Join me for #ArtsMgtChat this Friday

Getting back into the blogging and tweeting habit came at the right time. I was invited to guest host a Twitter chat called #ArtsMgtChat this Friday, May 11. This chat is great initiative by Ally Yusuf, a young emerging arts leader, and had its launch on April 27 with a chat about navigating a career in arts management. You can read the transcript here.

This Friday’s chat covers social media strategies for arts organizations, a topic, as you know, that is near and dear to my heart.

My experience with the Ask the Musicians Twitter chats has been that you never quite know in what direction it will be taken, so I’m curious to see where this chat will lead us. I think I’d like to see my role as a guest host to explore those interesting, unexpected areas and, as an analytics and data enthusiast, ask follow up questions that delve deeper into measurement other than “this campaign got us 100,000 page views.”

Join us on Friday! Chat starts at 2 p.m. ET / 1 p.m. CT on Twitter with the hashtag #ArtsMgtChat.

ALO: Social media

In my 2010 TAFTO contribution, this is what I wrote:

Over the past decade, the Internet has moved toward becoming a social medium with more participation (encouraging contributions), openness (no barriers to content and feedback), connectedness (networked relationships and sharing content), community (gathering around a common interest), and, of course, conversation (a two-way street).

The Cluetrain Manifesto, still pertinent after more than 10 years, tells us that “conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.” And that means being authentic.

And that sentiment has been the driving force in the social media efforts of the Austin Lyric Opera: messaging for engagement in status updates and tweets; no barriers to behind-the-scenes content; sharing content across channels; fostering an opera fan community; and not shying away from conversations and responding to customer service issues rapidly and personally.

In just one season, we increased the number of Facebook fans by more than 60%, but more importantly, we increased engagement and viral reach. Facebook is now the second largest referral source to the ALO website. By integrating YouTube into other marketing channels, such as event landing pages and email campaigns, we increased channel views by 60%.

Perhaps my proudest social media moment was turning a negative customer experience into a positive outcome by transparently responding and following up and following through with customer service. This patron now regularly “likes” and positively comments on the opera’s status updates.

 

First reflections on #askaconductor

Wow. That was a whirlwind.

Last night, we finished up the more than 30-hour marathon of #askaconductor. It kicked off at 8:30 am Australian Eastern Standard Time with conductor Warwick Potter answering questions for the Queensland Symphony Orchestra in Brisbane and it more or less ended shortly after midnight Eastern Standard Time in the United States. Between those hours, there were 3,458 tweets with the hashtag #askaconductor (see the transcript – PDF).

More than 60 conductors around the world participated—including former New York Philharmonic music director Lorin Maazel, Vancouver Opera and Duisburg Philharmonic music director Jonathan Darlington, San Francisco Symphony resident conductor Donato Cabrera, and Sydney Symphony Orchestra principal conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy. See the full list of participating conductors here.

Promotion leading up to #askaconductor

Facebook

Although it was a Twitter event, Facebook just edged out Twitter in referring visitors to the askthemusicians.com site. Facebook brought in 15.73% of the traffic (373 visits). Facebook tells me in the search function that 118 people shared a link to the site and a Google search on the facebook.com domain for the term results in a fairly comprehensive list of public Pages that shared the link to their fans (in alphabetical order; fan numbers indicated in parenthesis):

Association of California Symphony Orchestras (221)
Bellevue Philharmonic Orchestra (276)
Beth Kanter (7,178)
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra (6,309)
Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music (599)
California Arts Council (3,314)
CIM Robinson Music Library (80)
Donato Cabrera (700)
Dutch Perspective (95)
Friends of the Jacksonville Symphony (242)
Georgia Made Georgia Grown (3,018)
League of American Orchestra (2,256)
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (830)
Maryland Classics Youth Orchestra (265)
netzwerk junge ohren (322)
Queensland Symphony Orchestra (871)
Sydney Symphony Orchestra (2,801)
Symphony Services International (109)
Technology in the Arts (1,774)
The Cleveland Orchestra (1,984)
The Hub (LAO) (180)
University Musical Society (2,557)
Vancouver Opera (2,135)
Verband Münchener Tonkünstler e.V (107)
Virginia Symphony Orchestra (1,464)
West Australian Symphony Orchestra (1,941)
WOSU Classical Music (127)
Zenph Sound Innovations, Inc. (304)

Twitter

Twitter came in just below Facebook with 14.64% of the traffic (347 visits). I set up a Twilert for the hashtag. According to those tallies, from November 16 through December 6, the hashtag was tweeted 331 times. In addition, I kept track of links from Twitter via backtweets.com. Up to December 8, there were nearly 300 tweets with links back to askthemusicians.com.

