Mobilizing in a Minefield of Mobilization

by Morgan Allen

in Audience & Community Engagement,National Conference

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(This post is a part of the Audience Engagement blog salon curated by David J. Loehr for the 2013 TCG National Conference: Learn Do Teach in Dallas).

Last holiday season New Dramatists set out to mobilize a #NewPlayCrew. Are you a passionate supporter of new work? Raise your hand. Do you want to add your name to the rolls of a group that isn’t afraid to say it cares about generative artists and it’s willing to put it’s name on that imprimatur? Stand up and be counted. It won’t cost you a cent (unless you’re feeling spunky enough to throw five bucks at us). This ND-organized horde would then be supplied with insider info only available to the #NewPlayCrew.

Three people signed up (and I was one of them).

What did we do wrong? As a constant barrage of calls-to-action flood our social media streams with the tameness of a pent-up geyser, how do theater organizations break through? At ND, we live and breathe and work, surrounded by playwrights who live and breathe and work, through revision. Let’s devise the #NewPlayCrew revision together and perhaps we can all learn something.

Genesis of an Idea

For six decades years ND has practiced what Minneapolis’ Mixed Blood Theatre so eloquently calls Radical Hospitality for both audience and artist. For playwrights, we create an environment to experiment free from economic pressure. For audiences, we rarely transact in monetary terms. We sell no tickets, offer no season subscriptions or opening nights. You’ll never pay to attend anything in our building that isn’t an explicit fundraiser (even then, we only do two of those a year, one off-site). We’ve built a physical audience over sixty-four years of dedication to playwrights and a digital audience over the last two years through advocacy and information sharing. Come the 2012 holiday season, we were looking for a way to bring some of our digital audience further into the fold. We wanted to mobilize the highly motivated members of that community, to spur them into action as vociferous supporters of playwrights and to create an actionable network of new play lovers.

Does getting someone to sign-up for digital initiatives require immediate dividends or is identifying with a cross-section of like-minded users enough?

Packaging a Concept

This effort was to be social media, born and bred. The response to #2amt and #newplay on Twitter indicated to us that there was a growing force within the community that was attempting to satiate an appetite for everything those hashtags stand for: a creative commons; resource-sharing; centering conversation on the artist. How does one become a part of those communities? You jump into the conversation and you tag it. We hoped that if we provided an outlet for people to “tag themselves” as supporters of new plays – not just tag their contributions to an ongoing dialogue – people would participate.

We struggled with right off the bat with what to name our mobilized masses. Army was the first moniker mentioned and though it kept coming back into the discussion it just felt too militaristic for our purposes. Gang came with some negative connotations as well. I advocated for Mob– despite yet more negative associations – because I felt it was clear, concise and we might get some mileage out of a word play on flash mobs. Ultimately, Crew bubbled to the top as a label that left little room for offense while eliciting an aura of team building, hard work and inclusion.

What’s in a name? Do online audiences respond directly to phrases or the ideas behind them?

Next was messaging. How do we craft language that forces a click to a page with more language that engages a user enough to get another few clicks? In this instance, it was about quickly getting across the thrill that lies ahead from publicly declaring yourself part of a movement, while also imparting to the user that we, New Dramatists, are one of the drivers of said movement.

The formula:

ND’s relevancy + mission statement + call to action + final pitch = action (?)

The result:

The Big Reveal

Tweets and Facebook posts began on December 20, 2012 directing people to the page above:

Do you use social media analytics and metrics such as SocialBro or Tweriod to optimize the timing of your tweets?

We used the Twitter e-commerce client Chirpify to allow for users feeling generous to join the #NewPlayCrew and donate five bucks to ND simply by replying with the word “donate” to a tweet:

No takers (though I still believe there is tons of potential in Chirpify for theaters). There was, frankly, nada traction. Nary a retweet, barely a mention, certainly not a mobilization. We felt like we were playing by all the rules with the structure of the tweets – short and sweet; definitive; clear call-to-action, hashtag; link. We cajoled some interns and staff members to push the content out to their networks and then, finally, a little glimmer:

And there it ended. We didn’t even field a full crew for a proper row on the river.

