The Magic of Social Media


I love magic. Whether it’s the fantasy worlds of my favorite writers or the stage magic of great magicians or little boys practicing the tricks that came in their Christmas stockings, I just love magic.

Recently, my favorite magicians have been doing a great job of demonstrating just how powerful social media can be — and how they can magically create a huge global audience for themselves and their art by combining traditional stagecraft and modern technology.

Penn & Teller’s Audience Multiplying Magic

Penn and Teller

Penn and Teller

My husband is a huge Penn & Teller fan. They once got blood on my shoes, so I refuse to sit in the front row anymore, but I’ve had the pleasure of meeting them several times, and found them to be delightful people as well as talented performers.

Of course, you can meet them too — anyone can. If you go to see the show (which you should, if you’re in Las Vegas), stick around afterwards — or if you can’t get a ticket, show up at the Rio Hotel around 11 p.m. any night except Thursday and Friday.  After every show, you’ll find Penn and Teller in the lobby signing autographs and posing for pictures until every person in the crowd is satisfied.

That’s smart marketing — because they know that every one of those photos is going to show up on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or some other social site. But the savvy duo of magicians take things a bit further than just signing autographs at the end of their show. They  borrow an iPhone from an audience member during the show in a new routine that guarantees that at least one video of the show makes it online every single day.

Think about the possibility of taking something you do every day, and turning it into a perpetual promotion machine for your business. That’s what Penn and Teller have done with the opening trick of their Las Vegas Show. It’s called Cell Fish

They borrow a phone from someone in the audience, and use it as a video source and prop for the trick — and the phone’s owner can then look at the video on their phone and see how the trick is done. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of YouTube videos from audience members who have uploaded videos taken during Cell Fish routines in Penn and Teller’s show at the Rio. Tens of thousands of people have seen those videos — maybe millions of people have seen them.

Penn already has a huge social media audience, with over 1.3 million Twitter followers. And it’s a sure fire bet that he could have uploaded a slick, professionally produced video of this trick that would have been better than most of the videos on YouTube. But how many more people will see something uploaded five nights a week for a year or more, by a different person every night? Compare that with the strategy of most performers, who forbid all photography during their shows. Who gets the bigger long-term bump in audience? The magician who bans photography, and holds on so tightly to his rights, or the duo who make sure that at least one audience video is uploaded to the web every single night?

I’d argue that it’s Penn and Teller, who turn everyone in the audience into social ambassadors who do far more than check in on Foursquare when they first arrive at the theatre.

Jeff McBride’s Locked Room Magic

Jeff McBride

Jeff McBride

Jeff McBride is one of the best living magicians — and he and his wife Abby have to be one of the nicest couples in show business, too.  Jeff has been helping magicians from all over the world polish their craft for almost 20 years.  Jeff McBride’s Magic and Mystery School is known around the globe as the place where magicians can go to get their acts stage ready. It’s more than just another “master class”, although the teaching and coaching is superb. Mystery Schol is more like a peer support group or magical fraternity that follows each of them for years after that first class.

The trouble was, that with the demanding travel schedule that Jeff and the other faculty members have, and the cost of travelling to Las Vegas for classes, only a handful of magicians could get the chance to attend Magic and Mystery School every year. So in 2007 Jeff and Eugene Burger created several online resources for aspiring magicians.

One of the things I like best about Jeff’s approach to online learning is that he doesn’t expose the secrets of tricks online. See, I’m the audience. And I don’t want to be anything except the audience. My husband is an amateur magician who’s attended Jeff’s classes, and he wants to know how things work.

I don’t. I want to watch — and I like listening to discussions about the theory and history of magic. But I don’t want to know how tricks are done. Jeff McBride has something called The Locked Room where my husband and those like him can see the secret stuff. Me, I can go to McBride Magic TV  and get a weekly fix of the best magic around — without learning all the details I don’t want to know.

Burger and McBride also publish essays, an email newsletter, and maintain an online database that reviews products and services for amateur and professional magicians. Last, but hardly least, both of the renowned magicians answer questions submitted by amateur or professional magicians via email. For free. Anytime.

It’s just one of the ways that Jeff and Eugene use that most powerful of social media tools: plain old-fashioned kindness. They’re both known for their kindness to fellow magicians, audience members, and those they work with.

For  me, it started when I bought a weekend class for my husband as a Valentine’s gift about 12 years ago, and I had a question about something. I dialed the number of my receipt, and it turned out to be Jeff’s cell phone. It’s only the second time in my life that a certified celebrity gave me their unpublished cell phone number — and I spent years as an “industry insider” covering celebrities for national magazines and newspapers, and more years handling PR for performers and authors.

I’ve only met Jeff face to face a handful of times, but if I walk up to him at a show anywhere in the world, I get a hug and a hearty, “Nice to see you again, Deb!” His Facebook page, Twitter feed, and monthly newsletter are on my short list of things to read within a few hours of the time they’re published.

Where’s Your Magic?

You don’t need to be a world-class magician like Penn and Teller, Jeff McBride, or Eugene Burger to make social media magic.  You just need to remember a few things.

  1. It isn’t always about you. Be nice to people — and let them know you’re interested in them. Listen, and respond to your audience.
  2. Don’t put a price tag on everything you do. People will spend more money over a long period of time if they don’t feel you’re hitting them up for money or making them fill out a sign-up form every time they get a bit of valuable information.
  3. Make it easy for them to find you. Consistent timing matters — I know I can find Jeff McBride online at 7 p.m. PST every Monday.  So I never have to try to remember a date.
  4. Communicate in all of the places your audience is. I can sign up for email, newsletters, and follow Penn and Teller on Twitter, Facebook, paid and premium cable TV, and the web. And, of course, I can show up any night (or every night) at the Rio if I just want to talk to them. No single communications channel (not even an Emmy-winning TV show) is enough anymore.
  5. Give your audience a reason to smile. Penn and Teller, Jeff McBride, and George Takei have mastered the art of being edgy without crossing the line into being offensive. All take on sensitive topics like religion, mythology, and politics, yet they all do it with a deft hand that pokes fun at themselves, and never at their audience. So even when you disagree with them, you smile and come back for more.

About debmcalister

I'm a Dallas-based marketing consultant and writer, who specializes in helping start-up technology companies grow. I write (books, articles, and blogs) about marketing, technology, and social media. This blog is about all of those -- and the funny ways in which they interesect with everyday life. It's also the place where I publish general articles on topics that interest me -- including commentary about the acting and film communities, since I have both a son and grandson who are performers.
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7 Responses to The Magic of Social Media

  1. CJ May says:

    You are spot on about the greatest magic these magicians perform may not be what they do on stage!

  2. Awesome post! Very useful advice, not only for performers who tend to use facebook and twitter for broadcasts, rather than for conversations, but for every marketer. Thanks.

  3. boomingbizinesses says:

    Reblogged this on boomingbizinesses.

      • boomingbizinesses says:

        No problem. I am curious if I could re-purpose this article in my new digital magazine called “Beyond the Square” which is for small business owners. If you are interested or open to this, leave a comment or contact me on Twitter @BBusinesses We are launching the magazine in March and I really like this article. All credit would be given to you with contact info.

      • debmcalister says:

        Sure! Thanks for your kind words and interest.

  4. KW says:

    Reblogged this on Social Media Marketing and commented:
    Follow this woman! She knows her marketing and her writing is fantastic.

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