Banners

Several sites carried banners that were specifically created for participants. Sites include: Donato Cabrera, American Philharmonic, Stephen P. Brown, Alessandro Crudele. Those brought in 3.92% of the traffic to askthemusicians.com (93 visits).

Newsletters

The largest referrer to askthemusicians.com was the very nondescript “direct traffic.” This includes newsletters from organizations and people e-mailing links to the site to each other (each link opens a new browser window or tab). Newsletters that I have been able to track include:

Association of California Symphony Orchestras
Chorus America
Conductors Guild
League of American Orchestras
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
You’ve Cott Mail

Blog posts

More than twenty bloggers posted an item about #askaconductor. Here are the blogs I could track down (in no particular order):

Stephen P. Brown
Art Voice
Ceci Creative
Kultur 2.0
Dutch Perspective
Dutch Perspective
Tucson Symphony
Vancouver Opera
Performing Arts Convention
Adaptistration
Arts Management
Beth Kanter
The Cleveland Orchestra
Duisburg Philharmoniker
Jonathan Darlington
Kitchen and Residential Design
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
NPR: Deceptive Cadence
Season Tickets
Sequenza21
Smarts & Culture

Review of the event at Opern Haus

Others

Other mentions of #askaconductor appeared in forums, including Trumpet Herald and Double Reed, as well as news sites, including Buffalo News and xtranews.

#askaconductor on December 8

As mentioned above, the retroactive official start time was 8:30 am Australian Eastern Standard Time. Up until 12 midnight Eastern Standard Time in the United States (that is 30.5 hours later), #askaconductor garnered 3,458 tweets.

You can read the entire transcript of the #askaconductor chat here (PDF).

The site wthashtag.com is a good source of collecting those tweets. It looks back seven days. There are still some #askaconductor tweets trickling in here and there, but in the past seven days we saw 3,797 tweets from 488 contributors. Of those tweets, 31.8% come from the top 10 contributors; 22.7% are retweets; 82.8% are mentions; and 4.0% have multiple hashtags.

The top 10 contributors in the past seven days were:

1. @sashamakila – 357
2. @fergusmacleod – 196
3. @MaestroDSCH – 109
4. @Stephen_P_Brown – 91
5. @marisagreen – 89
6. @batonflipper – 80
7. @askthemusicians – 79
8. @AudienceDevSpec – 70
9. @klassikakzente – 70
10. @Gigmag – 67

Some observations

Although this event was modeled after #askacurator, it seemed to have a little bit of a life of its own. Of course, it was slightly smaller in scale, but the conversations seemed to differ from those I saw in #askacurator as well. At first look, there seemed to be a narrower (even relatively) base of questioners (488 contributors), but they asked more questions. I suppose, with the few exceptions, it seemed more like a #conversewithaconductor than an #askaconductor event. Conductors would also chat amongst themselves.

This was likely partly a result of our guidelines that instructed people to ask general questions to all conductors with the hashtag and optionally direct specific inquiries to their conductor of choice. By allowing these general questions, the event was very inclusive for lesser known conductors, as we saw the specific inquiries go toward the better known conductors, such as Lorin Maazel.

Another difference between #askacurator and #askaconductor was that the latter event focused more on individuals than institutions. Many conductors, more than I had expected, tweeted from their own accounts, rather than an affiliated orchestra or institution. I think this changed the dynamic as well.

It was a different dynamic, not better, not worse. I did very much like the conversational aspect of the event, rather than purely question-and-answer. But if I were to change anything, perhaps for a next event, I would love to find ways to broaden the base just a little bit. To go outside of the classical music scene just a little bit more and include those who might only have a marginal interest in classical music. Busting myths about classical music was one of the things we set out to achieve and we don’t want to be preaching to the choir.

All that said, I cannot forget to write that the event was just plain fun. The reactions from Twitter users, as well as participating conductors, we outstandingly positive. Here are just a few of them:

Trending Topics

It wasn’t an objective. But I admit, it would have been neat to have seen #askaconductor become a trending topic. On the other hand, seeing the spam problems that plagued #askacurator when it became a trending topic, I was glad we stayed clear from those issues.

