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Theatre Thought: Ten common mistakes that arts organisations make when using Twitter

Posted on 05 July 2012 by Jake Orr

Here is a little large round up of the most common mistakes made by arts organisations, individuals and companies when using Twitter. Feel free to add your own in the comments afterwards, and if you want the roundup of points, skip to the bottom.

1. Re-Tweeting praise

- Have praise for your work? Storify it.

We all like praise of our work, but we don’t like someone shouting out that praise all the time. Re-tweeting praise from Twitter users about your shows, event or general engagement might be tempting, but it just looks like you’re boasting. If you want your followers to see what other people are saying about you, create a Storify collating all those tweets about reviews or comments, and then send out the link to your followers. One tweet, no hassle, happy followers.

An example of too much re-tweeting praise:



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2. Mention someone

- Want everyone to see your tweet to/about someone? Stick a dot in front of their Twitter handle e.g. .@ayoungertheatre Hi!

This really is a technical mistake that far too many people just don’t realise, and keep doing. The difference between mentioning someone in a conversational manner, and wanting to mention someone to your followers. We all know that by putting a Twitter handle at the beginning of a tweet you’re directing a tweet to them, but so many people also do this when they’re talking about someone and want to share it with all their followers. By mentioning someone at the beginning of a tweet only those who follow both Twitter users will see the tweet. If you want everyone to see the tweet you must put something at the start of the tweet to break this. Something as simple as a dot or dash will work fine, and then everyone will see what you’re saying about that person. Examples below:

Here you can see the Finborough Theatre mentioning one of our reviews, but only their followers who follow both @finborough and @ayoungertheatre will see this tweet. Much better to have everyone be able to see this if it’s promoting a good review:

Here is how they should have done it such as Barbican Centre demonstrates. By putting a dot in front of @back2blackfest everyone will be able to see the tweet:



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3. Hashtags

- Only use hashtags for events lasting more than a week. Make it unique and brief.

Everyone is on the hashtag bandwagon, but are we using them correctly? A hashtag is denoted by the use of, you guessed it, a hashtag # to tag a tweet with a certain topic, or for tagging shows. The mistake is using a hashtag when there really is no need to. If you have a show that is lasting months then using a hashtag is a good idea to keep track of show tweets, and to give your followers a chance to engage with it. If your show or event is on for less than a week then there really is no point in using a hashtag, it’s too short a time for engagement, and your followers are less likely to know what it means.

If you are using a hashtag make sure it is unique, makes sense, and doesn’t fill up most of the tweet. An example of a bad hashtag below, it’s far too long and for a show that is on for less than a week:

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4. Show specific Twitter accounts

- Don’t create show specific Twitter accounts, use personal or production companies to build longer lasting audiences

With the Edinburgh Fringe around the corner I’m seeing a plethora of new Twitter accounts for shows. I loathe Twitter accounts that are purely for a show UNLESS it is a huge commercial one on the West End or touring internationally. Why? It’s all about engagement. Creating a show specific Twitter account might be your way of building an online audience, but how do you a) keep those followers after it’s ended, b) get active followers in the first place and c) seem like a human and not just a show? With difficulty.

If you are thinking about setting up a Twitter account for a new show, why not create a personal one that builds an active audience through personal tweets rather than show specific? If you don’t want that responsibility then create a production company account, at least this will have life beyond a show.

Below are just two examples of show specific accounts. In both cases, the shows are running for 5 nights… why would you follow them?


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5. Pls RT

- If your tweet is good enough it will get RT’ed, don’t force it.

Twitter is all about connections, and networks. By putting a tweet out it should filter out through your networks and reach potential new audiences in an organic manner when it is re-tweeted. You should never force tweets. If your tweet is good enough your follows will re-tweet it for you. Don’t beg for a re-tweet.

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6. Communication Within

- Communication between departments is key. Breaking news on Twitter isn’t always good.

