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What does social media tell us about theatre audiences?

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The theatre industry has always known that its audience is passionate about the arts and is made up of keen supporters of live entertainment. A recent study by Purple Seven has shown that this audience may have the potential to deliver new income streams to the sector and engage with it in entirely new ways.

While many in theatre have long suspected that audiences are affluent, few have been able to convert this into income for venues – either through sponsorship or individual giving. Our latest research has demonstrated that there is indeed a very high crossover between the wealthiest members of society and those who attend theatre up and down the UK.

We discovered that Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce and Bentley are the car brands that UK theatregoers engage with the most, and the likes of Liberty, Harvey Nichols and Vivienne Westwood the most popular fashion brands. It is our belief that by creating new partnerships between these major brands and regional theatre venues, we can breathe new life into independent theatre. By understanding the national brands that our local audiences are already engaging with, we can better create a case for sponsorship and drive new money into the arts.

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Click table to enlarge

Social media represents an untapped resource for the arts community. It has the potential to ensure audiences and visitors remain engaged, drive ticket sales and membership as well as act as a valuable real-time insight tool into the diverse tastes and interests of the audience, by spotting emerging trends and themes. Purple Seven works with 300 theatres worldwide and understands the nuances that make each organisation unique. Our ambition is to show, using data, how large companies can benefit from engaging with a theatregoing public that already enjoys their brand.

We are interested to see what theatregoers nationwide are interested in, rather than just those in London. So we found 1,200 UK arts institutions across social media, including venues, productions, community theatres and performers. The combined followers exceed 60 million fans, but because most people follow several theatres, we learned that there are only 18 million fans across all of these accounts. By finding theatregoers on social media, we are now in a position to understand how their other passions influence their arts attendance.

As anyone who has spent time on social media will know, a lot of theatre tweeters are actors, directors or otherwise working in the industry. We removed 10% of the fan base who were professionals, leaving us with a nationwide focus group of theatregoers. We then analysed which accounts our theatre audience has a greater engagement with than the general public. This helps us to identify partnerships that are mutually beneficial to both the venue and the brand.

Purple Seven’s 2016 study examined the crossover of social media sites visited for different theatre venues (click image to enlarge)
Purple Seven’s 2016 study examined the crossover of social media sites visited for different theatre venues (click image to enlarge)

The table opposite reveals that the interests of the UK theatregoing public are more affluent and prosperous than otherwise understood. This gives a compelling case for venues across the country to seek partnerships with these brands, confident in the knowledge that they have a very similar customer base.

For the second part of our study, we looked at the relationship between venues. Purple Seven’s 2013 study revealed that most theatregoers visit several theatres, and our free Purple Seven Insights report helps venues to understand what else their customers are attending in theatre. By profiling customers’ behaviour across social media, we can provide a clear picture of the relationships between different venues and how customers cross over between them. The diagram above shows the crossover between a handful of London venues – something we are able to do for any group of venues nationwide.

Thicker lines show that there is a greater proportion of individuals who are engaged with both accounts. Interestingly, The Stage’s Mark Shenton has a high number of followers who are also engaged with the Menier Chocolate Factory and Finborough Theatres, but not a significant number with Theatre Royal Stratford East or Battersea Arts Centre.

Because this analysis changes minute-by-minute on social media, we can see for the first time how customers perceive different venues. Richmond, Rose and Orange Tree theatres, for example, all have a similar follower base – something that might not be immediately apparent when visiting the separate venues. This insight can be advantageous when considering co-productions, tours or working together on a sponsorship proposal.

Theatre has earned an audience base who are affluent, passionate about the art form and highly engaged. There is now a great opportunity to build partnerships between venues and with major brands to attract new sponsorship and reach new audiences through social media.

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For more information visit Purple Seven

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