13 Jun

What Broadway Can Teach Us About Building Online Communities

By Christa Skiles, Senior Account Executive


Before I came to Rasor Marketing Communications, I spent 15 years working in the world of professional theatre. So, it should come as no surprise that I still choose to spend a substantial portion of my free time in the dark watching larger-than-life stories play out on a stage.


Having recently returned from my own personal version of an annual pilgrimage (to New York City, of course, to see a handful of shows), I am reminded that there is a realm outside of physical theatre spaces in which Broadway excels — namely, building online communities for productions. Here are a few of my favorite recent examples, offering lessons from which we all can derive inspiration.


Dear Evan Hansen

Make Your Fans Part of the Story

The musical Dear Evan Hansen— in which a plot point hinges upon the power of social media — launched a Facebook campaign in fall 2017 to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the show’s Broadway opening. Fans, many of them young people for whom the story’s message of fitting in and being seen resonates strongly, were invited to take part in a virtual choir, submitting recordings of themselves singing the show’s climactic number, “You Will Be Found.” This project was fairly simple to execute: Fans visited a website to download lyrics and an instrumental track of the song, and then they used their own equipment (for many, just a smartphone camera and microphone) to create and upload their entries. The final video compiling their submissionsfeatures individuals from 829 cities across 31 countries. This innovative idea, which has garnered more than 760,000 YouTube views, also earned a Webby Award nominationfor best social video in the arts and entertainment category.


Lesson Learned: Your fans (substitute: stakeholders, customers, patrons) are among your most important brand advocates. Find ways to celebrate that advocacy and amplify it! Seeing themselves in the final video compilation undoubtedly made these fans feel part of a larger community, which just so happens to serve the themes of the show. Plus, I’d harbor a guess that the majority of participants shared the video with their personal social networks, extending the message (and show awareness) further.


Mean Girls

Understand the Value of the Entire Experience

Mean Girls, one of Broadway’s newest musicals, is based on the film of the same name starring Rachel McAdams and Lindsay Lohan. Though the story remains the same, that 2004 script has been smartly updated, with the movie’s infamous “Burn Book” — used by the high school’s titular clique to record gossip and rumors about fellow students – extended to social media. The show’s biting, clever tone is carried through to its online communications. Website, Facebook and Instagram posts feature screen captures of “text messages” sent between characters, while video “phone calls” invite us to “FetchTime” with them.


Lesson Learned: Admittedly, we should all be lucky enough to market a musical based on a hit movie written by Tina Fey. But, what the Mean Girlsteam smartly understands is that fans want their experience with the show to extend beyond the stage (substitute: store, restaurant, attraction). We make purchasing choices based as much on the emotional benefits we receive as the functional ones. Make sure every communication you share is pitch perfect and extends the experience of your brand if you want tomake “fetch” happen.



Reward Fans Generously for Their Support

Even if you’re not a musical theatre devotee, it’s likely you’ve heard of a little phenomenon called Hamilton. The show’s unique take on the story of our Founding Fathers is that rare contemporary musical that also crossed over into general pop culture.Hamiltonis in a league of its own when it comes to theatrical marketing. Much of the credit for that success is due to the show’s creator and original star Lin-Manuel Miranda, a genius at blending his personal and professional social media presence to cultivate one of Broadway’s most devoted online communities. What Miranda does better than anyone is reward his fans for their support. Whether via #Ham4Ham events— mini-shows he created for those entering the ticket lottery and then moved onlineto reach a broader audience — or regular Hamildrops, in which he shares new versions of show songs each month, Miranda continues to find special ways to thank Hamilton’s existing fans, while simultaneously extending the show’s reach to those still on the waiting list for their own tickets.


Lesson Learned: It doesn’t take a lot to show your most loyal fans or customers that you’re grateful to them. Are you throwing away your shot (sorry) at keeping them engaged and invested for the long haul?


Only a small number of people get the opportunity or have the desire to travel to New York to see the latest Broadway productions. However, more than ever before, social media lets audiences everywhere discover and connect with new plays and musicals online. Let us know if you’d like help building your online communities.