This really is a simple one, but we hear about this more and more, a lack of communication between departments or people. If you’ve got big news, perhaps you’re announcing a new show, or just have something to communicate to your audience make sure that it is ready for an online audience. We’ve seen press announcements made via Twitter before press releases are sent, we’ve even seen closure of whole shows announced on Twitter before the cast even knew.

I never thought I’d say this but there is a time and place for Twitter, are you sure that tweet is of the right time?

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7. Creative flair/voice

- Don’t forget the creativity within the organisation. How does this transcend to Twitter?

I have spoken about the need for stories and creativity on our Twitter accounts. Perhaps we’re past this as audiences see Twitter for theatre as a marketing tool they are actively plugging into, but we shouldn’t forget about our organisations creativity. Bring a certain Twitter voice to your organisation that is personal, professional but creative. Think creative with your tweets, tell stories, anecdotes and feed off the creativity of your stages. Failing that, at least try to be human.

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8. Book Tickets Now!

- Twitter doesn’t sell tickets unless you have a star name. We won’t buy tickets when you tell us.

Most theatre Twitter accounts are in the hands of the marketing department whose job is to shift tickets at all times. This is fair enough but am I really going to follow the call to action to ‘book tickets now’ for something you’ve tweeted about? Unlikely. That is of course, unless you have a big star name, or is for a highly anticipated show, the sort of show that will sell out within minutes of going on sale. Only then do you have a valid enough call to action, otherwise try different approaches to get your audiences to buy tickets such as email campaigns and online advertising.

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9. Scheduling Tweets

- If scheduling tweets be careful what message you’re promoting. Open 24/7 or clashing with other tweets?

A common trick of the trade is to schedule tweets to ensure that you’re being an active Twitter user. There are many tools to do this such as Hoot Suite and Tweet Deck. This is great for when you’re not in the office or have something that needs announcing at a specific time (maybe tickets for a new show go on sale at 00.01 on the day?). The problem with this is simple, if Twitter is about communication and engagement and you’re scheduling tweets for ‘out of office hours’ what happens when someone replies asking a question? Your active account is not replying despite a tweet being sent.

This argument can go further. Scheduling tweets for different times of the day might engage those you don’t normally during working hours, but can it promote the wrong message, that you are available at any time of the day? Or that you’re scheduling tweets in the first place. There is a thin line between being a human and a robot.

Lastly, if more than one of you uses a Twitter account be sure that you know when tweets are scheduled. Nothing worse than several tweets about different topics at once.

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10. Links

- Linking to your website or content? Get the link right!

Driving people to your website and content is one of the most important elements when using Twitter (aside from engagement and communication). Ensure you are getting your links right. Many organisations forget to put spaces between their tweet content and their link making the link unusable. Others forget links altogether, or use the wrong ones. The worst is when tweets link through to a Facebook account because they’re on automatic link-up. Remember the purpose of Twitter, and use a service like bit.ly to shorten them (whilst watching stats). If you’re really up to speed on online engagement you’ll include meta data in your links so you can follow users through your website.

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10 Common Mistakes With Arts Organisations Using Twitter- Roundup

1. Don’t re-tweet all your praise. Storify it.
2. If you want to mention someone and let that followers you to see it, remember to stick a dot in front of the @user
3. Hashtags work best for long events. Make sure it is unique and short (and understandable!)
4. Don’t create show specific accounts. Better to come from a persona/production company to build a sustainable online audience.
5. Begging for a re-tweet. If your tweet is good enough it will get re-tweets without you needing to push it.
6. Communicate with departments when announcing things on Twitter. Don’t cause clashes.
7. Always remember the creativity within your work, this should extend to Twitter too.
8. That dreaded phrase “Book Tickets Now”. It’s a weak call to action and we won’t buy tickets.
9. Scheduling tweets might mean your followers will expect a reply outside of working hours.
10. Always check your link works before putting it into a tweet.

Have more common mistakes? Leave a comment below.

Jake Orr

Jake Orr

Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.

