What the great actors of Shakespeare teach us about Social Media marketing

What great Shakespearean actors can teach us about Social Media marketing


Kenneth Branagh, early in his acting career, once wrote to the great Sir Lawrence Olivier seeking some advice.

Branagh was struggling to play an old man while being in his youth and so wrote to the master to ask if there were things he watched or did to get into the mindspace of an older character, and if he would kindly share the insights?

Olivier wrote back to say yes there were but no he wouldn’t because Branagh needed to work them out for himself.

Branagh was inspired by the simple act of receiving a letter, emboldening his resolve which delivered to us another great actor who breathed new life into Shakespeare just as Olivier had done before him.

There are three useful insights this story offers us as we consider using Social Media as a marketing tool, and they revolve around these points:

  • When people discern their needs, they seek answers
  • The mere act of sharing knowledge creates a bond
  • Learn to follow your own instincts

Let’s tease these matters apart and let me stress that even those of us considered experienced in Social Media would do well to be mindful of stories like these because we all need to apply ourselves diligently to this new medium.

Or, as I might adapt from Ophelia’s words in Hamlet, on your behalf:

But, good dear Stephen,
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,
Whiles, like a puff’ d and reckless libertine,
Yourself the primrose path of dalliance tread,
And reak not your own rede.

When people discern their needs, they seek answers

I am often dumbstruck when business people complain that having an email address, website or Social Media presence will make them more findable and contactable.

Surely, the very core of business itself is providing solutions to the problems faced by prospective customers.

If you hide yourself from the world so you can ‘get on with your work’ there will likely come a day when work will dry up and the market will say ‘good riddance’ to you (a Shakespearean term).

This is why we make sure our clients consider methods for systematically monitoring Social Media channels and responding as appropriate. This often involves setting up some routines for checking and responding to these fresh sources of customers in a sustainable and timely way. Note: It is best to avoid being always on a social media ‘pipeline’ because, as Shakespeare coined, you can get too much of a good thing.

Apart from your traditional communication channels like phones, mobiles, faxes and mail, it is time to at least consider Facebook and Twitter because they are fast becoming the communication channel of choice for consumers who have questions to raise with businesses and/or research to conduct.

Only this weekend, I used the Logitech Facebook Page to ask a question about a problem with my C190 webcam. A few weeks ago, I used Twitter to have the ANZ investigate a puzzling alert they had sent to me by SMS. Yes, these are anecdotes, but when you consider Facebook is used by 10.7 million Australians and LinkedIn and Twitter both now have around 1.8 million Australian users (figures courtesy Social Media News), I believe it is critical to assess whether your customers, prospects, suppliers or influencers are active in these virtual networking venues. Hint: one out of every three internet visits worldwide is to Facebook!

The sort of content we are finding in Social Media includes:

  • the seeking of recommendations for good (insert your trade/speciality/profession here)
  • direct questions to suppliers/resellers/manufacturers about problems/uses/cost of goods and services
  • more general questions about an issue right at the top of the sales funnel, before the buyer knows they need you
  • unsolicited testimonials about how great you are

So if the famous Olivier can answer his mail, surely we can apply ourselves to fielding online enquiries?

The mere act of sharing knowledge creates a bond

I have lost count of how many times clients and workshop participants have told me stories of work or sales they picked up, just for hearing someone out and offering some advice.

Because what we do is ‘what we do’, we sometimes forget how mysterious it seems to prospects and customers AND how valuable it can be.

It is very satisfying when something as simple as showing a group of novice online marketers how to apply some operators to Google Alerts to eavesdrop online more effectively opens eyes and makes mouths drop. Of itself, that act is very rudimentary, albeit powerful. But the reaction from people grasping it the first time is, and always will be, a beautiful thing.

Likewise, hearing Kenneth Branagh share his story of the moment Olivier’s letter arrived is very moving. That simple act inspired a career.

In our case, the ‘simple’ act of blogging, answering questions or commenting in groups or forums, or treating a ‘dumb’ email with respect, could be spawning a loyal customer or priming an advocate who might happen to sing your praises to the customer you always dreamed of, assuring your company’s future in ‘one fell swoop’ (another saying from Shakespeare).

Learn to follow you own instincts

There is one final insight from our story that sincerely applies to Social Media marketing.

Too many practitioners prance about imploring you to start this, do that, and behave in a certain way. Others also promote tricks for boosting superficial measures of popularity at the expense of investing time reaching your primary target market.

As Olivier said to Branagh, you need to work out your Social Media marketing plan and personality yourself. Seth Godin noted this in Meatball Sundae where he said just plopping a dollop of ‘cool’ Social Media onto a staid and suspicious business is a recipe for disaster.

The first place to start is to learn how to find out where relevant conversations are taking place online and learn how to tune in. The second step is to begin sharing your insights in these communities. And the third step is to explore your options for building a presence online that can be of value to your prospects and customers.

So, by all means, confide in a trusted marketer with Social Media experience and understanding, review and adapt their methods for managing your workflow, but don’t overlook YOUR insights into your customers and prospects. Your understanding of your target market’s typical and specific needs will require an authentic ‘voice’ and benefit from your experience in the field.

Answer the questions you find through Social Media channels in a timely and trustworthy manner and you can be ‘the be-all and the end-all’ (another one from Shakespeare) for a very happy group of customers-to-be.

Try to fake your Social Media presence or trick us with sneaky techniques and your failure will be a ‘foregone conclusion’ (thanks to the Bard).

And so, as with all new challenges in business, it is time to ‘screw your courage to the sticking place‘ and head ‘once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more‘. (Macbeth and Henry V, respectively)



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