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A Little Bird Told Us

Date: May 27, 2009


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by: Linda Buchwald

@rockofages RT What is the worst 80s catch phrase? "Man I love being a turtle!" (via @JessicaWellsRH)

Were live from the Tonys Preview Concert where @thetonyawards is tweeting Saycon's outfit.

NATALIE - @Henry, UM, I'm practicing for my recital on Tuesday.  Will call later.

These phrases may read like a foreign language, but they are just in Twitter speak. The first is from Broadway's Rock of Ages Twitter page (@RockOfAges). Twitter users write what they are doing in 140 characters or less in posts called "tweets." RT means re-tweet, or to retype what somebody else tweeted. In the example above, Rock of Ages asked followers to post the worst 80s catch phrases. The second tweet is the cast of Hair (@HAIRTribe) updating fans on where they are. The last one is from Next to Normal (@n2n broadway), which tweets from the point of view of its characters. So the fictitious Natalie is tweeting to her boyfriend. Confused yet? It may take some getting used to, but Broadway fans may want to take lessons as the fast-growing social network becomes another facet of the theater-going experience.

Broadway is mostly represented on Twitter by musicals, though reasons to be pretty is an exception, and actors, such as Hair's Gavin Creel. Though most Broadway shows have followings in the 2,000 range, Next to Normal has the most followers at 95,547 (as of May 26). This is an impressive number, but it is hard to gauge the success of the campaign as the characters do not interact with followers. Rock of Ages has one of the more interactive campaigns. The show has 2,812 followers (as of May 26) since its Twitter launched in February. "We wanted our online presence to be as fun as the show and we really wanted to have a voice for the fans, so we created this Twitter campaign that reflects the voice of Rock of Ages," says creative director of Art Meets Commerce Jim Glaub, who runs the Twitter campaign. "Really the reason why we did it is we wanted to harness this new way of communication in a really fun way. And what better to do that than '80s rock? "

Rock of Ages tweets include '80s news, ticket contests, and information about cast appearances. "I think fan engagement makes for the most successful Twitter campaigns. Talking to, finding fans that might be interested in the show, and then engaging them through conversation," Glaub says.

There are a few ways to gain followers. Some of the most common are following someone in the hopes that they'll follow you back, searching for Twitterers with similar interests, and advertising on other sites and in e-mail blasts. Glaub admits that the Tony Awards and TDF Twitter feeds are useful because he can find fans posting about the show and connect with them.

Glaub can tell the campaign is working because followers respond instantly to his posts. Rock of Ages tweeted when the cast recording first became available to preorder on iTunes and in that first day, it went to number 17 on the soundtrack page. "You can't even hear the music yet, so that means we have some pretty engaged fans when we can actually get them to do something like buy the CD," Glaub says.

Broadway shows have been using social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook for a few years, but though Twitter has been around since 2006, its popularity as a marketing tool has only recently begun to take off. Right now, Glaub and two others at Art Meets Commerce update the site with occasional help from actress Lauren Molina. He likes the idea of having one voice for the show, but is open to exploring other possibilities in the future, such as having the characters tweet. "I think that there'll be more engagement and there'll be more things to do as technology increases. I think that it'll be easier to have Twitter videos and perhaps easier to hear songs and more general engagement like tweet at the theatre, tweet while you're walking by," Glaub says.

Rock of Ages fans already tweet before and after the show and at intermission, but Glaub isn't worried about the use of cell phones and other devices during the show. "It's general etiquette, turn off your cell phone and other devices during the show. Some people will and some people won't. But I think that Rock of Ages is a special kind of show. People are drinking and singing and clapping and waving lighters around so tweeting isn't necessarily far off from there."


(Linda Buchwald is the assistant editor for Scholastic Math Magazine. Her writing has appeared in various publications including The Sondheim Review, PopMatters, International Musician, and Making Music Magazine. She also blogs for Critic-O-Meter and her own blog, Pataphysical Science.)