Looking at the sheer volume, #askaconductor was close to par with some of the trending topics. But in a feat of perfect timing, Twitter offered a little glimpse into the algorithm that determines what topics are trending:

We track the volume of terms mentioned on Twitter on an ongoing basis. Topics break into the Trends list when the volume of Tweets about that topic at a given moment dramatically increases.

Sometimes a topic doesn’t break into the Trends list because its popularity isn’t as widespread as people believe. And, sometimes, popular terms don’t make the Trends list because the velocity of conversation isn’t increasing quickly enough, relative to the baseline level of conversation happening on an average day.

Our #askaconductor effort didn’t see this dramatic increase in number of tweets; it was a regular, sustained amount throughout the day. Of course, trending topics also typically see a broader base with less than 10% of the tweets stemming from the top 10 users, whereas #askaconductor saw a fairly narrow base with more than 30% of the tweets stemming from the top 10 users.

What’s next?

Lacey and I will be planning a next #askthemusicians event soon. We’re thinking of putting the subject of the next event up for a vote. Will it be #askacomposer, #askacellist, or something different altogether? Stay tuned!

These were just some initial thoughts and reflections. I will be gathering a full report on the #askaconductor event as things wind down a little bit. More analytics, more analysis! Do you have any questions, suggestions or comments? Let us know! Leave a comment, send an e-mail (info (at) askthemusicians.com), or, of course, send a tweet (@askthemusicians, or @laceyh and @mcmvanbree)!

Edit: You can now vote until 12/17 on what #askthemusicians topic we should be doing next. Click here to vote on askthemusicians.com.

Abundance, eager hands and #askaconductor

In less than two days, #askaconductor will officially kick off. Australians will be the first to the scene, as their December 8 starts 16 hours ahead of New York. The current participant count stands at 43 conductors, including former New York Philharmonic music director Lorin Maazel!

I’m pretty stoked.

This morning, Beth Kanter graciously published a guest post I wrote on #askaconductor and its source of inspiration #askacurator. I did a short interview with Jim Richardson, brainchild of #followamuseum and #askacurator for the article.

Beth’s book The Networked Nonprofit and her concept of “free agents” inspired the earlier #floodofsupport project. That was just one example of a free agent at work. Marcia Adair’s #operaplot is another. Of course, #askaconductor and #askacurator are yet other examples.

Beth places my guest post in the context of abundance. Rather than thinking in terms of scarcity (a trait common to most nonprofits), you should choose abundance; the abundance of goodwill, energy, and eager hands that are out there. “If you want to be an organization that chooses abundance,” writes Marnie Webb, “you have to really be able to support good work that’s happening somewhere else.”

And #askaconductor is an example of abundance in the arts. These free agents represent the abundance of goodwill, energy, and eager hands (yes, quite a few hours went into #askaconductor!) and smart, social-media-ready organizations are tapping into this.

I will be very curious to see how #askaconductor is going to play out. So far, it has been exhilarating to see it come together. I am keeping track of the conversation: the hash tag has been used more than 250 times over the past two weeks; more than 100 tweets have included links to askthemusicians.com; and the event has appeared in several blogs and newsletters and on dozens of Facebook pages. I hope to thoroughly evaluate the event after December 8 and see if we achieved what we set out to do and reached the people we set out to reach.

What lessons are we learning and what do they mean for arts organizations?

But for now, you better have started thinking up some questions to ask. December 8 is only two days away. Follow @askthemusicians.

Gig/International Arts Manager looks at social media in classical music

A little while ago, I got a message from Clare Wiley, a reporter at Gig/International Arts Manager magazine. She was writing a story on social media and classical music organizations and wanted to ask some questions. The article was published this week, but you will have to get a subscription to have a read.

Where the Symphony Magazine article in April looked at many creative examples, the article in Gig/International Arts Manager took a somewhat more critical look at social media in the strategic sense. I know people like to read both.

I was quoted quite extensively in the article, but this has to be my favorite:

And Van Bree argues that rather than a particularly innovative application or flashmob, a meticulous and comprehensive social media strategy is how companies should optimise their use of the technology. ‘What I found in a lot of orchestras is that they’re dipping their toes into the social media pool, but they’re not really doing it strategically,’ he observes. ‘One opera actually pasted entire press releases as Facebook status updates – that was it! It has to come with a change in mindset. Social media alone might not be the most successful tool but social media should be a tactic within your integrated marketing and communications strategy.’

