Andrew Levey – Social Media Director
“Getting Social”

How companies find and market to their audience has changed drastically in the almost 30 years since Le Cirque du Soleils’ first performances. It used to be that marketing was limited to print, radio and television. Now it has completely changed, with the Internet becoming a vital tool in reaching out and touching the fan and customer base.

When we were researching iTunes podcasts concerning Cirque for our review article (available here: http://www.cirquefascination.com/Issues/Issue116.txt ) the two most interesting had to do with how Cirque uses Social Marketing:

Comet Branding Radio – Comet Radio Show
Jess Berlin – Manager of Social Media, CDS Las Vegas
Hosts Al Krieger and Sara Meaney
30 minutes (says 45:00, but rest is blank) – 3/24/10

Jess talks about originally advocating for bloggers, bringing them the same recognition within the company as print journalists. She talks about maintaining the magic or how to not let too much backstage info out in the coverage they get. Responding on Twitter, the demographics of the shows Facebook sites and what kinds of content are popular on them are also mentioned. Really interesting.

Ideafaktory podcast-Daring ideas for innovators – IdeaFaktory Podcast
Episode 4: Social Strategies with Cirque du Soleil’s Andy Levey
Adam Levey – Social Media Director, CDS
Host Steve Faktor (ideafaktory.com)
20 minutes – 12/18/12

Host Faktor talks more than any of the other hosts, but his comments make this more of a conversation and less of an interview. This is the most interesting pod-cast of the bunch, as Levey addresses each topic intelligently. The roles of Facebook and Twitter in establishing a brand and speaking to an audience of followers, the reach of Facebook, brand ambassadors and what they mean to a company, and perceptions of success are all touched on.

After listening to both pod-casts, we were curious as to how a brand with such a unique emotional visual product as Cirque du Soleil works with social media, and how they interface with their more dedicated fans. So we contacted one of the pod-cast interviewees, Mr. Andrew Levey (LEE-vee), 33, who took time out to speak with us.

Mr. Levey didn’t originally start out in Social Marketing. “My background is in investment banking and finance where I spent two years, but I didn’t enjoy it. And I consequently figured out what I wanted to do with my career and got to a point where I found I really enjoyed [working with social marketing].” His first job in his new profession was working for a nightclub hospitality company. “It was really at the advent of MySpace. We started developing a lot of promotion and word-of-mouth through MySpace and Facebook. This was in 2005-2006 and that was really my first experience with it. And it was cool, it was science and it was social, it was fun and a unique experience. And it was like being a pioneer in a field that hadn’t existed at the time.”

His responsibilities within Cirque are easily stated but large in scope, and involved a relocation. “I’ve transitioned from Resident Shows Division (in Las Vegas) to the mother-ship – the International Headquarters (in Montréal) – so it’s been fun.”

“Within my role we oversee Cirque Club and all of our Cirque media channels. And as people say, news doesn’t break it tweets. So we’re always making sure that we have ourselves on the pulse of anything that happens so we can work with Chantal (Côté – Cirque Corporate PR Manager) and RC’s (Renée-Claude Ménard, Senior PR Director) team to make sure we convey the proper messaging for the brand. Or we convey messaging that we receive from fans or celebrities or whomever to the appropriate parties to say; this is what people are saying, and this is something that either needs to be addressed or is something that is going on in the world of Cirque.”

In the ongoing tradition of Cirque job titles, his is a mouthful. “I actually have a new Cirque title that I’ve only held for three months – Director of Customer Relationship Marketing. Before that I was Senior Manager of New Media and Analytics for the Residential Shows Division. Long titles and no one knows what they mean.” (Laughs) “My current responsibilities are redeveloping our consumer program, and when I say “consumer program” I mean Cirque Club, what it is and what it needs to become.”

