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Ticket sales now moving at the speed of Twitter, Facebook

The ticket agency for Conan O' Brien's Austin show says social media helped sell it out quickly.

Omar L. Gallaga
ogallaga@statesman.com
Conan O'Brien performed in Vancouver, British Columbia on 'The Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour.' With one tweet, the comedian was able to sell-out shows.

On March 11, when tickets for Friday night's Conan O'Brien performance at Austin Music Hall went on sale, it was followers of the talk show host on Twitter who first heard about it.

The 30-city tour was announced in a Tweet from O'Brien that read, in part, "Hey Internet: I'm headed to your town."

Within hours, the shows — including the Austin performance — were sold out before many people had time to hear about them on blogs or e-mail.

Don't like Twitter, Facebook or missing out on performance tickets to those who do? It might be something to get used to, especially in the case where there's high demand for tickets and an artist is willing to get the word out first on a social networking service.

Jeff Kreinik, director of sales and marketing for Front Gate Tickets, the ticket vendor for the O'Brien performance, called the Twitter-driven ticket sale "a huge, huge success. Tickets went through the roof.

"It really demonstrated the power of social media," Kreinik said.

Front Gate and other ticket sellers like Ticketmaster and Texas Box Office (which sells tickets for Erwin Center shows) still use e-mail, print, TV and radio advertising to get the word out about upcoming shows and ticket sales. But increasingly, they're also using Twitter and Facebook to get the word out to fans even more quickly and cheaply.

And in an era when smart phones are becoming increasingly popular — one study suggests over 50 percent of cell phones will be Internet-enabled smart phones by next year — the vendors are selling tickets through mobile phones.

Kreinik says Front Gate started using mobile ticketing last year ("It's a combination of convenience and demand. It's growing," he said) and hired a full-time social media staffer earlier this year to drive ticket sales from Twitter and Facebook.

E-mail, he says, can be slow depending on how large a distribution list is, and texting — which is not free — can be too expensive for the rate of return to ticketing agencies.

But Twitter and Facebook, he says, are proving far more effective — they get the word out among fans quickly and efficiently and translate into ticket sales.

"Any time we, a client of ours or a fan posts to Twitter or Facebook (about ticket sales), 5 percent of people who click on that link from that social media site are buying a ticket," he said. "That's a tremendously high rate."

So much so that Front Gate has had to prepare its servers for spikes of traffic when big events are posted to the social media sites. For last year's Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza festivals, "We saw a tremendous spike in sales like we've never seen before" with the help of Twitter, Kreinik said.

For the O'Brien show, tickets were $39.95 and a $695 package included front-row center orchestra tickets and a meet-and-greet with the comedian.

O'Brien's highly publicized ouster from NBC, his booming Twitter account (which had about 600,000 followers at the time; he now has more than 945,000) and the speed of social media communication was "kind of a perfect combination," Kreinik said.

"You have an artist or a performer in high demand utilizing new technology to really change the landscape of how events are promoted," he said.