Folly Theater Uses Social Media for Immediate Product Development & Design

SBirett    October 17, 2016

A business cannot remain successful without undergoing change through ongoing product development and design. At one point in time, the majority of new products would be developed through brainstorming sessions – likely with key corporate players sitting around a boardroom table and a large flip chart or white board for recording. Today, product development is vastly different. The current use of technology enables individuals to converse and collaborate anywhere in the world.

Perhaps what is of particular interest is the inclusion of social media and how it is now common place for companies to rely on their customers to come up with product ideas. In the world of retail sales, this route can be quite successful. Frito-Lay and their “Do Us A Flavor” contest is a perfect example of a company that took incorporating social media for product development to a whole new level and with great success. Not only does a social media based product development campaign engage customers, it enables the company a chance to create a product that hits the shelves with customers already feeling invested and ready to open their wallets.

But is it possible to utilize the same social media product development in other industries to develop services, or possibly entertainment?

At a time when the Folly Theater in Kansas City was seeking to attract a new, younger audience, they took a chance on incorporating a very unique form of product development utilizing social media by literally putting the audience in control of the production they were viewing. Opened in 1900, The Folly was best known for its classical music and jazz lineup – not exactly the shows that would draw a younger audience from their phone and off their couch.

In 2013, in the Kansas City Business Journal Gale Tallis, Executive Director, Folly Theater, spoke about an aging audience and a need for the arts community to look at different ways to attract a new younger audience to survive.

Looking back now, Ms. Tallis, says,

“At first, it was a difficult concept for staff and the performers to understand, but once everyone understood the concept, they were all on board, and especially our tech crew and the performers – they really got into helping with suggestions to make it all happen.”

Had it not been for the full-service global marketing and ad agency VML, the curtains would likely never have opened for the project due to the sheer cost, but Ms. Tallis said “VML kindly took this on as a pro bono project, and it turned out to be an award-winning program for them nationally.”

The production Ballyhoo Hullabaloo performed by the The New Century Follies, featured the region’s best live music, dancers, showgirls, pantomime artists, acrobats, comics, vocalists and novelty acts.

In an interview with ADC Global following the show, VML’s Executive Creative Director, Linda Bumgarner, said

“The Folly Theater had been around for 100 years and it had this old reputation of not having the most innovative acts. We were trying to look at ways that we could revitalize things with the internet and attract a new audience.”

She went on to say that she believes that smart technology can be applied in a lot of cases to make experiences richer and bring more value to them. “I think just the power to give information is key.”

So How Exactly Did It Work?
VML created a mobile app entitled Center Screen. Those attending the performance simply downloaded the app onto their smartphone prior to the show and were treated to various interactions that were spaced just far enough apart that the app wouldn’t replace the performance – just enhance it.

The audience was able to develop the production as it played out in front of them by choosing everything from performers’ costumes, to props and song choices. The use of #CenterScreen not only allowed for every moment of the performance to be shared as the audience’s decisions played out in front of them, it encouraged real-time interaction.

While the entire performance was not developed by the audience, their input and voting through polls greatly influenced the performance and ultimately the entire show as what one audience member saw during a screening was different than what another saw during a different screening. The performers even got into the act by utilizing their own phones and social media!

As a result, the theater that was quietly operating to a dwindling crowd was now the talk of the town. Attendance went up, especially among the younger target group, audience engagement heightened during the show and social chatter increased.

There were 1,817 active sessions during the show, 6,803 screen views and 753 real-time social media shares recorded during the show.

Lessons for Others

The Bottom Line – was it worth the invested time, energy and money? Absolutely – but like the arts, the result was not a concrete product for future use. Instead, the new product design, aka the show, was developed and accessed by consumers in real-time and was not expected to produce a long-term product. However, the hype surrounding the unique performance was able to impact the innovation process by providing a larger potential customer base, and detailed information on a younger audience’s entertainment preferences that could be incorporated into the selection of future performances targeted at the same audience.

Ms. Tallis, said interest in the Folly Theater has certainly continued to grow and there has been a large uptick in the theater’s social media. Ticket purchases have not increased much but at a time where others are seeing a decline in ticket sales, the Folly Theater is thriving.

She says, “What we do see is an increased awareness of the Folly Theater and what we are doing. This month we have about 25 performances ranging from Chamber Music, to Jazz, to Ailey Dance, to Kinsey Sicks, which is a benefit for the Aids Service Foundation, so we have a very large and diverse programming schedule!”.

Considering the theater’s former reputation and declining popularity, I’d say that seeking audience input via social media was a major turning point for this beautiful landmark.

Organization: Folly Theater
Industry: Entertainment
Name of Organization Contact: Gale Tallis, Executive Director

Authored by: SBirett

If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site, please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Program Director, Social Media for Business Performance.


ADC Global, blog, (2014, June 9) as at October 13, 2016. http://www.adcglobal.rg/center-screen-to-center-stage

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FritoLay, as at 2016, October 13.

Folly Theater.

Grumke, Andrew, KCBJ, (2013, August 13).

itunes, Apple App Store.

Wikipedia, as at 2016, October 3.