Online to Offline - Social Media Influencers

Online to Offline: Why social media influencers need stand-up comedy

Across all of his social media platforms Australian comedian Reuben Solo has over 800,000 followers. His Instagram sits at 235,000 followers, YouTube at 19,000 subscribers and over 560,000 followers on TikTok. He chooses not to be on Facebook. He’s Gen Z after all.

Reuben has attracted this enormous following by filming skits, where he often plays all the characters. To date he has over 220 short videos online, and it’s only growing.

Platform monetisation works though, right?

With these types of numbers, Reuben should be very wealthy. Well, no. YouTube does pay ‘eligible’ content creators, but it’s estimated that an artist like Reuben would only be making between $500 and $2,000 per month, to access his 19,000 subscribers. Factors like age, gender and country of the viewers play a major factor in what the content creator receives. Put simply, if Reuben’s audience are big consumers, Reuben’s videos will demand higher advertising bids from advertisers. And that ad revenue is passed on to Reuben.

In Australia, neither Facebook, Instagram, Twitter (aka X) nor TikTok give anything back to Australian content creators. Facebook’s attempt to introduce ‘Stars’ has been lacklustre, more so when you realise that one ‘star’ is only worth $0.01 US dollars. Of course, once you calculate the US to Australian exchange rate, five Facebook stars is equal to twenty Aussie bucks! Just kidding. It’s still f#ck all. Ultimately, it comes down to our pathetic size. At only 25 million people, California and Texas are bigger markets than Oz.

Comedian Lewis Spears, who lives in both the online and offline world agrees. Says Lewis, “I’ve had viral videos since they’ve started the (Facebook) Stars model, and I don’t think I’ve made a singe dollar.” Lewis says that “no fudging way” would he expect his fans to just give him $10 for his facebook post. Except Lewis didn’t say “fudge”. Lewis Spears is not surprised of the lack of direct return on his online efforts. This is because he understands there’s an indirect way, that bridges online efforts and branding to offline physical sales. And it starts with a plan.

A man with a stand-up plan

Today, Lewis Spears is social media influencers and stand-up celebrity. He’s also an offline stand-up comedian that regularly sells out shows, particularly at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. But to get to where he is, you have to understand where he started. “From 2012, I built two years of online content before I did my first stand-up comedy show,” says Lewis. “And at the same time, I started performing stand-up comedy. But I didn’t tell anyone about my gigs. Not friends or family.”

Lewis didn’t want to fall into the trap befallen singers and other performers, whose online presence is heavily edited, and translates poorly to the offline stage – underwhelming followers. “These social media influencers will sell tickets to a live show, but when they suck people will say “Don’t see them live, they’re much better online.”

Lewis Spears was patient, and that’s paid off. Twelve years laters, Lewis has 577,000 YouTube subscribers, 73,000 Instagram followers, 169,000 Facebook followers, and 352,000 TikTok followers. It is from this pool that Lewis draws his audience for live stand-up shows. In 2023, Lewis sold out most of his Melbourne International Comedy Festival shows at The Rubber Chicken in South Melbourne, made possible by a strategy of building a strong online brand with offline events.

Warning! Plan your offline debut

Lewis is quick to reiterate. “Just because you’re funny on a screen, doesn’t mean that translates to offline stage.” He’s seen too many cases where online influencers who have the online audience lack the offline live performance craft.

“If you don’t know how to perform, you should not do a show,” says Lewis. “I have seen so many people say ‘I’ve got 10,000 followers so I can now do a live show. NO! It’s not that simple.”

The first issue is the quality of those followers. With a two year plan in mind, Lewis began filming content that was only Melbourne centric. From 2014, Lewis talked specifically about Melbourne nightlife, attracting a narrow, but dedicated following of young audiences that liked to go out.

“One of my broad topic videos could get a million views, but those viewers could be anyway in the world. They don’t live here in Melbourne where I’m going to be performing. When I filmed videos specifically about Melbourne nightlife, the videos may have only got 100,000 views each, but I know that those were people who could potentially buy tickets to my shows.”

Lewis adds that many of his early ‘club rat’ followers are now 30 plus, with disposable income and an interest in live comedy. And many of the teenagers that used to laugh at his online politically inspired rants are now loyal followers who line up after shows to buy his merch. Perfect execution of online to offline.

Developing an offline show

Lewis Spears and Reuben Solo’s online content is similar, but not identical to their offline comedy performances. For one, stand-up comedy demands a rapid rate of ‘jokes per minute’ that can’t be edited in post production. As a rule of thumb, a stand-up comedian should attempt to get a reaction from the audience every 15 to 20 seconds. That means for a ten minute performance, that’s 30 to 40 jokes – with no retakes! For this reason, both Lewis and Reuben have learnt to remember comedy sets, that are often over an hour long. They have also developed the skills required to interact with their audience, create jokes on the fly, and all the while exuding charisma.

And it is this last quality, charisma, that is often the biggest hurdle for social media influencers, but one they must overcome if they are going to step between online to offline. With the limitations created by a small population, and no domestic social media platform supporting Australian content creators, developing a stand-up comedy show has been the best way to monetise fame and turn clicks into cash. It’s worked for Lewis and Reuben who, between social media uploads, are regularly touring.

It’s also worked for Tony Knight, a ‘dog listener’ and author, originally from Britain and now living in Australia. Tony has successfully built a following online, which he converts into comedy show ticket sales.

See for yourself. All three, Reuben, Lewis and Tony have upcoming shows:

Are you ready to move online to offline? Join our next comedy course.

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