Light Block Engine That Could

Some of you might be a little tired of me hailing blogs as the next big thing (and if you have been reading me long enough to have noticed the trend, it just goes to prove the point.) But I was reading a story that has some good lessons/thoughts about executing blogs as a business tool.

Business 2.0 had a story about how General Motors got in to blogging. It was very interesting to me to see that the company that used to be the biggest employer in the US (Remember “What’s good for GM is good for America?”)took a very low profile approach to starting a blog. They started with a blog on the niche subject of small block engines in October, assessed the success of that project and opened another blog (Fast Lane) on a wider scale.

“People were already talking about us all over the Internet,” Wiley explains. “This blog was an attempt to get GM more involved in the dialogue and to get people talking to us. We see this as a direct line to enthusiasts, supporters — and detractors.”

True, many arts organizations only pray that people are taking enough interest in them to talk about them anywhere, much less on the internet. Heck, I’m sure I speak for all arts organizations when I say that we wish people would be as passionate about us as they are about the style of hubcaps appropriate for a vehicle–much less the carburetor.

A couple of good decisions about the blog GM has made:

One big reason for Fast Lane’s success: GM is willing to accept and post criticism. Smart move. Nobody wants to read a sanitized blog. The site is also inclusive. In addition to Lutz, the company has opened the floor to other blogging GM executives, which helps give the behemoth brand a more human, approachable, and likable positioning.

And many view the art organizations the same way-inscrutable, closed off, mysterious, intimidating. (And unfortunately there can be some truth behind the perception.)

But the company is doing everything else right. Most important, GM hasn’t advertised the blog. Rather, it has wisely allowed the site to grow organically, gaining further street cred. “We’re really committed to avoiding corporate-speak and keeping this really transparent,” Wiley says…

Blog fans are actually an appealing consumer segment for an automaker, despite their image as a gaggle of unemployed malcontents sitting around in their pajamas. According to Forrester [Research], they are most likely to be male, with an average household income of $57,900. A quarter of all bloggers are ages 18 to 24, which makes them a good long-term investment. Perhaps most important, bloggers tend to be highly opinionated and highly influential — a real benefit for a company that peddles big-ticket items in an industry where more than half of all shoppers begin their research online…

Many bloggers, being bloggers, will no doubt view GM’s experiment with suspicion, so the company will need to maintain its street cred by not micromanaging content. It also needs to let the criticism roll — no matter what.

The whole idea of maintaining your street cred resonates with my recent entry on the difficulty a theatre was having getting bloggers to review for them. And it really underscores Elisa blog post cited in that entry.

The article goes on to say while few people regularly read blogs these days, it is an up and coming. Consumers regularly reading blogs rose from 2 percent in 2003 to 5 percent in 2004.

If you are looking for a younger audience, they are starting to get into the habit of doing their research online. They may not be ready to begin attending the arts quite yet,(and maybe they never will be) but like GM you aren’t ready with an effective blog and website to provide the content they seek either. Take advantage of the situation like GM did and hone your skills and techniques while there are few people around to notice your screw ups.

You Can Bring a Blogger to the Show, But You Can’t Make ‘Em Write

Back in the beginning of February among the theatre type blogs I listed in an entry was one to the Impact Theatre web page where they were offering free tickets to people who would see a show and blog for them.

As promised, I sent an email off to them yesterday to see how successful it was for them. I got a letter back from their graphics person, Cheshire Dave, who has given me permission to excerpt the email here. Apparently, as much as people seem to want to regale the blogosphere with the inane details of their lives, no one wants to write about theatre–even with a direct appeal.

Quoth Cheshire:

I am depressed to announce that yours is the very first email I’ve gotten from that link in the six months or so that it’s been up. No joke; no exaggeration. By and large, this initiative has been a spectacular failure. Except for one case, no blogger has taken me up on it, even ones I solicited directly (some of them didn’t even get back to me, and I emailed several times). The sole exception has been SFist (http://www.sfist.com), and that’s a site that I write for (I’m not the one doing the reviews). But the point of SFist is to fill a need for a regional blog, so it’s not like an individual’s blog in that regard. So really, my plan has been totally unsuccessful.

It kills me that I can’t find even one blogger who wants free tickets to theater that he or she would probably really enjoy. With bloggers more or less looked down upon by a great portion of the print establishment and not known about by even more people, it seems to me that what bloggers want is legitimacy. But when offered to them on a silver platter, they can’t be bothered. It’s really disappointing.

