Feed Frenzy, New Spam, and the Misuse of Twitter

By James Haro

Howard Sherman has been on my radar and in my ever so good graces ever since I discovered the American Theatre Wing’s podcast,Downstage Center. His interviews with Anne Bogart, Stephen Sondheim, Molly Smith, and others, have been on my iPod ever since I downloaded them. There is also an amazing blog post he’s written about not ostracizing your patrons that I have held up as gospel ever since I read it. Needless to say, though I’ll say it anyway, I hold Mr. Sherman in very high regards. 

Now he’s done it again and written a very sweet but slightly scathing open letter directed toward those theatre related Twitter accounts we’re all familiar with and guilty of maintaining. Those accounts that focus most of their 140 characters towards self-promotion, self-congratulations, and self-serving re-tweets and mentions. Looking at my feed I’ll quote some I see right off the bat (paragraphing and without mentioning names)…

“…More good press for…”

“…Make sure you catch…”

“…Last weekend!!!…”

“…I get turned on by our cast for…”

“…You’re a bad person if you don’t come see…”

Listen, I know it’s tricky navigating the Twitter-sphere. It’s really easy in getting caught up in the immediacy of being able to fill your followers’ feeds with good press and dates for your upcoming performances. I know because I am guilty of doing this with my accounts, personal and business. When I want to remind followers of my podcast, I tweet about it. When I want to show followers that other people are reading a blog post I wrote, I re-tweet the mention or mention the re-tweeter. Or re-mention the re-tweet that was originally a mention of a re-tweet. Obviously, this whole Twitter thing isn’t as easy as it may seem. Sadly, all that energy is mostly wasted and it’s really easy to annoy the very people you’re trying to grab hold of.

People on Twitter aren’t going to look at you unless you have something interesting to say, someone else says you have something interesting to offer, or you give them something interesting for them to get involved in. People on Twitter see through the facade of excellence your company’s/show’s tweets are presenting for them. That one good review may be be one out of a dozen bad reviews. Your mentions on Twitter may be coming from those related to or close to you or your cast or anyone affiliated with your company or show. Your re-tweets may be coming from you mom. A coy and interestingly presented  reminder of your projects here and there are expected and welcomed. We want to know what you’re up to. A blog from an artist involved with your show may give us insight into the process of creation and inspiration. We appreciate that. But we don’t want our feeds filled with You selling You at the expense of our time and attention span. This is what Mr. Sherman adresses in his latest 2amt entry.

“Don’t reduce what we have to a transaction-based thing, like I was someone to whom you merely want to advertise your wares. It makes me feel cheap.”

This is the main issue presented in Howard’s letter. He feels that many arts org/show related tweets are only pimping themselves out for anyone who casually comes across it. In my opinion, it’s the internet age catch-22 of arts organizations trying to substitute/supplement actual press with social media activity. The dilema is that we see how the internet can boost attention and word of mouth by bounds, but the more we try to initiate it the more we put a damper on it. What is more important is making available those links, blogs, videos, and what else you have, for your audience and fans to share. Have your website, have your blog, have your YouTube channel. If people are interested in what you have to offer, they will find it. If they like it they will share it. The last thing you want to do is tell people how to feel about you or what to look at or what to think about. Most will consider it a form of spamming. It’s a weird human psychological tick of needing to feel independent, and if you try and blatantly sell something to someone who considers themselves to be sophisticated, you will drive that person away.

“This thing we’re in – it’s called social media. It can’t be one sided and you can’t constantly remind me that all you really care about is filling your seats. That’s awfully crude and while it may be good for you, it’s unsatisfying to me.”

We have to keep in mind that above all else we are artists and entertainers. We need to focus that light on all aspects of our operations. Marketing, audience development, social media, what have you. Keep them guessing, keep them wanting, keep them waiting for more. Give them insight, give them mystery, give them an opportunity to join in the experience. Of course this is easier said than done, but it is possible, and it’s your best interest. So here’s the deal: I promise I’ll be a lot more discerning and creative about the way I choose to promote my goods and services, art and entertainment, if you will. I’m going to try and make Howard Sherman proud. Maybe I’ll even get him to follow me at @JamesDanielHaro.

What? I can self-promote with the rest of them!

(See below…)


James Haro (@JamesDanielHaro) is a Los Angeles native currently attending Drexel University in Philadelphia, seeking his BS in Entertainment and Arts Management, Theatre Concentration. He co-operates a blog at AngryPatrons.com (@AngryPatrons) and produces/co-hosts the podcasts on ANGRY PATRONS RADIOEpisode #Tres of Rant&Banter is NOW UP! (Click here) OR, subscribe to us on iTunes. New feature, the Starving Artist Interviews, are also available HERE.


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