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

Posted on 05 July 2012 Written by

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:


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:


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:


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?


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.



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 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.


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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9 Comments For This Post

  1. Eve Nicol Says:

    With No 2, Mentioning Someone, I would encourage people to be more creative in their sentence structure rather than just whacking a period at the start of your tweet. The Barbican example could read

    “Half an hour to go until @back2blackfest starts”

    I find stray punctuation messy and uses up a precious character. I tend to ignore tweets I see starting with a mention as at a glance it looks like the middle of a conversation I’m not part of rather than an opening for interaction.

  2. Bridget Says:

    I agree – personally I think it looks ugly and a little sometimes like you’re just having a conversation really loudly hoping everyone around you will hear… it’s one way, but not the only way.

    I also don’t agree about hashtags. Sometimes they can be most effective for a short event when lots of people are talking about one thing at once. Over a longer period they risk getting diluted unless lots of people are reliably going to be discussing the topic regularly, and it’s a very unique tag.

    Any thoughts on a convention though which might make talking about specific topics easier, just as the @name meaning tweets only appear to certain people if you’re directing it to them? For things like conferences where it’s really interesting to conduct a Twitter conversation during the day, and interesting for those not there who are interested to follow from afar, but risks being extremely annoying for everyone else as you keep tweeting about something they care little about. I’d really welcome say starting a tweet with a hashtag meaning it only appears if you search for that hashtag (I can’t swear this doesn’t happen actually, being a relative novice, but don’t think so). Or a reason FOR having twitter accounts for shows or events over a short period? Anyone else had that problem? I’m aware I’ve sometimes lost followers over it!

  3. Chantal Says:

    I’ve got two more common mistakes to add – a) using Twitter as an email substitute and b) spamming Twitter.

    Both are probably a legacy of Facebook – well, spamming certainly is – but it’s naive and unprofessional to assume that a tweet will suffice in lieu of an email, especially if it’s work-related, eg a review request. Someone who was doing this recently claimed she couldn’t find a contact email – she clearly didn’t notice the “Contact Us” page on the relevant website with all the key email addresses listed.

    Spamming should never be practised whether on Facebook or Twitter, but tweeting every one of your followers “Hey we’ve got a great show this weekend please come @name”, not only does it look extremely bad and offputting, but it’s only a matter of time till Twitter suspends your account for spamming. No matter how amazing etc your show is, it’s best to minimise the tweets about it, eg three times a day in order to catch the morning, afternoon and evening crowds, but any more than that is overselling and discouraging.

  4. Chantal Says:

    And one more to add (I feel like I’m getting carried away over here!) – and incidentally, connected to the show which was the source of the comments above.

    Don’t get personal: we know your show is wonderful and that you’ve put lots of hard work into it and of course everyone should see it. But not everyone can, or will, or will want to – and under no circumstances should people or organisations use Twitter to heckle people for choosing to skip your show. All the moral and professional reasons aside, it will make the person that much more unlikely to want to see any of your shows in future.

  5. Chris Shipman Says:

    Great article with some very worthwhile points. Perhaps as an industry we should recite this as a mantra each morning!

    I definitely agree with you about using Storify for audience reaction but would encourage those that do use it to try and give a representative reflection of audience views. If there are negative comments alongside the positive, I’d advocate including a few of these. Omitting for blanket praise for me (and I think for the online audience) dampens the experience of interaction and harms credibility. Including both praise and criticism can accentuate the positives.

  6. John B. Says:

    Great list! But I’m not sure I agree with #5…research shows that asking to be RT’d does significantly increase the odds of your tweets getting RT’d. I wouldn’t do it for every tweet I sent, but if I was specifically sending a “spread the word” tweet, I would probably go ahead and make the “official” ask.

  7. Katryn Says:

    Good tips and ideas, will definitely incorporate into my Twitter accounts.

    I disagree a bit with “don’t as for RTs”; we get significantly more RTs when the original tweet includes “please RT” or “help us spread the word” as it is a specific (and easily done) call to action for followers. But, I do think it has to be used sparingly and/or with specific purpose. Of course to each his own, and everyone should be testing what works for their followers.


  8. Sammie Says:

    I totally disagree with the first. As a potential audience member, there is no way I would ever click on a Storify link to read feedback about a show. Who’s got that kind of time? If I’m not already inclined to see it, I’m just not interested. On the other hand, I have sometimes been convinced to see a show I wasn’t initially inclined to see by reading reaction tweets from audience members. You can’t overwhelm your feed with them, obviously, but I think it’s worthwhile to include some of the best.

    Something I think should never be done is tweeting a link without giving any indication of what it’s about. No matter how “clever” PR professionals may think this is.

    I got this tweet today from an organiztion I support: “Please share with your friends and spread the word!”–followed by a link to their Facebook page. If I were to click that link (which I won’t–life’s too short), one of two things would happen: It would be about something I have no interest in, in which case I would be pissed; or it would be about something I am interested in, but I wouldn’t retweet it because it would put my followers in the position of not knowing what it’s about. If it was about something I really, really supported, I might retweet it after adding my own comment explaining what it’s about, but I would have to be highly motivated to do that because, again–life’s too short. And they should have done the work themselves!

    If they can’t be bothered to tell me what it’s about, I can’t be bothered to read it.

  9. Ricky Young Says:

    This is a great list especially for someone like me that’s relatively new to twitter. It’s great that the emphasis has been placed so much on engaging and communicating with people instead of becoming a digital billboard.

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