Advertising via Social Media
This information is aimed at individual clubs all the way to the national committee. It’s not exhaustive, nor if everything guaranteed to work. A lot of this information might be old hat to your group, or it could be totally new. Some ideas might work all the time, other only for one specific show. Hopefully you’ll be able to find new audiences and members using this guide. Think of this guide as a springboard and let your imagination run wild.
Think about what you currently have – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter…. Who is your current audience on those platforms? And who do you want to get more of? Often the answer to this is either younger members, or more people who’ll come along and buy a ticket.
The next questions are; the people who already follow you, do they engage with what you post? Or do you have several hundred people “liking” the page, but only 3 people ever liking your posts?
Different platforms are used by different groups. As a general rule younger audiences tend to be on TikTok and Instagram, older users are on Facebook and Instagram, and Twitter is quite a mixed bunch. So think about the platforms you use, the audiences you see following you, and the audiences you see coming through the door. If you only use Facebook, chances are you get a slightly older demographic, and you might struggle to recruit younger audiences or members. If you only use Instagram, you might find that you have good engagement, but lack bums-on-seats.
The key thing to remember is that platforms are used for different reasons, and different strategies will work best for each of them.
Facebook – started as a text-based site, posting mini blogs. It’s now much more image and video focussed, so try to always post a video or image along with any text you might want to get out there.
Instagram – started out as image only, now moved into much more video content. Unlike Facebook, you can only post up to 90 second long videos. Videos keep viewers engaged – they’re more likely to stop and watch a video, than interact with a static image.
TikTok – Video only, content is often built around trending themes or music. It’s a first-person-connection platform. That means as a viewer you build a connection with the person posting videos. That’s why many brands have struggled to break through, as they don’t have one recognisable face. (It’s one of the reasons why brands partner with influencers). With a solo person behind the account viewers know what to expect when they see that person.
Twitter – a mix of text and images, undergoing a lot of changes currently, and it’s not clear in what direction the platform will land.
For the purpose of a club or district advertising their shows, auditions, or anything, the best platforms will be Facebook and Instagram. The caveat is that TikTok can be brilliant for bringing in new audiences, if you engage your cast members. By this, I mean allow your cast members a couple of minutes during rehearsals to record videos, showing life backstage, costume fittings, dance practice etc. They can then encourage their followers to come along to the show. This allows you to utilize the cast in new ways, they get content to post, and you get a much wider spread of potential audience members then if you set up a club TikTok account.
Platform Sorted- What Next?
Consistency is key. Ideally you should be posting something on social media 2/3 times per week in the 6 weeks running up to the show. That might seem like a lot, but there’s an old saying in radio stations – after playing a song every hour for 3 weeks, the DJ hates is, but the audience is just starting to love it and find it catchy. In essence, not everyone will see every post you put out there. And in order to maximise the impact you need to keep it a fairly constant stream of content coming. This also comes down to the algorithm of the platforms. You more you post, the more likely people are to see it, as there’s new content for them to see regularly. Also, if more people are liking, sharing, and commenting on your posts, even more people will see them. That’s not just because they might be sharing to a new group of viewers, but because the metrics of social media.
Sadly, only a small percentage of your followers will see any given post, unless it gets lots of interaction. Then it will be shown to even more of your followers, plus people that the platform think will like it, even if they don’t follow your page.
Engagement is essential. And that starts with your cast. They need to be on board, sharing and liking and commenting on the posts. There was a time that selling 10 tickets was a standard commitment that cast members had to make. And that is still very valuable. But I’d say that having commitment from your cast to help share the word on social media is just as important.
But what to post?
This is often where people panic, not sure what they can or should post. Firstly, there’s no right or wrong answer, but you can look to other pages to get an idea of what works well. Look at the pages of other local groups, national groups, big theatre companies, fringe groups… see what else is out there and use that to inspire your own creativity. What makes YOU want to keep watching a video, or go see a show? You won’t be able to turn everything to your advantage (filming some brilliant c h o reo grap hy won’t be for you if you have a static sitcom), but you can always tuck ideas away for later productions.
Start thinking about social media right from the start, along with your set and costume, sound design and lighting. It’s as integral to the success of a production. Have a brain storming session with the cast and crew, come up with big ideas, and then work out what is feasible for your budget and skills.
And on budget, don’t think that you have to do anything remotely cash heavy. A mob i l e p ho n e, rehearsal venue and half an hour can give you great results! Having said that, also think about the wider community you’re in. Are there people from a local photography group or college who you could ask to help? They might be looking for extra things to add to a portfolio, or they might be happy to help for a couple of tickets to the show. Use the community around you. And remember that this isn’t just a thing “for the youngsters”. The ability to use technology, film and edit content is often a much-desired skill in the workforce, for all ages and stages.