When a digital initiative fails do you look towards the intended audience as the culprit – or towards your strategies?

Hindsight Is…

What hampered the effort and what should we do to address it for a reboot? Here are some of our thoughts:

Possible Obstacle

Revision Idea

Holiday season launch was lost in user travel, year-end fundraiser clutter

Better analyze the calendar, aim for summer launch/early fall launch

No quick sign-ups led to an almost immediate sense that the initiative was uninteresting

Contact key constituents and sign them up for the #NewPlayCrew ahead of re-launch.  Work with them to plan their participation in the re-launch to engage their networks in addition to our own

Unclear/vague what the benefits of joining the #NewPlayCrew were

As part of re-launch give “free” access to examples of information to be shared with those who join

No defined end to sign up period

Add a sense of urgency by only allowing sign-ups during designated periods/have a clear end date to relaunch “campaign”

No clear goal to shoot for

Explicitly talk about the aim to initially sign-up 100 people and keep the numbers updated/crowdsource the crew – give those signed up stakes to get the number to its goal

Too much emphasis on fundraising

Despite language that there was no cost to join, several tweets referenced fundraising – eliminate that – this is about gathering a crowd to begin a movement

Try Try Again

The Twitter dialogue around #newplay continues to grow in scope and numbers. #2amt consistently produces community-sourced nuggets of real insight. Sites like Kickstarter seem to be fueled by the notion that people want to associate with a crowd and back a winner. For these and other reasons, we feel like the core idea of #NewPlayCrew is sound but suspect our approach was flawed.

So, then:

• What have been your successes and failures in mobilizing virtual crowds?

• What have you learned that you can share with others?

• What are you must-have tools for managing your digital audience?

Let’s think outside the black box.


This blog salon is curated by David J. Loehr, the editor and artistic director of 2amt. For more posts and conversations surrounding audience & community engagement, and other ways of “thinking outside the black box”, visit the 2amt website, or engage on Twitter at #2amt and @2amt.

 


Morgan Allen is the Director of Finance and New Media at New Dramatists. He splits his brain down the middle every day in order to oversee the organizations’ day-to-day finance operations and new media projects. After leading the launch of New Dramatists new website in 2011, he has worked with the staff and resident playwright company on a number of new media initiatives including taking the admissions process paperless, creating a virtual engagement hub for the playwrights, building a viable social media presence. He interviews theater artists and creative types about the use of technology in their work and lives at morgandallen.com.

  • BohoCharles

    Morgan-
    I’d be interested to know what segment of your regularly engaged patrons are active on Twitter. Was this a Twitter-only initiative? I’ve found in my own work for several organizations that the segment of our audiences on Twitter are very small. Those that are on Twitter tend to be already-overstretched theatre professionals. So perhaps the crew you were looking for is out there, but the doorway you hoped to beckon them through was in a far corner of the digital landscape that they don’t know about.

    I think some of your reflections on the initiative are spot on. Did you not give people enough examples of what they could gain from joining? Or did the insider info that you were offering them amount to something that they were unwilling to trade their time for? Perhaps polling your audiences to find out what they want or need out of your organization first would help you to know what would better entice them.

  • http://newdramatists.org/ Morgan Allen

    Chuck! Hi. What is interesting about our Twitter followers in comparison to our physical audience (those who come here to read plays, see events, etc) is that there isn’t a huge amount of cross-over – surprisingly. We’ve found that the majority of our Twitter followers are – NOT surprisingly – playwrights, actors and artists spread all across the country. So this effort was aimed specifically at engaging those folks: our “virtual” audience. But you’re probably onto something with the already overstretched theatre professionals connotation.

    We did not give examples of the types of content we’d be passing on to members. Definitely need to do that. Seems obvious in hindsight, doesn’t it? We had hoped that the crew would help us curate the content, to be totally honest. What is it YOU want to see from us? Love the idea of polling the audience. Thanks!

  • BohoCharles

    Any time. Marketing, social media, and advertising design specifically for theatres is my specialty these days, and I’m always eager to help. Keep up the fine work, my friend!