And this is reflected in the conclusion of the article, where Wiley writes: “while clever innovative projects are likely to grab attention in the short term, it’s an all encompassing strategic approach that will pay out in the long term.”

Amen.

p.s. the article also gave a nice shout out to the #askaconductor event. Save the date!

An early look at nonprofit social networking site Jumo

Many technologically savvy nonprofits and nonprofit social media marketers have been anticipating the launch of Jumo, a social networking site for nonprofits and causes. Yesterday, the Beta version officially launched.

The project was started by Chris Hughes, one of the Facebook founders and the chief digital organizer for Obama’s presidential campaign. This fact, and the $3.5 million in money raised for the start up, helped garner some significant buzz. But it also set expectations tremendously high.

I tried to log on yesterday morning, but got many “page-not-found” errors. It was a bit better by night time. The site doesn’t seem solid quite yet. Although it is in Beta, it sure is not a very good first impression (remember, Gmail only came out of Beta in 2009!).

Via the Huffington Post, Chris Hughes spoke about Jumo:

Most every site that’s out there focuses on donations. And, don’t get me wrong, donating to organizations, especially right now, is really important. But Jumo is taking a very different approach. It’s not just about how much money are donating to this or that group. It’s about what kind of relationship you are building with that organization…

When I finally got to snoop around a bit, I didn’t find it immediately exciting. Although the site claims to be a place where nonprofits can engage, it seems to follow a fairly strict template. I didn’t immediately see much room for creativity and out-of-the-box campaigning.

There seem to be two key elements on an organization’s profile, with most emphasis on “Top News.” The only way to engage with this news is to “like” it (similar to Facebook). You cannot comment underneath these news items. The place to comment sits next to these news items in a place called “Talk,” but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to support any kind of threaded conversation.

In other words, these elements seem much more focused on the traditional broadcasting rather than relationship building. Of course, over the years Facebook implemented changes to their design and functionality to make it more social and keep people on the site longer, and I hope this might happen to Jumo as well. As of yet, I don’t quite see beyond the fact that Jumo seems to be adding to the noise, rather than setting it apart.

Screenshot of a nonprofit profile page on Jumo

And despite Hughes’ comments, donations will be very important to nonprofits. As the former chief digital organizer for Obama, Hughes should know that. Not all organizations display a donate button. When I found some that did, the donation process seemed very simple. And simple is good.

A one-page form is clearly laid out with some predetermined monetary suggestions or a blank box to fill out your own amount and with a credit card payment option (Visa, Mastercard, and American Express). Unfortunately, there are no Paypal or other payment options. I know Europeans don’t have credit cards in masses as is the case in the United States, so this might limit international donations.

But the biggest worry in the donation form is the standard “optional 15% donation” that is included in your amount. In other words, you have to opt-out if you do not want it. Best practices dictate you should never have to opt-out. I realize Jumo needs to be viable and sustainable, but “tipping” the company should really be an opt-in scenario. This is also in addition to the 4.75% the Network for Good takes for processing the donation. There’s nothing wrong with a processing fee, but this is a combined 20% cut of the donation, albeit optional. That’s hefty.

Donation options for Jumo

Seeing the high expectations, it sure doesn’t seem off to a very good start, but I’d be willing to cut it some slack over the next few months to see how it pans out. You would think that the forces behind it seem capable of pulling it off after all.

What do others think? Beth Kanter hosts an interesting guest post by Steve MacLaughlin, Director of Internet Solutions at Blackbaud, on the launch. Amy Sample Ward has some first reflections, and I find the comments underneath her post very informative too.

What about arts organizations?

Of course I’m mostly interested to see how arts organizations are using the site. As soon as I started searching for classical music organizations last night, I started receiving 500 Errors and it doesn’t seem any better this morning. But before it completely shut down on me, I did manage to see some organizations in the search function, although I did not get to see their actual profiles. Classical music organizations on Jumo include:

Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, New World Symphony, Ravinia Festival Association, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Chicago Opera Theater, The Metropolitan Opera, Pocket Opera, Miami Lyric Opera.

I will monitor Jumo over the next few months and see how these organizations are using the site. Will classical music fans follow these organizations to Jumo? The few arts organizations I did manage to see had very few followers compared to some of the social justice and environmental issues organizations. There were also many more of the latter organizations already present on Jumo. Does this mean Jumo is more suited for social activism, rather than the performing arts? Or does this simply mean those organizations adopt these new technologies earlier?

