As a New Yorker I see Times Square as one massive advertisement. But in the digital age, those flashy billboards alone won't suffice to market the shows occupying the theater district.
With that in mind, Broadway has taken its creativity online to get people interested in what's on stage. Earlier this year we discussed Next to Normal's 35-day-long "Twitter performance." Though it did no justice to the show's material (because, really, it's Twitter), The New York Times notes the Twitter page gained over 100,000 Followers throughout the process. The account now has over one million Followers.
Next to Normal isn't alone in its Twitteracy. The off-Broadway production, Love, Loss, and What I Wore, for example, launched a Twitter-based trivia contest in March to celebrate its 200th show. The contests are still ongoing, allowing Followers to win tickets with correct answers. According to the show's PR firm, O&M Co., this influences people to buy additional tickets, or purchase tickets if they lose (good sports!), and winners tend to recommend the show to friends.
Other shows are using the Web not so much to draw new audiences but to foster existing ones. Chicago, for example, launched a Facebook application on Monday allowing fans to compete to win a free ticket by getting 10 of their "Friends" to "like" the Chicago page. The goal was to fill the entire theater (1,000 seats) with Facebook Fans for one day (January 31) to celebrate long-time supporters.
Well-intentioned... however, as with most-things-Web 2.0, the response was unexpected and hard to manage.
"We all thought maybe it's going to take a week or a month. We launched it 4:00 p.m. and by 12:30 a.m. we had to shut it down because so many people had started using the application that the whole thing had to slow down," said Sara Fitzpatrick, director of interactive at SpotCo, the advertising agency that handled the Facebook campaign.
"The process became confusing because everything slowed down so much and it wasn't counting the Likes for people," she said. "Because it was these free tickets everybody was getting so frantic."
To keep fans calm, SpotCo employees stayed online throughout the night, responding to emails and wall posts.
Not all of Broadway's social media campaigns take place all comfy and cozy behind the screen alone, though. Rock of Ages, a musical based in the 1980s, for example, recently launched an eight-week campaign with Gowalla, giving fans the opportunity to win prizes -- including one grand prize of a walk-on role at Rock of Ages (or $3,500 for shy folk) -- providing they "check in" at various 1980s-related establishments, as well as complete 80s-related tasks.
"With Rock of Ages our audience is never the traditional theatergoing audience," said Adam Cunningham, creative director at 87AM, which handles Rock of Ages' social media efforts. "We wanted to make sure we reached people outside of the direct theater community."
In addition to reaching new audiences with Gowalla and other social media efforts, Rock of Ages will soon debut "superfan" reward cards with scannable bar codes, so that each time fans spend money on Rock of Ages they earn points to redeem at the show. Rock of Ages will also launch an online leaderboard where superfans can compete for tickets and merchandise.
But, as with the enterprise, measuring social media campaigns is tough, and none of the representatives I spoke to was able to say exactly how these efforts are influencing ticket sales.
Cunningham notes that Rock of Ages has experienced 30 percent growth with its social media efforts in the past four months alone, but ultimately success is tied to success at the box office. "The producers love creativity but there's a bottom line to everything," he said.
This is, of course, no different than with traditional marketing, except this type of marketing requires an ongoing, two-way conversation.
"It's not about the New York Times ad that gives you the information. It's about the dialogue and the conversation," said SpotCo's Fitzpatrick. "On a regular basis we just try to talk and communicate every single day as much as we can all day for as many shows as we're advertising for. It's not something you can turn off."
— Nicole Ferraro, Site Editor, Internet Evolution