Butts In Seats: 5 Tips for Event Marketing Using Social Media

Social media is an important piece of the event marketing puzzle.  Unlike most nonprofits that are marketing one product all year long (a charitable cause), a performing arts organization markets multiple different products (performances and events) throughout each season.  It can be challenging to market diverse offerings whilst still under the umbrella of one organization.   Let me share my top 5 tips to marketing events that will generate buzz and improve conversions.

1.Don’t forget about the 80/20 rule. This is a rule that I live by regarding social media marketing, whether it is when I’m marketing an event or not.  I find that the best ratio to keep people engaged but not tick them off is to have 80% engagement and 20% broadcasting.  Even when you have an event to market, talking 100% about that event is just going to turn people off and they aren’t going to listen to one word that you are saying.

2. Engage creatively. This one goes together with tip #1 about the 80/20 rule.   You may ask, why should I waste time tweeting or posting about stuff that has nothing to do with my event when I’m trying to sell tickets?  Well, that is pretty simple to answer.

If you are engaging with people, you will be top of mind so that when they do hear something about you or your event, they will remember the interaction and be much more likely to check it out.  A creative ways to sneak a bit of broadcasting into your engagement posts is to set up a search column in TweetDeck or HootSuite (or whatever program you are using to monitor your social media) with keywords related to your event.

For example, when Palm Beach Opera presents Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, I set up columns for not only the opera title, but also for related terms such as Puccini and Miss Saigon (which is based on the opera).  This way, I can converse with people who are talking about related things without directly “selling” my event to them.  This way, when you do send out those 20% of posts that are directly about the event, you have already engaged a potentially new group of people in addition to your existing fans.

3. Make sure your website is up to par. This may seem obvious but it is surprising how many times I see this not being done.  The best way to get the word out about your event is to have it prominently featured on the homepage of your website.  Also, the event should have its own dedicated page with a unique URL.  This URL is imperative to any promotion of the event online whether it is using social media or email.

When promoting an event using social media, add the URL to each broadcasting post.  Do you think the URL is too long?  Use a link shortener like bit.ly or goo.gl to make the link more manageable.  An added bonus to these shorteners is that you will be able to see how many people clicked on the link with their built in stats.

4. Make it easy to buy. A good user experience is very important in closing the deal with an attendee. The buying process should be as simple as possible.  You should always allow tickets to be purchased for your event online.

If you don’t have your own ticketing system or if this is an occasional event, try an online service like EventBrite.com or BrownPaperTickets.comthat creates an easy environment for ticket buying.  The biggest no-no is to promote an event online and then have the only way to buy tickets be over the phone.  You want to make sure that it only takes a couple of clicks between your tweet and buying a ticket.

5. Follow up after the event. Don’t forget to follow up with your attendees after the event in a timely manner.  Encourage people to share their thoughts about the event on your profiles.  If you offered social media discount and you are able to track ticket buyers with a code of some sort, send an email or a direct tweet to them just after the event with an easy way for them to provide feedback.

If you didn’t use a code, it is still a good idea to make contact with your ticket buyers right after the event to thank them for coming and ask for feedback.  Also, don’t forget to keep a separate list of the email addresses of your ticket buyers.  This will come in handy when the next event comes as you know they will be a captive audience.

Ceci Dadisman is the arts marketing go-to gal! She is the Director of Marketing & PR at Palm Beach Opera where, in addition to all of the usual marketing duties, she manages all aspects of the company’s technology and new media projects, including social media, website, iPhone app, and live web streaming.  During her time at Palm Beach Opera, she has brought Palm Beach Opera to the forefront of the social media and new technology realm proving that companies of all sizes and budgets can do great things in the world of digital marketing.  Ceci was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA – home to the Pittsburgh Steelers, sandwiches and salads with french fries on top, and some of the top arts organizations in the nation. She graduated from West Virginia University (let’s go Mountaineers!) with a music degree in vocal performance and is a professional singer.

Why bigger isn’t always better

If you are an arts organization that has a budget of less than $500,000 (or even less than $1 million) and you need marketing help don’t immediately think that you need to hire a big marketing firm or ad agency to get your marketing off on the right foot.

Here are a few tips and things to consider for small or emerging arts organizations looking to hire outside marketing help to revamp or set up their marketing:

1.  Be Prepared

No matter what stage of the game your organization is in, whether it is a new organization or an existing one, identify the key goals you would like to accomplish.  This doesn’t just mean “We want to sell more tickets and get more donations.”  Those are goals that every arts organization on the planet has.  Think a bit more specifically on how you want to get to those broad, overarching goals.

A great place to start is to identify the things that aren’t working.  Perhaps you have a website that you can’t update easily or it is outdated, you want to start selling tickets online, you need a fresh look for your logo or collateral materials, or maybe you are a new organization and need to get a solid foundation built in the right way.

Having some specific things in mind will help any potential firm or consultant zero in on exactly what you need and determine whether or not they can help you achieve those goals.

2. Search Wisely

Marketing for an arts nonprofit is very different from marketing a for-profit company and even a non-arts nonprofit.  Just because a consultant has done marketing for nonprofits before doesn’t always mean that they are adept at navigating the idiosyncrasies of an arts organization.  The same goes for a consultant who has never done marketing for nonprofits at all.  That does not mean that there are not marketers out there who can adapt very easily from one sector to the other but it is always a good idea to start with people who have experience in arts marketing before.

