A new website and digital strategy for the opera

When I started my job as marketing director for Austin Lyric Opera, I knew I wanted to put my stamp on its digital marketing efforts. I wanted to put all that I have written about and all that I have learned over the past years to action. What follows is a brief overview of what I did and how I did it:

A new website
Tracking conversions
Online advertising
Social media
Mobile site
Final round up

A new website

Coming in, the opera was stuck with an all Flash-based website: it was complicated and time consuming to make even the smallest of updates; mobile devices could not load the site; and no data could be collected. The first priority was to change this. You simply cannot build a working digital strategy without the foundation of a solid institutional website that can drive ticket sales.

In redesigning the website, from architecture to graphic design, these were the four key development concepts:

Driving conversions

  • All roads should lead to a conversion. The ticket buying process needs to be straightforward, simple and seamless; from campaign source to order confirmation.

Data collection

  • How do patrons get to our website? What do they do when they arrive? We need to track the entirety of the sales funnel.

Highly customizable

  • A responsive website that can handle breaking news, custom landing pages and continuously revolving sales and institutional messages.

Easily manageable

  • Staff with little technology skills should be able to make basic website updates and embed multimedia elements.

I knew I wanted a website built on WordPress and having watched the development of Venture Industries by Drew McManus, I was surely impressed by the proprietary elements on top of the standard WordPress installation that Venture offers. Doing due diligence, I talked to and received several proposals from other web development agencies. One proposed Drupal despite my insistence on WordPress, and all proposed a budget in the $15,000-20,000 range. I knew I could do better. I went with Venture and I set a $10,000 budget.

Drew McManus’ Venture brought together the opera’s in-house strengths and Drew’s strengths in the performing arts and online user experiences. The work broke down like this:

In-House Resources (Client)

  • Planning: entirely redesigned site architecture and navigation
  • Content: content migration, creation and population; and integration with third party box office
  • Design: custom graphic design template along with home page and interior page layouts.
  • Development: basic custom CSS changes.

Custom Work (Venture)

  • Adapt client’s graphic design into custom PHP templates.
  • Designed custom admin interface.
  • Designed custom search bar that appears in the top, right hand corner of every page.
  • Removed slider overlay for unobstructed full width image while maintaining use of standard action button.

Work was completed in a 3 month time frame. That’s fast. The actual money spent came in far under budget, totaling $6,500, and broke down in two components: $1,500 for the custom work; $4,000 for the annual Venture license.

A quick note about the $4,000 annual license fee. This includes hosting, support, updates and a myriad of other benefits and services. In a way, Venture is like purchasing a Photoshop license for your organization. Having Photoshop doesn’t automatically guarantee you beautiful design; you have the best tool at your disposal, but you still need a graphic designer. Having Venture doesn’t automatically guarantee you a great website; you still need someone in-house.

However, the support and the best practice / brainstorming you get with Venture are superb. Other agencies would bill hourly. Furthermore, if your in-house resources are not as strong, you can outsource more of the work. I was impressed by the custom work we received for the money we spent. You can do as much or as little custom work as you’d like or as your budget allows.

The end result was a beautiful, highly effective new website that met all the criteria outlined in the four key development concepts: driving conversions; data collection; highly customizable; and easily manageable.

Aided by a new ticketing solution launched simultaneously, and a new digital strategy, we increased online single ticket sales from 28% to 55% of total single ticket sales while delivering a greater ability to analyze patron behaviors, track conversions and account for advertising spending.


Evaluating social media for classical music organizations

I have been a fan of the communications evaluation guide Are We There Yet? by The Communications Network ever since I learned about it through Issuelab. Designed for philanthropic and nonprofit organizations, the report guides managers through evaluating their communications efforts. The authors warn that it is not a communications planning tool, but I believe a greater understanding of the proposed evaluation process will lead to a better, more focused communications plan.

So naturally for me—combining classical music and social media—the question was: how can orchestras or classical music organizations evaluate their social media efforts using this guide?

Over the next week, I will go through the guide, step by step, to see how it might apply to classical music organizations and their social media efforts. I will take a fairly broad, general approach and perhaps make certain assumptions and create certain hypothetical scenarios that could be typical for classical music or arts organizations around the country.

The steps, according to the guide, include (the steps will become links to each respective article as they are posted):

Step 1. Determine what you will evaluate
Step 2. Define your goal
Step 3. State your objectives
Step 4. Identify your audience
Step 5. Establish your baseline
Step 6. Pose your evaluation questions
Step 7. Draft your measurements
Step 8. Select your evaluation techniques
Step 9. Estimate your budget
Final Word

Although I will be looking at social media in particular, I believe it is important to see these efforts as part of an integrated marketing communications approach and as part of a larger strategy toward an overarching goal.

Even if I don’t go into those elements beyond social media, including offline advertising, promotions or public relations efforts or programmatic supports, keep in mind that the social media efforts should always be seen as part of an integrated approach toward achieving a mission statement-inspired goal. Your offline efforts should always complement your social media efforts, and vice versa.

