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What Improv Taught Me About Brands and Social Media

The goal of any social media marketing campaign is supposed to be to interact with your followers and fans, right? Yet when it comes to audience engagement, so many companies still get stage fright.

It doesn’t have to be that way. As an actor and improviser, I’ve performed in (literally) thousands of shows. One of my favorite things is finding new ways to connect with the crowd. If you’re looking to revitalize your social media strategy, maybe it’s time to put your focus on social’s most overlooked component: audience interaction.

My favorite audience interaction story took place in 2001. I was performing in a show where some of the other improvisers were acting out the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. As the story progressed, Snow White, the Evil Queen, and the Huntsman were all introduced. Then, just as we were about to meet the dwarfs, an actual little person from the audience leapt to the stage and joined the scene. To the credit of the actors, they continued on with their new scene mate until the audience took over, jumping to their feet with an ovation like I had never seen or heard. The host had no choice but to stop the show. He declared our unexpected guest the night’s champion. With lumps in our throats, we watched the audience carry their hero out on their shoulders.

I was so proud of the way we interacted with our audience that night. But what led to that delightful moment? And how can those lessons translate into social media success for your brand?

Start with an authentic desire to interact with your audience.

What led our would-be actor to jump up on stage that night? A large portion of his decision was probably based on the welcoming environment we create at the theater. We start each show by throwing Tootsie Rolls into the audience. We often engage in friendly back–and-forth chatter with the audience throughout the night. We honestly delight in their reactions, and we’re so proud of them when they take the risk to interact with us. Does our audience know how fond we are of them? You bet.

When I see brands discount their audiences by treating social media as a one-way broadcast booth, it makes me mad and sad at the same time. At GLG, we see an industry full of brands that are missing the mark socially. When people allow your business into their social worlds, why would you squander the opportunity by serving up a non-stop diatribe of “Buy this! Like this! Aren’t we awesome?” Ugh. People know when they’re being talked at. And they won’t put up with it for long.

Treat an audience member’s willingness to play like gold.

In improv shows, we often ask audience members for suggestions. Sometimes, we even invite them to come up on stage. That requires them to put their faith in us. We have to honor that trust by doing everything in our power to make them look good. If we disparage their offer (or worse yet, ignore it), they’ll be afraid to engage again. And believe me, every person in the audience will have learned the same lesson.

It’s no different for social media. When someone engages positively with your brand, turn your thoughts to how you can reward that engagement. A repost or a Retweet? A reply? Start a bigger conversation? Send out a coupon? Netflix took it a step further. When a high-school student asked Netflix to accompany him to his junior prom, Netflix said yes, providing him with a tuxedo, car, and chauffeur based on iconic movies.

You don’t have to go to the prom with every person who likes a post. But should you say “yes” when your audience is ready to play? I’ll leave it to improv legend Keith Johnstone: “Those who say ‘Yes’ are rewarded by the adventures they have, and those who say ‘No’ are rewarded by the safety they attain.” Because when it comes to engaging with your audience, I think that adventure will beat safety almost every time.

Case studies

Learn how Babolat used a global social media campaign from GLG to engage with tennis fans.


See how GLG helped Minwax take social engagement to new heights.