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Business - Written by on Monday, August 11, 2008 7:46 - 1 Comment

Denis Hancock
Social Media and the Four Forms of Theatre

Very observant readers may note that this post has some striking similarities to what I wrote about three months ago – the collaborative experience economy. What I tried to do then was connect the “four forms of theater” idea from Pine & Gilmore’s “The Experience Economy” with the principles of wikinomics – hence the name of the post. For whatever reason I didn’t get a lot of traction with it, but I’m still intrigued by the underlying ideas, so I wanted to re-frame the idea directly in relation to social media. More to the point, I’d like to hear from wikinomics readers as to whether it’s a useful framework for thinking about the use of social media in relation to creating experiences both for and with customers.

In the previous post I walked through the examples provided in the book, which took a “day in the life” approach by focusing on a fictional executive named Linda. The basis for understanding the argument starts with platform theater – where one “scripts in advance every line and every gesture, practicing each over and over again until she can confidently give a performance so accomplished that it comes off as fresh and spontaneous.”

Platform theater represents the way many companies operate, from the most basic call center designs right through to the experience created for customers. It’s a comfortable way for many companies to operate, and relatively low-risk as well thanks to the controlled environment. But as anyone who’s taken Investing 101, it is through taking calculated risks that rewards are achieved.

So now let’s take a look at the definitions of more “evolved” forms of theater:

matching theater – where “disparate facts and events (are pieced) together (into) a unified whole, much like a film editor or director.”

street theater – where “small, atomic units of activity are called on demand to construct a performance.”

improv theater – where “surprising” problems must be handled immediately, and where Linda had to draw on “the reservoir of managerial techniques she has stored up from past experience.” The chapter notes that “Improv requires systematic and deliberate methods of originating creative ideas, fresh expressions, and new ways of addressing old problems.”

I would argue that various social media applications be be used to help move from “platform theater” to each of the other options. The most involved, of course, is “improv theater” – and here is where I think we could really dig into the opportunities that social media tools can create for companies. How much better could those “systematic and deliberate” methods be if wikis, blogs, social networks, reputation profiles, ranking systems, and the like where fully capitalized on? I also like the idea of taking improv theater to the next logical step – pulling customers on stage to participate in the experience directly (see: prosumerism).

So what do wikinomics readers think – would this be a useful framework to develop in relation to social media and customer experiences, and if so how might you go about expanding on it?

1 Comment

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Nish Suvarnakar
Oct 2, 2009 7:23

I came across this searching for connections to theater or theatrics and social media. I am currently in a social media class at Georgetown rereading Clay shirky’s ‘Here comes everybody.’ Part of the class is writing weekly blog entries and a topic that popped into my mind was the 1964 murder case of Kitty Genovese and vastly lighter note, Perez Hilton’s ‘assault.’ by will.i.am. I wanted to use your theater definitions on my blog mediaindigest.wordpress.com which I just started for the class. I was wondering if you have expanded on this initial theory which I find apt and intriguing.

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