Why performing arts organizations are not app-ropriate

Let me start with a simple question: How many of you have opened an arts organization’s mobile app lately? And no, it doesn’t count if you were just looking to see what your competitors were doing.

Even more generally: How many apps have you used in your personal life just this last week? Email, news and Facebook. That’s about it for me. Maybe Instagram, Yelp, Fandango, LinkedIn and Google Maps. The average user has about 65 apps installed, but only uses about 15 apps per week (source).

What am I trying to tell you? Don’t waste your money developing an app for your arts organization.

Yes, the debate is still raging on whether the future lies in the World Wide Web or in apps. The Pew Internet Project invited experts to predict where things might be by the end of the decade. The results: 59% believe the web will dominate; 35% believe apps will dominate.

But many challenged the idea of the apps vs. web framing and considered the question to be a false dichotomy: “Apps are generally better for narrowly defined repetitive tasks,” as Tony Smith of the Open Source Developers Club in Melbourne, Australia wrote. “The Web will remain better for asynchronous exploring and continue its gateway role.”

Another, anonymous writer, states: “Apps will continue, as will app stores, but they’ll continue to be mass-market outlets for lightweight products on the one hand, and very narrow vertical outlets for very specific platform-dependent professional tools on the other, while the entire middle-ground will continue to belong to the Web.”

And that’s exactly why I don’t see apps as a viable option for most arts organizations. They live in this middle-ground; they don’t have the mass-market appeal and they are not a tool for a narrowly defined repetitive task.

Only a handful of large performing arts organizations will have a large enough following to keep a sustained audience for their app.  And then only if they can keep the audience engaged with fresh content, or say lets the audience stream an entire catalog of music.

Looking at current performing arts organizations apps, they mostly follow the same functionality: browsing snippets of content, some entertainment and info, and buying tickets.

Interestingly, as this simple infographic from MDG Advertising shows: users prefer mobile browsers for shopping, search, and entertainment. The key functions of most arts organizations apps! Users prefer mobile apps for managing data and connecting with others.

Well, so it’s decided, let’s go with a mobile website! Not so fast. There are some important pros when it comes to apps, and to make things more complicated, there’s a third option: responsive design.

What is responsive design? It is a development method that allows you to create a single website that will adapt to the device on which it’s being viewed, whether it’s a desktop, a smartphone or a tablet. A site built with responsive design will automatically resize, and can customize content or options, for different devices.

So I decided to put together a little matrix to outline the strengths and weaknesses of each option:

Of course, cost and time to develop apps or sites will differ greatly depending on your wants and needs: you can have a cheap out-of-the-box mobile app developed and an expensive responsive design site; or you can go all out on a mobile app and spend less than $100 on a responsive WordPress theme for your site. A mobile site will consistently be the least expensive to develop.

While I would put my money on responsive design, sometimes it might not be immediately attainable. A site overhaul can be expensive too, and that’s probably when you’d have the best opportunity to make your site responsive. At the Austin Lyric Opera, we made a huge stride forward by going from a Flash-based website that could not load on any mobile device to a WordPress site that loaded just fine on mobile devices. Yet it wasn’t a fully responsive design, so we opted to develop a low-budget, purpose driven mobile site that focused on elements such as key event information, program notes and traffic and parking info. All it took was an installation of a mobile specific WordPress theme on a sub directory (see ALOontheGO.org).

Another complicating factor is the fact that a lot of organizations will depend on a third-party, hosted ticketing solution. Unless you have the budget to work with a ticketing solution’s API (if they even offer it in the first place) in your design, you’ll likely develop a website with responsive design and you’ll get stuck with a third-party ticketing site that is not optimized for all devices. Even a mobile specific ticketing site will make a much smoother transition and some ticketing systems will offer at least that.

In developing a mobile app, you will be all but forced to use an API if you want box office functionality. The affordable, standardized apps offered by Instant Encore offer integration with Tessitura, but typically only larger arts organizations can afford Tessitura in the first place.

So when would you use a mobile app? If you have the resources and the audience for sustained engagement, a mobile app will offer the best user experience. But the keywords are resources, audience and sustained. You’ll have to measure and judge for yourself if the return is worth the initial and continued investment. I suspect for most organizations it is not.

But considering that, for the Austin Lyric Opera, more than 20% of traffic came from mobile devices, yet it only delivered 10% of revenue, and considering that mobile traffic has grown with the dawn of tablets and will continue to grow, you must address your mobile device traffic.

What you opt for will ultimately depend on your objectives and your budget. Just don’t neglect it.

Here’s my advice: forget about mobile apps, and aim for responsive design when you’re ready. You can use a mobile site as an intermediate option or for a very specific set of objectives and uses.



Perhaps it would make more sense to create a Fandango-like app for the performing arts. It has a narrow function and a mass-market appeal. Fandango, as you may know, sells movie tickets to most theaters in the country. But even this idea would be tremendously hard to implement: you’d need agreements with different arts organizations to sell tickets through a central point, and ticketing for the arts is much more complex than for movie theaters. Not to mention that the app would likely focus on a specific metropolitan area, rather than an entire country, so would you have a large enough pool to draw from?

