Friday 9 May 2014
Entering a new 21st century era at Westacre Theatre – to tweet or not to tweet…that is the question.
To say we had been ‘dragged’ into the 21st century here at the theatre, technically speaking, would be a considerable understatement – ‘forcibly wrenched’ would probably be more accurate. While it is true to say that the slings and arrows of outrageous Twitter and Facebook fortune are not for everyone, there is no denying that they are the communication methods of the future. Everyone’s doing it; theatres, cafes, galleries, groups, individuals, causes, political parties, not least our illustrious patron Mr Stephen Fry. Hadn’t we better get involved, we thought to ourselves? For many years our website had been fairly basic, functional but basic and it was badly in need of an overhaul. First things first, there is always the thorny issue of cost. We are a small organisation so every penny matters, but it became increasingly obvious that we needed a stronger presence online if we were going to attract new audiences, potential funders and start raising our profile. But what makes a good website? Colour, ease of use, good content and, so we have been told countless times, good images. This was going to be more difficult than we thought…
One of the first things we thought about when venturing into the world of social media was, aren’t our audiences a little too, shall we say, ‘mature’ for this tweeting and Facebook-ing lark? Yes, we have a lot of children and young people attending workshops and taking part in activities here but we can’t rely on them to single handedly boost our online profile. And, more importantly, do our audiences really want to interact with us in this way? We had these same thoughts about online booking, something which we had been resisting for about 10 years! As we hope you will agree, one of the very best things about Westacre Theatre is that, in addition to the high quality of productions and events we aim to maintain, the beauty of our surroundings and the uniqueness of our spaces, we know many of our audiences by their first names. We know where they like to sit, what they drink during the interval, where they travel from, how their families are, where they went on their holidays – and they know us by our first names, they take an interest in our lives and feel at home in the venue – many of our audience members are more like friends. This is something we are all incredibly proud of and we didn’t want our audiences to lose this feeling of intimacy and ownership over the venue. It is their space after all. But still we hoped that there would be a way for us to balance that friendly, approachable and first-name-terms feeling with the modern and digital mediums of communication we were keen to utilise. And so we began.
The Facebook page was set up and the Twitter account was activated. We were up and running! For a long time, they both remained static. We had our reasons, no doubt about that. First, we were moving offices into our new building. Then the summer season was very busy. Then the autumn season was very busy. Then, of course, let’s just get Christmas out of the way. You can see a pattern emerging. Then, suddenly, like a little ray of digital sunshine, we met Mel from Social Monkey who was hired to come and boost our online profile and give us a bit of social media training. Social Monkey is Mel’s own business and she more than knows here onions (bananas?!) when it comes to Twitter, Facebook, Google Analytics and all that jazz. After just a couple of sessions with her, our Twitter followers were nudging 100. A small landmark, sure, but a big deal for us! Well, excuse us for not knowing that it is good Twittiquette to follow people back who follow you. Or that you need to interact with people that retweet you or ‘like’ your page! Chuh, honestly!
Fast forward to May 2014 and our followers are 231, our Facebook ‘likes’ are 180 and we have just started a blog, for crying out loud! Not bad for a few months work. While some of us are retaining a healthy degree of cynicism, we are all on board with the overall plan. And while we are nowhere near Mr Fry’s 6.79m followers, we are well on our way. And you have to start somewhere. As another great British thespian once wrote “Nothing will come of nothing.”
King Lear. Act I, Sc I.