Why Social Media is Like Improv Comedy

Social Media Marketing


I recently spoke on a panel at the Inbound Marketing Summit (IMS) in San Francisco, and one of the questions to the panel was, “What skill set should you be hiring to create your inbound marketing dream team?” The other two panelists and I agreed that the needed skill sets have changed over the past few years, and you need a more diverse team to be successful. You need people who live to find ways to collect, segment and report on data. You obviously need good storytellers. And you need that “secret sauce” that can’t be taught in a college course but comes from life experience and maybe, just maybe, taking an improv class.

An improv class? Yes, you know those acting classes where the instructor has you make up dialogue on the spot. I have 10 years of experience performing improv comedy with ComedySportz, and I have found that many of the skills you learn when taking improv classes can be directly applied to social media marketing.

Say Yes, And…

The first rule of improv is saying, “Yes, and…” This means that if you had this brilliant idea to enter a scene as Uncle Joe, but another player addresses you as the family dog you must embrace the fact that you are now the family dog. You don’t get defensive, you let go of Uncle Joe and say, I am the family dog AND I have a bad case of fleas.

We’ve all seen what happens when brands get defensive and don’t practice the “Yes, and…” skill in social media. The next time someone mentions your brand on Twitter or Facebook–whether it’s negative or positive–take that opportunity to say “Yes, and…” If it’s a negative mention take a breath, don’t get defensive, acknowledge the person’s gripe and say something positive. Brands like @ComcastCares, @NikeRunning and @AlaskaAir do this very well. Check out their Twitter feeds for a great example of this.

Listen to Your Audience

Every improv game or scene starts with a suggestion from the audience. The referee asks the audience for “something you would find in an old attic,” and someone yells “Grandpa’s dentures.” If the players then take off and do a scene about pancakes and never mention Grandpa’s dentures you’d be disappointed, right?

There’s nothing more frustrating and disappointing to an audience than when they suggest something and the performers don’t acknowledge their suggestion. The same goes for your brand fans. Acknowledge their suggestions. Listen to the conversations going on across the social media landscape and use that information to improve your products, customer experiences and brand perception.

Improv is a 2-Way Conversation

Stand-up comedy is to broadcast-to-consumer marketing as improv is to brand-to-consumer engagement. Good improv relies on and rewards audience participation. Scenes are created based on suggestions from the audience, and audience members are often called upon to take part in the scenes.

Social media is part stand-up and part improv. It’s okay to broadcast messages to your audience, but be prepared to put on your improv hat and engage with the people you broadcast to. Social media is a 2-way conversation.

The Best Improv Artists Fail 20% of the Time

It is a known fact in the world of improv that even the best improv artists perform scenes that fall flat 20% of the time. The best improv artists take risks, think outside the box and are not afraid to fail.

Be willing to fail is a great lesson to learn when it comes to your social media and inbound marketing efforts.

You Are Never in Complete Control

If there’s one thing I learned in my 10 years of performing improv comedy with ComedySportz it’s that the more you try to control a scene, the greater the chance you have at failing. The best scenes are the ones where you stop trying to force an idea, and step back and let it take on a life of its own.

Social media is often unscripted, reactive and unpredictable. That’s what makes it both a challenging and powerful marketing tool. Your audience can cheer you on or boo you off the stage in front of millions of people within the space of minutes. Seasoned social media marketers can take the most challenging situations and turn them into the most rewarding.

If you want to be more agile and successful in social media take an improv class, realize you can’t control your audience, say “Yes and…” and engage with them.