Social influencing unmasked with Phantom of the Opera project

“Instead of being marketers planning the logistics of a digital influencer campaign, this group of students got to be the influencers through their own social stories,” says Dr. Scott Cowley, assistant professor of marketing.

Recognizing the power of influencer marketing as a way of tapping into target markets, Miller Auditorium staff looked to the college of business for help encouraging WMU students to attend the recent showing of The Phantom of the Opera, the longest-running musical on Broadway. That help came from Dr. Scott Cowley, assistant professor of marketing, and a savvy group of digital marketing students.

The result: a unique collaboration among the production company, Miller and Haworth College of Business digital marketing students, who attended the opening performances, sharing their experiences and information about the show through their social media stories. Their goal was to encourage student attendance at the show and to spread awareness of Miller’s discounts on tickets for students—and the results were impressive.

“This campaign was successful from multiple angles,” says Dr. Scott Cowley, assistant professor of WMU’s digital marketing and eCommerce major. “The Instagram engagement rates and story completion rates were much higher than the benchmarks reported by professional influencers with similar audience sizes.”

The digital marketing students reached thousands of people through creative and engaging content and learned about multiple reports of people who went to the show after seeing one of the social media posts.

“Considering our business outcomes, our learnings about influencer strategy and the opportunity we were given to experience such a high-quality production, I think everybody was a winner here,” adds Cowley.

The exact content of the social posts was up to the students, as long as they creatively aligned with the campaign's desired audience, platform, and message, and captured the appropriate social media performance analytics.

Campaign Results

Instagram Posts

  • Potential reach: 12,529
  • Engagement rate (likes/comments): 14.62%

Instagram Stories

  • Total viewers: 4,679
  • Average story completion rate: 83.96%

Website Traffic

  • Miller website visits from student Instagram accounts: 148

Part of the reason this partnership was so great is that we found a way to help the show and Miller get the message to all WMU students, plus a way for our business students to gain a unique marketing experience,” says Cowley.

“WMU students have a wonderful benefit—thanks to the Office of the President—where they receive 50% off tickets to most of our season events at Miller, yet many don’t know about this discount,” says Bethany Gauthier, associate marketing director for Miller Auditorium. “Working with students in Dr. Cowley’s advanced digital marketing class was a way to more directly reach WMU students.”

Student influencers

Taylor Graham's post was shared by Sweetwater Donuts

Students taking part in the collaboration say the assignment challenged them to view social media from the influencers’ perspective.

“My greatest take away from this assignment would be the impact potential of social media influencing,” says Brooke Wester, a senior majoring in advertising and promotion. “Going into this project, I wasn't sure how successful my classmates and I would be. However, we all had a lot of success, and this was really a great way to market to people.”

“Posting sponsored content on my page was something very new and slightly uncomfortable for me,” says Taylor Graham, a senior majoring in advertising and promotion. “Dr. Cowley pushed us outside our comfort zones to help us grow as individuals and professionals!”

“I was most successful with engaging my viewers,” says Jeffrey Huang, digital marketing and eCommerce senior. “Getting them to click on the link in my bio with a call-to-action in my story as well as my static post worked well for me.”

“The most difficult aspect of this project was creating stories that seemed natural to my existing content but also intriguing to my followers to look into the Miller Auditorium event,” says Ashton Burke, a junior majoring in marketing.

The results of the project are listed at the above, but the pictures shown below tell an even bigger story.

Sampling of Project Posts

Ashton Burke and friend holding phantom-inspired doughnut in Miller Auditorium getting ready for the show.

Na’Kiyya Spurlock shared this post of herself standing in front of a Phantom of the Opera display poster in Miller.
Brook Wester took the opportunity to bring her grandma to the show and shared this post of the two of them in Miller. The text invites other students to buy tickets.
Post from Jeff Huang reads "What you could be doing" with a Phantom program behind the text.


Many of the posts—including these from students and Professor Cowley—were shared by Miller Auditorium and Sweetwater Donuts.