In brief, since 2009 a number of performing arts venues, including important opera houses and Broadway theatres, have reserved a number of seats for local social media influencers in the hope of obtaining added publicity. These seats, aptly named tweet seats, are sometimes offered for free to a selected few, who are expected to tweet about the performance and hopefully entice younger consumers and create excitement about the performance.
The results have generally been good in terms of attendance and promotion. However, there has also been strong criticism from viewers that are annoyed at the use of cell phones during performances. Ars Technica's Curt Hopkins just a couple of months ago wrote: "If you are just trying to fill seats, however, with minimal concerns about the integrity of an art form, tweet seats seem like a no-brainer".
Here is my take on the issue: performing arts venues cannot be successful long term without attracting a growing number of viewers. Therefore, being part of the conversation and attracting new demographic groups, heavily utilizing social media, has to be part of their marketing efforts. However, if this activity became an alienation to their core viewers, their loyal and stable customers, and detracted from their experience, it would ultimately prove deleterious for the venues. In fact, as I have repeated multiple times in this blog, all businesses, theatres included, have to deliver an outstanding customer experience to be successful in the long term.
Fortunately, a few theatres have been able to resolve this dispute. It is the case of the Palm Beach Opera, which offers tweet seats for the final dress rehearsals. This ensures that their core viewers enjoy the best customer experience and that the theatre gains the social media publicity ahead of the performances. Additionally, it gives the opera house the chance to educate the neophytes and to give them an inside view of the performance. As a result, the viewers can produce more interesting tweets, which have better chances of being shared.
This use of Twitter has proven to be successful for all kinds of performing arts venues. However, it should inspire retailers and restaurants to develop their own versions of the tweet seats. Jewelers and apparel retailers could invite local Twitter "celebrities" to meet the designers ahead of trunk shows to learn more about the brands that will be showcased and to get a sneak peak of the products that will be on display. Department stores could organize "tweet nights" ahead of special events or before unveiling their signature Christmas window displays. Restaurants could host local social media influencers each time they unveil new menu items.
There could be numerous additional creative ideas to leverage Twitter "celebrities" influence. Retailers should be proactive and quick in realizing how important it is to be part of the conversation of social media adopters, as the majority of consumers are expected to actively engage in social media within a few years. However, as the case of the tweet seats demonstrates, retailers should be careful not to damage the in-store experience or to alienate their core customers in the process.