Guide | How to build and maintain your online community

Digital and social media tips for touring companies

Touring companies are presented with a particular challenge when it comes to marketing and communications. The intermittent nature of the contact with the audience can make it difficult to build and develop an ongoing consistent relationship. In addition, it can be tricky to have enough that is relevant to say in between productions or tours. And often, financial constraints compound the issue with little or no budgets for marketing material to be produced.

Against this background digital and social media becomes particularly valuable as a way to extend the reach of your other marketing activity and to build loyalty and interest outside of specific performances.

Website fundamentals

Your website should be the starting point for your digital activity. Regardless of the simplicity or complexity of your website, it is vital that it conveys the personality of the company. Carefully consider the language used in the website copy, you want to draw people in, to encourage them to explore the site and find out more. If possible, have a professional copywriter work with you to develop a clear tone-of-voice. The visual appeal of the site is likely to be important too and video can also be a great way to engage visitors to the site and help you to showcase your particular style.

Of course there’s no point having a website if people can’t find it; ensuring your website is optimised for search engines (so that you appear high up in search results for relevant words and phrases) is vital. If you’re unable, for budget reasons, to work with an SEO (search engine optimisation) specialist, the easiest part to focus on, without any specific SEO knowledge, is ensuring that relevant keywords are included in your copy and that other websites are linking to yours. So ask venues and any other relevant organisations or partners if they’d be willing to include a link from their site to yours. Maintaining a blog can also be great for SEO since it provides more opportunities for incoming links, to your blog posts, plus it means a continual supply of fresh content for the site, which search engines generally favour. A regularly updated and well-written blog is not only good for SEO purposes, it’s also a brilliant way to generate interest in your latest show and it provides content for you to share within other social media channels.

The most interesting and effective blogs, in the arts and cultural sector, provide added detail and offer readers a way to really get to know the personalities, day-to-day happenings and stories within the company. Some companies will blog about the production process of a show, including rehearsals and behind the scenes information. New blog posts also provide people with a reason to return to a website and can result in interaction and engagement in the comments section. Whatever the content and structure of your website, you should always consider what else you’d like your website to achieve. Make it very easy for people to sign up to your email newsletter and provide prompts throughout the site to encourage them to do so. Consider adding social plugins, so that if you have a Facebook page or a twitter account people can follow there and then, rather than having to leave your site to do so.

Top Tips

1. Once you have your website strategy sorted, give some thought to what other digital activity you could undertake to help raise awareness, drive traffic to your website and build relationships. It’s clear that social media platforms can be fantastic tools to help you communicate directly with your audiences but there are some key things to consider:

2. Do you have the resource to maintain the profiles or accounts that you set up? Keeping them regularly updated is vital and it can be time consuming. It’s not generally a good idea to try and shortcut the process either by posting exactly the same content to say, Twitter and Facebook, since they work in completely different ways and it’s unlikely to result in engagement. It’s better to concentrate on one platform and do it really well than open accounts on multiple social networks, spread yourself too thinly and end up not gaining any traction on any of them.

3. Your third major consideration is content; what are you going to tweet or post to Facebook and your other social accounts? Where will it come from? Spend some time thinking of all the opportunities there may be within the organisation to create interesting content. Some of it may be about your company and some about specific shows. For example rehearsal photos, short Q&A audio interviews with the actors or director, snippets of video that give a glimpse into the ‘personality’ of your company, all these things will help to catch people’s attention and if done well, act as talking points to help start online conversations.

4. If your content is inspiring or intriguing, funny or endearing, it’s much more likely to be shared by others. Apps such as Vine, which you use to capture and share 6 seconds of video, can be fantastic tools to help you quickly create content on the go. Experiment and try out different things but be aware that you have to be generating new and fresh content in order to remain current in peoples’ minds.

5. With all content, whether for social media platforms, your website or email newsletters, think carefully about the audience; who are they? What do they like and enjoy? What is likely to appeal to them? Although digital channels and social media can be great for marketing, if you’re constantly seen as trying to sell something, people will switch off.

6. Finally, where possible, with all your activity, try to think in an integrated way. Social media can drive traffic to your website, you can then encourage those visitors to sign up to your email newsletter, through which you can keep in direct contact with them. If nothing else, make it easy for people to find you and keep them entertained once they have.

Case study

The additional challenge for touring companies can be the long gaps between communications with audiences when a company is between shows. The more you are absent, the harder it can be to regain their attention. The Children’s Festival JustSoFestival only happens once a year so the organisers have a huge challenge to keep their audience engaged so that they’re not having to build an audience from scratch each year (and in order to encourage early bird ticket sales). It’s for this reason that they do two different versions of an email newsletter. They have a festival newsletter through which they share information about their latest programming, ticketing or other event news but they also send out a separate newsletter “Tales from the Wild” which highlights stories, events, news or products that they come across that they think will be of interest to their audience and community. In this way they are creating a reason to keep in touch with their customers throughout the year, even when the festival is months away.

Audiences on Tour

Our Toolkit is designed to establish what is collaborative good practice in audience development and collaboration for touring work. It suggests where effort should be placed to understand and engage audiences and includes sections on:

  • building relationships between venues and companies
  • defining shared audience development objectives
  • practical ways of collecting evidence to help achieve these objectives
  • applying the evidence to deliver effective marketing and audience development
  • reporting on effectiveness.

Within Audience Finder there is additional information and case studies to help touring organisations and venues engage with the public more effectively and make the most of the evidence this generates.