Social media hero (SF) & social media zero (NY)

Social media hero (SF) & social media zero (NY)

New York – Broadway

I was recently in New York on holiday and took a very excited family to see the Lion King. The production itself is absolutely fantastic:  the drama, the costumes, the scenery, the lighting, the music. Theatrically, it was an onslaught on the senses and exceeded expectation in so many ways. But especially in the abhorrent customer experience that we had there.

While the product itself was fantastic, it is a shame that the production lets itself down by transforming what should be a fun evening out into something akin to going through airport security through draconian processes and procedures.

Firstly, the word “please” seems to have been dropped from the vocabulary of the staff and other attendees.  Presumably because they want to appear that they are so busy and critically important that they can’t spare the time for such pleasantries?

Secondly, we suffered long delays getting into the theater as the ushers performed a perfunctory search of bags and then aggressively policing jackets, bags and programmes left on the floor and between seats. They seem to be modelling themselves on the TSA (US Transport Security Administration) who have made security screening at airports a farce of pointless aggressive abuse of my personal space. Worth a read is “Airport security in America is broken”, an article in the Wall Street Journal by Kip Hawley, Head of the TSA.

While we have come to accept long delays in the name of security at airports, I would argue that it is unacceptable in other areas of our life – especially in the entertainment industry.  Surely they can come up with a more pleasant way of both ensuring the safety of theater-goers but also not making us feel like criminals?

Social Media fail

And finally, and perhaps more importantly, they employ people who are constantly vigilant for cameras. It is actually someone’s job to stop people taking photographs. And they don’t do this in a nice way. Before the show even started, the aggressive zeal with which staff pursued “image-based offences” was a wonder to watch. God only knows what the reaction would have been if a camera was spotted during the performance.

This got me thinking. Why are they stopping people taking photographs? What are they trying to prevent? In an era of social media it would seem to me that they would want to encourage people to spread the word about how fantastic their product is. Surely no photograph – especially a poorly shot one on a cellphone – can capture the real experience of the 3 hour performance? Indeed, surely it would only whet the appetite to buy a ticket when supported by an enthusiastic recommendation?

I wonder if their PR and marketing teams understand the damage that their colleagues are doing? To me this is an example of processes gone mad. The security and “camera-hunting zeal” result in a negative experience for customers. Also it detracted from the efforts of the marketing teams whose job would be made easier if customers were allowed to spread the word about the fantastic product on social media to recommend and refer the Lion King to our friends and colleagues.

Certainly they are not protecting an income stream. A quick search “Lion King musical” on Google gives 11.7million images most of them far better than any taken by an amateur photographer in Seat Y124. And they are not selling photographs in the foyer…

What a missed opportunity. But it is probably a classic internal conflict which is found inside many organisations who are struggling to evolve and understand how to harness the power of social media and personal recommendation.

San Francisco – Train rock concert

Train has been around the music scene since 1998. They have had a few hits and misses over the years. Arguably their greatest time was their sixth studio album titled California 37. The first single from the album entitled “Drive By” reached number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was a Top 10 hit in the UK.

And whilst the band may be older, they do know how to engage an audience and make the viral power of social media work in the hands of their fans. On May 5, 2014, guitarist Jimmy Stafford tweeted: “An anagram of the first single from the new @train album is now available! SGIJANNULAEBENEL. Yep.” which fans quickly deciphered and replied “Angel In Blue Jeans”.


Fast forward to a concert last night in San Francisco, their home town. It was a great night of music, but an equally good night of carefully stage managed social media activities. Taking photos on cellphones was actively encouraged. In fact during one song, Pat Monahan, the lead signer, started collecting cellphones from people in the front row. We would take a selfie with the cellphone’s owner in the background and give the phone back.

You can be sure that the photo would be posted on Facebook, Ointerest, Instagram, Snapchat and the rest. But how many times would it be reposted by friends? Inspired.

The also threw a few t-shirts into the audience letting us know that they were available from the merchandise stand in the foyer. But here’s the clever bit. They held one back and made a big show of the entire band signing it. And they kept it until the end when they threw it into the crowd. So how many people who didn’t get a freebie then went and bought their one as they were reminded at the end of the show?

It isn’t hard but it does require creative thinking and flawless execution.