Some Suggested Reading

Mobile Sites vs. Apps: The Coming Strategy Shift

Google How To Go Mo | Test Your Site

Drew McManus on responsive design

Marketing Automation in Performing Arts

I’m in a new industry, which means I come across different marketing approaches. I always like seeing how these new perspectives translate to the performing arts. My current industry is heavy on lead generation and marketing automation. Skip forward a little to this week, when I came across an interesting post from the TRG Arts folks.

The post, “Too Many Tryers to Sustain the Arts,” echoes the Orchestra Churn study I have written about in the past:

In our firm’s decade of arts consumer research, Tryers are the most prevalent type of patron behavior.  They are households that have infrequent, one-time, or long-ago transactions with your organization. Right now your database–like those of most arts and entertainment organizations–is likely comprised of 90% Tryers.  And most of them are patrons you’ve allowed to lapse.

In my Take A Friend to the Orchestra post about flipping the funnel, I cover a strategy on how to market to these “Tryers,” or “Unconverted Trialists” as the Churn study calls them. In particular, how you follow up with them after an experience is crucial.

A November 2011 post by PatronTechnology CEO Eugene Carr eloquently and anecdotally explains it in different words:

Often as arts patrons we are thanked personally for our contributions. But when buying a ticket, is a generic “Thank You” screen enough after a completed transaction? Actions speak louder than words. If patrons receive a “thank you” email after they buy their ticket, it registers. If they receive a reminder before the show, they are impressed. If you send them a message after the performance asking if they enjoyed it, or if you provide them with an invitation (or discount) to future productions you’ve proven to those patrons that you not only appreciate their business, but you appreciate them. In the end, individual attention is worth its weight in gold.

Speaking of emails, I’m always happy to know if an event I’m interested in is coming to town. On the other hand, I’m not terribly happy when I receive emails that have nothing to do with me. For example, if I bought tickets to see The Messiah, do I want to know when the Megadeth tour is coming to town? Keeping all correspondence relevant to a patron is not only a responsible marketing approach, but a respectful one.

Enter marketing automation. Marketing automation is all about a follow up sequence, or rather sequences, on leads you captured in some form or another.

Capturing leads

You may well consider these “Tryers” and “Unconverted Trialists” to be very hot leads for future performances (although technically, they would be repeat buyers). In addition, there are many ways for generating leads and capturing those leads. You likely already do so in a very basic form with a simple “Sign Up for Our Newsletter” page on your website.

Generally, the more information you can get the better (not just name, phone number, address and email, but also what performances interests them, what performance day they prefer), but the more information you ask the less likely a lead capture form gets filled out. The all-important question becomes: how do you segment your lists? Followed logically by what information do you need for your segmentation?

Looking at industries other than performing arts, we can learn a little about lead capturing. Usually, companies offer a white paper or a webinar or other content in exchange for contact information. Interestingly, I have not seen any performing arts organizations use their content for lead generation. Free downloads of music files, when offered, are often just openly available on a website. And what about that behind-the-scenes video you created? And why not generate a white paper from a lecture on a particular opera or symphony?

Nurturing and converting leads

When you’ve captured your leads and you’ve tagged them appropriately, you can start the nurturing process. Tagging is important, because a tag will determine how you’ll follow up with your lead.  Some examples:

  • Tag based on: money spent (Can we put them in a sequence for an up sell?)
  • Based on: repertoire (Indicated interest in what? Previously attended what?)
  • Based on: [insert tag that makes sense for your segmentation]

The tags determine in what marketing sequence your leads will be placed. Simplistically, it goes something like this: “If patron has A tag, then they’re in A marketing sequence” or “If patron has B tag, then they’re in B marketing sequence.”

This tagging and segmentation is key, because as Carr writes you need to keep “all correspondence relevant to a patron.” The Churn study too showed that offering a relevant “killer deal” will get those Tryers and Trialists back in the door.

And once they’re back in the door—once the lead is converted—they’ll be put in another marketing sequence. Perhaps you can put them on a path toward subscriptions.

If they don’t respond to a marketing sequence, tag them accordingly so you don’t keep bombarding them with messages or abandon the lead altogether. If, let’s say a marketing sequence consists of 8 email messages (or better yet, a mix between online and offline messages) and they haven’t responded by the time the eighth message appears in their inbox, you can put them on in a sequence that nurtures them more slowly, keeping the lead warm, but not annoyed.

Sample sequence where the patron is moved into another sequence if not converted by the campaign’s end, keeping the lead warm, but not annoyed.


Of course, marketing automation does not mean impersonal. In your sequence, one or more of the touch points can and should be a phone call or personal conversation. If a patron with tag A is in stage 4 of the sequence, you can flag your box office or sales team to call them, for example. And not all messages in the sequence have to be a hard sell; let’s say the purchase of a show is the entrance into a sequence, then that thank you note after a show should be part of the sequence.

You cannot execute a well-structured marketing automation campaign without accurate analytics. I’ve written before how I set up e-commerce tracking for the Austin Lyric Opera. This becomes key. One of the most important elements of marketing automation is testing and configuring the optimal messaging. This should be an ongoing process.

