Orchestra Survey: Activities, Engagement and Goals

The survey demonstrates a high participation rate among orchestras in the different social media tools. All orchestras in the survey are on Facebook and 80% of the orchestras have a Twitter account. But this just shows that orchestras have set up a presence, not what they are doing with the presence.

That’s where the engagement question can answer some questions. Eighty percent of the orchestras respond to questions and comments on social networking sites. A little more than half (53%) of the orchestras adapt press and marketing materials for social media and 40% actively pitch bloggers, and 20% maintain a separate mailing or pitch list for new media outlets and authors.

There is an obvious problem with such narrow framing: it doesn’t show the full scope of engagement. Furthermore, the interpretation of the question leaves room for different answers.

I was surprised to find that a little more than half claim to adapt materials for social media. Then again, condensing a press release into a tweet and posting a link could be construed as adapting materials. And perhaps instead of “responding to questions and comments,” the question should have included “regularly” or some sense of frequency and a segmentation of platforms (blog comment, Facebook, Twitter etc.).

And what about pitching bloggers? What kind of bloggers are being pitched? Are they just the arts critics from traditional media who maintain a blog? Or do they include blogs like Sequenza21and Opera Chic, or local blogs like Gothamist and Chicagoist, or even local classical music enthusiasts who blog?

Most telling was the question about responses to negative comments. Nearly half of the orchestras said they did respond externally. All orchestras are on Facebook, yet only half respond to possible negative comments. Perhaps this finding tells the truest story about engagement.

The reason I highlight these points, is because I feel the survey findings might reflect an appearance of frequent engagement through social media. This doesn’t completely match up with my own observations, even though there are the obvious exceptions that show both quantity and quality.

I received a comment via e-mail:

What kind of content are these orgs trying to share over social media? I think videos, podcasts and blogs are the main types of content that orgs should be sharing when they get into social media. Perhaps that is part of the problem. Orchestras aren’t creating the kind of content that is popular to interact with, easily shareable with others, etc. Thoughts?

I think this touches on a very important point. Orchestras are just dipping their feet into social media. It seems a lot of organizations have joined to “keep up with the Joneses.” So yes, they’re active on Facebook and Twitter, spending time on social media, and yes, they find it moderately important, but there’s no know-how on communicating in a social media environment, and there’s no strategy or policy behind it. This knowledge and a well-defined goal, along with well-established metrics, is what’s lacking at most organizations.

And talking about goals: driving Web traffic and increasing awareness of programming and the organization are the most important social media goals, according to managers. Although opinions are split on increasing ticket sales, it is only ranked sixth out of eight.

Drew McManus writes:

Certainly, organizations shouldn’t exclusively use social media as an outlet to shill and sell tickets yet there is no way to reasonably separate revenue development from other mission related goals. Simply put, revenue performance and the institution’s mission are not mutually exclusive.

I would suspect that if managers were pressed on why they would want to increase Web traffic, or why they would want to increase awareness, it would all come back to ticket sales.

Then again, not necessarily. I believe social media can be a great tool to advance the orchestras mission of bringing classical music to the community. Although tremendously important for the bottom line, ticket sales is still only one of the components in that mission. That’s where the distinction between goals and objectives is important. Your mission is your goal; ticket sales is an objective toward that goal.

Update: Elliot Harmon at the techsoup blog finds it odd that orchestras focus on Web traffic as “it seems a clumsy proxy for the less transparent goals of awareness and education.”

What do you think?

4 thoughts on “Orchestra Survey: Activities, Engagement and Goals”

  1. Hi Marc, thanks a lot for the follow-up.

    (Pasting what I just typed in the TechSoup thread.)

    I’m sure you’re right when you say that if pressed on why they’re interested in generating web traffic, for most orchestras it would come back to ticket sales. And as you say, on some level this may be the problem.

    I suppose that at our most cynical and pragmatic, we could say that in-school programs and the like are also “about” generating revenue, but at least in my (limited) experience, they’re not measured that way; they’re measured on how many people they’re able to reach /now/. And I think that works better for social media campaigns too. If the goal is to reach audiences under 25, for example, then find out how many people in that group download your podcast or watch your video, not how many visit your site or buy a ticket.

    Having recently been a young person, here are the three biggest pieces of advice I’d give to performing arts organizations trying to reach young people. First, don’t insult our intelligence. We often know more about the art – and are more willing to try unusual or difficult works – than the season ticket holders.

    Second, give us recordings in formats we can use. If the goal is to expose new audiences to classical music, then why lock it in Realaudio or Flash-only formats? Why wouldn’t you want us to download it?

    Third, discounts.

