CSO Twitter and Facebook Case Study

In my last week at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra I drafted a quick case study on the CSO’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. I thought this would be worth sharing more broadly.

Introduction: Word of Mouth

Word of mouth is the key strength of social media. Statistics from cso.org and the CSO’s Twitter and Facebook accounts seem to confirm this statement. Currently, Facebook is the fifth largest third-party referral site to cso.org. Google has topped direct URL entry as the number one entry point to the site and mail.google.com is in the top ten of referrers.

What does this mean? First of all, search engine optimization (SEO) is increasingly important: Google refers nearly 45% of the visitors. Other search engines such as Live, Yahoo and AOL are also in the top ten. Primarily, this means optimizing content to match relevant and specific keywords; knowing what people search for. Equally significant, it means getting Internet users to link to cso.org, or in other words encouraging word of mouth.

The high placement of mail.google.com is perhaps not surprising either. Of course, our marketing efforts reach people’s e-mail inboxes. But another likely, and more important, factor is that people e-mail their friends and, for various reasons, direct them to the CSO page.

While the CSO’s Facebook fan page has more than 8,500 fans, Facebook surely didn’t enter the fifth place in referrals through our fan page alone. People on Facebook post links, notes and update their statuses. Their friends not only click on these links, they share them with their friends. Another clear case of word of mouth.

As the CSO’s Twitter following grows, it would not be surprising to find Twitter enter the top ten referral sites soon. Some examples on how this might work follow below.


We launched the page with an incentive: a chance to win a free CD of one of the CSO’s recent recordings. Otherwise, there was no active campaign besides telling my friends to join and those friends telling their friends to join and so on. Within a week, we had over 1,000 fans. After this early explosive growth by word of mouth, the increase in fans flattened somewhat and now there are an average of about 40 fans joining per day. As of early March 2009, we have more than 8,500 fans.

The CSO’s page receives around 100 page views a day, but this visibly spikes if we send out an update through Facebook or post videos or photos. An update can generate 175-200 page views. Nearly half of our fans on the page are younger than 24 and more than 75% of the fans are younger than 34.


Social network services, including Facebook, are the embodiment of Web 2.0; more than any other service they encourage participation, openness, conversation, community, and connectedness on the Internet. Just as telephone, fax and e-mail changed the very way we communicate; social networking has revolutionized our conversations and social interactions.

Up to this point the key value has been simply listening and participating. Here below a fine example:


In the future, we need to formulate more concrete objectives. These may include community activation and participation (does the community respond to a message or a call to action?). We need to be cautious with pushing out messages to sell; community engagement, participation and conversations build longer and more beneficial relationships for the future. Three key components make up a communication strategy/approach to social networking for Facebook:

  • Online relationships complement offline relationships
  • Add value to a user’s time and life
  • Provide content to be shared and syndicated


In just a little over a month of active participation, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has added more than 500 followers of the Twitter feed.

Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent messages.  People write short updates, often called “tweets” of 140 characters or fewer.  These messages are posted to your profile or your blog, sent to your followers, and are searchable on Twitter search.

BusinessWeek wrote in 2008: “The key question today isn’t what’s dumb on Twitter, but instead how a service with bite-size messages topping out at 140 characters can be smart, useful, maybe even necessary.”

How has the CSO used Twitter? Monitoring tweets allows us to learn about breaking stories in the industry and find out what fans, patrons and the media say about the CSO. Here below is a great example that includes a small conversation:


A powerful example of what Twitter can do, can be found here:

Hi Greg –

I was absolutely blown away by Twitter last night and felt compelled to share it with you since you and I have talked about the usefulness of Twitter.

Did you happen to see my Tweet yesterday about Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel doing a free live in-store performance at Waterloo Records in Austin? We had this in-store performance scheduled sans Willie. About 30 minutes before the performance I get a call from the powers that be saying that Willie will indeed be showing up (He wanted to surprise Ray Benson and fans).
So, I post the short tweet (with maybe one or two Austin followers) and then start to pull out my TV and print contacts which took about 5 minutes. I made one call to the Austin Chronicle  and chatted with the music editor for 3 or 4 minutes.