With so many different social channels to monitor, no workday is typical. “Honestly for me at Cirque, and I think it’s like this for many other departments, is that there really isn’t a typical day. We are at a point right now where we are launching a lot of projects, t’s a great opportunity and a perfect storm of a lot of cool new and exciting things happening at once. So it just depends on the day, on what’s due, what the deadline is, what’s planned versus what’s not planned and how we should react to things that aren’t planned.”

How many Cirque shows has he seen, we wanted to know? “That’s a tough question. I saw my first Cirque show, Mystere, when I was 13 years old. In 1995 I saw Alegria. And then I saw Quidam in 96-97. So I was a fan and had no idea that I would ever work here. And since then I’ve seen every resident show, open or closed, probably about seven or eight times each. And then I’ve seen a few of the newer touring shows; Amaluna, Michael Jackson Immortal. That’s really it for touring shows, I haven’t seen too many new ones, I’m missing Kooza, Varekai, and Totem.”

Extending the Experience

Social Marketing has become a vital way for Cirque to communicate and market to its fans and potential ticket buyers. But it hasn’t always had a united coherent strategy for doing so, which presented an opportunity for Mr. Levey. “For us [Social Marketing] is a way to have a one-on-one relationship with our consumer. Cirque Club is a good tool for doing that, e-mail marketing is a great tool for doing that. But nowadays people really trust and feel more close to a brands Facebook or Twitter account then they do getting an e-mail, which is rather impersonal.”

“So through social media our goal is to get you closer to the brand and extend your Cirque experience. When you go to a Cirque show, whether it’s in a big top, arena, or a resident show, [when you add up] the commute, dinner, and post-show time you’re looking at a four-hour experience. We want to figure out how we can extend that experience for you. How do we get you excited in advance? How do we get you talking about it during intermission? And how do we extend it from the show? We’ve found that platforms like Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube are the most efficient and fastest ways to reach our consumer and interact with them.”

Part of Mr. Levey’s purvue is to apply science and analysis to Cirque’s social media, creating actionable data that can be digested and acted upon. He also sees it as a way to target specific audience groups. “That’s really the beauty of social media. You need traditional channels like television and print, etc, but [with social media] we can really talk to a specific person.”

“[So we can say,] okay, we’re going to place this billboard that’s going to target everyone that drives frequently in the area. But through social media channels we can have a campaign that’s [much more targeted]. We could target messaging more towards (and I’ll just throw out a hypothetical here) married couples who live in this region that are also interested in these types of arts. And we can test it; we sent this message towards single men 25 to 35 who live in this area, did it resonate (garner interest)? So for us it’s a really interesting way of testing messaging and getting messaging out there in very cost-efficient ways.”

“And you can change it in real time. As opposed to something where you spend a lot of money on it and you place it and it has to sit there for a month and you either don’t know the results, or by the time you want to change it you have to start the process all over again. With social media we can run a campaign and know within an hour whether it performed, and we can change it.”

We at Fascination have focused exclusively on the written word to communicate our interest and share our knowledge about Cirque. But as far as content that gets the most response, photos and videos convey what this very visual brand does best. It is print, us for example, that are the dinosaurs – the future is visual. “What we see through our social media channels is that photos and video are what our fans love and really engage with. And it could be a photo of the most minute piece of costume that people obsess over. Or it could be a video that shows, for example, how a head mold is made. There are things like that that just amaze people. You go to a show and you think, how did they do that, how did they make that piece? And those are the things that we find work the best, our fans love that.”

Spreading the News Around

Cirque has spread its web presence over several platforms.

There are a few YouTube channels for videos:

o) http://www.youtube.com/user/cirquedusoleil
o) http://www.youtube.com/cirquelasvegas – for Las Vegas Shows
o) http://www.youtube.com/user/CirqueDuSoleilRus – in Russian

Some videos are also posted directly to Facebook where Cirque maintains a separate page for each show as well as a corporate Cirque du Soleil page and one for casting, desiring to establish each show as it’s own “brand” within the Cirque universe.