I admit, setting up a marketing automation campaign is complex (a lot of “if this, then that” scenarios). Even more so for organizations that do not have the resources to work with the software or vendors specialized in automation. In fact, I’m not even sure how well most ticketing solutions are set up for this. I suspect very few to none.

The point is also not to completely automate all your marketing, push a button and sit back. There should always be room for flexibility. You should take elements and apply them where you can and where you know they make sense. Perhaps you just want to test the concept with lapsed subscribers and put them in a nurturing sequence.

Start small, segment well and keep testing. Then, rinse and repeat and scale up.

If you have any examples of marketing automation in performing arts, leave a comment below!

ALO: final round up (complete presentation)

This concludes a brief overview of what went into a new website and new digital strategy for a performing arts organization. At the start of the season, the opera was in a precarious position. I had to work with a 35% overall marketing budget cut, so I knew I had to be more efficient with the marketing dollars I had to my disposal.

Because many parts of the digital strategy were outsourced, the opera had spent a little more than $40,000 on all things online in the previous season. This season, the number barely reached $15,000, yet we were able to significantly increase the effectiveness.

Aided by a new ticketing solution launched simultaneously, 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.

Going into the future, the next steps should include eliminating those points that skew data in Google Analytics. In the course of the season, I identified a handful of these issues and we need to find fixes so that the data is more accurate. You won’t want to make decisions on flawed or incomplete data. So even though certain banner ads didn’t seem to perform very well, I wouldn’t want to make radical decisions just yet.

Furthermore, we only started collecting e-commerce and conversion data for one production. As all arts marketers know, no opera or symphony concert or ballet sells in the same manner. What are the noticeable differences we can detect in the conversion data and what can we learn from these differences?

In addition to making the data stream more accurate by eliminating points that skew data, we should make sure we add certain elements in the strategy. We started testing this in Google AdWords already, and we can apply what we learn there in other areas. How does different marketing content perform in identical groups? Next steps must definitely include small scale A/B testing, in either email messages or landing pages, where one (random) half of the gets one message and the other (random) half gets another message.

But what becomes very clear is that if you have the human resources, and a knowledgeable staff, you can bring much of your digital strategy in-house. A company like Venture and tools like Google Analytics and Google Grants offer free or low-cost alternatives to expensive agencies.

Outsourcing can typically get you all the fish you want, at a cost. It’s much better, however, to teach yourself, or even have someone teach you, how to fish.

I am proud to have built a strong digital foundation and by collecting and analyzing data we will be able to fine-tune this foundation to become ever more efficient.

ALO: Mobile site

Approximately 20% of the traffic to the ALO website comes from mobile devices. This has been steadily on the increase and will continue to increase into the future. The new website displays well on mobile devices and touch screen devices.

What we wanted to build then was something to complement, not replace the new website. There is no auto detect for mobile browsers on the main institutional site, to redirect mobile device users to a mobile site. In the future, if the mobile site proves more effective in delivering mobile sales, auto detect can be enabled.

The core concept for a complementary mobile site was easily accessible program notes and pertinent event information readily available for patrons on the go. This is how the idea for ALOontheGo.org was born. There are no extra costs and no considerable extra work involved; it’s a simple, straightforward WordPress installation with mobile specific content.

Traffic is directed specifically to mobile site where deemed appropriate: a Facebook post for production notes on the go; or promote accessibility and information at your fingertips in email marketing.

While mobile traffic accounts for 20% of total traffic, it only delivers less than 10% of the revenue. As mobile traffic will become more and more important, we need to bridge this gap in conversions. We will need to monitor how ALO on the Go converts to sales compared to the main institutional site. What can we learn?

Paciolan recently launched mobile specific box office sites. Auto detect for mobile browsers is enabled. So no matter how you arrive to the ticketing site, via ALO on the Go or the main site, if you arrive on a mobile device, you will see the mobile box office site. Will this mobile specific site improve conversion rates? As the site just launched, it is too early to tell at this point.


ALO: Online advertising

One of the first things I did was to pull our online advertising in-house. Previously, it was not uncommon to spend $8,000 per production on an agency booking interactive banner ads and placing search engine ads on Google, Yahoo and Bing.

First, I applied for Google Grants. It’s a simple process for nonprofits, but it took a couple of months to be approved. Google Grants allows nonprofits to set up Google AdWords campaigns at no cost. It’s all in-kind advertising. There are a few limiting factors, but the biggest is perhaps the maximum cost-per-click (CPC) of $1.00, which makes you miss out on some popular keywords. Monthly “ad spend” will be capped at $10,000, but that won’t be a problem for 99% of the nonprofits.

Pulling Google AdWords in-house through Google Grants obviously saved money. But the biggest benefit is that you can use it as your own testing playground for ad content, especially if you can tie it in with Google Analytics e-commerce tracking. It was certainly interesting to see some ad content delivering more traffic than other ad content. But delivering more traffic doesn’t necessarily mean the ads are more effective, as you can see in the slides below.

