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Groups find Facebook makes a mighty stage to reach their people

Eva Edukonis, Theatre of Youth's marketing manager, is after the online "super influencers" to spread news about TOY's shows, ticket deals, alumni association and fundraisers.

"In the world of social networking, the super influencers are a small percentage of your followers, but they are the most vocal and most active," Edukonis said.

Her approach is indicative of the rapid changes cultural organizations have seen in marketing, sales and communications in cultural organizations.

"Businesses can be successful without incorporating different sources of marketing, but I think you're limiting yourself if you do, and cutting out a whole percentage of the population that is very tech savvy," Edukonis said.

"There really isn't anything you can't use social media to promote," she added, noting it is cost-effective and can require a relatively minimal time investment.

Edukonis said she updates her online messaging several times a day. So does Constance McEwen, a communications specialist with the Theatre Alliance of Buffalo, who calls it "casting the largest net I can."

Her efforts are geared with an eye toward directing traffic to the alliance's website, the local theater community's top referral site.

"The thing about Facebook is that it's necessary to feed it daily. If you just put something up there and think people will come, they won't. You have to keep it alive with a stream of information," McEwen said.

She said she particularly likes to post articles written about the theater on the Facebook page and in her e-mail campaign to promote the shows.

The former public relations director for Studio Arena Theatre has updated her methods since working there in the early part of the decade, before the dawn of online social networking.

McEwen has a monthly "send" to 3,000 people on how to win tickets, information on shows and other theater news.

"We have a really good 'open' rate of 35 percent. That's enormous and almost unheard of," McEwen said, refering to how many people actually open and read the messages she sends.

She maintains a Facebook "like" page and a Facebook group page for different purposes.

The group page is for sending notices of auditions, theater industry-related jobs and information on other arts and cultural groups. It tends to have the larger local audience, and more local links to the Theatre Alliance website.

The "like" page is more universal, and can have more members. McEwen uses that page for invitations, to promote shows and for giveaway coupons and other discounts. It's also connected to her Twitter page.

"I certainly wish I had it when I worked at Studio Arena," McEwen said. "If I had had this technology at my fingertips, it would have been so much easier to deal with other theaters across the country and to check on almost anything."

The socially outward McEwen said marketing online has changed the way she interacts with others.

"I've been able to bond with colleagues like never before through this social networking. I love it more than running into people," she said.

At Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center, the website is seen as the main place for people to to find information about upcoming activities.

"What we really want to do is drive people to the website, which is really rich with content," said Edmund Cardoni, Hallwalls' executive director.

There are share buttons now, so that the website information also goes to Facebook.

"It's the best of both worlds," he said. "We still have a Hallwalls Facebook page, but there's not as much pressure to keep it up."

Cardoni said the Facebook page is useful for sending invitations to an event and getting RSVPs back.

"That you can't do from your home page," he said.

There's also another important reason for maintaining a constant presence on Facebook, Cardoni said.

"Even though we already have a website, a printed calendar we mail out, and an e-newsletter, what works well with Facebook is the reminder factor," he said.

Facebook was critical for organizing the Greater Buffalo Cultural Alliance's response to county budget cuts for arts groups in 2010, Cardoni said.

"Getting people to the Nov. 10 (Erie County Legislature) hearing was almost entirely due to Facebook, I think," he said. "In my experience, it's a way to get actual people out into the streets."

TOY's Edukonis said it's important to avoid over-saturating messaging.

"That's probably one of the biggest mistakes people make when they are incorporating social media into their marketing strategy. People want to receive a message with a purpose, but they don't want to be bombarded with that message," Edukonis said.

She monitors her posts for comments that could indicate that's the case, and checks to see if "friend" numbers go down, which she said is another indicator.