Leadership with heart, mind, and soul

How Tweet It Is: Nashville Shakes Gets It Right

Added on by Sam Davidson.

While most people are 'using' Twitter to update their 'friends' about the fact that they're stuck in traffic, at home watching TV, or that they really like strawberry ice cream, this weekend, I came across a nonprofit that is making Twitter work, and who I'd dare say, is using it well.

People have described Twitter and its benefits in many ways. I tell folks that it's either a micro-blog or a way to send a mass text message. Of course, which is which depends on how people are reading your tweets, but that's my short version.

The Nashville Shakespeare Festival puts on a performance in Nashville's Centennial Park each summer, bringing the Bard's plays to the masses for no charge. You get to sit outside and watch talented actors bring a story to life in the shadow of the Parthenon, while ambulances blare and birds caw in the background.

This year, executive director Nancy VanReece decided to set up an account for the organization on Twitter. And, whenever I hear that a nonprofit has jumped on Facebook or any other social media platform, I hold my breath because usually, many organizations don't understand how to properly use these tools. Then, they end up cursing them later, all because a profile and a fan page didn't have 20-somethings beating down their door to volunteer.

But Nancy knew she needed to have something worthwhile to say in order to get people to listen. She didn't need to use Twitter to just announce that there was a show that night, and hope that her 140 characters would get people to put down their remotes and drive to the park (if they were even following on their mobile devices, that is).

And, since I follow NashvilleShakes and since I wanted to go see this year's play, Coriolanus, I got to see – no, experiencehow an organization can successfully use Twitter to increase its social presence.

As Nancy takes the stage 30 minutes prior to show time (there is music an hour before the performance, so the place gets full early) and makes her announcements about where you can get popcorn, where the bathrooms are, and how you can sign up to win two free Southwest tickets, she also mentions that the Fest is on Twitter and you can follow along. She goes on to share that if you do follow them and can answer the trivia question she tweets at intermission, you can win free stuff.

Since I followed NashvilleShakes, but not on my phone, I quickly changed that. And sure enough, ten minutes before intermission, I was alerted that the attendance for the evening was 485, and if I was the first to tell the house manager, I'd get a free shirt.

So, I made my way to do so, thinking I was the only person to get the info when I ran into Nancy and had a quick chat about how they're using Twitter and what their success has been. They've been getting a few new followers a night, right when she makes her pre-show announcements, and people have been very interested in the other information she shares via Twitter.

For example, each performance includes a cameo for the role of the Herald (it was John Seigenthaler when I was there). She tweets that info out about an hour or so before show time, since that can be a draw for certain folks. She does the attendance trivia question each night, which is how I learned that Saturday's performance had twice the attendees that my night did. And, she's getting a response when she tweets the trivia info out.

Which is why I didn't win the shirt. Someone beat me to it.

Here's what I learned from Nancy and what I recommend for nonprofits looking to use Twitter effectively:

  • Have something to say. No one will listen (and therefore, no one will respond) if you're not communicating a worthwhile message.
  • Be patient. Nancy’s 'only' adding a handful of folks a night. But, as more people (like me), share this story with others, that will continue to grow. Then, when it's time to announce next year's show, or to solicit volunteers, Nancy has hundreds (hopefully) of people she can tell.
  • Commit to it. Nancy will keep using Twitter every night of the performance, no matter the attendance or the amount of people signing up. Even if only one person vies for the free shirt, she'll keep pushing the opportunity out there. For the Nashville Shakespeare Festival, it's not a fad; it's part of a communications strategy.
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