What Street Performers Teach Us About Facebook Fans

I saw some cool marketing strategies for Facebook in, of all things, the antics of street performers in London’s Covent Garden last week.

They swallowed fire, juggle while on unicycles, and even pass head to toe through the oval of a tennis racket, but more interesting than that was how they grew their audience and got people to put money in the hat passed around at the end of the performance.

Getting people to cheer attracted more onlookers.

  • Get a child volunteer and ask them to clap for “Johnny” each time he does something – says his name, holds a prop, takes a bow, and so on.
  • Ask the crowd to boo if you make a mistake. Although it seems risky, it can attract more onlookers.
  • Ask the crowd to vote for the best performance by cheering.
  • Start a competition between different sections of the crowd to see who can cheer the loudest.
  • Amplify sound with a great speaker system, music, and props. Ask fans to clap along to the beat.

So how is this like Facebook?

  • The child volunteer is like featuring a fan of the day or perhaps a nominate tab. The National Guard has used this to great success over the last 3 years to get to a million fans. Yahoo Brazil told us about one of their tactics to get fans to tag friends in their comments. You see why that irresistibly draws responses? Leverage the egos of your fans to be your marketing fuel.
  • Booing mistakes invites controversy. Warning: this works with only some brands. For example, WWE for their built-in rivalry or SouthPark for being un-PC. But perhaps even credit unions can ride the Occupy Wall Street wave and get fans to voice sentiment about big bank fees.
  • Voting by cheering is akin to asking fans to click like if they’re happy it’s Friday, successfully completed their holiday shopping, or whatever is a no-brainer to say yes to.
  • Cheering by section magnifies existing loyalty. Example: “Click like if you’re a plus size woman and proud.” Or: “Who’s going to win, team X or team Y?” Why build sentiment from scratch when you can leverage what they’re already passionate about?
  • Adding speakers to amplify sound is like buying Facebook ads serve to amplify your message. This is critical when you’re just starting out. Covent Garden is a crowded spot on Saturday evening, so without speakers, nobody can hear what you’re saying, no matter how great your content is. Sponsored stories bring in new fans and amplify your organic wall posts.

So, the next time you see street performers drawing crowds, observe carefully how they build audience from just a few people walking by to a large, engaged crowd.

Some of the most talented performers end up with small audiences due to not paying attention to the people watching them. The same thing happens to Facebook pages that don’t focus on engagement. The news feed is a noisy place – are you getting your message through?

In the next couple months, with the public release of timelines and the new verb-based apps, auto-published actions will flood the feed, drowning out the folks who were just getting by posting content, but not designing for engagement. Don’t let this be you.

Dennis Yu has helped brands grow and measure their Facebook presences. He has spoken at Search Marketing Expo, Search Engine Strategies, Web 2.0, The American Marketing Association, PubCon, Conversational Commerce Conference, Pacific Conferences, HostingCon, Affiliate Summit, Affiliate Convention, UltraLight Startups, MIVA Merchant, and other venues. Yu has also counseled the Federal Trade Commission on privacy issues for social networks. Yu has held leadership positions at Yahoo and American Airlines. His educational background is finance and economics from Southern Methodist University and London School of Economics.

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