Monday, 14 June, 2010
Monday, 28 December, 2009
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by Michelle Lefevre
If you're a Facebook or Twitter user and you have started following organisations (dance companies, agencies, etc) then you may have noticed a number of "status" updates pushing performances and box office contacts for particular shows. These updates are obviously intended to generate ticket sales but do they and can they achieve that particular goal for the companies that use them?
Both Facebook and Twitter conduct the vast majority of their business, providing updates about the people you are following or your "friends", via a single column update list. The newest stuff comes in at the top and the older stuff gets pushed down until it eventually goes of the bottom of the page.
Even if you use a third party "client" to check updates (like Twitterific or Friend Feed) the method of displaying updates is the same. New stuff on top, old stuff on the bottom.
On either service the number of people you follow translates directly into the amount of information you will receive the next time you log in to that service.
For example: If you follow just 50 people/organisations on Twitter and each of those users makes just 10 updates per month (a conservative estimate at best) then you will have 500 messages from that service to read in a four week period. Following 500 people will result in a staggering 10,000 pieces of information coming your way.
Why would anybody be following that many people? It's hard to be certain of their motivations but I have seen Twitter users that follow thousands of people and it's usually to get people to follow them in return. If that's not the case then I can only imagine they have a lot of time on their hands and they never sleep.
Facebook is a bigger offender because it doesn't just keep you informed about status updates. So a hundred friends/organisations/pages/groups can result in literally hundreds of pieces of information coming back at you from news updates to photos and videos.
Combine Twitter and Facebook together and you've got yourself a huge pile of information to sift through and that's just from these two services.
Example time! Let's say your company is performing at Warwick Arts Centre in the West Midlands, a popular place for the touring dance company in the UK.
The company is performing for one night only, as most dance companies do, so you put out a Facebook update and a Twitter update a few days beforehand letting people know about the show.
Here's what has to happen to get one of your followers/fans through the door.
First of all they have to see the update. Taking the information above into account this particular follower is going to have to be a pretty light social networking user to even stand a chance of seeing your update. Either that or they check their updates so frequently they pick up on every little piece of information that comes their way. Since a typical dance audience is not comprised entirely of 14 year old girls this is unlikely.
Even if an individual is tracking a relatively small number of people via Twitter or Facebook and they are away from their computer or phone for just a few hours your message about your show is likely to get lost amidst a couple of dozen updates that will knock your information from that coveted top spot on their news feed.
Secondly this person has to be in the right geographic location to do something about coming to your performance. Here in TheLab™ we will travel, on special occasions, thousands of miles to catch a show. Your average Joe Public however probably won't travel too far outside their local area to get to a theatre.
According to those nice people at the Office of National Statistics there are 125,000 people (give or take a few) living in and around Warwick. How many of your followers do you think make Warwick their home?
Thirdly your fan needs to be in a position to actually attend if the above two factors fall into place. Are they doing something else, can they afford it, can they be bothered?
Statistical probability is not really our forte here but the chances of your message getting to the right person at the right time with that person being willing to act upon that information have got to be pretty small.
How many followers/fans your company has doesn't really matter either because the crucial point is how active your followers/fans are on these two particular services. The more active they are, the more information they have to process and the more likely it is that your message gets lost in the mix.
The opposite is also, bizarrely, true. If they are not very active then in all probability they will miss your update because they don't check their accounts on these services often enough.
You also run the risk of numbing your followers or fans with information that is not relevant to them. If they do notice your updates and those updates mean nothing to them at that time they might start hiding you (as you can do with Facebook) or simply pass your updates by should they ever see them on Twitter.
Other followers may start reposting your updates (using Re-Tweets on Twitter for example) but that will likely not help since the statistical probability problem mentioned above is only going to get worse.
As far as promoting individual shows is concerned it might be a good idea to just let the theatres themselves do that via their Twitter feed (if they have one) or Facebook fan page (ditto). You'd think that people would be smart enough to only follow theatre's they actually attend! Right?
Even then you run into the same problems mentioned above, the same problems that affect any other type of publicity.
How effective Twitter, Facebook and their ilk are as communication tools is debatable. Some logical thinking shows that for selling tickets they are probably completely useless simply because reaching the right people at the right time is a numbers game only the Lottery could be proud of.
The media and the blogs love to tell the stories of how many billions of messages are bouncing back and forth over social networking sites. Unfortunately the very things that make these services popular (free and easy to use) makes them almost completely useless. Too many people are talking and too few people are listening.