Pictures are also placed on Facebook, but sometimes they use:

o) Flickr – http://www.flickr.com/photos/CirqueduSoleildotcom
o) Instagram – http://web.stagram.com/n/cirquedusoleil/

They’re also on Twitter in several places:
o) @Cirque – the main corporate feed
o) @CirqueClub – For Cirque Club
o) @Dance_at_Cirque – Casting and audition notices
o) @thelightvegas – the Light nightclub at Mandalay Bay
o) @CDS_Russia – in Russian for Russians

And if that wasn’t enough, they’re also on:

o) Google+: https://plus.google.com/117560566693154728562/
o) Tumblr: http://cirquedusoleil.tumblr.com/ (with some
hilarious comments below pictures in the hashtags.
Delightful!)

There are also pages on these as well, though they haven’t been updated in awhile:

o) FourSquare: https://foursquare.com/cirque
o) MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/cirquedusoleilmusicians

In general, the audience Cirque is trying to reach (the “average” customer profile) are women between the ages of 25 and 45 who are college-educated and have a higher level of income. That isn’t to say that Cirque doesn’t also appeal to men, or people younger or older, just that the largest segment of their ticket buying public fit that profile.

The audience they speak to depends on the platform. “Facebook is more regional depending on where we are and who’s responding. But we see within Facebook a lot of Latin American fans. We frequently see the comment – when are you coming to Mexico or Brazil or Argentina? They’re very passionate so we see a lot of those fans.”

“Twitter is different because it’s more real-time than Facebook. So we see a huge variety of fans. Especially people who tweet about the show at intermission or tweet [after the show]. And that is a huge opportunity for us to really talk to our fans.”

“Think about it – any product you buy, how often do you get to talk to the brand? That’s a cool thing, it’s a validating experience. If I went to a hockey game and I tweeted about the Canadians and they tweeted back to me I would think, wow, that’s pretty cool! They care about me or they wanted to respond to me. To say [in response to a fan tweet], what you [said about] when you saw the show, we’re going to favorite it or we’re going to talk to about it, or we’re going to say that’s great to hear, tell us more. Or that we’re going to take your input and will solicit it to the right people. And for us that is really the biggest opportunity within Twitter.”

“The part I enjoy most about what we do now is that there were situations in the finance world where I’d work on a project and it would go to 18 different levels and I never knew if it saw the light of day. Whereas where I’m working now we get to talk to the consumer about something that’s amazing, that is an emotional product. We aren’t selling aspirin or deodorant, we’re providing them with an experience.”

Facebook Friends

Of all the platforms they use, “We’ve seen that Facebook is our most effective tool in terms of social marketing, it really drives ticket sales. Because you can get so granular and targeted.”

In the pod-cast interview, Mr. Levey stated that one could usually only reach 14-16% of your audience on Facebook. “What that means is when you post something on Facebook not everyone sees it; not 100% of your friends see it, not 100% of the people that follow you as a brand see it. That’s based on Facebook’s algorithm, on an affinity score of how often you engage with the person or with the brand, how “close” you are. It’s also a way for [Facebook] to sell ad real estate. And they know that you’re going to need to bridge that gap. You don’t want to reach just 10% of your audience, you want to reach as close to 100% as possible. So for Facebook they turn that into an opportunity for you to either target non-followers or target your own followers to boost that to 20%, or 30%, or 40%. That’s where that opportunity is and that’s the value proposition for their sales mechanism and their advertising revenues.”

