Social Media Use Continues to Rise Across San Francisco Venues

Why are sports writers and political pundits able to stir up active online debate whereas their counterparts in theater cannot?

"We're born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we're not alone.” ~Orson Welles
Orson Welles
“We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.” Orson Welles

Social media-inspired elves have once again been busy over the weekend, whipping up Google Drive spreadsheets. The results are in for April’s Social Media scorecard for theater across the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area, and here’s the scoop.

Of the top 16 active theaters and venues we’re following, Twitter followers were up 4.2% (to 13,143) and Facebook fans up 2.8% (31,424). That’s a much slower pace than last month which saw Twitter increase over 12%. There could be any number of reasons, including the impact of theater season’s wrapping, or that social networks as a whole experience a decline come spring.

Berkeley Rep is still social media king with 2,904 and 5,749 followers on Twitter and Facebook, respectively.

The top 3 fastest growing on Twitter were TheatreWorks (12%), Marin Theatre (37%), and UC Berkeley Dance (21%). It’s worth noting the rule of small numbers applies.

For some reason SF Playhouse lost 12% of its Twitter followers, but added almost 200 new fans on Facebook.

Once again, I use the term “scorecard loosely.” This is not a competition (say you, say me?), but rather a by-no-meansscientific roll-up of social activity; data which may or may not help us answer questions around its importance and use in a sector that desperately needs to make use of all available marketing tools. Also, as the good folks at Marin Theatre noted, this is not really apples-to-apples. Factoring in number of seats (or maybe budget I’d suggest as well) would help normalize data that will otherwise favor the big guys. I’m paraphrasing so I hope I got the gist of the suggestion correct.

Does tweeting sell tickets? Is there a direct correlation between active Facebook engagement, and word of mouth which – again – translates into butts in seats?

Over the coming months, I hope to explore these ideas and others, although given my limited information regarding sales we may never get to the crux of the matter. Nevertheless these are interesting times. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and now Pinterest, Instagram – it’s hard to keep up. And you can bet your patrons, your customers, your partners, your performers are significantly engaged (or will be soon enough) on any number of these social networks and related apps.

Facebook and ROI

If you haven’t yet seen the retail edition of the Facebook road show, when you have a spare 30 minutes (iPad in left hand, coffee in right while running from creative to loading) most definitely take a look. It’s a glossy view into the social juggernaut that will go IPO in the coming weeks, after completing a 10-day investor roadshow. What’s interesting – aside from the fact that most of the leadership likes to end its sentences with a question mark? – are some of the case studies that COO Sheryl Sandberg talks about. Ben Jerry’s claims that for every dollar spent on advertising, the company sees a three dollar return. American Express (yes, directly comparable to many local non-profits… right!) saw an astonishing scale of a targeted “Small Business Saturday” campaign that garnered millions of impressions and leads for local businesses.

I’ve noticed that our theater coverage on Stark Insider tends to get better pick-up on Facebook, then Twitter. Far better. For example, Gregory Alonzo’s recent review of The Producers (Hillbarn) was liked 55 times on Facebook but only received 5 Tweets. Likewise, Cy’s review of In The Heights (Broadway San Jose) received 46 likes, only 2 tweets. Anecdotal evidence, but nevertheless consistent with the trend I’ve been noticing that suggests when it comes to theater at least, Facebook generates more engagement. In tech, I we experience the opposite. Much of tech news is viral in nature, or time sensitive; there Twitter is a better channel with its real-time foundation, ideal for wide-spread dissemination.

Where are you, theater people?! Carey Perloff and SF Bay Area Theater needs you!

I consider this odd, and possibly a lost opportunity.

Carey Perloff, the wonderful artistic director at American Conservatory Theater, penned an article, “The Loss of the Old,” for the Huffington Post that was published last week. Perloff wonders “whether we in the American theater are missing the bigger picture by obsessing so exclusively on the development of new plays.” It’s a topic ripe for discussion, disagreement, opinions of all sorts. But, as of today, total number of comments on the article: 4. Just four! Meanwhile, over on The Verge, some tech blogger is on the verge of a breakdown because the latest Samsung cell phone doesn’t razzle-dazzle him enough (“How Samsung broke my heart“). Total comments: 829. Yep, that’s the kind of world we live in.

But the real disappointing aspect is the lack of engagement from the local theater community.

To be fair, the post did receive 84 shares on Facebook which likely generated hundreds (maybe thousands) of follow-on impressions as the headline and thumbnail appeared in user’s timelines. But what about those who work in or who are involved in some way with theater across the region? It seemed to be the perfect opportunity to jump in with a comment, then a tweet. Or ideal time to share the story on Twitter provoking others to chime in: Stir the pot, and scintillate with alternative viewpoints; Or agree with Perloff. Either way, here’s a story sitting on the front page of one the most notorious blogs of them all. With just four comments. Sadly, one of them: “Only a small minority in the US have any interest at all in historical culture. That would require real education in the humanities. No profits in it.”

Theater is emotional. It sparks conversation. And like sports and politics, disagreement – the script, the lighting, the acting, the choice of plays — can get very personal, and result in grand old sparring of the most congenial order. Why, then, are sports writers and political pundits able to carry over these debates to the online world, whereas the same does not apparently hold true for their counterparts in theater? Last I checked the SF Bay Area has over 6 million people, hundreds of theaters, and thousands and thousands of theater-goers.

Let the show begin…

Social Media Scorecard: SF Bay Area Theater April 2012

Updates? Email me or message me. But whatever you do, don’t dare call me.

2012 Scorecards: January, February (plus, who to follow), March.

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  • Dan

    Thanks so much for doing this.  Social media is simply engagement. If you give people something of value in your Facebook and Twitter posts, then they will follow. If you just shove ticket /show promotions in their face, they wont.

    And posting once every couple of days isn’t engaging your audience.

    • Well said Dan. From what I’ve seen, conversation, real listening and responses – as if being at a cocktail party – works best. Transparency is a key point I think. I’m still trying to up my game, takes a lot of time, but worth the effort, and rewarding to boot!

  • Interesting article and an well stated point about the lack of engagement within in our own community. Were you only including non-profit theatres in your stats? I noticed that you didn’t include Broadway San Jose. We are in the top 5 with 981 twitter followers and 3,482 facebook followers. 

    • Ruth, we will include all comers. I will definitely add Broadway San Jose. When I read your note I thought “no, they’re already on the list” and to my surprise you were 100% right: I missed it. Look next month for that to be fixed. Once again, sounds like your team is ahead on Facebook as compared to Twitter! Thanks for dropping by.

  • Careyperloff

    Thanks for the shout out! LET THE DIALOGUE BEGIN!!! It’s time.
    Best, Carey

    • Great to hear from you Carey! Yes, I agree, now more than ever – with all of these incredible, far-reaching social media tools – is the time for dialogue. I wonder how it will need to adapt or evolve for the next generation though (those of a million little online distractions). Interesting times!