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Arts Organisations and Twitter: Telling the stories

Posted on 23 November 2011 by Jake Orr

The below speech was given at the Arts Marketing Association’s Tweet Meet on Wednesday 23 November 2011, by A Younger Theatre’s Founder and Editor Jake Orr.

When I joined Twitter two or so years ago, I had no idea that this platform would somehow propel me into an industry that I loved and dreamed to be part of. I had no idea that several years down the line I would be giving workshops, presentations or participating in heated discussions around the use of Twitter for theatre or arts organisations.

Just like the growth of computers, technology and the internet, Twitter has become a part of the ‘norm’ for me, an inherent part of my everyday life. Can I imagine a day without it? Well, yes. But can I imagine a world without the interconnecting lines of communication criss-crossing across the industry, across my digitalsphere and across the world at large? No.

When I think back to those first moments of me connecting and engaging on Twitter I feel somewhat like I should be reminiscing on good times gone by. A time when no one knew what Twitter could do, how it would shape our lives or give us enhanced connectivity. Twitter was a place of constant evolution, from week to week you didn’t know what settings would be changed, or what new famous person would jump on the bandwagon. But equally you didn’t know who would connect with you, what conversations would begin, and how this tool would affect you as a person.

I long for those days again.
I long for freshness, and excitement.
I long for the unknown, the uncharted digital Twitter land.
I long for a time without marketing and sponsored content.
I long for experimentation.
I long for failure.
I long for creativity and spontaneity.
I long for connections of meaning.
I long for connections of unmeaning.
I long for stories.

Stories that can tell the world about the arts from inside an organisation.
Stories that begin to throw open the doors of our theatres to the process of making.
Stories that give our audiences an insight into the theatrical landscape we play with each day.
Stories that do away with marketing and show the real creativity that we have.

In each of our organisations or companies that we represent, there is a wealth of creativity that we engage with on a daily basis. The work we produce in rehearsal rooms is gradually, over time, placed upon our stages and shown to hungry audiences. These audiences feed and are nurtured from the stories we portray, they envelop themselves in the stories that we show, they immerse, revive, shed tears and grow with laughter.

As marketers, it is our duty to bring these stories out from our theatres into the audiences’ hands so that they can begin to feel the tangible strands of fragmented moments coming together. With the invisible needle and thread we sew together the work, the ideas and concepts of our directors and creators to that of the audience.

The wealth of creativity that we have to sew with is immense, and should be celebrated. We have some of the best creatives working in our buildings and organisations, and we are blessed to have the chance to work with them.

I long for the stories, this level of creativity and threads of communication between audience and organisation to be fed through Twitter just like our theatre work is fed through to our audiences. We have some of the best story makers in the country. We have to become those storytellers, to learn from the creators, to give over to the joy of storytelling to our audiences.

I’m not asking for our Twitter feeds to become abstract reflections upon the work that we produce, as some artistic experiment begins to alienate our audiences. I ask for the creativity that goes into the work of our pieces, of our stages to be fed back through our Twitter streams.

If marketing is not storytelling then I don’t know what it is.

Stories make up everything we do.

Let us return to a time on Twitter where the stories of who we are, what we believe in, and the magic of that thing that we all work towards – that electric excitement on the stage is back again.

Let us give back to our audiences the stories that they are promised when they buy a ticket.

Let us do away with tweets that have a marketing focus. Let us do away with the sell, sell, sell of social media. Let us be social, let us spread our stories from follower to follower, and allow the simple exchange of words to flow from our tweets.

I want to challenge arts organisations. I want to take over your streams and capture the hearts of your followers. I don’t want to sell tickets. I want to bring creativity to our audiences in a medium that we have tarnished with our blatant marketing.

Between the hours of 10am and 6pm, Twitter becomes a playground for the arts industry to promote itself in marketing tweets and social messages of boredom. What I want is a playground of storytelling from dawn to dusk. I want stories that weave between the creativity of our stages to our audiences. I want to feel the connections that I make with arts organisations on Twitter as real connections that bring me closer to understanding and engaging with the creative work that I see on the stage.