There are many more questions than answers at this stage and unfortunately, Jumo currently makes it hard, if not impossible, to try to answer the questions due to its spotty performance. Underwhelming seems to be the word going around right now and that’s unfortunate for Jumo. Let’s hope they can soon get their act together and really put that $3.5 million to work.

Five random social media things to do for arts organizations

I had the privilege of speaking at some conferences this year. No matter where I go, people are always asking for case studies, best practices and examples. I can talk about strategy and objectives all I want, but I notice people get most excited about that little tidbit of information that points to something concrete.

I admit, it’s somewhat frustrating. It feels like spelling things out. And why the emphasis on small details when the big picture is often lacking? Besides, we’re in a creative industry, can’t we think of our own innovations and come up with ideas that work for us, rather than copying ideas from case studies?

On the other hand, good ideas are out there. Why should we not use them and make them our own? After all, it was #askacurator that inspired Lacey and me to start askthemusicians.com.

In that spirit, here are five small ideas that can make a big impact if you put them to good use.

1. Don’t publish your news release and marketing copy headlines on Twitter. Use your Twitter account for meaningful interaction. Want to sell tickets? Why not start another account for the hottest deals on your concerts. Take a page from Dell’s book: “Dell Outlet has booked more than $3 million in revenue attributable to its Twitter posts.” Find them at @delloutlet.

2. Optimize your site for Facebook sharing. Sure, you’re using the “like it” button, or the “share this on Facebook” icon. But how does it show up on their pages? St. Louis Symphony’s Dale Fisher has some tips on how to control what shows up.

3. Track your campaigns with Google URL Builder. I’ve been using this amazing tool for a couple of months now. Before, traffic from an e-mail marketing message would be categorized in Google Analytics under “Direct Traffic” because the e-mails would be opened from Outlook and other e-mail clients and open a new browser window or tab. This category is too broad to get usable data. Adding a simple line of code to track individual elements is tremendously helpful. The Technology in the Arts blog has more.

4. Facebook keeps rolling out new features. You’ve maybe heard about Facebook Places? Well, I’ll let John Haydon explain it to you. Got it? Okay, now that you’ve set up your nonprofit on Places, let’s move to the next step: Facebook Deals. Once again, I’ll let John Haydon explain it to you.

5. Mobile is increasingly important. A little while ago, theater social media maven Devon Smith and I wrote an article for the wonderfully collaborative 2AMt blog about the uses for QR codes. Well, it turns out that Vancouver Opera had already put their plans in motion. Read about their use of those little square barcodes here.

I have been struggling to find a workable way of capturing these kinds of tidbits. I have a much-neglected Delicious account, but I can’t seem to turn that into something useful for me. Perhaps I can start posting little blurbs on this blog, but that might get too much. Then it dawned on me that I should maybe be using Tumblr. I know I’m late to that game, but here is Dutch Perspective on Tumblr.

Does anyone have a good method of storing and publishing interesting tidbits? Other than Twitter, of course.

p.s. Don’t forget to check in on askthemusicians.com!

Join me in #askaconductor on December 8

A month or two ago, museums and galleries around the world participated in a Twitter event called Ask a Curator. The hash tag #askacurator became a top trending topic on Twitter on the day of the event. I asked some questions myself and was amazed at the speed of response from the Van Gogh Museum.

The event sparked a conversation on Twitter among some classical music people. “Wouldn’t it be cool to do something like that for classical music?” Well, here we are…

Together with Lacey Huszcza, Director of Operations & Promotions at the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, I put together an event called #askaconductor. The accompanying Web site suggests that we can expand the event to other musicians throughout the year. Maybe we can have a #askacomposer or #askacellist in the Spring?

So, #askaconductor is the first #askthemusicians Twitter event. On December 8, 2010, conductors from around the world will come together to engage with fans, first-timers and complete strangers. The concept is simple: conductors make some time available to answer questions; Twitter followers ask their burning questions, and the conductors answer the questions. All in one day.

It is an opportunity for orchestras and the conductors that lead them to connect to their community and share their stories, love and passion, one tweet at a time. And it’s an opportunity to have some fun on Twitter and debunk some of those stubborn classical music myths.