Get creative and turn formats on their head – instead of having plain cast interviews, interview in character (which is great for getting actors to think outside the script, and can help when it comes to those moments of improv on stage). Get the cast to explain the show in 3 words, or give their favourite line. Give them a quiz “Is this line from the show, or from a Taylor Swift song?”
Rather than static headshots, what can you do that’s creative but li n ked to the production? What p ro ps or
mo tifs can you use in unusual ways? Can you go out of the rehearsal room to a lo catio n that fits the production? Is there a skill that your cast needs to learn on stage? Be it magic tricks or h a i rstyl i n g , you can usually find someone in your community that can help and this is the perfect change to take photos and videos of the learning process. Not to mention build a rapport with potential audiences or sponsors.
This might mean that you need to take an extra evening in the rehearsal schedule to take a set of photos, or brilliant video, but they can be invaluable for marketing, not to mention cast bonding. This might a challenge, but don’t forget there might be people in your club with hidden talents or a desire to learn a skill who can help you.
Aside from great images, competitions often work well; everyone loves the chance to win a free ticket or two. Especially on Facebook and Instagram, they tend to drive great audience interaction. Keep it simple, “Like and share this post, and tag the friend you want to take along with you”, or “Like and share this post, and follow us on Instagram”.
A note on filming rehearsals
Often you want to give people an idea of the show they’re coming to see, without giving away major plot points, or falling foul of your performing rights. A brilliant way around this is to look at the script and think about what you added to it. Often there’s movement, action, physicality that the director has added , that isn’t in the scripting. That’s an ideal thing to film, as not only is it copyright free, but movement is significantly more likely to engage your viewers than two people sitting on a sofa chatting. And on that note, the majority of watchers on social media watch with the sound off. So, think about filming something that works without any audio. And if you do want audio (interviews, character skits etc), make use of the numerous free editing tools that allow you to add su btitle s to a video.
Videos can take time, there’s no two ways around it. You want to make sure they look good (give that camera lenses a clean!), that the lighting is right and you can see the people / place you’re filming, that the video is in focus, not wobbly…but they are worth the effort. One 90 second video that you upload on Instagram can then be instantly shared to your linked Facebook account with no extra work. And don’t be afraid to reu se an d rep a cka ge fo o tage . A short video from early on in the rehearsal room becomes part of a longer montage just before the opening night.
Finally, if you’re filming for an Instagram video, turn your phone so that it’s portrait and then start filming. Landscape videos don’t fit nicely into the video feature on many social media sites!
Committees and Clubs work best together
It might seem simple, but if you have a good link between the SCDA committees and the clubs linked to them, its better for everyone all around. Make a commitment that you’ll all help each other. Clubs should share updates from the committee with their members, share news about festivals to their followers, and try and provide as much content from their festival entry to the committee (including photos and videos). Committees should be using what clubs give them to help publicise the festival and the entries, but also the other shows clubs put on, audition call outs, whatever. And clubs should be sharing what other clubs in their area are doing! You’re unlikely to be in direct competition with each other during show runs, but even if you are, an audience member can see one show on a Friday and another on a Saturday!
At the end of the day the clubs and committees should work with a seamless sharing of information and publicity backscratching. The harder a committee works to promote a show, the harder a club will work to publicise a festival. The harder the committee work in promoting a festival, the more likely clubs are to keep taking part – no one likes performing to an empty auditorium.
What about ‘traditional’ advertising?
It’s still important, just as much as social media. Think of them as fish and chips – you could have one without the other, but it wouldn’t be as good. Each will reach different people, and with both you get to capitalise on your audience. People might see a poster and flyer, and then head to your social media. You want to make sure that they’re greeted with lots of interesting things rather than tumbleweed. Equally someone on your social media might see your flyer in a coffee shop and pick it up and go buy a ticket because they already know a bit about the show.
Pretty as a Poster
Posters are important as they catch attention in windows, as flyers, possibly even as your cover image for a programme.
The key? KISS – Keep It Simple Silly.
Too much writing and people won’t read it. The writing that you do have on a poster needs to be clear, without a difficult font or colour. You want something bold and eye catching, not something that people have to strain to read or puzzle out what it says.
Equally think about your imagery and colours. Certain images that are used in posters convey certain messages, the same with colours. You might think that your poster is a really clever take your show, but to a member of the general public, it might be screaming “open mic comedy”, or “dance recital”. A lot of this is subtle, but a good rule of thumb is to get your poster started early, that gives you time to experiment. Take it to production meetings and chat about it. And then show it to someone neutral who’s opinion you trust! Someone with no vested interest who can tell you straight, exactly what they’d think if they saw that poster in a window. That will be more help than anything.
There’s obviously some info your poster needs – Show name, company name, dates and location of the performance, where to buy tickets, the main ticket cost, and any legal wording (often “X is an amateur production presented by arrangement of Y”). Keep this legal bit simple, and small!
