Last night, I finally made it to the MSO Secret Symphony. I've been wanting to go for a while, but up until now I've always had a clash or been overseas at the time. The premise is simple; the MSO Secret Symphony twitter account announces that there will be a secret concert in the near future, and posts clues on the composer, work, and performance location. Twitter followers then get to guess these details, and can win prizes, as well as priority access to the event. A day or two beforehand, the location and time is announced.
What ensued last night was a performance of J.S. Bach's "Coffee Cantata", at 10pm in a warehouse space behind a popular Melbourne cafe/bar. Glancing around, there would have been around 200 people - not bad for a Wednesday night with under a week of purely social media marketing. I overheard one of the organisers mention that they've had to scale back the level of promotion to solely twitter-based marketing because they don't want to risk having to turn people away at the door!
So, what makes this work? Yes, it helps that the MSO have a strong brand for quality music, but it's possibly more the obscurity of the work combined with the short and limited lead-up that taps into people's FOMO - Fear Of Missing Out! And Melbourne's full of well-kept secrets that we only hear about after it's been and gone
Also at the heart of this is the notion of scarcity. The MSO could reach large crowds through widely-publicised free concerts, but they tap into a very different crowd by creating a "secret gig". Of course, the beauty is that nothing spreads more like wildfire than a "secret". And whilst nobody wants to go to a free concert that will take just anybody, the more obscure a "secret" performance, the more special it becomes!
Of course, the trick is to find that fine line between being a little too secret - i.e. nobody knows that it's on - and broadcasting a little too desperately and putting people off. "Free" for some means that it's a special gift for those in the know, whereas "free" can also mean "nobody would actually pay money for this!" This can certainly be a challenge for public libraries. In my public library role, an upcoming event was recently booked out, and the resulting email was, "Can everybody please remove all promotional material, because it's full." Frankly, I can't think of better promotion for an event than telling everybody that they've missed out on something even before it's happened! It'll make sure they keep a keen eye for the next time a similar event comes around.