It’s not about giving our Twitter accounts just to the creatives – the directors, writers or designers in our organisations and telling them to ‘tell the stories’. It’s about marketing departments collaborating with them to embrace and thrive in the digital world, otherwise our branded social media will not reflect the true creativity we hold.

We work in the arts. We are artists. So why can’t Twitter be an art too? Why can’t we collaborate and dream the impossible for our 140 characters. Why can’t we tell a story? If Peter Brook said it takes one person walking across a stage in front of an audience to make theatre, then all we need is one imaginative tweet to a following list to create our own digital theatre. A theatre built on stories and creativity…

Please, please, tell me your stories… One tweet at a time.

Image by Tveskov

Jake Orr

Jake Orr

Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.

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Should Arts Organisations Use Twitter?

Posted on 05 May 2011 by Jake Orr

I’ve been using Twitter for the past two years, and as an individual it has offered a wealth of communication and interaction within the theatre industry. It’s connected me to those that I would have met somewhere along the line of communication between organisations, but its allowed it to happen now, instead of months later. It’s also allowed me to interact with those outside the theatre industry who are still just as obsessive about it as I am. It has connected me, it has engaged me, and it has empowered me.

I’ve recently been debating the potential power that Twitter has, or could have for arts organisations (I work for two, but these are my own thoughts). If truth be told, I am getting frustrated. Frustrated and furious. After two years of my own connection with Twitter there has been a steady increase in the number of arts organisations using it to promote their work and engage with their audiences. Whilst it is considered a must-have for organisations, you would have thought that some consideration would have gone into the management and engagement that Twitter offers. Clearly not. Twitter isn’t a complex beast that needs taming, it’s like a constantly-moving shoal of fish.

There is, however, a vast array of organisations which seem to feel that social media equates to marketing. They don’t swim with the shoal, they are the fishermen above casting their lines in an attempt to hook something. The problem comes when none of the fish want to be caught on a hook and dragged to the surface to land up on some fisherman’s dinner plate. Ok, time to drop the fish references, but it’s true: Twitter folk are those that are clearly connected to the world, they are a slight cut above your average audiences because they at least understand how the internet and engagement work on this social media platform. They can see a marketing tweet a mile off, and, quite frankly, none of us like it (unless you are actually offering free tickets, then you can tweet all you like).

A dialogue goes two ways

Twitter is part of ‘social media’, and organisations need to realise what these two words mean: social – the interaction of individuals or groups in a social manner, i.e., talking, engagement, and communication; media – through aspects of media based items, i.e., text, image, video, media devices and the internet. To put it simply, Twitter is a communication tool used to create dialogues. A dialogue or an engagement with your audience, and, most importantly, with your potential future audience. A dialogue goes two ways. It doesn’t involve a single wavelength of broadcasting which doesn’t get a response. Twitter is about the engagement, the communication, the interaction. So why do certain arts organisations seem to be on a mission to alienate their audience by getting them to plug in to a constant stream of marketing material?

It was recently suggested to me that Twitter should be taken out of the hands of marketing departments and placed within communication and outreach. At least these departments understand the two-way conversation that is needed to build trust, and encourage an audience into a seat. Dan Bye wrote a brilliant call to arms for theatres to challenge the way that they promote themselves on Twitter, to move away from marketing and use it more creatively. Dan wasn’t talking about the epic scale adventures of the Royal Opera House’s twitter opera, or The Royal Shakespeare Company’s ‘Such Tweet Sorrow’, he was referring to the everyday challenge that can be addressed with organisations seeking to use Twitter. He made it clear and simple: We’re fed up of marketing, give us something more creative.

