An Interview with Julie Stapf,at the Hartford Stage
Julie Stapf, Director of Marketing and Sales for the Hartford Stage Theatre describes her view of Social Networking like this.
“It’s a long term audience building project. It’s kind of like going to parties and networking with folks who are (demographically likely patrons), except doing it on the internet. You are going around and showing your face and saying ‘Hi’. It gives you the opportunity to make a connection with them and to tell them something about yourself. Hopefully by building this relationship you are then able to extend an invitation to them to come to the theatre.
These social networking accounts can’t be (must not be) static like our website. Our website, like most is used pretty much as a tool to buy tickets. We use Google Analytics, which shows that they come because they already know something about us, they know our web address like they know our phone number, and are coming to buy tickets. They don’t visit the history page, or the information about every play that’s been done since the beginning of time”.
The Facebook and Myspace sites will just sit there if you put them up and leave them as a static entity. You don’t get a lot of friends … you have to reach out. Making ‘friends’ is the first action step.
Our interns are going out there as “I am the Hartford Stage”. They are the face of the Hartford Stage, as is the Director, the Front of House Manager, the Group Sales Manager, and the usher that greets you. It’s the same when they go out on the Internet – they are the face of the institution. We feel so strongly about this idea that it has become the theme for all our new marketing materials this coming year.
The Hartford Stage, through its interns, identified Facebook networks and groups of people who expressed a particular interest in theater. These people were sent invitations for a special offer, and as a result we got over a hundred new friends. While it’s too early to translate this into tickets, it’s a powerful step in that direction.
Its pretty labor intensive. I see it as a long term audience building project – similar to group sales.”
In a recent conversation Ms. Stapf had with Donna Walker-Kuhne, author of Invitation to the Party, Donna said:
“In building a successful program, the common mistake that arts organizations make is thinking in too short a time period. They say, ‘Hey, I got a two year grant. I’m going to put together this program in two years. I’m going to hire somebody, etc. and within two years we’re going to be raking in the dough off of all our community outreach programs’. In practice, it just doesn’t happen, because two years isn’t enough time. Five years, in Donna’s mind, is the minimum commitment to building a really strong and successful social networking program. And while I don’t know that it will take 5 years, it is a long term investment in what is another layer of our marketing program.”
“It doesn’t replace our other activities, but represents another segment, and requires arts groups to be much more sophisticated in how we talk about segmenting. It’s not just about demographics, but also how they get information, how they consume news.”
One of the reasons Arts Institutions do not have an alignment around the value of some of these ideas – like social networking, is because of this short term focus.
“This has always been one of the burdens of marketing directors. We have lots of conversations about marketing best practices and putting things into place that are going to build us longer term as institutions. But short term when you sit down to do that budget it is so lean, and in non-profits in particular, you don’t have that R&D development. You literally get to these points where you say. “We could run a couple more radio spots, which I know are going to produce x amount of audience for me more or less, or I can take that money and invest it in social networking which right now is not bringing a lot of money in the door, but which is a significant, self sustaining, viral audience multiplier … down stream.”