Retargeting was introduced to me via our ticketing solution Paciolan. They helped set up a campaign for Turandot where we targeted consumers based on their previous Internet actions, in situations where these actions did not result in a sale or conversion. Basically, you visit the ALO website but don’t buy a ticket? Next time you visit Time magazine online, or any other media outlet in the network, and you might get served a Turandot ad. Compared to banner ads on local media websites, retargeting seemed to do much better. Paciolan reported a ROAS of $16 (the slides below only report what can be learned from Google Analytics, hence the significantly lower ROAS).

Facebook Ads are an interesting story. The CPM (cost per thousand impressions) is impressive for the campaign we ran. However, I didn’t see a positive return for advertising spending as reported in Google Analytics. This is somewhat understandable when you realize none of the ads drove traffic directly to the ALO website. Facebook ads seem to work best with a higher social reach (delivering the ad content to the social circles of your Page’s fans). Advertising is about frequency and reach and Facebook certainly delivers on that at a low cost. I certainly see value in that.

If we should believe Google Analytics, banner ads in local media seemed to perform far below the other channels. However, there are two reasons for not completely discarding them: 1) they are part of a print and online package negotiation; and 2) they do deliver a decent reach with prominent placement in media outlets that are frequented by the opera’s patrons (and Google Analytics will not have measured all the impact of that).


ALO: Tracking conversions

Data collection, measurement and analysis are of the utmost importance for any marketer. Arts organizations across the country are dealing with budget cutbacks, so it becomes increasingly important to put your marketing dollars in the most effective channels and efforts. Without data, you simply can’t do your job as a marketer.

After launching the website, we started collecting Google Analytics data. Both from the institutional site as well as the third party ticketing solution hosted on another server. The problem was the traffic between the institutional site and the ticketing site; we could track conversions, but they were always sourced from the institutional site. We needed cross-domain tracking to really get into the roots of conversion traffic. This is somewhat complicated and tricky to set up, but Paciolan, the ticketing solution, was helpful and knowledgeable. The client services team set up the appropriate code on the ticketing site and delivered documentation for the institutional site.

E-commerce, cross-domain tracking was now enabled. Just in time for bulk of the single ticket sales would come in for the final performance of the season. What follows here is a look inside a specific one-time offer delivered via email marketing.

All links in the email were tagged with campaign parameters through Google’s URL Builder tool. This enables a marketer to see in one glance how an email performed. What was the conversion rate and how does it compare to another email? Is there a bigger story to tell? As you will see below, an email can do much more than simply deliver a certain number of discounted ticket sales.

Next steps include eliminating those points that skew data, such as bit.ly links on the institutional site that caused a distorted number of referrals from “austinlyricopera.org.” In addition, small scale A/B testing should be done in landing pages and/or email messages. And this also includes using the “campaign content” field in Google’s URL Builder to differentiate between several links in an email message that point to the same page (what button or link in the email was most effective driving conversion traffic? Use this to determine the best placement for these links and buttons!)

Detroit’s labor dispute and social media

You might have heard about the Detroit Symphony Orchestra labor dispute. It’s not going particularly well. In fact, it’s getting downright ugly. Violinist Sarah Chang—originally scheduled to appear with the orchestra before it went on strike—backed out of a replacement recital after allegedly receiving threatening messages for crossing the picket line.

This post is not a comment on that situation, the strike, or on who’s right or wrong in the labor dispute. I’m not going to pick any sides. Beyond the public nastiness, the negotiations revolve around some interesting arguments, but it’s not up to me to be the armchair arbiter.

Although we have seen online and social media used in orchestra labor disputes before (think Columbus, Jacksonville), the Detroit situation is particularly interesting for its magnitude. It involves of course one of the major orchestras in the United States, the media is heavily covering it, and the emotions are running high. Orchestra labor disputes have never hit the social networks quite like this before.

On the Chang issue, the New York Times reports that “both sides said the issue was exacerbated by social media.” The Detroit News writes: “the fierce storm that blew up over the weekend reflects, experts say, the Internet’s power to spread a message to tens of thousands of people in a matter of minutes.”

Drew McManus, the best source of information during any orchestra labor dispute, offers a glimpse into the comments on Facebook and other social media.

So, what I’m interested in is how both sides do—or do not—use social media and what the implications are now and will be for the future. I might have more questions than answers, but perhaps the answers will unfold over the next few weeks. Let’s have a look:

Detroit Symphony Orchestra

* DSO Web site and messaging

While not necessarily social, Web sites are an integral part of online communications. On October 11, three of the six major stories on the DSO front page are related to the strike (Chang cancellation; press conference; and a message from the Board).

Particularly striking is the fact that one of the non-strike stories is about “a community-supported orchestra.” Is it appropriate to ask for monetary support from your community during a strike? Is it appropriate to talk about being supported by the community in a time when the community might have strong, divided feelings about the strike and its impact?

When I click through to the Chang cancellation story, I find another somewhat awkward messaging dilemma: the boiler plate (PR-speak for the standard closing paragraph in a news release). It seems out of place to boast about “trailblazing performances” when there are none currently taking place. What about the fact that other than indirectly with those trailblazing performances, the boiler plate does not mention the musicians?