I sometimes wish that I could reinvent Twitter and give everyone a chance to find something creative within the messages. If arts organisations can’t find the creativity within their online engagement, then should they even be pursuing it in the first place? Is there a need for organisations to use Twitter?
If you are a large organisation then I would say yes, because part of having Twitter is about having your brand in a popular medium (yes I am referring to a marketing idea here). For smaller organisations I would question why you want to use it. Is it because you see it as a current ‘here-and-now’ marketing device that everyone else is using? Or is it about building and engaging with your audience, actively promoting yourself as a small venue seeking to find your voice, and talking to newer audience?

Just stop using Twitter

Regardless of whether you are a large or a small organisation, I can’t help but to think that as the cultural sector we should be creative. Arts organisations each year put on cultural events that excite, engage and empower their audiences in the darkest of economic times. We’re a form of escapism, we’re a form of enlightenment, but we’re also a way of presenting the world in new formats. Why is it we can produce such outstanding work as venues/organisations and then produce such mind numbing marketing Twitter feeds?

Let’s stop. Just stop using Twitter for a week and think about what it offers as a form of communication. What does Twitter offer to our audiences that they can not get from us elsewhere? What is Twitter’s unique selling point? If you work for an organisation and you can’t think of anything beyond “I use twitter myself and I want to use it at work”, then I beg you to reconsider.

Twitter is communication. It’s about breaking down barriers, it’s about the immediate and it’s about the informal look at an organisation. If those of us working in the arts honestly can’t produce anything other than marketing material to promote our work then we shouldn’t be allowed Twitter.

Unless you are the National Theatre or the Royal Shakespeare Theatre you can not sell a ticket through Twitter – so stop trying to. Stop treating your followers as potential ticket buying people and start seeing them for who they are: passionate lovers of culture. Start offering them the exciting Twitter insights into your organisations.

Let’s do away with marketing, let’s move beyond strategies, let’s think creative and do what we do best. Creating damn good art – and let’s do this on Twitter. OK?

You can follow AYT on our Twitter account: @ayoungertheatre or our Editor Jake on his personal account: @jakeyoh

Jake Orr

Jake Orr

Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.

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A Tweet Too Much? National Theatre Twitter Muck-up

Posted on 25 August 2010 by Jake Orr

There is no denying that twitter is a powerful tool, and with such power comes a lot of responsibility. When operating social media tools for large companies or for that matter any company, the question of who you put in charge of the controls has be assessed. We bang on about how when using sites such as twitter we don’t want to plug into a direct line of marketing and instead want to hear a voice behind the tweets, a voice behind the company, and quite frankly a human voice not a marketing robot.

Yet with any human there comes mistakes, frustrations and an inevitable muck-up. It just couldn’t have come any worse for the National Theatre when clearly an employee in their digital marketing department let slip a rather frank and honest remark about an article which suggests the “National Theatre should have a Compulsory Demolition Order!” on the Evening Standard website (read the full article here).

Their response: Steve Norris is a giant…

Clearly someone has some explaining to do

The offensive tweet was quickly deleted from the NT’s feed, and some 50 minutes later, an apology was sent to it’s 9,878 followers stating that:

“Sincere apologies. The NT believes its account has been hacked. Earlier tweet in response to Standard article did not come from the NT.”

Regardless if the NT’s twitter was hacked into, or indeed an employee let slip some thoughts by mistake whilst thinking they were on their personal account, it calls to question just how safe organisations are from slip ups such as this. Earlier in the year we saw an outburst from the Southwark Playhouse twitter where the administrator admitted in a frank tweet that she had gotten fired. Of course the tweet was shortly deleted but not after it was passed around the twitter community… and indeed the tweeter in question still got fired.

Having a huge following as the National Theatre does mistakes come at a huge price, especially when using the language that appeared in the tweet – hacked into or not, someone tomorrow is going to be having some explaining to do.

Tips for keeping your twitter account secure:

1. Regularly change your password, using a combination of letters and numbers/symbols.
2. Limit the amount of people who have access to the account, especially employees who use personal accounts on twitter too.
3. Keep your passwords safely secure in an encrypted file when saving it on a computer.

Jake Orr

Jake Orr

Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.

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