Go Facebook yourself.

Why should arts groups focus more on social media? Aren’t orchestra audiences generally older and less willing to plug in and surf? Isn’t it more effective to send out email blasts and good old-fashioned print media, like flyers and subscription forms? As it turns out, probably not.

Obviously most performing arts groups have some sort of online presence, usually a website and Facebook page, along with a Twitter feed. But how they use them seems to vary widely. Just in the last few years there have been enormous shifts in how audiences (and potential patrons) consume online information, and it would probably be wise for arts groups to pay attention.

Over the 18 months or so, the for-profit world has been obsessed with developing social media marketing; in other words, using devices like Facebook and Twitter as an integral part of an overall marketing strategy rather than just a tangent of more traditional avenues. There’s a lot of data that explains why:

– according to web intelligence gurus Hitwise and others, Facebook now accounts for 25% of all web traffic in the US.

– a recent Merchant Circle report showed that social media is now the top marketing strategy for local businesses, with 70% using Facebook for marketing purposes (up from 50% a year ago).

– that report also showed that Facebook has now surpassed Google (66%) as the most widely used marketing method amongst local businesses, and is almost tied with Google search (40 percent) as one of their top three most effective marketing methods. Also that  nearly 40 percent of local businesses use Twitter to build awareness and community support for their products and services.

Awareness and community support are obviously critical elements of any successful arts institution, and effectively developing that is a often a challenge. For example, lots of communities have no idea what an orchestra really does on a comprehensive level, especially the overall economic impact it may have or its educational value. The real point is that if an arts group were to maximize the possibilities of social media to generate meaningful connections with current and potential patrons, the results could be significant. Plus it’s free (unlike more traditional marketing strategies).

Some ways of “maximizing” would be to move away from the mindset that websites and/or social media are simply purveyors of information. Properly utilized, Facebook and Twitter would allow people to engage in a way that allows an organization to regularly remind everyone what makes their institution unique and valuable to their community, and why people should care. The crucial word is “regularly”- many arts groups use their online presence to post when they are performing and how to buy tickets, and maybe some reviews or generic press releases. That’s very different than having (for example), regular updates about all events, educational, fundraisers, press articles, the occasional video, posts from musicians and/or performers (for an orchestra, picture a weekly two-minute video from each conductor/soloist, or regular postings from various members of the orchestra), ticket giveaways or promotions, patron commentary on programming, links to written or video program notes, the list is endless. But the dialogue needs to be daily, maybe a few times a day during the season.

I’ve found it interesting to contrast the use of social media by various different orchestras. Some have dipped a small toe in the water, others clearly playing Facebook for all it’s worth (the San Francisco Symphony and LA Phil come to mind). Clearly local factors will affect how these ideas are implemented, but for the moment social media is an inevitable element of any successful marketing, even for nonprofits. You can’t have genuine “community engagement” without it.


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