100 Brains: Cirque du Soleil's Jessica Berlin discusses her life in the 'circus'

Quebec didn't only deliver Celine Dion to Las Vegas; it delivered Cirque du Soleil. Social media manager Jessica Berlin talks about the activities behind Cirque's colorful scenes, as well as how she sees social changing in the future.

Las Vegas might be a treasure trove for glitz, and sometimes gluttony, but it is also an entertainment mecca, and I'm not talking about Celine Dion. However, a large part of Las Vegas' more compelling appeal is due to compelling artistry out of Dion's native Quebec -- Cirque du Soleil. Cirque du Soleil is a modern-day circus with some of the most sensational visuals and acrobatics seen today. And while much of Cirque's growth was organic, there exists a powerhouse marketing team behind the colorful scenes. This team not only creates the magic that promotes Cirque's Las Vegas shows but also its worldwide touring shows. One key person on this team is social media manager Jessica Berlin. In this latest installment of 100 Brains, Berlin talks about social media lessons learned, the future of social, and the fun of doing social media for the circus.

Q. [Jennifer] Did you ever think that you would grow up to do marketing for the "circus"? Tell me about your journey and how you got here.

A. [Jessica] Definitely not! Cirque du Soleil has an incredible reputation in Las Vegas (and around the world), so I was really excited when I joined the company five years ago, in public relations.  As a publicist, I noticed that we didn’t give the same access to web sites and bloggers that we were giving to other journalists. Internally, I became an advocate for working with bloggers and proving that, just because someone’s blog has fewer readers than a major newspaper, it can make an even bigger impact for brand awareness and ticket sales. My position evolved into a social media role from there.

Q. What is the most fun part about working with Cirque du Soleil?

A. To be constantly surrounded by creativity.  Creativity truly is the heart and soul of this company and it’s reflected in everything we do.

Q. Please share with me an important lesson that you've learned while doing social for Cirque?

A. A lesson we’ve learned is to always make our fans a priority. About two years ago we began doing a “Friends and Family” promotion for our employees. We quickly started seeing the special rate appearing on Facebook pages and word spread.  At first, our execs were upset that the promotion had leaked, but it took that happening for us to really recognize that personal networks are now much bigger and people are eager to share information through those channels.

We realized we should always be extending our special promotions to our fans and followers on online networks.  We know these are people who are interested in Cirque and we always want to reward and encourage that interest.  Our social media channels are now the first ones we turn to when we want to push a certain offer and we always see amazing engagement.

As a result, social media has become the most important way for us to reach our fans immediately. Whereas our social channels used to be supplemental to our marketing efforts, now outlets such as radio and print have become a secondary means of messaging.

Q. Late last year I asked a lot of social brains what they thought would happen in social in 2010. The most predominant answer was "ubiquity." Do you believe that has been reached?

A. I don’t know if we will ever reach true ubiquity when it comes to “social media” due to the ever-evolving space.  We have reached ubiquity in the sense that social media is no longer just a buzz word and that brands recognize the necessity of being involved.

Q. Do you believe that the social networks fully understand how their users leverage them for business? Do you believe they are appropriately modeling their businesses to support that as well as succeed themselves?

A. I think all of the social networks understand that, in order to be successful, they have to cater to businesses, but some are much better at it than others.  The great benefit of social media is that any company can participate, but some social networks cater to companies with big budgets.  I think more social channels will have to offer opportunities for companies with smaller budgets to be able to be involved in the site’s business model.  I’m looking forward to see in particular what more Twitter offers brands in 2011.

Q. What is your social media engagement philosophy? Connect to everyone but engage reactively, engage proactively and connect with everyone who requests it, or limit your connections so that you can be sure to maintain good relationships (the quality vs. quantity question)?

A. Our philosophy is to reach out to and respond to as many of the people that are talking about our shows as we can. For the most part, we strive to engage proactively as well as connect with everyone. We love hearing what people have to say about the shows and, out of respect, we want to be sure we are acknowledging their comments and feedback.  We also want to be sure we are addressing any customer service issues that arise. We make it a point to respond to every positive and negative comment and re-tweet people’s experiences.  We love talking to people, so sometimes conversations aren't always specific to Cirque, but that’s the key to building good relationships, and in turn we’re converting “fans” to “friends."

Q. Who do you admire most and why? It can be a peer, an athlete, your significant other... anyone who drives you to keep doing what you're doing.

A. Through social media I’ve been so lucky to make many wonderful connections, many of whom have become great friends. In particular, Reem Abeidoh (@rabeidoh) has become an incredible mentor and friend. She’s one of the few I can debate the future of location based marketing with while shopping for shoes. Her passion for social media drives me to constantly challenge myself and what I’m doing for Cirque.

Q. Finally, what's one thing you want to make sure  readers know about the web, social, etc.?

A. Though social media has become “ubiquitous”, brands should never lose site of the basic fundamentals of participating – listening and engagement. We can’t rest on our laurels or our Foursquare badges.

Social Business "100 Brains" is a series of 100 interviews with some of social media's most compelling "thinkers" and "tinkerers." Each interview aims to showcase each subject's most unique perspectives and talents. Interviews will run until December 31, 2010. Know a top "thinker" or "tinkerer"? Send an email using the form below.