Of course, there are challenges. How many conductors can we sign up? The event requires a little bit more commitment from classical music organizations than say Marcia Adair’s tremendously successful #operaplot event. That’s why we didn’t set any rules for committing time; half an hour would be great, half a day would be even better.

We also reached out to many orchestras to see if their music directors or other resident conductors, or perhaps guest conductors that happened to be in town, would be interested in participating. It’s a great way to promote an orchestra’s Twitter presence and go beyond the cut-and-paste news release headlines streaming from many accounts.

The success of the #askaconductor event will depend on the participation from both orchestras and conductors, as well as the audience asking questions. We’ve already gotten some great responses and we’ll be updating the line up as we confirm conductors. The League of American Orchestras and the Association of California Symphony Orchestras have pledged their support in promoting the event. Bloggers can use these handy banners. It promises to be an exciting event!

If you’re a conductor, or an arts manager that might know a conductor, and you want to play; sign up on the Web site. Or e-mail Lacey or me at info (at) askthemusicians.com.

If you’re on Twitter and have always wondered how a conductor picks the music, or what exactly it means swinging a baton in front of a hundred musicians, save your questions for December 8.

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?

Where Gladwell goes wrong: substitution vs. integration

Malcolm Gladwell takes social media activism to task in a new article in the New Yorker. In “Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted,” Gladwell argues that the weak personal ties in social media, as opposed to strong ties in real world settings, and a Wikipedia-like network of supporters, as opposed to a hierarchical structure of advocacy organizations, cannot deliver real revolutions.

He has a point, but largely misses the real point. The real point is that it’s not a case of social media activism versus real world activism; it’s a case of social media activism and real world activism. Would we ever advocate for social media marketing to replace direct marketing, advertising and public relations? No. It’s not about replacing, but rather complementing and integrating.

Social media has particular strengths. Even Gladwell admits that “there is strength in weak ties.” But there should be no expectation of online being stronger than offline efforts in every single objective toward your goal.

When I conducted my #floodofsupport experiment, the results could have been construed as somewhat disappointing. But I did not send an appeal to friends and family, I purely relied on my Twitter network. That was the point. Even then, those who donated were definitely contacts with whom I had more in-depth conversations. So yes, if you build a campaign to solely rely on weak ties, it seldom leads to great involvement and thus could be construed as disappointing.

The basis for Gladwell’s article is exactly those kinds of experiments and case studies; examples with a narrow focus on the effectiveness of social media to deliver perfect results in all areas of an overarching goal. But shouldn’t we use social media tools for the particular strengths they have and consequently measure social media in terms of specific objectives, rather than an overall goal?

In Gladwell’s example of Iran, the media is perhaps to blame for calling it a Twitter Revolution while not getting the subtleties. But as Golnaz Esfandiari wrote in Foreign Policy: “Simply put: There was no Twitter Revolution inside Iran.”

The key word in that quote is inside. While Twitter might not have had a crucial role in the materialization of the protests, it certainly had a crucial role in bringing the protests to the outside world. Without Twitter, where would the media coverage have been? Without Twitter the impact of the protests on the global stage would have been far less.

I recently wrote about imagined online communities. Taking the perspective from Benedict Anderson’s seminal Imagined Communities, in which he argues that print-capitalism “made it possible for rapidly growing numbers of people to think about themselves, and to relate to others, in profoundly new ways.”

Because of vernacularism, the Church lost its grip to control the message. This print-capitalism and all its impact ultimately, after a century or two, spurred the American and French revolutions. In Iran, the government held a firm grip on what was reported during the protests, but it couldn’t stop the vernacularism of Twitter slipping out to reach the masses.

The Boston Tea Party would have been a hit on Twitter. The storming of the Bastille would have made great YouTube clips. Now Sam Adams might or might not have arranged the dumping of the tea, but he sure publicized the protest afterward. And he was able to publicize it because of print-capitalism. Those are the strengths of social media as well; a small event can find a large public to amplify its impact.

And if you really want to turn all those weak-tie tweets in a broad network into donations or social change, take a look at what a blogger like Fatty is doing. His network of supposed weak ties is organizing in different cities across the country, and working with an organization such as Livestrong. It’s a perfect blend of online and offline, of weak ties and strong ties, of network and hierarchy.

And isn’t that what the real point is? Blending these efforts to come to the most effective road toward social change?

p.s. Malcolm Gladwell will take your questions tomorrow.