  Eldridge Publishing plans to have the play available by the end of fall so that it will be ready for the busy spring school play period.

What makes this news especially exciting is that Offed at the Bake Off has yet to have an initial production.  We wrote the play in the summer of 2013 with expectations to mount a full production at a local high school that fall.  Unfortunately, new regulations set by the school board pushed production back several weeks, and this play was just too big to pull off in the limited timeframe.  We were only able to hold a workshop reading with students at the school, so I’ve only ever seen the play performed in my mind.

My fingers are crossed that Offed at the Bake Off will do well (and that I will get to see a production soon)!