Building Community & Filling the Seats with #SocialMedia: Examining the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s Use of Twitter @stratfest #stratfest

    (Amanda Wilk is a former Research Assistant at the Social Media Lab and a recent MLIS graduate of the School of Information Management at Dalhousie University. This post is a summary of Amanda’s descriptive analysis of the Twitter interactions between the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and its patrons and supporters during the 2011 season. It is part of the series of posts designed to highlight some of the web tools that we are developing at the Social Media Lab and how they can be used for research.)

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    This spring I concluded a descriptive-study examining the use of online social media tools by theatrical organizations, in which I took a case study approach, exploring the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s use of Twitter. This study focused on examining this theatre festival’s use of Twitter in the development and maintenance of patron-organization relationships, and assessed ways in which community is or can be developed by theatrical organizations using this social networking site.

    I previously reported preliminary findings of this study in two earlier blog posts, and today will highlight key findings and recommendations that emerged from this research.

    Background 

    This study utilized Netlytic for data collection and analysis. Netlytic is a web-based system for automated text analysis and the discovery of social networks, and was used to collect and examine Twitter messages (tweets) made to or from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, or using Festival developed hashtags between May 16th and November 16th 2011. Over 22,000 messages were collected over this time period, and a number of visualizations were developed to analyze and interpret the content of these tweets.

    Results

    Based on the analysis of the collected Twitter messages, this study found that Twitter, as a communication medium can be a very effective tool to help theatres to foster a sense of community among theatre-supporters and fill the seats.

    Figure 1 Stratford Shakespeare Festival Twitter Network Visualizations 

    Network visualizations show the complex relationships and interconnections that exist between Twitter users. Figure 1 displays the Stratford Shakespeare Festival network visualizations at four points over the 2011 season: in early July, mid August, early October, and mid November. Each of the yellow dots on the visualizations represent a single Twitter user, and the black lines show the connections (through Twitter messages) between all of the users that have tweeted about the Stratford Festival over the course of the season.

    Figure 1 also shows that the Stratford Festival Twitter Network became denser and expanded over the course of the 2011 season, as more interrelations were formed between Tweeters. Additionally, in each of the network visualizations, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival Twitter account @stratfest was centrally located. This demonstrates that the Stratford Festival did well connecting with Tweeters that have tweeted about the Festival over the course of the entire season.

    Figure 2 Stratford Shakespeare Festival Twitter Messages Stacked Visualization

    The content and nature of the collected tweets were also examined using Netlytic. Figure 2 displays a stacked visualization showing the most used words by tweeters tweeting about the Festival over time.

    This visualization shows that a number of Stratford Festival performance-specific hashtags including: ssfsuperstar, ssftwelfth, ssftitus, and ssfgrapes were well utilized (i.e. popular). It was also determined that the most well utilized  hashtags (ssfsuperstar, ssftwelfth, ssfcamelot, and ssfgrapes) corresponded with specific  theatrical productions (Jesus Christ Superstar, Twelfth Night, and The Grapes of Wrath) that were highly acclaimed or performed well at the box office. This visualization also shows that more general-purpose hashtag was greatly under utilized.  For example, the  #stratfest hashtag was only used in 315 messages (Figure 3).

    Figure 3 Stratford Shakespeare Festival Hashtag Use by Frequency

    Based on my analysis of the content of the tweets and the networks that formed between the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and their supporters, I found that there is a strong sense of community among this group of tweeters. However, I also found that there are a number of ways in which the Festival could utilize this social networking tool to further develop patron-organization relationships and create a sense of community online. Recommendations that pertain to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival are outlined below.

    Recommendations

    1. The increased use and marketing of the hashtag  #stratfest would allow for more general communications to be consolidated into one easy to view Twitter message thread.

    A large number of conversations are taking place that relate to the Festival as a whole, but the hashtag #stratfest is not being used, and as a result these messages are harder to locate, and are less likely to be responded to by Festival staff or other interested patrons. Increased marketing, and greater use of the hashtag #stratfest would allow for a greater number of Stratford Shakespeare Festival conversations to be seen.

    2. The coordination and facilitation of conversations utilizing Stratford Shakespeare Festival hashtags.

    The Stratford Shakespeare Festival should consider fostering community based-conversations through the utilization the Festival’s hashtags. They could broadcast a Twitter community conversation schedule to the public, which would relay the times and dates, hashtags to use, and topics covered during the Twitter conversations.  The development of such events would allow for interactive and community-building conversations to take place between the Stratford Festival and its patrons, and among patrons themselves.

    3. The active involvement of actors, directors, and others employed by the Festival, would encourage further communication between the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and its patrons.

    Based on an analysis of collected Twitter messages, it is hypothesized that the use of Twitter by director, actors, and other Festival staff (stage managers, costume designers, etc.) resulted in a greater use of Twitter by Stratford Festival patrons. As a result, it is recommended that individuals employed by the Stratford Shakespeare Festival tweet about their involvement in productions both before and after they open.

    4. The implementation of a Stratford Shakespeare Festival Book Club, modeled after the #1B1T Twitter book club.

    Another way that the Stratford Shakespeare Festival could use Twitter to develop conversations that include large numbers of individuals, is by developing a Stratford Festival book club, centred around the productions being staged during a given season, and modeled after the #1B1T Twitter book club.  #1B1T, is a world wide book club run using Twitter, in which everyone reads the same book and then discusses the book using pre-determined hashtags (Howe, 2010). The Stratford Shakespeare Festival could develop a similar model, selecting books that pertain to their current season.

    Conclusion

    Today more and more theatre companies are recognizing the ability and power of social networking sites like Twitter in the engagement and attraction of patrons. However, it is important to note, that as stated by the Stratford Festival’s general director Antoni Cimolino: “We can use Twitter to serve our ends but…[w]e have to offer something far beyond the tweet” (Cimolino, 2010: 14).  Using social networking tools will allow theatre companies to develop deeper relations with patrons, and even create a sense of community on an online space. Although Twitter can be used to develop a sense of community on a virtual space, which will translate back to the physical space of a theatre, it is the work of the theatre company that will influence what is tweeted about, how often, by how many people, and why.

    References

    Cimolino, A. (2010, June 3). Who’s afraid of the brave new world? What does the digital revolution mean for the future of classical theatre? Retrieved from: http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/uploadedFiles/Stratford/media/2010_Speeches/10_AC_whos_afraid_of_the_brave_new_world.pdf?n=7812

    Howe, J. (2010, March 24). What if everyone on Twitter read one book? Epicenter. Retrieved from: http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2010/03/one-book-one-twitter/