By Evan DeSimone
Lorenzo Thione is a man who straddles the seemingly distant worlds of technology, marketing and theater. With names like Microsoft, Powerset, and Algebraix on his resume he’s an experienced tech entrepreneur and founder. He’s also a producer and a social marketing expert whose most recent project has been bringing actor turned social media darling George Takei to Broadway with “Allegiance,” a musical depicting a story of the wrongful imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
He’s also the man behind “Allegiance: The Trek To Broadway” a ten-part digital series that takes viewers behind the scenes of the production, showing how exciting and and sometimes daunting the process of bringing a show to the stage can be, even when one has Takei’s social star power attached. For this week’s 5Qs we talked to Thione about that process, and the social marketing and influencer space he had to master in order to make “Allegiance” a reality.
How has working with someone like George, who has a substantial and influential social media presence, impacted the process of bringing “Allegiance” to Broadway?
George’s impressive social media growth and the process of bringing “Allegiance” to the world have been one in the same as they have impacted each other very closely. When George and I first started working together on this project, he did not have any social media presence at all, and it was really because of our own sensibility and my tech background that we noticed the growing trend of social media. That eventually allowed us to create a unique audience for “Allegiance.” We were even able to raise some of the capital for the production through an idea that encouraged his fan base and audience to contribute to the show via crowdfunding. The amount raised will be treated as if it have been invested by the Japanese American National Museum, which will then receive a matched percentage of the profits.
How does a mainstream talent like George Takei benefit by entering the digital space and cultivating influencer status?
When it comes to influencers, what needs to be understood is that while the audience may come to follow you because they have an interest in you, they actually have an interest in engaging in a two-way conversation (and I don’t mean exchanging messages). The information that is exchanged has to be relevant and interesting to the audience and so if you’re only talking about yourself as an influencer instead of looking at what makes the demographic unique, then you’re not really able to push out fresh content that will keep them engaged and interested. This is something that we’ve developed working with George, and will apply with other influencers to continue to engage their audience. Social media has been seen as just a promotional tool, but we use it to help George understand his audience so that he can be provided with the tools and the content to help engage them.
You came from a tech and theater background before launching your social media marketing and content management firm The Social Edge. What made you think now was the right moment to focus on that space?
My professional career has been a chain of serendipitous occasions and I’ve found that opportunities come when you least expect it. Theater and particularly “Allegiance” came in that same way, just as how I had coincidentally met George. I felt a unique connection with “Allegiance” for its compelling subject matter and I felt that something new could be done to create an audience specifically for the show via social media. We realized in the process of making this audience that our tactic was unique and added new, innovative ways of thinking about social media that other influencers or brands had not done. We created a unique method that allows us to really understand influencers and audiences to create the highest level of engagement, which in turn becomes valuable for the influencers as it amplifies their message and creates a growing online fan base.
How has the influencer space evolved or changed in the time since you launched The Social Edge?
What’s one trend that anyone watching the digital influencer space should be aware of?
I think the most interesting trend to really be paying attention to is the combination of influencer marketing and monetization. For instance, I think YouTube and Instagram are going to change how monetization infrastructure will really come into play and how that interplay affects how brands work with influencers. On the other hand, other types of content and even publishers who have an easier time on platforms like Facebook and Twitter are now actually exploring other platforms such as Instagram or Pinterest to see if the influencer can be effective in a new and different area. We are definitely paying attention to how new monetization mechanisms will come in and disrupt the way existing platforms actually work.