Just as important as communicating to your audience is tracking how effective your efforts are. That helps determine whether the return (in ticket sales revenue) is greater than the expenditure (in effort and dollars). In the pod-cast, Mr. Levey said recent efforts yielded results from 6x to 16x return-on-investment. With today’s analytical tools it is possible to analyze and parse your audience into smaller, highly focused segments. “But that’s a little bit harder, and that’s actually the project we’re working on now, really fleshing out that database and understanding who people are. Facebook elicits so many actions from you as a consumer we can target based on those actions – everything that you like, every activity that you have. From the business facing standpoint, all those actions translate back into a model that someone can either target or advertise towards or use to figure out [who] the people are we want to talk to and [who] are the people we don’t want to talk to. So we really use our social channels to figure out how we get the relevant messaging to the relevant people and how we send something that is relevant to [one person] but may not be relevant to [another]. Because we can’t just message the same message to everybody anymore.” This results in their ability to post or advertise directly to a person with a message that will be seen within their news-feed.

But the response Cirque usually gets from its Facebook followers generally fall into two, more mundane, categories. Most of the comments are either variations of “I Love This Show,” or “Please Come to my city,” and isn’t a very relevant discussion of what’s posted. Mr. Levey agrees. “I think that’s a very good point. I remember we canceled Zarkana in New York due to Hurricane Sandy. So we posted that due to inclement weather we were canceling [some performances of] Zarkana. And the first five responses were not, “I have tickets, I need to get a refund,” but were more like, “We love this show! I’ve seen it five times! When are you coming here?””

“Facebook’s good to engage with our fans. But when we actually want responses from them, or want feedback, it might not be the most appropriate tool. So we’re trying to figure out what that tool is and how we reach out to our fans. What do you think about this? Or what is your favorite moment of this? Sometimes we do that on Facebook and we get some responses, but to filter through it is very challenging. So we’re trying to figure out where the best spot for that is.”

Maintaining more than 20 separate Facebook pages means challenges, one of which is the frequency of posting. In a quick analysis we at Fascination! pulled together (and will elaborate on in a future issue) we found that, on average, Big Top shows post twice as often as Resident shows, and Arena shows outpost Resident shows by an additional 20%. KÀ, La Nouba, Zumanity and Believe post on average less than twice per month, the Big Top shows mostly keep to the average of 5 (except Totem which overachieves at 12), and the Arena shows come in at an average of 8 (except Quidam which under-performs at an average of 3). Are some posting too much, or are some posting too little? “It’s a tough balance and we don’t think there’s a perfect equilibrium. They’re different situations. With the touring shows, if it’s an arena show you’re in a different city every week. So [in order] to be relevant you really have to post a lot. You want to tell people – hey you know what we’re in Brazil now, or we’re in Minnesota now. With the resident shows there isn’t that traveling activity so sometimes there’s not a lot of news. And honestly sometimes there’s nothing to update.”

“And sometimes there’s content that is re-purposed or we find that we just posted [something similar] a month ago and people are going to know. [It’s] something that we’re trying to figure out because we know that there’s that discrepancy between shows that post 2 to 3 times a week versus some shows where you don’t have any updates.”

And some shows by their very nature are just difficult to create posts for. Zumanity for example; it has the most-tech savvy followers of any of Cirque’s shows, yet posts near the least. But there’s a reason for that. “That’s a tough show to message within social media. The Facebook page is gated (age-restricted) because of the nature and topic of the show. It’s very difficult because there’s a lot of stuff from that show you can’t really publish on Facebook, there’s certain acts you can’t publish. So it’s a very fine line that we have to walk with certain shows in specific scenarios.”

Social Disaster

Social media is also an important tool when disaster strikes, as it did last summer with the death of an artist at KÀ. How much or how little to post can become a very serious question. The tendency can be to present too much information, allowing speculation and criticism to run free, as social medias focus can make small events larger than they are. In KÀ’s case the Facebook page has been silent except for an announcement about the resumption of performances posted in mid-July. Since then, nothing. With the investigations now over and the final report issued, we hope the page will again see some life (though Cirque does plan an appeal). But Cirque’s overall concern is to be respectful, both to the artists’ family and with the KÀ family as a whole. When asked about it, the response focuses on “common sense.”

