Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s Lisa Middleton Explains the Intersection of Theater and Twitter

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Social Media Breakfast in the Kitchener-Waterloo technology hub of Canada, and the featured speaker was Lisa Middleton, the Director of Marketing & Audience Development with the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.  The festival has one of the most consistent and interesting social media applications I’ve seen in years, and it was great to hear where the initiatives came from and just how effective they have been for Stratford.

As a patron of Stratford (and a huge fan of their production of Twelfth Night), I’ve already had a great experience connecting with other Stratford theater-goers using Twitter and Facebook.  Stratford has a strong presence on both the networks, and Lisa revealed that their team has been monitoring both of those sites pretty much 24/7.  They try to respond to as many comments as possible and, in a very smart move, have built Twitter hashtags for each show they produce.  For instance, the Twelfth Night link I included above takes you to Twitter to look at all posts marked with #ssfTwelfth, which is the tag for people interested in Twelfth Night at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.  The second I’d walked out of the theater for that show, I was able to connect with a bunch of other attendees and gush alongside them.

Now that they’ve been working with those networks for a while, they’re getting the hang of which methods work best to engage customers.  They have included the ‘fan of the week’, which is a simple idea but works well.  The fan who posts the most interesting post/experience from the last week gets featured in the SSF “About Me” section, where they can show off to their friends that they’re connected with SSF.  Fun for the fan and great for SSF.  Another feature is Flashback Fridays, which is a post cherishing a historical actors.  They have also hired a videographer specifically to create backstage and behind the scenes videos that they post exclusively on the social networks and YouTube.

Speaking of YouTube, it was interesting to see that they consider YouTube an important part of their strategy, and handle it just like another social network.  This underscores my long-time opinion that YouTube needs to do more to improve their social layout, to make it easier for people to have discussions around a video.  When talking about something like Stratford, YouTube is the perfect place for fans to gather around and chat about a great moment or memory, because it’s augmented by a video. However, at this point, Facebook is just far easier, and that’s where people go to chat.

Lisa also included a few great numbers.

  • About 40% of tickets were purchased online last year, versus about 20% in the years before social media.
  • Facebook does about double the business that Twitter does right now
  • 70% of purchases online are in Canada.
  • 30,000 fans on Facebook, 6,000 Twitter Followers

Overall, this was a great opportunity to see a Canadian brand leveraging new social technology to generate a better conversation with clients.  Social media, as the ‘new big thing, often gets a bad rap as pointless or just a gimmick, but the truth is that it’s a tool that can help connect people with what they want, and in this case, Stratford customers have a much more holistic experience thanks to the services.  I know, because I’m one of the clients myself.

Finally, I must say thanks to James Howe from Communicate & Howe for putting on a great Social Media Breakfast, and for taking the photos used above.