This is the seventh in a series of Audience Building articles, where I go into depth on the sticking points, the places where I see people take short cuts but are quite vital.
This is how to find and build new audiences, not just promoting without annoying your family and friends.
Although this particular post is geared towards live events, pairing your online or material work with live events must be part of your overall strategy.
One of my favorite ways to engage and assist new audiences attending an event is to act as concierge. There is nothing worse than showing up late, or not at all, because of confusion, or a question easily answered. Maybe worse is selling out in theory but ending up at 75% capacity, knowing you had turned away people on the phone who wanted tickets. Or as a patron, throwing away half a coffee because you didn’t realize they allow outside drinks. Or rushing through a meal because you didn’t know the event has a deal with a nearby restaurant. Or not showing up at all because you think people will dress formally to go to the event and you don’t have time to change. Or being stressed on the way there because the only number you have goes to voicemail and you forgot to check on parking nearby. Or turning around entirely because even though you’ll only be five minutes late, the tickets specify “No late seating,” and you don’t realize that means after the introductory speech.
Those are just six of the twenty questions that one patron had while on her way to visit 24th ST Theatre for the first time. Any one of them, she told me later, were enough worry that she may not have made it to the show. You know how she found the answers?
She asked me, in real time, over Twitter. This was her most convenient method of reaching me while in her car. I didn’t have to sweat over holding the house for this blogger who was traveling over 50 miles upon my invitation, because I knew exactly how she was progressing. She got all her questions answered in a timely manner and I even offered an alternate traffic route that got her to the show in time. The parking attendant saw her searching for a space and waved her down for the spot we’d reserved. I gave them water as they entered and she even knew she’d missed the first scene, so didn’t get upset in the lobby or wonder if it was worth it. Through research I knew she preferred coffee (just cream) and had it ready for her when she exited the theater.
She stayed for an hour after the show for a short tour and ended up writing an amazing review. At least one new family attended the very next weekend because of this patron’s Instagram pictures. Later that week, we spoke at length on how to attract more of the families in her community, including how she can help. She is also arranging for her son’s school to trek to our space for our field trip program.
I’m certain we’ll see her again, and she’ll share her experiences in person (word of mouth) and online (word of type).
At the time (in 2013), the theater also had this strange maps issue: even when someone types the correct address and zip code into an iPhone, it tries to take them twenty miles out of the way. Every single week we lost at least one person to this mix-up, and those were only people who admitted it. Luckily, one patron from xojane made a map to describe their folly:
With her permission, I posted the map every week in the places where our audience might look: their reminder email (sent one day before the event), Facebook event, twitter stream, “getting here” page on site as well as Pinterest board about our community and show-specific. I clarified the neighborhood in our profiles and publicized my personal check-in 90 minutes before the show to remind everyone of the location. Seeing somebody else’s mistake caused people to pay more attention than merely reading the information. Not everyone is looking at these places at the time when I post them. So I asked people their rituals and where do they turn for information when they need it on the road. When do they start planning their trip to the event?
Sometimes it’s easier to search a Facebook event, but sometimes I don’t even RSVP to events I attend. So I also always make sure to have the map and zip code clearly at the top of the organization page as well. It’s much simpler to view a twitter stream for helpful info than a website, even a mobile one. I check-in and post regularly because if the audience can actively see my own experience getting to the space, parking, taking the bus and enjoying local businesses, they understand details and expectations better. Once we integrated “what not to do” into our timelines, no one took the wrong directions unless they were walk-ups.
In short: Answer questions they don’t even know they’ll have until it’s too late. Remind them of running times. Tell your audience the name of your Box Office Manager so they feel more at home when they arrive. More importantly: invite them, do not berate them for making a mistake. Educate them in a fun way. You know how the space looks, how it feels, what to expect. The audience doesn’t. Help them out. Help them get there. Be available, be useful. Treat your social outlets as tools for customer service, not sales. Make it lively. Make it fun. Make every point of entry to your space the most true to your mission it can be. The experience of your event starts the moment you enter, or the minute you buy your ticket. Make your experience irresistible and accessible wherever people look. Be there for your audience. Ask their opinions, then adjust. Feeling like your opinion and experience is valued means they’ll return. And they’ll talk.