“What happened was awful and it affected all of us,” Mr. Levey explained. “And we want to respect that and have other people understand. You see a lot of brands who just don’t use common sense. You look at the 9/11 anniversary and all these brands made very insensitive posts. Such as, “Always remember 9/11 – here’s a special!” We live in a day and age where the minute you do that you’re opening yourself to ridicule, and we’re very cognizant of that and want to make sure that we protect our family as well.”

Social Media, but its nature is, “sensationalized and moves very fast. For us the main thing that we wanted to do was work very closely with Chantal (Côté – Cirque Corporate PR Manager) and RC’s (Renée-Claude Ménard, Senior PR Director) team, and the important thing was that we got our message out there. For us and for the people at KÀ it’s still very fresh. We’re in a position right now where we have to continue to respect them. We work very closely with the technical and artistic teams. And at some point in time we want to be able to go to them and say we would like to do something behind-the-scenes for Facebook or YouTube or whatever. We want to make sure that we keep that relationship with them. And we don’t want to do something that would damage the relationship.”

Where Have All The Fans Gone?

Having so much data on a particular person’s interest level and habits allows companies to slice up their fans into smaller and smaller groups. And Cirque has developed its own internal nomenclature for their fans. “We have something internally that looks at different personas, but that’s not something we share with the public. There are different strata of fans, which we’re addressing right now. We definitely need to change the way we [reach out to different fan groups] and I think there’s a lot of opportunity to work with you guys and the fans to help define the experience. Figure out how we can best work with you guys and reach out to you guys.”

One way to do that is through using “brand ambassadors.” “An ambassador is someone who is really projecting our values and telling more and more people about why Cirque is relevant to them and why Cirque du Soleil matters to them. They can be famous people, they can be celebrities, they can be influential on certain topics. They can be someone like you who’s a huge fan. Someone who has an affinity or loves the brand and spreads the brand’s message for us.”

The largest discussion forum for Cirque ambassadors (and fans), Cirque Tribune, imploded by choice early this year, leaving fans scrambling with no other viable place to gather. Cirque Spotlight has since come on the scene, but its activity is nowhere near what Cirque Tribune was during its time. This is something Cirque is sensitive to as well. They could give us no other clues as to where the fans have gone. “Between Fascination! and Cirque Spotlight (www.cirquespotlight.com) that’s pretty much it. We see people talk to each other within Facebook, but it’s tough for us to go in and pinpoint who they are. When you reach out individually you don’t know who you’re getting specifically, so it’s really tough to validate. But those are the only two places, and that’s something we’re trying to figure out. Is there a community, and is there a place where we can work and speak with the fans and kind of cohabitate together?”

This is part of Mr. Levey’s mandate in his new position, to re-imagine Cirque’s social outreach through its in-house Cirque Club. This will involve a number of new initiatives that he couldn’t talk about, but assured were thought out with the fan in mind. For now just know Cirque Club is in flux. “As far as the future we have some plans that I can’t really get into further details on. But we think it’s really exciting and it’s something that everyone who is a fan of Cirque will want to be part of and will bring them even closer to us than before.”

The largest fan outreach initiative Mr. Levey was involved with in Resident Shows Division was the annual Cirque Week. A major experiment for him last year in his former position as Senior Manager of New Media and Analytics was a half-hour podcast which showed highlights from the various Cirque Week activities. Did the broadcast meet the goals for which it was produced? “Cirque Week is very specific and we know it’s a specific audience, And we know [it occurs at] a specific time of year and that not everyone is going to be able to spend a whole week in Las Vegas seeing all of these shows. So we really wanted to give people a sneak preview of what it would be like. To say, ‘Hey, you could be a part of this, and if you don’t know what Cirque Week is here’s [something] to show you what it was like’. And we think it was successful, it created a lot of awareness. I think for fans like you we don’t really need to explain the benefits of Cirque Week, I think you guys know that. But I think there are fans that might say, ‘That looks like something I should totally do, I never knew that existed.’”

