Social Media Week London
Bringing Classical Arts Into The Digital Age

Once the domain of the intellectual elite, ballet and opera are now more accessible than ever, thanks in part to social teams like the one in place at the Royal Opera House in London. As part of Social Media Week London, content producer Chris Shipman offers an insight into how the Royal Opera House is bringing the opera to a digital audience.

Shipman and his team take a broadly experimental approach, constantly testing new ideas. One such idea which has taken off is the “Your Reaction” blog series, which curates audience feedback from social media. Unlike the comments sections on your average newspaper site, Shipman notes that most responses are constructively critical, coming from a passionate and invested audience. This means that while “Your Reaction” is moderated, the user-generated content is largely self-policing.

Another regular feature is the debate, such as “Booing at the Opera: Justifiable, or Insufferably Rude?” This engaging format, says Shipman, actively contributed to sales. In fact, the continually evolving social programme at the Royal Opera House has boosted ticket sales fivefold over the last three years, as the appeal of opera and ballet finds its way to younger audiences via stunning visual content on Facebook and Instagram, and YouTube livestreams, such as this live rehearsal of the recent Romeo & Juliet production with the Royal Ballet:

“Authorship and personality” lie at the heart of the Royal Opera House’s social strategy, and Shipman is keen for audiences to get a sense of the 1,000 employees who prove integral to each and every production. Bringing in artists and executive teams to contribute to online channels results in a more personal, behind-the-curtain feel which many fans enjoy.

When appropriate, they have even invited external parties like historian Simon Schama and Guardian columnist Stu Heritage to get involved, resulting in an even wider reach. Shipman stresses the importance of partnerships, and advises “working with organisations and companies whose audiences border your own.”

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While Shipman sees the potential value in apps like Periscope and Snapchat, he says he is keen to stick with YouTube for now, as that’s where their subscribers are, and wait until he knows that they can offer something truly great on streaming services. That’s one thing you can say with certainty about the Royal Opera House; currently in its third incarnation after burning down twice, it is an institution adept at changing with the times while never forgetting what it does well.

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