Twespians Fringe: Social Media and Theatre

On Friday I went along to the Twespians Fringe: Social Media and Theatre talk given by Sven Ruggenberg (I mentioned his thesis on the topic in an earlier post). You can see Sven’s presentation on Prezi below.

The crowd was a mixture Twespians and Society of London Theatre members. The former tend to be on the more enthusiastic end of the spectrum when it comes to digital and social media; I’m not quite sure where you might place SOLT members.

Don’t believe the hype

Sven’s thesis is worth reading for the figures he dragged out of SOLT’s report on the West End Theatre Audience 2010 and the input from the likes of Mark Shenton, Dewynters, AKA Promotions, Sell! Sell! and Tony Coleman of Pitch Central.

For me though, the talk seemed to set up and attack something of a straw man. We were told that social media is overhyped, that it’s hovering around the peak of Gartner’s hype cycle and that there’s a gap between the technological possibilities and real life. We were told that it’s still early days for social media and we have to be realistic about what can be achieved with it.

The thing is, I don’t think anyone serious has really bought into the hype wholesale have they? I’ve yet to hear of anyone trying to sell out a West End show via social media alone. Sure, people seem interested in the possibilities, there’s an awful lot of talk around it and they’re trying things out (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) but that’s as far as it’s gone.

In fact, I’d say there’s quite a large degree of caution out there. I was under the impression that resources and budgets aren’t generally being allocated to social media activity and campaigns in much of a meaningful way. That would go some way to explaining why arts organisations’ efforts (and therefore results) tend to be unspectacular.

Of course a mix of tactics are required to sell a large show – that’s always been the case and I daresay it always will be. The only question is how you balance the various elements of a campaign – sometimes it might be appropriate for social media to play a lead role, other times it’ll be a member of the supporting cast.

I defer to Kingsley Jayakesera, Director of Communications and Digital Strategy at Sadler’s Wells, who said in a blog post yesterday:

The challenge going forward is how we create a new effective style of marketing that encompasses digital. No one can deny that many traditional marketing methods still work and work well, so what do we keep and what do we lose?  We certainly cannot keep adding more lines to small budgets; cut your cake too thin and it crumbles. At Sadler’s Wells we have cut back on print distribution and direct mail but have not yet moved a significant part of our budget online. The emphasis has been on cost saving not reallocation.

From blog to broadcast

Someone (Sven?) pointed out that the West End Whingers review of Paint Never Dries would never have reached such a large audience if it wasn’t for broadcast media picking up on it. True enough, but that story also illustrates how broadcast media are picking up stories from social media. Nowadays, what starts as a blog post could end up on the evening news.

More on theatres and video

The Les Mis Contract video was held up as a good example of someone trying something a bit different but was also criticised for not attracting many views – 38,000 is only a fortnight’s theatre attendance for a large West End show and you can bet not everyone who watched the vid bought a ticket.

I’ll talk about why that’s a poor assumption in another post but I think it’s fair to say that, as a piece of video intended for an online audience, there are a few things that could’ve been improved. The main thing for me is the content itself – it’s quite long, it takes a while to be funny and for the first minute it feels like a fairly dull sort of advert. I’d love to know what the audience retention rate was like.

I’ve talked about trailers before. I believe cinematic trailers are best suited to captive cinema audiences and that video made to be shown online should should follow the conventions of that format. That doesn’t just mean adding a cat (necessarily), but it does mean making it as likely to be shared around as possible – I don’t think this quite vid ticked that box.

Still, I think we should be grateful that someone’s taking a punt on this kind of thing and besides, there’s actually no way I can know whether that video was successful or not (on which point, see a forthcoming post).


I realise this might come across a little negative and I should say that I did agree with most of what was said. Besides, a sign of a good event is that it gives you food for thought and provokes discussion, for which thanks go to Sven for pushing things forward. Have a read of his thesis if you’ve not already.

Published by Chris Unitt

I work at One Further, doing digital projects with cultural organisations. Follow @ChrisUnitt or find me on LinkedIn.

5 replies on “Twespians Fringe: Social Media and Theatre”

  1. Many thanks for coming along Chris. I was delighted that the event was so well attended by members of the Twespians and SOLT communities.

    As you say, Sven’s presentation did indeed provoke discussion and I am hopeful that SOLT will be able to continue the ‘conversation’ by hosting events such as round table and panel discussions in the future. The use of social media in theatre is growing fast and providing the opportunity to share case studies is something I’d like to explore as well.

    If anyone would like to suggest topics for discussion, please get in touch with me at [email protected]

  2. Hi Katherine. Thanks for hosting the event on Friday and it’s really encouraging to hear that there might be more in the future. I might drop you a line with a few suggestions and will encourage others to do the same.

Comments are closed.