Becoming a Social Business

For the future Cirque du Soleil plans to be on all the social channels, more or less all the time. But each different channel requires a different approach. “For us every channel is a different strategy. Because every channel has different types of people on them.”

“We have what we call social stratification. The content that we post on Google Plus may be similar to Facebook, but Facebook is going to be more editorialized. Twitter is going to be more news. Instagram is going to be photos, but photos that either tell a story or that are quick and throwaway. Now that [Instagram can] do 15-second videos, we could have an artist taking off their shoes, things like that.”

“For us YouTube is emerging. We have a lot of videos on YouTube, but those videos weren’t made for YouTube they were made for something else and retrofitted to YouTube. What we’re looking to do in the future is really make YouTube-specific videos or videos from Cirque shows or behind-the-scenes [videos] that are specifically built for YouTube.”

In a recent Tweet from Mr. Levey’s feed he posted a reference to an article written by social media analyst Brian Solis. “This guy’s my mentor, my idol. Everything this guy publishes is brilliant; everything he tweets is really fascinating.” In the article, which can be found here < http://goo.gl/Y01SWn > Mr. Solis writes about the qualities of a “Social Business,” where a business or brand is truly involved in social media. “When you begin with business objectives,” Mr. Solis writes, “Social technology and the communities they reach are evaluated against bona fide priorities that already have the buy-in of executives, such as sales, employee and customer satisfaction, and brand resonance.” Is Cirque on its way to becoming a Social Business, or is it already there? “We’re getting there, we really are,” replied Mr. Levey. “And that’s part of what my new role is and what our department does. We work very closely with Chantal and RC’s team in terms of PR; we also try and champion our cause to Marketing. We do a lot of cool things and we want our consumers to know about it.”

“[Social marketing] is the most efficient, effective way to reach people. But I could be biased because I work in it. For me the coolest thing about Twitter is I can go and talk to Brian Solis and he may tweet me back. I can talk to Conan O’Brien if I wanted to, and he might tweet me back. It’s a weird position because it brings you closer to people you might never have had the opportunity to talk to. But it’s also an anti-social tool because you’re on your phone or on your computer and you’re not talking face-to-face.”

Getting Motivated

Starting out in finance but ending up in Social Marketing, as Mr. Levey did, is quite a marked change of direction. But it was part of a process he values, which includes making mistakes. “For me it was a combination of honing what I really wanted to do with my career. I think failure is something else as well. Obviously failure is the greatest motivator. We make mistakes all the time, and learning from those and figuring out how not to make those mistakes again and how to really improve upon them is what drives me.”

And his advice for those hoping to go into the field? “Read! Read a lot! And do research. By that I mean go to Facebook and [analyze] the brands and people you want to follow. Why do you want to follow them, what makes you engage with them? And the same with Twitter. I would also say dabble in the field. If you want to get into it get in and dabble. Don’t just tell people that because you have a Facebook page or blog or Twitter account that you’re good at social media. You have to practice it, it’s a craft.”

Job satisfaction, for him, comes from communicating to Cirque’s vast network of followers some of the exciting things Cirque is doing. But it also comes from the atmosphere of Cirque itself. “It’s really cool when you go to a theater during the day and film something, or you have a meeting, and you think – tonight there are going to be 2,000 people here, and it will be their first Cirque show, or their last Cirque show, or their first with their grandma, or the first with their girlfriend or daughter or son, whomever. And they’re always going to remember that. That’s something that is really cool that you don’t get with a lot of jobs.”

Though don’t ask him how many hours he spends on the computer. “Too many. My wife will tell you too many.”

Of course Mr. Levey can be followed on his own social media accounts.
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/andrewmlevey
Twitter: https://twitter.com/andylevey

My sincere thanks go to: Mr. Levey for so graciously spending time with us, Chantal Côte, Corporate PR Manager, And my wife LouAnna for putting up with my sometimes obsessive hobby.