I did go to sfist.com and typed “Impact” into the search field to see what sorta stuff was going up. There were some nice articles for their productions with the sort of disclaimers about being involved with Impact Theatre that you would hope people being paid to promote governmental initiatives would make. Its a practice to which all uncredentialed journalist types should aspire. (I try to keep the blog generally apolitical, but sometimes, the opportunity to comment is just there.)

I sent him a couple links to some of my “bloggers as the next reviewers” entries (here, here, and here) in my inquiry email. He noted though that “One thing I didn’t see in your entry about bloggers as reviewers that is a benefit to the arts organization is the opportunity for almost-instant response on the blog.”

I thought I had said that somewhere already, but it certainly bears repeating. As he noted, his theatre gets most of its review driven audiences from the free weekly paper so by the time the review appears, the show is in to its second week. With the daily papers, you are sort of at the whims of the editors. A Sunday or Friday review is great–but god help you if it appears in Monday’s paper as it is the least read of any day.

Since bloggers are typically very quick to report their impressions, finding a good one with a dedicated readership can potentially be worth his/her weight in gold–so a couple free tickets to a show ain’t nothin’ But as I noted a couple days ago, I think blogging still has to have some time to mature as a information media. Once it does, I bet you see individuals with sites like sfist.com that appear well run and probably have a dedicated group of visitors.

Until then though, I encourage everyone to be like Impact and pioneer the way.

In Your Right Mind

In case you missed seeing it on Artsjournal today because it was a holiday for you, an article appeared from Wired suggesting that the future prosperity of the US lay in right brain activities.

The author foresees that as more left brain logic based jobs either get off shored or relegated to increasingly sophicated software, a demand for people with intuitive and empathic skills will emerge.

There was an interesting section that might mean good things for the arts organizations able to fulfill an apparently emerging need people are beginning to feel-

For companies and entrepreneurs, it’s no longer enough to create a product, a service, or an experience that’s reasonably priced and adequately functional. In an age of abundance, consumers demand something more. Check out your bathroom. If you’re like a few million Americans, you’ve got a Michael Graves toilet brush or a Karim Rashid trash can that you bought at Target. Try explaining a designer garbage pail to the left side of your brain! Or consider illumination. Electric lighting was rare a century ago, but now it’s commonplace. Yet in the US, candles are a $2 billion a year business – for reasons that stretch beyond the logical need for luminosity to a prosperous country’s more inchoate desire for pleasure and transcendence.

Liberated by this prosperity but not fulfilled by it, more people are searching for meaning. From the mainstream embrace of such once-exotic practices as yoga and meditation to the rise of spirituality in the workplace to the influence of evangelism in pop culture and politics, the quest for meaning and purpose has become an integral part of everyday life.

This may present an interesting turn of events. I have been reading articles of late that talk about people skipping college or going into technical training to gain specific skills. While it is certainly true that colleges could do a better job at endowing their graduate with practical skills, if this Wired artice is correct, it may be time to shift one’s concentration back to liberal and fine arts degrees to gain marketable skills.

Art from 1s and 0s

If you read reports on why people are no longer attending arts events, inevitably television, video games and computers will be mentioned.

What isn’t mentioned is that there is sort of a conservation of creative energy going on over the internet. Even though people are online more, there is a creative itch that they seem to need to scratch. Take for example the MUD Achaea (FAQ on MUDS here). They are a text based mud meaning no graphics are provided over the screen–all the colors, textures, etc are created within the player’s mind from the description presented.

However, for the past 5-6 years they have held monthly artisianal and bardic contests where players create visual representations of life in this text based game or songs/stories/poems reflecting the same. Considering that they also award runners up and merit awards, that is a fair bit of art being created to give tribute to an imaginary world.

Even more–they have a sophicated mechanism that allows players to create their own plays in game on a stage in one of the towns. It even goes so far as to allow you to set ticket prices, reserve private boxes, build sets and costumes and employ special effects.

This can give some hints as to the direction technology and theatre may be headed together.

Using MUDs for something other than entertainment has long been contemplated as seen in this paper on their use in education written a decade ago.

And the theatre world has been using a form of MUDs called MOOs to hold meeting and forum for almost as long. The Association of Theatre in Higher Education created ATHE MOO to provide opportunities for discussion and debate to those who couldn’t attend their annual conferences.