Another example of such sensitivity is reflected externally in the DSO’s AdWords efforts. When searching “Detroit Symphony Negotiations” in Google a paid search ad with ticket sales copy—obviously based on just the key word “Detroit Symphony”—takes you to the front page. The manager responsible should probably take a minute to make sure the ad doesn’t show up in combination with the word “negotiations,” or perhaps rewrite the ad and destination page to reflect the search term.

Labor disputes and strikes are times of hypersensitivity with a focused attention on words and their meaning. Extra scrutiny toward messaging and branding is certainly warranted, particularly in an environment where one statement can cause a visceral reaction and a viral response.

* DSO blog

There has not been a blog post since July and none of the posts before then mention the negotiations. The DSO opted to communicate via their Web site, rather than the blog on matters concerning the labor dispute. Of course, the blog allows comments, the site does not.

Seeing the strong voices in support of the musicians on the DSO Facebook page and on Sarah Chang’s Facebook page, perhaps we could assume that if the DSO were to post anything on their blog related to the dispute and would continue to allow comments, we would see a slew of comments in support of the musicians, rather than management. And seeing the heating up of the sentiments, the discussion has the potential to turn ugly.

Currently, the institutional tone and style of communications from the DSO doesn’t quite fit a blog atmosphere. If the DSO were to blog, it would need to come with an adjustment in language.

Can anything be gained by blogging then?

I think so. The DSO would have a chance to explain their arguments in a less rigid, less institutional manner. Rather than passive aggressively linking to an editorial from a newspaper on the DSO Web site, it offers a chance to talk from the heart about the difficulties the DSO management faces in a blog format.

The discussion will happen regardless of your blogging. It will just happen somewhere else, completely out of your control. Wouldn’t you want to shed more light on your point of view? Ground rules for discussion can be posted and registration for commenting can be required. Don’t tolerate abuse and take the high road in allowing comments and responding to comments.

And although the mainstream media is jumping on one instance of ugliness in the Chang case, overall the discussion is frank but civil. Frank Almond writes on his blog Non Divisi:

I followed this pretty closely over the weekend, canvassing as many sites as I could that had running discussions. What struck me most was how generally civil the comments were, considering the emotions involved.

Perhaps it would even be wise to start a topic-specific blog. Your regular blog and Web site front page can then just have a subtle link to a place where people could find everything on the dispute if they are so inclined, rather than multiple stories dragging the issue out across your Web site. As Drew McManus wrote in 2008 during the Columbus Symphony labor dispute:

I’m not a proponent of posting any information about contentious negotiations or labor disputes at an organization’s respective website. […] instead, an orchestra association should create a separate website they can use to present their position in any way they see fit. This will allow the organization’s patrons and other website visitors to continue utilizing the orchestra’s website without fear of driving anyone away, especially those who don’t want to be courted to one side or another in a dispute and are only looking for concert or outreach information.

I am reminded of the stART.10 key note by Shelley Bernstein at the Brooklyn Museum. She gave the reason why Brooklyn Museum allows comments: “We are fallible.” She added that the community really, really values when an organization is listening and “when the going gets tough, foster discussion.”

Although the stakes were not nearly as high, Shelley displays this attitude in a recent blog post. A New York Times article slammed the museum’s iPhone app. Rather than sulking, Shelley fostered discussion among the museum’s community. It’s a good model.

But there is a fine line between stating and defending your position and “airing dirty laundry.” As one commenter on the DSO Facebook Fan page wrote:

I love the DSO. I truly do. But the very public way you are airing your dirty laundry during this strike will only serve to undermine the DSO’s future. Each derogatory press release or public statement by the executive office puts the public in the uncomfortable position of having to take sides in a dispute that should only internally involve labor and management. As a lover of music, I don’t want to take sides in a nasty labor dispute. It’s none of my business. I just want to listen to music from an orchestra that I love and am proud represents our struggling city. […] I hope management and the musicians can reach a settlement soon. We need you here in Detroit!!!

We all know social media is about conversations, but negotiations are typically conversations between two parties behind closed doors. It goes public when it goes wrong, as in the Detroit Symphony case, and public nowadays means the Internet and social media.

The DSO should consider the messaging of their usual communications in this hypersensitive situation and they should be smart about where they would like to lead the conversation from their infrastructure (as well as monitoring conversations outside of their infrastructure). It is important to stick to the high road and lead a civil discussion.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, keep in mind that this labor dispute will not be resolved through social media. In the end, the conversation will once again take place behind closed doors, between the two parties. And that’s where the decisions are made. But whatever is written and said online has a good chance of remaining online for people to find long after tensions have cooled. Search engine results are already impacted (see images below) and you will have to monitor what the long term impact will be and perhaps think about optimizing content for certain search terms.

Results on Google when searching Detroit Symphony

* Other social media

  • The DSO has posted one video concerning the labor dispute: a recording of the October 6 press conference.
  • Other than posting some official statements and links to news articles, the DSO has not actively engaged in Twitter. A search on Twitter doesn’t yield many results that include the @detroitsymphony handle in tweets about the dispute.
  • The DSO Facebook Fan page contains similar statements and links to articles. Interestingly, the responses from fans have been mostly in support of the musicians. See Drew McManus’ post to see examples.
  • I thought it was interesting that the Wikipedia entry has not been updated with a mention of the strike. Certainly, both management and musicians should refrain from doing so.

Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians

* Musicians’ Web site

The musicians of the DSO registered their own domain in March 2010 with the obvious intent to make use of it during negotiations. It’s an interesting collection of writings—much of it opinion writing by different musicians. The challenge, naturally, is creating one voice for the many musicians in the orchestra. Each group of orchestra musicians has typically appointed a spokesperson, who conveys the musicians’ stance, but the Web site offers perspectives from several musicians. I do wonder what the writing, editing and publishing process is and how much scrutiny and consideration each article receives.

There is a steady stream of content coming from the Web site, so the musicians seem to have the process well under control. Interestingly, the site remains mostly a broadcast tool. Other than an opportunity to “talk to us” via a form and the display of some of those comments, the musicians do not invite much of a conversation on their site; they do not blog.

For the public, the place to comment is the musicians’ Facebook Fan page, which only has about 1,000 fewer fans than the official DSO page (it would be interesting to track if people have been abandoning the DSO page due to the strike). On the musicians’ Facebook page, you will only really find comments in support of the musicians. What’s telling is that most of the industry-focused places will have much support for the musicians, whereas comments underneath mainstream media articles seem more balanced. The big difference being transparency, perhaps, as most mainstream media allow for anonymous commenting.

Furthermore, the musicians (although this certainly counts for the DSO as well) need to take into account that whatever they write is expected to be archived somewhere on the Internet, even if the particular Web sites are taken down.

Another challenge is to keep “rogue” musicians (and from the DSO’s perspective staff or board members) in check. This harks back to the need for always taking the high road, leading in civil discussions, and realizing everything can be shared at will and will be archived for eternity.

I found this quote by Anne Parsons in the New York Times very interesting:

Ms. Parsons said that while she hoped union members were not behind the worst postings, “nevertheless, the union must take responsibility for the behavior of its members.”

I won’t comment on the appropriateness of the insinuation in this quote (which in itself should be enough of a comment), but it is a good indication of the challenge to keep “rogue” voices in check, even if by association.

* Other social media

  • The musicians are active on a multitude of platforms. One of them is YouTube. While I do like the idea behind the videos, the execution leaves something to be desired. I’m not referring to the quality of the videos, but rather to the content, messaging and perhaps most of all delivery.
  • The musicians’ Twitter feed displays mostly links to their Web site or articles in support of their position. Not a thoroughly engaging experience, not much of a conversation. It would be interesting if the musicians could start using a hash tag to incite conversation. Perhaps I could suggest #DSOstrike.
  • They have a grand total of nine friends on MySpace and haven’t posted an update since July. The funny thing is that their current mood is “good” on MySpace. They also have a company profile on LinkedIn, but it’s bare. I’m not entirely sure why they would link to these efforts.

Wrapping up

The musicians seem to be much more adept at garnering support online. It looks like classical music fans mostly come to the musicians’ defense, whereas the general public is a little more divided. The musicians use their social media tools mostly to garner support from the classical music fans, whereas the DSO has a much more delicate line to balance with the institutional accounts.

Both parties seem to focus much of the efforts on broadcasting their positions, rather than truly fostering a discussion. Both sides want public opinion on their side, but don’t necessarily invite the public to weigh in. Furthermore, it is a challenge to tastefully show public support. It might look tacky for the DSO to display this support, but for the musicians perhaps less so.

In the end, I am reminded of Malcolm Gladwell’s article in The New Yorker. Social media support does not necessarily and automatically translate into real world support. A “like” or a comment on a Facebook page doesn’t equate joining the picket line. Nor do supportive comments necessarily help any of the parties win concessions in the negotiation. Yes, social media broadens the discussion willingly or unwillingly, but as mentioned earlier, the labor dispute will ultimately be resolved by the two parties behind closed doors and not on the social media stage or in the court of public opinion.

Even when an agreement is reached, there will be some cleaning up to do in the short term and long term. On Google, there is already a heavy correlation between the “negotiations” and “strike” search terms and the DSO. It will take a little while to clean up the SEO mess, but people will always be able to look back and find remnants of these public, social media discussions. That’s why it is so important to find the right messaging and keep the discussion civil. And what are the musicians going to do with their Facebook Fan page?

What do you think? Blog or no blog? How can the DSO balance a line between institutional messaging and their labor dispute arguments? How can the musicians use Twitter better to their advantage? What will the impact of social media be on the strike and the negotiations?

Imagined, online communities

One of the key elements of social media is “the community.” Without a community, there wouldn’t be a social in social media. But what exactly is this community?

In my post on a fictional online community manager position on the Orchestra Revolution blog, Jean Shirk, public relations manager at the San Francisco Symphony, posed some important questions:

Do people actually want to meet and interact with one another online or in person, or do they want to read, watch, and listen online? Do they want to meet new people in person, or are they content with going with friends they already know to the concert hall?

