Why Social Media Campaigns Don't Always Lead to Ticket Sales
We've all been there: You see the craziest/most beautiful/oddest/wildest clip of a dance on Facebook and you simply have to see more.
But do you actually get yourself to the theater and sit through a 90-minute performance? The consensus, at this point, typically seems to be: No.
There is no clear correlation between a company's social media campaigns and how many seats they fill in the theater. That doesn't mean social media isn't, of course, vital. It simply means that "social media campaigns operating without other marketing campaigns don't cut it," says Rob Bailis, associate director of Cal Performances at UC Berkeley. "But campaigns without social media are far worse off."
Social Media Is Its Own Art Form
Part of the complication is that concert dance doesn't translate to video particularly well: "It harkens back to the problem dancemakers have had presenting themselves to funding bodies," Bailis explains. "They have to capture, in a three-minute clip, something cogent about their aesthetic intentions." A piece that builds over 60 or 90 minutes cannot possibly be grasped in 30 seconds. Nor do most dance companies have the tools one needs to create high-quality, commercial-grade video content.
Digital platforms being what they are, the question becomes: "How do you make something that is its own thing, that lives on its own platform?" says Brian Carbine, communications manager for L.A. Dance Project.
More and more artists are creating content meant exclusively for viral consumption: Think of Justin Peck and Robert Fairchild tap dancing through a New York City subway station, or Houston Ballet parodying "The Office" using characters from story ballets. These videos are not clips of performances, but short dance films that take on their own form and require a whole different set of skills to produce.
Another strategy dance companies use is posting behind-the-scenes footage, which gives audiences a thrilling sense of intimacy. "When I started with LADP, I wanted to emphasize process," Carbine explains. Along with rehearsal photos, many companies showcase class footage or video shot from the wings.
"Having a 360 on the work from inception to creation to performance is something social media does well," Bailis says. It also takes the pressure off those who feel intimidated by dance. "As an audience member, you can celebrate people doing something interesting in process as much as you can enjoy the finished dance."
What Actually Translates to Tickets
The presence of viral dance content in someone's personally tailored feed may not cause them to suddenly buy tickets to performances. But it can help make dance feel less unfamiliar, "causing us to think of movement as something we can relate to," says Bailis. "That does influence whether you'd imagine yourself at a dance show."
Part of an audience imagining themselves there, however, sometimes has little to do with their love of dance: It may have to do with someone else they love—or, more likely, an influencer—posting about dance.
Or it might have to do with boosting their own online presence. Via social media, people want to be seen in interesting places. They wonder, "Will I be able to capitalize on that performance with a visual for my social media?" (Think of all those shots of people posing with their Hamilton programs.) " 'Can I get a picture of me in that?' " says Bailis. "Or 'How is my presence at the performance valuable to my social media presence?' "
Still, it takes practice for new audiences to be ready to watch the most complex forms of concert dance, says Bailis. "You can condense a work into those short, beautiful moments online—but in the theater, the audience still has to absorb the rest of the piece. But if you can develop that concentration, dance can change people. It speaks to who we are at the deepest level of embodiment."
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What happens during a performance is the product of the painstaking process of realizing an artistic vision. Whether held beforehand, afterward, offsite or online, audience discussions tend not to be so preordained, easily thrown off track without a skilled moderator at the helm.
"I'm someone who dreaded talkbacks and Q&As," admits Bill Bragin, former director of public programming at Lincoln Center. "While I was in New York, a lot of the time it was just audience members trying to show off how smart they were."
These events present a pile of difficult questions: How much do you reveal about a piece before it's shown? How can a conversation designed to hit key points feel casual and spontaneous? How do you cater to the needs of diverse attendees, from novice dancegoers to lifelong fans to scholars and critics? And how do you avoid smothering dance with language, flattening all its complexity?
If you think becoming a trainee or apprentice is the only path to gaining experience in a dance company environment, think again.
The University of Arizona, located in the heart of Tucson, acclimates dancers to the pace and rigor of company life while offering all the academic opportunities of a globally-ranked university. If you're looking to get a head-start on your professional dance career—or to just have a college experience that balances company-level training and repertory with rigorous academics—the University of Arizona's undergraduate and graduate programs have myriad opportunites to offer:
Yes, we realize it's only August. But we can't help but to already be musing about all the incredible dance happenings of 2019.
We're getting ready for our annual Readers' Choice feature, and we want to hear from you about the shows you can't stop thinking about, the dance videos that blew your mind and the artists you discovered this year who everyone should know about.
I dance to encourage others. The longer I dance, the more I see that much of my real work is to speak life-giving words to my fellow artists. This is a multidimensionally grueling profession. I count it a privilege to remind my colleagues of how they are bringing beauty into the world through their craft. I recently noticed significant artistic growth in a fellow dancer, and when I verbalized what I saw, he beamed. The impact of positive feedback is deeper than we realize.