In this next instalment in her series of hands-on articles, creative business consultant, Sinead Mac Manus, looks at the world’s largest social networking site, Facebook, to gauge its potential for theatre artists and companies.

Facebook Firsts

Social media blog ReadWriteWeb reported at the end of last year that Facebook recently reached 350 million users, 70% of whom are outside the US, and it accounts for 25% of the Web’s traffic – an astonishing statistic.

As the world’s fourth largest website, it is very likely that you are already a Facebook user, sharing status updates and photos with your online friends. According to the Facebook’s own statistics, over 50% of active users spend more than 55 minutes on the site every day. None of this will come as a surprise to the regular Facebook users among us.

Dig deeper into the statistics however, and some interesting trends start to emerge. There are 1.6 millions active Pages (see below) on the site including over 700,000 local businesses. These pages have generated 5.3 billion Fans. In addition, the average user is a member of 12 Groups. In this article, I will concentrate on how you can utilise Facebook to create Pages, Events and Groups for your business or creative projects and harness the power of the world’s largest social network.

How does it work?

Getting Started
Getting started on Facebook is as simple as creating a profile and uploading a picture. Search for friends and contacts using the Friend Finder and start to build your network. You can use Facebook to broadcast status updates (short entries that chronicle your daily activities), share and comment on photos, share web links, news stories and blog posts, comment on your friend’s ‘walls’ (digital noticeboard), or send them private messages.

But the power of Facebook goes beyond simply connecting with your friends. You can use the platform to organise Events for your performances and workshops, start a Group for your project or create a Page for your company.

Events are easy to create. Go to the toolbar at the bottom of your profile page and click on the Event button. Click on “Create an Event” and add the details (title, location and date). Here you can set the privacy levels for the event – Open, Closed or Secret. With an Open event anyone can access the event page, RSVP and invite others to the event, thereby extending the potential reach of the event beyond your own network of friends. Step two of the process involves adding a picture (if required), a description of the event and setting permissions. The final step allows you to invite all or some of your Facebook contacts as well as others by email.

Theatre company, Theatre in the Square, used Facebook’s event capabilities to promote their recent productions of The Dumb Waiter and Party Time, both by Harold Pinter at the United Reform Church in north London. Creating an event like this for a production allows you to keep track of who is attending your event and to message all attendees from Facebook instead of emailing them individually.

If you are hosting regular events, such as a theatre networking group or a series of workshops for example, or just want to create a community around a particular project, then starting a Group might be more suitable for your needs. Creating a group is easy with the button located in the Facebook toolbar. Fill in some information about the group and set permissions for members of the group and accessibility to its page (open, closed or secret). As with events, you can invite people to join your group by using your contacts or by email.

An example of a popular Facebook group is David Parrish’s T-Shirts and Suits (Creativity and Business) network. With over 3,600 members, this international group for creative entrepreneurs was set up to enable creative businesses and cultural organisations to share smart business ideas, solve problems, make useful contacts, and create partnerships. David uses the group to promote his regular Coffee Club networking events as well as providing a forum for members of the community to share news and advice, and to start blog discussions.

The Power of Facebook Pages
Moving beyond Events and Groups, Facebook Pages have become a powerful way for businesses to connect with their customers and audiences. Similar to a personal profile page, Facebook Pages allow you to create a branded profile for your business. Setting up a Page is as easy as setting up a personal profile but here you would use your company information and branding. Have a look at Soho Theatre’s page for a good example of a Page in action. Once your page is published, other Facebook users can become “fans” and interact and engage with your content. Soho Theatre has over 3,700 fans – a loyal and interested audience base that they can call on to promote their performances and events. Recent Wall posts from the theatre were offering free tickets for performances and showcasing video content from upcoming comedians (check out this hilarious viral video by Frisky and Mannish doing the Pussycat Dolls’ “Beep”).

Facebook Pages can be made even more useful for your company by integrating other applications developed by third parties. Search the directory for applications that can extend the functionality of your page. My suggested apps include Eventbrite which integrates the popular event management site, and NetworkedBlogs to publish your blog feed to your profile or page.

