These are odd times
by GaëtanL. Charlebois
(This week I'm going to speak softly but still wield a fairly big stick...strap in.)
In the last two weeks the theatre-sphere has been hit by letters from two artistic directors saying somewhat of the same thing: our latest show has gotten great reviews but is still playing to tiny houses - help us figure out what happened!
In both cases, I have some thoughts and these are thoughts that apply to all theatre companies and come from my experience with them and these two and also from my experience with the internet (which I was introduced to in my early days at The Mirror, at the beginning of the 90s).
In the cases of the two companies having problems, their Twitter presence is wan at best.
In the case of both troubled companies - and many, many more besides, we are dealing with a fundamental misunderstanding of how the internet and social networks work. It is not for nothing that the biggest houses in the land - COC and Stratford among them - pounced on the invaluable new tool to reach new audiences in their own "houses". It is also not for nothing that they nurture their internet/downloadable media departments with podcasts, games, music, apps all while being all over Facebook and, especially, Twitter.
I mention Twitter quite specifically. I am using the growth of CharPo as an example of how important this network has become. At our start, it was all about Facebook. Fifty percent of our traffic was generated there. But when Facebook went public and its rules changed, our traffic started to dip. Thankfully, we were firmly installed on Twitter. Now, about 30% of our traffic comes from Twitter. We have also accumulated 800 followers on one of our feeds which means when we tweet towards an article, there is a quite visible spike in its traffic.
In the cases of the two companies having problems, their Twitter presence is wan at best. I have followed both since I hit the blue-bird and was astounded at how little they trumpeted their own accomplishments. For companies, even small ones, their number of followers is just sad. Moreover - and this is key (and where I will walk softly, softly) - they tend to tweet big media and in one case, the reviews they are tweeting are behind a pay wall. I rarely see tweets directed toward reviews on magazine sites, on blogs and other online media. Retweets are minimal and, as a result, both companies - if you judged from just their Twitter feed (and I am being very specific here) have absolutely no personality. Here's something else: in the cases of COC and Stratford, the ADs of these mighty companies are both on Twitter and comment, and share and are a delight to follow. COC's Alexander Neef, in particular, has a style of bonhomie that makes his feed lots of fun.
In the case of one of the two small companies, the AD tweets only intermittently. The director's tweets were one day ago, then three, then ten, then 31. His latest tweet was one towards his letter asking for help.
Now I am going to go even more softly...
CharPo's experience with both companies has been less than satisfying. In one case we have faced apathy and in the other even hostility. In the former case it is is easier to understand: dominating both social networks and new media takes work, time, and money. In the case of the latter...well that is a mystery but it is one reason we can't cover them anymore because none of our writers wants the grief.
So...they asked for help? This is mine. It is just one opinion about what has gone wrong with their well-reviewed shows.
And it's just me.