Regardless of these questions, we still tend to define classical music goers in Chicago or San Francisco as a community within the respective cities, and we still define classical music fans gathering on various social networks as communities.

Benedict Anderson, author of Imagined Communities, a seminal theory on nationalism, argues that a nation is just that: imagined. It is imagined because “the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.”

Classical music communities and online communities in today’s social media environment are not so different. At any given concert, how many patrons know each other? In any online community, how many participants have met other participants face-to-face? Yet a patron feels a bond with his fellow concertgoers, and a Facebook fan of the London Symphony Orchestra feels a bond, however small, with other fans.

When I was in my late teens, I was a member on an R.E.M. fan Web site. This was before the term social media was ever even coined, yet the site was more social than most sites today. While members never really knew most of their fellow-members, let alone met their fellow-members, in the minds of each lived an image of a community, centered on a common interest in the music of a particular band.

Anderson argues that imagining the idea of a nation arose historically after social and scientific discoveries—most notably the emergence of the printing press under a system of capitalism—reduced privileged access to knowledge and paved the way to the vernacularizing of religious communication, which led to democratization, liberalization, and the increasing difficulty of justifying divine and dynastic power. In short, a history-altering change in information dissemination and communication fueled the Reformation and Enlightenment, which “made it possible for rapidly growing numbers of people to think about themselves, and to relate to others, in profoundly new ways.”

The origins of online communities have a similar, although less profound, story. And that’s to be expected; we cannot start to compare the imagining of nations with online communities in terms of impact and stakes. And whereas imagining the nation forever changed worldly, political power, perhaps our current story of online communities is best showcased by the impact it has on business; the increasing difficulty of justifying modern day divine and dynastic power: corporations and institutions.

The discoveries of the computer age paved the way. The Internet greatly reduced privileged access to knowledge and social media vernacularized our communication. Where local languages replaced Latin in religious communication in Anderson’s outlook; authentic conversations, text speak and colloquialism replaces corporate and institutional language in the social media age. The Cluetrain Manifesto speaks of the current homogenized “voice” of business that will “seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court.”

This change in communication liberalized the masses and democratized the playing field. In Anderson’s outlook, kings and emperors were replaced by republics and democracies; in today’s world we see, as the Cluetrain Manifesto once again puts it, networked markets that “are beginning to self-organize faster than the companies that have traditionally served them.”

This self-organization is described in Beth Kanter and Allison Fine’s new book The Networked Nonprofit. The authors talk about the rise of Millennials, or digital natives, those who have grown up in today’s vernacularized, social media world. These Millennials no longer owe allegiance to any particular company or organization; they self-organize as “free agents.”

The R.E.M. fan Web site mentioned earlier was just such as thing. It wasn’t started by the band or the record label. It was started by a devoted, free agent fan. The site and particularly the community weren’t built overnight. It took many people in this imagined community.

And to answer Jean Shirk’s question: did people actually want to meet and interact? Yes! Despite the virtual nature and the scattered geography of its member base, among the very active participants there were meet ups at concerts, offline friendships, and if I remember correctly, even a marriage or two. Not so different from the non-virtual world that also sees varying degrees of involvement in the community.

And through social media, these online imagined communities have real power and they know it. “If [companies] don’t quite see the light,” warn the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto, “some other outfit will come along that’s more attentive, more interesting, more fun to play with.” Kanter and Fine urge the modern, networked organization to engage these free agents and leverage their social networks.

R.E.M. saw the light and engaged with its free agents and fans online. It is perhaps not entirely coincidentally that the guy who started up the fan site now heads up the emerging technology department at the record label.

So perhaps this is a warning to the big dynastic powers in classical music: the big orchestras and the major opera houses. Extraordinary changes in communication brought down kings and emperors in the past. Another noted historian, Eric Hobsbawm, paraphrases Pierre Vilar in his book Nations and Nationalism since 1780: “what characterized the nation-people as seen from below was precisely that it represented the common interest against particular interests, the common good against privilege.”

You want to be a part of the common interest, the common good and not be defined as a particular interest or a privilege. Does anything indicate more clearly the need to engage with your people, rather than dictating to your people?

Ignore at your own peril. We all know what happened to Marie Antoinette after she uttered the words “Let them eat cake.” *

* Words she in fact never uttered. But she was executed nonetheless.

Notes from the #acso2010 conference

I just returned from San Francisco, where I presented in a seminar on social media at the annual conference of the Association of California Symphony Orchestras. I was invited by seminar moderator Oliver Theil, public relations director at the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. My co-presenter was–and I still get goose bumps saying this–the venerable Beth Kanter.

Beth’s new book The Networked Nonprofit provided a framework for the presentation. I tried to provide concrete examples from my Orchestras and Social Media Survey and case studies from the field. I also touched on the orchestra “churn” study in connection to the book Flip the Funnel, which I have written about during the TAFTO month.

