Over the last year-ish, since beginning to blog in earnest I have noticed a serious uptick in how much Boston-theatre-related information I am gathering through my social media outlets. And how much our blog has grown simply through the CoLab's presence on facebook (we have recently expanded to Twitter - follow us @colabtheatre). It is interesting to me how much my newsfeed has seemed to blow up with theatre related news, events, and anecdotes since January. And it makes me happy to see so many new and interesting things happening. But it makes me wonder how much momentum we are truly building and can we put our money where our status updates are?
Part of what made play. so exciting for us was the fact that it was promoted almost exclusively through virtual word-of-mouth. But it was also terrifying to rely completely on information we were gathering on-line. Just because someone clicks Attending on your facebook event doesn't actually mean they will show up and buy a ticket. For a lot of people it's a way to show support without actually having to back it up with an expenditure of time or money. The barrier of the internet makes it easy to skew numbers and levels of interest. Just becasue some one "likes" our link or retweets a blog post doesn't necessarily mean they are going to come see our shows, participate in a workshop, or donate to the cause.
We are truly grateful for (and I am ever impressed by) our on-line friends and followers. And sure there is a little surge of ego-boosting that runs through me when I meet someone in person for the first time and hear, oh yeah, I read your blog! And there is no doubt that I get most of my information on-line, so staying present and keeping ourselves moving forward through social media is one of the most effective ways to stay on people's minds.
But I feel like we are moving faster virtually than it is possible to do in real-life, thereby missing some of the essential steps. Networking isn't always my favorite thing to do, but when I can actually shake someone's hand and say hello, I'm Mary-Liz Murray, I'm a Co-Founding Artistic Director of The CoLab Theatre Company, what do you do? I know the impact is more likely to stick than flashing across a computer screen. The same is true when I run into friends and acquaintances and catch up on what they are doing. Personally,I am much more likely to go see a show if I commit to it verbally than virtually. If I am face to face with a friend or colleague and say, yes I'm coming to see you, not going is a much bigger deal to me. And so I wonder how true that is across a larger board, what does your physical presence and commitment mean that your virtual stamp doesn't?
I think businesses and organizations across the board are only starting to measure that. Lately there has been such a push to move everything online that I think the fallout from losing person to person contact has yet to be realized. There are other types of businesses where a bigger online presence makes more sense, and providing information and services online makes a huge impact. But theatre is about a live event, a symbiotic relationship between performers/directors/technicians and their audience. If an audience doesn't show up, does the play still happen? The actors may get up on stage and run the show, but if no one is watching it's completely irrelevant. So devaluing the in-person networking and feedback and conversation by simply putting a company's life, mission, and event online is a dangerous game.
I'm happy to be online. To have the CoLab be online. To read other theatre blogs and accept invitations to Facebook events. But if you see me out on a Friday night, come say hello, introduce yourself, tell me what you do, because that I will actually remember.