Sunday, June 19, 2011

Broadway Social Media Marketing: Bang or Bust?


A Bushel and a Peck

How has Broadway adapted to the wonderful world of social media? It’s everywhere. You’d be hard pressed to find a Broadway or Off Broadway production that doesn’t have it’s own website, Facebook fan page, Twitter account and YouTube channel shouting, "Buy our tickets now!"

What is the social media influence on actual ticket sales? That depends on whom you talk to about it.

According to a recent New York Times article, Good Tweets Are Nice, but Group Sales Fill Seats, it’s not what you think… or is it? The prime focus of the article is about the strong sales of the marketing group, Group Sales Box Office. The assumption is made that because there are hard numbers to prove sales, that group sales is successful and social media is not.

Broadway director Jerry Zak, currently represented on the Great White Way by the musical Sister Act, said, “You hope these sites generate good word of mouth, but they’re not the thing that is still, in this day and age, the best measure of our show’s potential popularity and financial return; that’s group sales.” According to the article, networking sites are getting the word out there but not necessarily selling tickets.

Where are the statistics?  Apparently, if anyone in the theatre biz is measuring the influences of social network marketing, they aren’t sharing the results. The technology is still relatively new, but if social media was ineffective, why has everyone jumped on the bandwagon?

Many shows not only make use of the free advertising social sites provide but also purchase “keywords” and place display ads in hopes of boosting visibility and ticket sales. The free advertising through social media isn’t really free. Someone has to write the copy, maintain the connections with the fans, answer questions and most importantly: build an ongoing relationship that may eventually turn in to sales.

Of course group sales continues to remain strong and is an important ingredient in the recipe that fills the theatre. They can still claim a stronger marketing position over social media efforts by their reported numbers. One problem: If you hear about a show on Facebook and want to take a group to see it, where do you purchase the tickets? From a group sales company hired by the show’s producers. You don't purchase tickets from Facebook. Just as most single ticket sales are handled through Ticketmaster and Telecharge, most group sales are handled by an agency (there may be the rare exception). So aren’t social networking sites making it easier for group sales representatives to sell a show?

The best source of statistical information I could find was through The Broadway League. The free information they provide on their site leaves the analyst to make many assumptions. Hopefully, their next survey will ask specifically, how influential social media has been on the patron’s decision to purchase tickets for a particular show.

According to the League’s 2007-2008 survey, online tickets sales accounted for 40% of all tickets sold and then dropped to 34% in the 2009-2010 season. It still remains the most common method people use to purchase tickets.

I would like to make the assumption that one of the reasons for the drop in online sales is due to the difficulty in navigating ticketing sites to find the best availability for dates and tickets. If you’ve ever searched tickets online, you know that you basically have to start your search over, every time you search for different seating locations or try a different date. It is very time consuming and most people would rather call the ticket agents and have them do the work for them.

I have spent many hours trying to find the best seats. If I’m going to pay as much as $140 a ticket to see a show, I want to see the show. I don’t want partially obstructed view and I don’t want to be in the back or crammed all the way over on the side. Another problem is that theatres don’t always make their entire inventory of seats available online. If Ticketmaster and Telecharge would make buying tickets simpler, I think online sales would skyrocket.

Measuring the success of converting social media efforts into ticket sales is complicated. First, you have to be able to track someone’s path from say, Facebook, to the show’s website and then to the ticketing site. One factor to consider: I may hear about a show and be interested enough to want to buy tickets but may not do so immediately. If I purchase tickets a week or so later, the tracking is lost. The only way to know how I heard about the show is to ask. The big ticket brokers don’t usually do that.

Year after year, word of mouth continues to be the most influential reason audiences choose a specific musical. The most recent League survey showed 48% attended based on a personal recommendation.  Based on those facts, we know that social media helps ticket sales. But how much? 

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