Below the embedded presentation follow some of the topics in more detail:

Classical music organizations and free agents

  • Beth’s book explains free agents as people who work outside the organization and are enthused by a cause rather than an institution. The job of the organization then becomes to make it “easy for outsiders to come in.” Marcia Adair’s #operaplot is the perfect example of an outsider, a free agent, coming up with a great idea and involving arts organizations in a way that is simple, effortless and risk-free. Read my interview with Marcia here.
  • Naturally, I briefly mentioned my very own free agent experiment #floodofsupport. There’s still time to get involved.

Integrated campaign around a viral video

  • Perhaps you’ve seen the video: a flashmob (or is it guerilla marketing) opera performance at a market in Valencia, Spain. The video received more than 4 million views. But that wasn’t it. The creative agency behind the video produced several complementing elements: a micro-site; Twitter, Facebook and other social networking profiles; and a print brochure. All for their client Palau de les Arts. The reason why people might not have known about that side of the effort, though, became painfully obvious when I contacted someone at the creative agency. He told me the powers that be at the Palau didn’t believe in the campaign and nixed it, including editing out any branding in the viral video. What a missed opportunity!

Saint Louis Symphony: cross-platform integration

  • The Saint Louis Symphony is an example of well-designed cross-platform integration of social media tools. Highlighting their connectedness on the front page with prominent links to Facebook and the orchestra’s blog. A page on the Web site lists all their social media efforts. Facebook or Twitter are not silos of interaction; social media tools work best across platforms and they work best when an organization’s Web site complements the tools, as well as offline complementing online.

Landing pages

  • Another page from Saint Louis Symphony’s book. They do a good job with a custom page on student efforts on their Facebook page. That led me to talk about landing pages and welcome tabs, items specifically designed to welcome new fans and call for a specific action. I saw a recent study where having a landing page/welcome tab on your Facebook page increases the “like” conversion from 23% to 47%. I have not yet seen an orchestra with a custom welcome tab.
  • Not to mention Twitter landing pages. Why not welcome people from Twitter to your site with a specific message to them? Moreover, if you set up a Twitter landing page on your site with a specific call to action that takes them through a specific path on your web site, you can measure conversion rates through Google Analytics with funnels. You can see where people dropped off, how many and where they went. Keep this in mind, not for just ticket sales, but for newsletter sign ups or other actionable items.

Measuring results

  • Due to time shortage, the only point I really wanted to make was that you should look at a social media effort as part of an integrated marketing communications effort, where communications result in behavior change and marketing is the financial value of this behavior. So if you’re measuring, you first have to know what this behavior change is. What are you looking to achieve in the next 5 to 10 years? Those sometimes 150-year-old mission statements can still be a guiding light. The principles don’t change much, the environment does, and that’s what is reflected in the last sentence of the New York Philharmonic’s mission statement, to bring classical music to the community “in any other manner now known or hereafter to be…” Read my series on Evaluating Social Media for Classical Music Organizations.

A review of The Networked Nonprofit

I’ve been an avid fan of Beth Kanter’s blog for the past few years. It might come as no surprise that I pre-ordered her, and co-author Allison Fine’s, book The Networked Nonprofit. And if you’re a reader of their blogs, it might also come as no surprise that the book fully lived up to its great expectations.

My first reaction, on Twitter no less, was telling Beth that I liked the tone of the book. It doesn’t have the common “social media hippie” talk. You know, the long-haired, world-peace-wishing, tree-hugging, social-media-is-going-to-solve-all-your-problems-and-here-are-the-tools-to-do-it talk.

Good social media books talk less about the tools and more about the concepts and frameworks. That’s what I loved about Flip the Funnel, and that’s what I loved about The Networked Nonprofit. Both define and lay out a framework in which you can apply your own strategy. We all know I’m a big fan of such frameworks.

Sometimes it looks as if the authors are treading the hippie-talk territory. I think this is unavoidable. It’s because nonprofits have been used to doing things in a particular way and a different approach might seem like a fairy tale at times. But the authors never end up actually sounding like our long-haired friends. Many positive, world-peace-wishing, elements are backed up with organizational structure research outside, and predating, the social media realm, and they are often balanced with real-world pitfalls to look out for.

Although the authors provide a core framework, the book is chock full of examples and practical, how-to information. Reading the book will help you answer all those “I’m scared of social media” questions. The reflection questions at the end of each chapter are particularly helpful for a nonprofit manager building a social media strategy.

As the authors write, the book is built on a simple equation: “Social Media Powers Social Networks for Social Change.” The book sets the stage with the rise of Millennials who no longer owe allegiance to any particular organizations, but rather pick out particular causes. Thus, the Networked Nonprofit will engage these “free agents” and leverage their social networks.

As we move through microplanning, crowdsourcing cautions, creating social culture, and making nonprofits simpler, we end up in the final chapter, one of the strongest chapters of the book: Governing Through Networks. It takes a critical look at governance at nonprofits. Again, the directive here is not “they should use social media and all will change for the better,” the concept is working as a Networked Nonprofit in a broad, on as well as offline, sense.

The book is a fast read, but you’ll keep it as source to reference. In that sense, it’s a perfect (hand)book for nonprofit managers that are looking to increase the impact of their organization’s mission statement in a connected world. I am going to be rereading it, and using it, in the months ahead.