How to Use Video Effectively for Show Promotion

This post was written by Seena Hodges, Communications Manager at the Guthrie Theater.

Over the past few weeks I have read several blog posts, online articles, and the like on the subject of video usage and viewership statistics. Interestingly enough, all the authors have different opinions on how video should be used to promote and market products as well as create awareness. One author argued that short-form video is the future of marketing, while another offered that theatre companies should take a page from the film industry and make trailers for all their productions. One author even suggested that artists should use video to document the creation of their art, step by step. To protect the innocent, I am not citing the authors — but you get where I’m going.

With the virtual overflow of ideas, information, and best practices today, there is only one way for theatre companies to effectively use videos to promote their shows. The answer: the way that best benefits their brand and garners the best, measurable results.

I won’t be coy here. This blog post is an argument for tracking analytics. Analytics are a powerful tool when determining what activities or initiatives theatre companies should undertake. Analytics matter — they are the only clear way to gauge success.

Take a moment to answer these questions: What are your goals for your theatre company’s video content? Are your videos achieving the desired result? Of course there are differences between what happens at a small, start-up theatre company, a large regional theatre, and a long-running Broadway hit, but in every instance there should be an overall strategy with related, measurable goals.

Videos take time to produce, and analytics provide the only true knowledge to determine if all that work is achieving your company’s video goals. Whether you embed video into pages on your company’s website or upload them to social media platforms, analytics can help you identify whether the goals set for your company’s videos are being achieved. Is there a correlation between the length of the videos and the number of views? Are “talking head” videos more or less engaging than “behind the scenes” videos?

I work as the communications manager at the Guthrie Theater. I’m going to use my organization as an example.

Until last summer, our communications staff was producing a great deal of video content that was used on both our website and social media pages. The goal was to create awareness about our plays and events and generate excitement that would ultimately lead to ticket sales. As part of a larger initiative to determine the effectiveness of all our marketing channels, we conducted an in-depth review of video viewership statistics. What we found was that our online audience wasn’t really watching our videos. Once we did a deeper dive, we discovered that our Facebook page was getting higher engagement on just about every other type of content such as photos and links to feature articles and television appearances than it was for the videos (behind-the-scenes video content, show trailers, actor interviews, etc.).

Let’s take a look at Facebook for a moment. With all of the social network’s changing algorithms, it’s hard to keep up with what’s happening. With the advent of the EdgeRank system, or updates to Facebook’s news feed algorithm, businesses and organizations are “penalized” for unsuccessful posts. If you post content that gets fewer “likes” than normal, your subsequent posts will be made visible to a smaller number of viewers. What we realized was that our video content was receiving fewer views and likes, thus lowering our ranking.

Or just look at the numbers. We operate three theatre spaces in our building. Our Wurtele Thrust seats 1,100 patrons, our McGuire Proscenium seats 700 patrons, and our Dowling Studio space can accommodate up to 199 patrons (based on its configuration). So according to the math, during any given performance, if we played to 70% capacity, we would have 1,399 audience members in the building.

Let’s say we create a video that takes two hours to record, four hours to edit (this includes transferring the files to the computer and completing the edits), two days to get approvals and one day for re-edits and final approval. We upload the completed video to our YouTube page and receive 300 views in 30 days. The bottom line: This video has not helped much. Also, because we use Google Analytics, we were able to follow the purchase path and became aware that these video views were not translating into ticket sales. Even if the video gains traction and receives more views over time, it really only has a small window to make an impression. On average, our main-stage shows (in the thrust and the proscenium) have six weeks of performances.

So what did we do? We stopped making ancillary videos. We still make videos, but we spend a lot more time taking interesting photos and showing off some of the production assets like costume renderings, set models, and scene and prop shop items on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

So if you are wondering how to create videos that matter for your theatre company, here are a few ideas:

  1. Create a video strategy. What are the goals for your videos? Ticket sales? Brand awareness? Decide what the goals are and make a plan. It is important to note that your strategy can and should be flexible, but you need a starting point. You wouldn’t take a road trip without directions.
  2. Keep your videos short. If you really want a viewer to get the point, get to it. According to statistics compiled by the Associated Press in 2012, the average person’s attention span is eight seconds long—down from 12 seconds in 2000. Theatre company personnel may want to create entries that are short and engaging if they are to accommodate shorter attention spans.
  3. Give your online audience a little razzle-dazzle. Show them something they have never seen before. Better yet, let them tell you what they want to see. Use your social media channels to ask your followers what they would like to see in your videos. When soliciting advice, you can limit proposed options and include items that are easy to deliver.
  4. Steal. If there are other organizations that you think make great videos and their ideas align with your strategy, copy them.
  5. Most important, track your analytics. Most theatre companies have small staffs. In order to make sure that you are using your time most effectively, analytics can help. You will be less likely to repeat activities that require a significant amount of time but don’t deliver adequate results.
  6. React. Did you achieve success as outlined in your video strategy? Yes? No? Adapt based on the new information you have learned from your analytics.

The truth is, no one can tell you what will work for your organization, but tracking your analytics will give you a better idea of what has traction and what doesn’t. For short-staffed, time-strapped theatre companies, tracking analytics is ultimately a time-saver. Staff members won’t spend too much time on projects that yield few if any results. You are the captain of your destiny when it comes to using video to promote your shows, and tracking analytics is the only absolute way to determine if your company is headed in the right direction.

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