Last week there was an article in the Boston Globe about tweet seats in the theater. Reaction was quick, and passionate. Rather than rehashing the conversation here, I want to make a case for not throwing the baby (social media) out with the bathwater. I am concerned that the backlash against tweet seats is giving people in our community the opportunity to dismiss all social media efforts, and that is a huge mistake.
Last fall Howard Sherman came to my arts management class to talk about organizational social media practices. Howard is the former Executive Director of the American Theatre Wing, is a blogger and very active on Twitter. (Another one of his Twitter relationships resulted in this conversation with critic Peter Marks “Theater Beyond Twitter”.) His Downstage Center podcasts were homework assignments for my class, and Howard and I “met” on Twitter.
In class Howard used an analogy that I want to share. He said (I am paraphrasing) that social media today is like television in 1949. Television was a fairly new medium, though not brand new. There were many naysayers who discounted the impact of the medium. Content was mostly recycled from other mediums. And while we now consider 1949 television quaint, those early adapters were pioneers. And the impact of television on our culture cannot be denied.
Social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Foursquare, Tumblr, etc.) is evolving, and best practices are still being figured out by everyone. But social media is not a marketing tool. It is a conversational tool. That is an important distinction, and the reason social media isn’t going away. Social media is a way for audiences and artists to have “conversations” with theater companies, and with each other. Using social media as a marketing billboard does not work–people turn it off. I argue that rather than social media (technology) disconnecting us, it has the power to connect us on a powerful level.
Our community has to be pioneers in these conversations. We are storytellers. Engaging with audiences is what we do. Let us figure out how best to use these platforms, rather than dismissing them all because of disdain for blue screens during performances. A disdain, by the way, that I share. But at the same time, I am a huge Twitter fan, and am grateful for the great conversations I am privy to every day.
There are many more conversations to be had about best practices for social media, and StageSource will be facilitating some of them in this new year. In the meantime, follow me and follow StageSource on Twitter. And if you want to find some great conversations about theater, search the hashtags #2amT (also a website with theater ideas that wake you up at 2am) and #newplay (especially since the Theater Commons, David Dower and Polly Carl are coming to town).
And let’s keep the baby in the tub.
Happy New Year.