This is important because it’s now T-minus 21 minutes until this performance. I then call the FOX affiliate newsroom.  The news desk says, “Oh, yes, we know. One of our editors just saw it on Facebook.” I kept dialing and kept getting similar answers from photo desks and TV assignment editors.

At 5pm Austin time, there were a sea of people at Waterloo Records, an entire press corps and the only people that were surprised were Asleep at The Wheel and Willie Nelson who didn’t know that people already knew!  I have NEVER in my life seen anything like it.

Behold the power of social networking sites!

As demonstrated in the CSO example, monitoring is the first step. The second step is increasing involvement and engagement, being accessible and creating conversations. Besides patrons, colleagues and fans, CSO followers include journalists, papers, magazines, blogs and bloggers (Greg Sandow, Matt Pais, Phil Rosenthal, Chicago Reader, Time Out Chicago, Chicagoist, Jason Heath and many more). Twitter can serve as a creative way of building relationships with the media, getting the attention and generating story ideas.

When the CSO sends out an update, more than 600 (as of early March 2009) followers will potentially see the update. If a link is provided, a certain percentage will click through. Twitter’s strength is rapid word of mouth (as demonstrated in the example from Greg Sandow above). If your update is interesting to others, they might “retweet” your update. This significantly increases the number of potential views and click-throughs. The same three principles discussed for Facebook, apply to Twitter as well:

  • Online relationships complement offline relationships
  • Add value to a user’s time and life
  • Provide content to be shared and syndicated

Here below are two examples of Twitter’s word of mouth potential:

chicagosymphony: Happy 80th birthday Maestro Haitink! Free downloads of Bizet, Schumann and Beethoven @radio4nl http://tinyurl.com/bzylql

Reach of followers:

  1. chicagosymphony: 556

Retweet followers:

  1. laceyh: 481
  2. aspenmusic: 394
  3. wfiuarts: 107
  4. SophiaAhmad: 1,142
  5. Ugovalentini: 282
  6. Londonsymphony: 336
  7. twOrchestras: 62
  8. Unnuagedecole: 59

Total possible impressions: 3,419

chicagosymphony: free community concert of “Dvorak in America” w/ Civic Orchestra at South Shore Cultural Center on Feb. 22, 6:30pm http://tinyurl.com/aftwgm

Reach of followers:

  1. chicagosymphony: 556

Retweet followers:

  1. VisitChicago: 3,242 (Twitter account of the Chicago Office of Tourism)

Total possible impressions: 3,798


As demonstrated above, social media channels can provide measurable results: positive effects of word of mouth, including increasing awareness and driving traffic to cso.org; and building relationships with the public, patrons and media.

Perhaps one of the more intriguing aspects of social media is the opportunity to tell a digital story and give others the opportunity to retell your organization’s story. Justin Davidson, in an article for Musical America, wrote about what social media can mean for the arts: “[…] an invigorated conversation about the arts, a built-in audience of readers who have been betrayed by the local paper and the beginnings of a strategy for surviving the implosion of traditional news.”

And Brian Reich and Dan Solomon in their book Media Rules!: “More than just realizing that they have lost some of the control over their audience they once enjoyed, organizations must embrace the relationships they have with their customers and work twice as hard to make sure the information customers are using to form their opinions comes from the organization. Customers want help, they want to be led—and organizations can, and should, fill that need. You must be their steward.

For more information about the change from print to new media, an overview of tools of the trade and ways to measure results, view the following presentation on Orchestras and New Media.

3 thoughts on “CSO Twitter and Facebook Case Study”

  1. Thanks for sending this to me on Twitter. It is a great case study for arts marketing and twitter. I’ll take it will be tonight to the Cultural Center.

  2. Marc,
    What an excellent post of case studies showing not only how arts organizations can, should and are using social media but also provide ways to measure the reach and possible sphere of influence when social media is used to connect with their target audience. Stumbled!

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