Understanding the Social Media Generation

Every show wants to become a social media phenomenon. It’s the quickest way to get marketing cut through and harness the great power behind word of mouth. In all fairness to the musical industry, they are trying. But unfortunately photo booths, cardboard cut-outs and picture screens aren’t an effective way to mobilise the social media generation who want to curate their experience. Dear Evan Hansen may have found a new opportunity . . .

Dear Evan Hansen

Social media is never going to be used at its full potential in the musical industry until those archaic ‘no mobiles’ rules are revoked. Why? Because the whole idea behind social media is to curate interesting, exciting and new content that will resonate with your followers. Taking photos with cardboard cut outs, in photo booths or in front of branded screens aren’t interesting, exciting or new, nor are they customisable to your audience – because we are all looking to generate content which gets more likes!

So are there any alternatives in the meantime?

Dear Evan Hansen is the latest show by one of New York’s biggest up-and-coming song writing team Pasek & Paul. Following the journey of a social outsider at school who gets the opportunity to become the centre of attention by telling a lie about an accident, this musical has been receiving rave reviews and an endless stream of sold out performances.

This song writing duo received their start within the musical community through the powerhouse of social media. They began at the time when YouTube launched, uploaded their interesting material and managed to create social buzz leading to a cult following before that was the go-to marketing strategy. So if any musical theatre creators are going to be able to utilise social media as a powerful promoter, it is probably these two. And that is exactly what they are endeavouring to do with Dear Evan Hansen.

The role of an audience in a show is fairly passive. In most cases they can’t interact with performers, change the direction of the show or influence the outcome. Immediately, this doesn’t lend itself well to the idea of curating your content for social media – especially when there are only a number of designated opportunities and pre-determined times to snap a photo in a theatre. But what if you gave them their own little message board?

The artwork for Dear Evan Hansen features the lead character whose arm is broken and placed in a cast. Most of the promotional material has something written on that cast, but not on the Playbill every member of the audience is handed as they enter the theatre. Audience members are encouraged – through the provision of a pen and brochure – to either sign their name or answer the show’s main question #whoisevanhansen by writing on the cast on the front of the Playbill and then uploading it to social media with this same hashtag.

Here is an opportunity for audiences to actually make their mark on the theatrical experience. They can customise this section of the show into something that their followers would respond to before sharing it at a convenient time and place – although they would probably prefer if you didn’t do it in the middle of the first act.

If you are trying to harness the power of social media, don’t start with the show. It is a mistake to start with what you want to appear in your audience’s posts. You need to start with your audience. What will they be looking to share? What would they consider shareworthy? And why, how and when will they want to engage?