I hope the walk through will be helpful and insightful. Perhaps you have suggestions or improvements along the way. If so, don’t hesitate to let me know. Likewise, leave a comment if you have an evaluation story to share or if you have any questions on your own evaluation efforts. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Happy evaluating! Tomorrow, we’ll get started with step one.

Orchestras and Social Media Survey: Key Findings and Full Report

Last Friday, I introduced you to the Orchestras and Social Media Survey. Today, the full report is available for download.

You can download the report from my Web site at mcmvanbree.com

In short, the survey found that social media activities, familiarity and usage seem to be widespread among orchestras. Managers find social media important and organizations are generally enthusiastic. However, the efforts are far from organized and strategic. It seems many orchestras are dipping their feet in the social media pool, but do not have the policies, budgets, and metrics in place to effectively use the tools at their disposal, even if they do recognize the need for checks and balances.

The rest of this week will be dedicated to in-depth follow up posts about the different findings, and I will pose some discussion questions. I encourage you to contribute.

Classical music on Twitter

Last updated: 10/23/2009 – 8:00 a.m. (CST) (Lists moved to new address; update forms changed: see below)

Inspired by Amanda Ameer’s post on classical music publicists on Twitter and Beth Kanter’s query on a list of arts twitterers, I gathered a preliminary list of more than 150 twitterers in the classical music scene.

I intend to create the most inclusive, elaborate list of classical music twitterers. I know I have left many, many people and organizations out. That’s why I have opened up two forms to add or update your information: if you are a person twittering about classical music, please add or update your information here; if you are an organization twittering about classical music, please add or update your information here. Or alternatively, you can leave a comment below.

Any suggestions on categories or changes to the format, please let me know in a comment below or at dutchperspective (at) mcmvanbree.com.


The list of people in classical music on Twitter can now be found here: http://mcmvanbree.com/dutchperspective/twitter/people.htm

Add or update your information here


The list of organizations in classical music on Twitter can now be found here: http://mcmvanbree.com/dutchperspective/twitter/orgs.htm

Add or update your information here

Orchestras and New Media: A Complete Guide

After the blog series and presentation on orchestras and new media, I have just finished an e-book called “Orchestras and New Media: A Complete Guide.” In this book, I look at the current print environment and arts coverage, followed by the new media revolution and what it means for orchestras. Alongside a description of tools and sites, I offer thoughts on how to adapt your press materials and how to measure your results. A SWOT analysis includes examples and two brief case studies provide more insights.

» The e-book can be downloaded for free from my Web site.

Executive Summary

The past 30 years have seen a significant proliferation of arts organizations and activities throughout the country. Cultural participation is up, yet arts coverage in print is down. But it would be an error to attribute this downturn to an attack on the arts. Newspaper circulation numbers have been going down since the mid 1980s; from a daily circulation of over 63.3 million in 1984 to a daily circulation of 50.7 million in 2007. On the other hand, monthly unique visitor numbers for newspaper Web sites rose from 41 million in January 2004 to 75 million in January 2009.

In the past decade, the Internet has moved to more participation (encouraging contributions), openness (no barriers to content and feedback), conversation (listening, not just broadcasting), community (gathering around a common interest), and connectedness (sharing content).

Seeing the decline in traditional arts coverage and the proliferation of culture, brands and media, the inevitable, it seems, is an increase in participation, openness and connectedness with your community, invigorating the conversation about the arts. And new media is here to help.

Survey the environment, determine what you are trying to accomplish and then find the right tools that work for you. The best advice to start? Just explore! Here are some of the places you must know about: blogs, Facebook and MySpace, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube, Digg and Delicious, Yelp, Wikipedia and Last.fm.

Connect with bloggers and content generators: read (know who is writing and what they are writing); participate (become a genuine and active member); build relationships (provide good customer service); and adapt materials (personalize your pitch and remember you are working with a multimedia outlet).

Social networking sites are the embodiment of new media; more than any other service they encourage participation, openness, conversation, community, and connectedness. Keeping that in mind, your approach to social networking should be based on the following three rules: add value; online relationships complement offline relationships; and provide content to be shared and syndicated.

Sharing content, word-of-mouth, is one of the key strengths of social media. Measuring results, however, especially return on investment, can be difficult. Page views and unique site visitor statistics can only tell you so much; they don’t tell you what kind of activity. In its most basic form, your measurement should consist of the following elements: interest: how interested are people in your company; attitude: what attitudes do people hold about your company; action: what actions that matter from a business perspective do people take as a result of your campaign?

The last step is to determine what impact these results have on your organization and the future actions of your organization. From a detailed SWOT analysis, the following recommendations ensued: use your strengths as cornerstones for strategy (content, brand, audience and infrastructure); pursue market opportunities best suited to your strengths (maintaining strong relationships; extending the life of a performance; other geographic and demographic markets; and collaborations and partnerships); and correct weaknesses that impair pursuit of market opportunities or heighten vulnerability to external threats (budget for new media; hire or train staff; review limitations of media contracts and copyrights; and keep track of changes in technology).