All the World's a (Social) Stage

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Don't Hold Back Your Evangelists
Don't Hold Back Your Evangelists

Word of mouth has always played a leading role in marketers' productions, and when it comes to engaging consumers via social, marketers want anything but drama. Keeping the customer experience center stage, theater festival Stratford Festival worked with nonprofit strategic technology consulting firm Jacobson Consulting Applications (JCA) to launch the TN Social Ticketing app to drive customer insight, provide a way for customers to purchase tickets via Facebook, and maintain the sociability of attending the theater.

“Attending theater is a very social experience,” says Lisa Middleton, director of marketing and audience development of Stratford Festival. “Everything about it, from thinking about whom you're going to go with, [to] what day you're going to go, [and] what you're going to do around your theater visit in terms of dining or your weekend getaway. That piece of it is already social.”

JCA teamed up with seven organizations within the Tessitura Network (TN), a group comprising cultural centers including theaters, orchestras, festivals, and museums, to develop an app that continued the flow from social conversation to purchase without ever leaving Facebook. By downloading the app theatergoers can view Stratford's performances calendar, purchase tickets directly through Facebook, share their purchases, invite friends to attend, and even view where their friends are sitting, says Susan Hornung, JCA client services.

Middleton says that Stratford Festival, which operates four theaters in Ontario, Canada, officially launched the app with a push campaign January 3 of this year. Although customers could already buy tickets via the brand's mobile app, corporate site, call center, or box office, adding a social option provided customers with a familiar segway from engagement to transaction, Middleton says. She adds that the app eliminates the organizer and debt collector friend who always has to make the reservation and fork over the cash when booking a group event.

“In the past it always had been, ‘Let's have a conversation, get people talking about the shows, and get all that word of mouth and buzz building,' but then they had to go to our website to do the interaction,” Middleton says.

Although the app is fairly new to Stratford Festival, Middleton says it has succeeded in attracting previous and new patrons; in fact, 50% of the customers using the app are new to Stratford Festival. Middleton adds that the app has already generated about $165,000 worth of ticket sales and more than 3,600 downloads.

Middleton notes that maintaining a conversation with its customers has always been part of Stratford Festival's social strategy. For example, when the theater festival is in the production phase, it posts behind-the-scenes photos and videos to help generate buzz. In addition, Stratford Festival uses social as a customer service channel to answer customers' questions, such as where to park or dine before a show.

And while word of mouth is essential for any organization, Middleton argues it's especially important for theaters given a show's limited showing.

“Because a theater has a limited time to sell tickets, because our product ends, [word of mouth] is more important in that way than for Coca-Cola or Volkswagen,” Middleton says. “Coke is going to be around forever so its word of mouth can and brand can build over a substantial period of time. But theaters have six months, and in some cases, three or four months, to sell a show, and I need people to be talking about it right away.”

JCA's Hornung says the app collects Facebook users' basic information, such as name and email address, to hold tickets for purchasers. Companies using the app can also track Social Ticketing Facebook events.  However, if a consumer purchases a ticket, the billing and payment information goes directly to Stratford Festival, not Facebook. Hornung says the app also allows users to turn off certain settings, such as the option to keep their seating assignment private.

“We worked with our partners in development to identify the minimum permissions necessary for the functionality we felt patrons would want,” Hornung says.  “And we continue to have conversations about how to limit the amount of customer information the app needs to provide a great user experience.”

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