The year has come full circle for me and tweet seats. From my first conversation about them last summer at the Theatre Communications Group Annual Conference to the CMU School of Music’s tweet seat initiative this past spring, the last twelve months provided an opportunity to play with this still new (and at times, controversial) audience engagement tool. If you missed my first two articles, you can read them here and here to get caught up on the action.
This journey began with the question of why. Why tweet seats? For the CMU School of Music, the answer to that question came naturally: we wanted a way to engage with our audience on a deeper level. Notes in the program are a static approach; the real time experience of Twitter gives audience members a chance to simultaneously learn about the music while hearing the orchestra play. Our experience was that tweet seats weren’t for everyone—which is why we isolated tweeters to the second balcony—and some of the outcomes were difficult to gauge, but ultimately we called the initiative a success.
Here’s what we learned:
- Have a goal and go after it. Our goal wasn’t trending or gaining followers (although we definitely accomplished the latter); our goal was to engage our audience in a new and exciting way. Each of the three concerts averaged 20-30 active tweet seat participants, in addition to passive participants. Pacing in the back of the hall allowed me to see a segment of the audience that we had not planned on engaging with: patrons on Twitter for the sole purpose of following along, not participating in the conversation, but engaging all the same. If your organization decides to try tweet seats, don’t be discouraged if your participation seems low. Some patrons may simply want to follow the feed without actively participating. If engaging this segment of the audience is one of your goals, be sure to keep tweeting, even if no one is actively engaging with you online.
- Listen. If recent customer service fiascos haven’t alerted you to the fact that Twitter is a two-way street, let me assure you that it is. The CMU School of Music wanted an online conversation, not a monologue of information. This goal was challenging but worthwhile, because we were able to get real time feedback on what patrons thought of the performance. In addition, we were able to reach out and do some customer service as well. For example, during one of the concerts, the webcast feed went down, but thanks to a tweet from one of our patrons, we were able to alert tech support and get the feed back up in under two minutes. Since the CMU School of Music does a webcast for many of the concerts throughout the season, we thought we were providing a view that was as close to the real thing as possible. But again, a patron participating in tweet seats, showed us otherwise. Patrons watching the webcast were not able to see the program for the concert and one tweet changed all of that. Adding a pdf of the program to the website each concert was certainly not a difficult task, but without this customer feedback, we would not have known there was an interest in it. Patrons knew that we were real, live people responding in real time and that knowledge opened a dialogue beyond the concert itself.
- You must be willing AND able to tweet along. The trick with offering interactive program notes in real time is that whoever assumes the responsibility of tweeting out content must be willing and able to do just that. Someone who lacks knowledge of the program will not successfully facilitate an engaging conversation because at some point the dialogue will plateau. Additionally, someone who is knowledgeable about the repertoire but is unwilling to fully embrace the initiative will cause stagnation in the conversation if he/she stops tweeting or only tweets sporadically.
- Draft tweets are your best friend. Although anything can happen during a live performance, drafting tweets in advance can save a lot of time and thumb power. If there is historical importance to a piece, an interesting fact about the first performance, or some biographical information that makes something stand out, draft a tweet about it prior to the event so that you have it ready and waiting when the time arrives. These tweets can prove particularly helpful during the lull between pieces because they get the audience excited about what is about to happen.
- Don’t be afraid to use shout outs. We discovered that tweeters near and far enjoyed the idea of being able to congratulate soloists at the concerts. In preparation for the second and third concerts, I followed as many students on Twitter as I could so that we could give shout outs to them after solos. This meant that other tweet seat participants could do the same and it created a unique engagement opportunity for everyone involved.
- Give directions. On the back of our program, which is generally dedicated to promoting the next concert, we put the following information to help our tweet seat participants get the most out of the experience:
Join the online conversation!
Tweet Seats, seats where tweeting is encouraged during the performance, are available on the 2nd balcony (only) for those who would like to engage in an online discussion about the performance they are experiencing. Feel free to tweet reactions to the performance or ask questions.
Five tips for newcomers:
1. Please dim the backlight on your device to its lowest setting and set it to silent.
2. Check your privacy settings on Twitter, as an account set to private means that your tweets will not be seen.
3. Don’t forget to use the School of Music Twitter handle @CMUMusic AND the hashtag #CMUSchwarz.
4. For easier tweeting, copy and paste the hashtag to the clipboard on your device to ensure accuracy.
5. If you would like to follow the conversation, but not actively participate, visit: http://ow.ly/tyJj3
With the use of tweet seats among arts organizations still in its infancy, the verdict is out on just how successful they are in facilitating meaningful engagement. Of the lessons learned here, what seems most critical is maintaining thoughtful, lively dialogue before, during, and after the artistic experience. Tweeting pictures of rehearsals or interesting facts about the upcoming event are great ways to engage the audience before the event; this will also get them ready to tweet along during the event. Continuing the dialogue after the event can be challenging, but it is a great time to make sure that every question asked was answered and to thank everyone for joining in.
I am encouraged by the number of participants willing to give tweet seats a try. As with all things new, arts managers shouldn’t be afraid to try something that seems a little out of the ordinary, because it just might be the ticket to engaging your audience. If your organization decides to give tweet seats a try, make sure to let us know how it goes in the comment section below!