Avoid placing phone numbers or multiple website address on posters. Think about using a QR code which links directly to the ticket page. That way you can keep the information to a minimum, leaving more space to eye catching imagery, and maybe a few snappy quotes. Show times are unnecessary, and can be confusing if there’s an extra matinee – show times are available on online booking platforms and are on tickets. Equally discounted ticket prices and a full synopsis can be found online when booking, or from the booking office.
Look at posters that have won competitions, posters from professional companies that are touring and really think hard about what makes them work or not. Posters and flyers always look best when you get them professionally printed. Local companies can often give you great deals and speedy service, so check out what’s in your area. For flyers make sure you would actually want to pick up and keep the flyer! Something on thick glossy printer paper is less appealing to pick up and slip in your pocket than a nice thin flyer. At the end of the day, it’s a flyer for a show, not a photo to frame. Always look at the offering with a critical eye, and think of your standard member of the public first.
A note for SCDA committees on posters. When the aim is to get bums on seats for a festival, think less is more in your poster. You don’t need a full list of clubs and plays taking part, as all that information can be put online. It can be overwhelming to the public to have all the names and plays, especially if the festival is split over several nights. You want to make it seem as exciting and vibrant as possible, conveying variety and quality. There’s no golden rule of what will work over anything else, but again get some external critical eyes on it before you go to print.
Flyers and Extras
Get your flyers and posters out into the world around 3-4 weeks before the show. Put them up everywhere you can! Enrol the cast and crew, split up and go around different areas of your patch. If you’re organised, head out in costume to create a stir (ideal for pantos, or any show with a vintage setting). Take photos of the cast while flyering in costume, perhaps make it a competition! “Sweeny Todd is out on the streets of X today – first one to ask him “can I have a free shave?” wins a pair of tickets”
Think about the catchment area for your performance venue – how far might people be willing to travel? What are the commuter towns and areas nearby? Think about libraries, coffee shops, local businesses, community centres…anywhere that people gather. Also think about your show and the audience you’re targeting. For example, with a family show aimed at younger audiences, flyer places like play centres.
When going into shops and business explain that it’s a local amateur group and you’ll often get a good response. Once they accept the poster or flyers, ask if you can take a picture of it in situ. Then at the end of the day collect all the photos you’ve taken at local businesses, and creating a digital collage. Post that online tagging all the businesses, and you’re sure to get a surge in people liking and sharing your content. Local businesses supporting local people in local theatre – it’s a win win win.
Once you’ve put posters on every surface available to you, think about what other local resources you can tap into. Get your local newspaper involved – invite them along to a dress rehearsal, or opening night to review the show, or have an interview with the director. If there’s something special about your show make sure that it’s an obvious hook when putting messages into the press, ideally in the message title. They’re always looking for what makes a story different. You might be re-enacting the very first show your group put on 30 years ago, with some of the same cast still involved. Maybe it’s the first time this show has been put on in your town, or you’re doing something different like an all-female cast of King Lear. Use what you can to get the press interested.
Another great avenue is local radio. Community radio stations are on the rise, focussing on local issues and local events. This is perfect for theatre groups! See if you can get an interview on local radio, maybe do it in character, or offer a ticket giveaway.
Think about your local calendar – what are the big fairs, events, or attractions coming up that will have lots of people in one place? This is another great opportunity to flyer and head out in costume.
Finally, there’s one more digital thing to think about, which is making sure you get the message out on local “what’s on” sites. It might be a local website, Facebook page, neighbourhood whatsapp or whatever else is in your area. You’ll often find a variety of different pages from “events”, and “what’s on”, to specific groups for theatre lovers, local creatives, or special interest groups. Make sure you target accordingly. Get your local vintage group or store involved in your production of Hairspray, or the classic film group along to The Full Monty.
Don’t relax at showtime!
Finally, you’re likely to be doing a run of shows, maybe 3 to 5 nights. Don’t forget to keep pushing the show right up until the curtain comes up for the final performance. Think about behind the scenes, photos of cast exhausted at the end of a farce, getting into makeup … Take photos of your dress rehearsal and if you’ve had a press review you can put quotes from that review over the top of images as a quick and easy post.
Lastly, don’t forget to post after the show, thanking your audience and supporters, and (if possible), let everyone know when the next production will be, even if you don’t know WHAT it will be.
Hopefully this helps your club in some way. Remember that social media is changing all the time, and what is in this guide might not work in 2 years’ time. Keep looking at what other people are doing, and think about what makes YOU engage with things online. Keep a notebook of ideas that you can fall back on, and don’t leave publicity to the last minute. Remember that being creative is what we’re all about.
The photos and videos linked here are featured with permission of the clubs, all of whom are amateur groups in the North East. Thanks to Bon Accord Players, Union Theatre, Taylormade Productions, Studio Theatre Group, and Ury Players.
– Emily Esson