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September 16, 2010

Proof: How social media sold a theatre ticket on Facebook

Social media and the arts: tracking the elusive social media ROI

I hear a lot of opinions about social media these days. A lot of them are positive, from people who have the time to experiment and build real relationships. And a lot of them are negative, from people who “tried it, but it didn’t work us” or from those who say they can’t see any return on investment (ROI). The latter can be due to a variety of issues, but often is due the difficult job of tracking social media movement. Think about wildlife trackers. They are skilled at seeing small signs and interpreting large results — a bent twig here, a small footprint there… the animal went that way. They see things others do not, because they have taken time to be trained to notice the small details. Tracking ROI on Facebook is similar, and subtle. If you get into the tracking mindset, you can discover a great many things, but even then you have to be ok with animals seemingly showing up out of nowhere at your box office. And the path they took to get there can jump many channels and be all over the place!

Jumping to different arts marketing channels

As an example, recently I decided to see a production of the “musical play” Opus at TheatreWorks in Mountain View, CA. It was excellent — the kind of theatre that changes you. My companion and I left the theater talking about the show from a bunch of different angles (mostly trying to decide if the last scene should have been kept in the show or cut — I favored keeping it). I went home, and jumped on Facebook. I wrote the following: Image of Facebook post about "Opus"Several friends of mine commented on this post, saying how they loved it too, as they too debated the last scene. The next afternoon, another friend of mine called me and said “I just called the box office and my boyfriend and I are going to Opus tonight because I saw your great post on Facebook!” I told her that was great, and to let me know what she thought. Late that night, I got a text message from her and the exchange went like this: Image of iphone message from " I was pretty much in full observer mode at this point, and wanted to see how much further it would go with the “pass along” idea. I’m sure the folks at TheatreWorks are loving me right now. She posted to her Facebook page that she had loved the show, and folks commented on it. That’s where my tracking of the story stops. So what happened here? Let’s recap. I saw the show in person, and commented on Facebook (first jump of mediums, from in-person to Facebook). My friend saw my post and called me, and then the box office (2nd jump of medium, from Facebook to phone). She saw the show and then texted me after (3rd jump of medium, from in-person to text message) and then posted on her own Facebook page (4th jump of medium, from text message back to Facebook). And through all that, two tickets were sold (for her to see the show). But there is no way that the TheatreWorks box office can track the purchase, since it all happened inter-personally and organically. To TheatreWorks, the phone rang, and somebody purchased two tickets. That’s it.

So what does this tell us about social media and the arts?

First, your efforts to reach patrons via social media may have results that you don’t track as being attributed to social media, when people jump mediums and come into the box office a different way. Score one point for social media, even though it is hard to track. Second, people are using social media to discuss you, and in this case it didn’t matter if TheatreWorks was posting their own posts on their Facebook page, as those posts didn’t come into the ticket purchase equation (although they most likely have an effect in other cases). So having your own posts is important, but positive things happen outside of what you post on your organization’s Facebook page. I’m not saying that TheatreWorks should have gotten in the middle of our conversation or anything — that might have actually broken the spell. But believing that these conversations are happening about you is an important reason to be involved with social media. In some ways, social media is incredibly easy to track — do a search for your name or your organization, and if people are talking about you, it’s pretty easy to find out. But tracking sales from social media is harder. It can be done, but you really have to be paying attention to lay feedback loops throughout the system — setting up twigs to be bent, and pouring mud in the path to see footsteps. Some examples of ways to do this include:

  • promotion codes linked only to social media
  • personalized urls to specific campaigns
  • separate phone numbers that allow you to track sources of calls
  • Facebook applications that help info to go viral
  • phone questions by the box office staff, or survey questions during the online ticket purchase
  • and for some transactions, you may just find it impossible to track at all, but you still sold a ticket

Believing in social media

To me, belief in the value of social media is like believing in the value of press releases. Although direct sales from a release to the press are hard to track and not exact, you still believe that they are valuable to do right? Because the story may get picked up and have a good effect. Think of your participation in social media the same way — it’s important to get involved in these real conversations. Not only is the conversation itself good, as it leads us to discover more about ourselves and the work, but  those conversations can lead to real results at the box office. -Ron Like this post? Please share it with others who you think might benefit from it, via the links below, and subscribe via email or RSS to receive future updates. Ron Evans is an arts marketing consultant with in Sunnyvale, CA. He helps arts audiences increase their understanding, appreciation, and  frequency of attendance, through technology. Have an opinion about the content of this post? Start or join the conversation on our Facebook page.