How social networking will kill the critic

It’s coming: The end of an era.

It’s coming: The end of an era.

The professional critic – that sometimes loved, sometimes loathed member of the theatre industry – is becoming less relevant, less respected and generally less important in an industry that will soon be taken over by social networking.

On Saturday I saw The Social Network and whilst films like that are often a little shaky on exact detail, the one thing it did confirm was how quickly Facebook spread; how quickly it became one of the most important and relevant communication tools in the world today.

Last night, a friend called Facebook “the Elvis Presley of today”. It’s a fair point – Elvis changed a generation with music, and Facebook is changing a generation with social networking.

And elements of social networking have major impacts on certain industries, and theatre is one of them.

The theatre industry is already one which relies on word of mouth. In the last, such word of mouth marketing may have happened through social groups, friends catching up or things of the like. Today, it happens via Facebook and Twitter – and happens a hell of a lot quicker.

We will eventually get to the stage, in my opinion, where producers will not even have to wait an hour after the curtain comes down on opening night to find out if he or she has a major hit on their hands. They’ll just grab their phone, check comments being left on Facebook and Twitter, and will know that their critics have spoken.

Over time, Facebook users will realise more and more just how much power they have, and how important their comments can be. As this evolves, more and more people will be making logical and sensible comments, and producers will be determining the critical reaction from their shows based on social networking comments than they will what newspapers, or even theatre websites say.

I was first convinced by this theory last Tuesday when Channel Seven aired the dramatic Packed To The Rafters episode in which a major character died. The reaction on Facebook and Twitter in the minutes following the episode was immense, and the reactions was easy to follow immediately.

Unfortunately, the professional theatre critic cannot be saved. Why? Because people will always trust the opinions of their friends more than they will a professional critic. Just like you’d trust your friend if he told you the newest car on the market was a dud, even though the reviews in the auto magazines were stunning.

So what do we do?

We embrace it.

I work in newspapers every day and it is tough to be involved in an industry many believe will one day die. Truth is, newspapers will be around a long time into the future – they just have to think smarter and play harder. Not all content in newspapers will survive – indeed, not all content that was in newspapers 50 years ago is there today. Times change, as do eras.

We are about to enter an era where reviews are immediate, and the reactions are more brutal than ever before.

Word of mouth just got faster, different and more risky.

Social networking is theatre’s new best friend, and its worst enemy.

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