Making Facebook Work for You

Promotion is the key here. It is a waste of time starting a Facebook Group or Page and not actively promoting it. Put a link to the group/page in the signature of your email and add a Facebook button or link to your website. You can also create a Facebook Badge to insert into your website or blog which can showcase your profile picture, contact details and status updates and allow visitors to click through to your profile or Page. Facebook recently launched a new ‘Like’ button. You can embed the button on your blog or website and allow anyone with a Facebook account to link your content directly to their profile page at the click of a button!

As well as making use of your own network of contacts, ask your friends whether they might promote your group or event on their networks as well. Make the group active by adding events, photos, videos. Use the Share feature that appears on most blogs and social media sites to share new interesting content with your fans. Start discussions and comment on other’s postings. If the group becomes a ‘dead’ space with little or no activity then people will leave.

Facebook usage on mobile platforms is set to increase in 2010, with currently more than 65 million active users accessing Facebook through their mobile devices. With smartphone users on the rise, Facebook could be a smart choice to connect with your target audience.

Final Thoughts

While much of the activity on Facebook involves poking friends, tagging photos and for some, managing farms, it can become an important part of a social media strategy. One thing to be aware of is that Facebook was never meant to be used for business, it was set up as a photo sharing site for Harvard University students, so it’s important to acknowledge the limitations of the site. As with any social media platform, it also pays to be aware of your digital profile and perhaps keep personal social networking profiles and professional ones separate. At the very least, be careful who you accept as a friend on Facebook and make sure that your privacy settings (particularly for your photos) are at a level you feel comfortable with – this is important in light of the recent change in privacy settings.

What’s Next?

In the next article, I will look at the myriad of ways of sharing and published multimedia content including videos, audio and photos using sites such as YouTube, AudioBoo and Flickr.

11 Responses to “A Practical Guide to Theatre and the Web: Facebook”

  1. Offi


    Very good article summarizing the opportunities offered by Facebook.
    Attention to the choice between group or page: for example it's difficult to change a group page without losing a lot of fans.

  2. Angel recycling


    This really sums up the power of facebook. However, the driver here is the groups and ability to like! Not many facebook users are going to like a B2B service provider or a shop. However, a Charity, Arts and Media are all going to find this a very very powerful tool- possibly more so than Twitter, which to be honest with you is “self fulfilling” driven. Facebook's pages on the other hand can really allow you to market a product that people will want over and over again and I urge those marketing theatrical events to seriously consider this as an option. Being able to create a following online through Facebook will allow you to get a message out about a new show or event very very quickly. If followers are local, it could result in ticket sales in the first few hours, rather than first few days…….. It's instant marketing after all!

  3. Debo Nitro


    Informative article for the beginner. To add, You can also now create events from your fan page.

    Also, Facebook has some great analytical features where you can track interactions and reactions from your posts.

    A tricky point to overcome is to get people to join your groups/fan pages AND engage! Large, well known companies with lots of history and regular shows, like Soho Theatre, will find this easier than say a touring theatre company that creates 1 or two productions a year. In our experience, you need to experiment to find out what gets your friends/fans/group members engaged and roll with what does not just advertise your events..

    Finally, Facebook trends and social media are evolving and you have to keep up with them and update.

    Good luck to all

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    Facebook will be used more and more by companies to engage with their customers in 2011

  5. Dogs


    Facebook's pages on the other hand can really allow you to market a
    product that people will want over and over again and I urge those
    marketing theatrical events to seriously consider this as an option.

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    Great post, I don't think social media is being utilised to its maximum effect in shows and the theatre. Although saying that the last show I saw was a musical. 

  8. Jamie Honeybourne


    I used Facebook to advertise a fringe show I directed. It was a great way to build up and audience, and generate some buzz. Facebook has helped me to connect with tonnes of people in all different aspects of our industry and really makes me feel like a part of a bigger community, so even in those times when we feel a bit lonely and that nothing is going right, I can log in, find out whats going on with others in the business.

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