Also, when meeting with prospective consultants or firms, be very forthcoming about your budget.  If you can only spend $5,000 for marketing for your entire season, they will need to know that right off the bat.  There are some firms that only deal with accounts of over a certain dollar amount and there is no use getting further into talks with someone that fundamentally won’t work out.

If the consultant or firm says that they will work with small budgets, be sure to ask them what other clients they currently have or have had in the past with similar budgetary restrictions.  What types of grass-roots marketing have they done in the past?  How were they able to achieve maximum results for minimum dollars?

One last note:  Be very wary of large firms that offer to work with you free of charge.  This is very suspicious and I’ve never seen it end well.

3.  Sometimes you get what you pay for

And sometimes you don’t.  Us nonprofit-minded folks like to try and think creatively to see what we can get for free.  Free can be very good but it can also be very bad.  If you know you desperately need to re-vamp your website, 9 times out of 10 hiring your Co-Founder/Artistic Director’s 16-year-old nephew (or your 2nd violinist’s wife or your board president’s neighbor) to do it pro bono is not the right choice.  I can tell you this with almost 100% certainty:  you will not get a sleek, professional looking website that can sell tickets and process online donations built in a timely fashion that you can easily update yourself without any knowledge of HTML.  (And just for the record: Yes, every size organization can have and should have a website that is all of those things and you don’t have to spend even $1,000 to get it.)

That said, there are some things that you can certainly get for free that can be very beneficial to your organization.  You can have friends, family, and other interested parties help with supplementing your social media or serve as brand ambassadors for your organization to spread the word.  (Notice I used the word “supplement.”  This is very important.  Your marketing professional be the #1 person in charge of your social media plan and strategy as well as overseeing all those who tweet and post on behalf of the organization.) If you know of someone who likes to blog, get them on board as a guest blogger on your site to keep the content fresh.  If you sell your own program ads, send supporters out there to help you make contacts in the community with potential advertisers.

All of the things that go into marketing an arts organization (whether they cost a pretty penny or won’t cost you a dime) have to be orchestrated by someone, though. This is where your consultant or firm comes in.  Things tend to work out much better when you have a qualified person managing all of this who knows what they are doing. 🙂


For all the marketing data nerds out there…

Here is an awesome presentation by HubSpot with a ton of great data that you can use in your own presentations (or budget meeting pleas to upper management):

Group Buying Survey

Be sure to take the new Technology in the Arts group buying survey if you have used one of these sites!

I’m so interested in seeing the data that comes out of this…

Group Buying: Does it work for arts .orgs?

Everyone is hearing a lot about group buying sites lately such as Groupon and Living Social.  (There are tons of others, but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on those two because they are the biggest and most well-known.)  Arts organizations are getting curious to see if it could be a good thing but cautious as to if it will really work.  The answer to that question is a resounding “yes” if it is done correctly.  Before putting an offer on one of these sites, there are a few things that you must remember:

1.  The purpose of putting out an offer for an arts organization is to move inventory that would not sell otherwise.  This might seem elementary but we must keep this top of mind when choosing the performance, seating section, and price for the offer.

2.  Remember who the offer will be sent to.  These people most likely do not already come to your performances.  Choose your repertoire for the offer with that in mind not only so that you can sell more of the tickets but also so that those people that are having their first experience with your organization will have a good time and want to go back.

3.  Price the offer right.  As said above, most of the people purchasing your offer will probably have not been to your theater before.  Even if you are discounting a ticket that would regularly be $150 down to $80 that is still too expensive for someone who is not yet invested in your product and doesn’t share the same view of its value in the marketplace.  I recommend going no higher than the price point of $40 with something more like $20 – $30 being optimal.

My one beef with these sites that has come out of my dealings with them thus far is the amount of inventory that they want.  If they want to continue to be able to offer performances along with cupcakes, pole dancing classes, and spa services, they need to realize that arts organizations are dealing with a limited amount of inventory to start out with.  There are only so many seats in a theater.  Once those seats are filled, we can’t magically add more.  Even an opera company that performs in a 2,000 seat theater can probably only offer 200 – 400 seats per run of a show because of subscription and single ticket sales.

In short, unless you are selling out 100% of your performances, there will always be inventory for these types of deals.  Personally, I would rather get a person into the theater at a $20 price than have the seat go empty or give it away for free.

Mobile Ticketing

I just saw this article on Mashable.com about a new ticket service that uses QR codes for tickets:

In today’s digital world, most of us would prefer paper tickets to go the way of the dodo, if only because they’re a pain to print and easy to lose. MogoTix, a brand new mobile ticketing service, is doing its part to make paper tickets vanish by offering event organizers an easy way to create and distribute mobile tickets as QR codes.

MogoTix makes a platform that event organizers can use to publish event websites, and sell and distribute the QR code mobile tickets.  READ FULL ARTICLE…

Would you be interested in handling your tickets in a paperless way such as QR codes?  Is there anyone who already on the way to being paperless?


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New Technology

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Ticketing & Group Sales

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