  2. Thanks, Elliot. I have to agree with you here. I’ll try to take it a step further and illustrate it with a hypothetical goal, objective, milestone set up (inspired by Are We There Yet? – http://www.issuelab.org/research/are_we_there_yet_a_communications_evaluation_guide):


    In Are We There Yet?, “raising awareness” doesn’t fly as a goal. The authors ask: “Why do I want people to know about my organization?” Behavior change is the ultimate behavioral goal (as opposed to a policy goal). The authors write: “when people start behaving differently, you have reached your goal.”

    Now, an orchestras mission, like the London Symphony, is “to give the finest performances of music and make them available to the greatest number of people.”

    From that, you can formulate a goal you want to achieve in the next five years or so: “Reverse the trend, as reported by the NEA, and increase the participation in classical music; at home, in the concert halls and through different media including online media.”

    (That’s a lofty goal, I know!)


    Intermediate objectives will lead to your long-term goal. And an objective should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Result-focused and Time-specific.

    These include specific objectives on audience development and education/outreach. But we won’t touch on those here.

    So in the scope of social media, working towards online participation, perhaps something like: “By the end of year one, have established an online audience of 25,000 active, engaging members.”

    Now “active” and “engaging” might need to have refined definitions. What exactly does active and engaging mean? It could mean something like “active and engaging means a member has completed three actions (download a podcast, watch a video, write a review, buy a ticket from the Web) within the given year.”


    Based on the above objective, you would have several milestones to measure your progress toward the objective.

    – Establish a fan base of 100,000 members on Facebook and Twitter (remember, not all members are going to be active)
    – Establish a subscriber base of 1,500 members for your podcast (easy to measure)
    – And so on…

    Now this is something I created off the cuff. I’m sure there are things wrong with the plan. It will take some strategy meetings to really dig in to the material and create your own plan. But this shows a framework on how to think strategically.

  3. Hi Marc:

    Very interesting stuff you have been posting lately. Now that my first hectic semester of graduate school has finally finished I have time to catch up on reading and commenting.

    Regarding this topic, my own experience interacting with orchestras and performing arts organizations via their online presence has mostly been lack luster. It only seems obvious that a performing arts organization would have some visual or audio representation of their work on the website. I am always disappointed when I go to a site that has nothing but a season schedule and a way to buy tickets. I am not sure if this comes from lack of technological knowledge, or lack of will.

    Facebook and Twitter are a whole different story. I follow many orchestras and opera companies. Honestly, most of the posts are uninteresting, to say the least. The few who have caught my attention and actually made me want to explore the organization further are the ones who engaged the online audience, i.e., Seattle Opera. They had an online competition, which they advertised heavily on their Facebook and Twitter pages, to choose a “First Time Opera Goer” representative for their upcoming Ring Cycle. They accepted videos from young opera lovers selling themselves in two minutes or less on why they would be the perfect representative for the initiative. Visitors to the site could watch the clips, which were quite amusing at times, and vote for the person they liked the best. I had no prior knowledge of the Seattle Opera, but this experience made me want to learn more about them.

    What was said above is spot-on: Re-packaging a press release in Tweet format is unoriginal at best, and at worst, just plain lazy.

    The other thing I wonder about is whether or not having a Facebook or Twitter account actually translates into
    1) Followers/Fans and 2) Ticket sales, and more importantly for the long term, 3) Creating New Interest
    Again, going on my own experience, unless people are already interested in the organization and the art form, they are not going to seek them out. There are plenty of people who are fans of organizations on Facebook who I have worked for, but only because I SUGGESTED they become fans.

    In summary, I think those who are already interested fans, will seek you out and become your Facebook fans and your Twitter followers. Those who perhaps have an inclination to be your real, ticket buying fans, but perhaps need a little extra incentive to get them interested, are well served by having video/audio representations of your work to get an idea.

    Think of Itunes. You can sample music before you buy it. And that is only 99 cents. What about spending $60 for a ticket without having a clue what you’re getting into. This might have been okay twenty, even ten years ago, but we are in an ever changing and ever more customer focused culture. There is an entirely different expectation nowadays regarding quality of level of service when purchasing ANYTHING. For God’s sake, you can even return automobiles now! And yet, there are still so many performing arts orgs who say boldly and definitively: NO EXCHANGES, NO REFUNDS. With that kind of commitment, there is no room for customer error. You better be damn sure you know what you like before you go see it.

  4. Hi Zach,

    Thanks much for your comment. Always appreciated.

    Interesting anecdote about Seattle Opera. Of course, you’re not located in Seattle, so you’re not a likely ticket buyer. There is still value in their social media campaign reaching out-of-towners, but it depends on what they want to achieve. Like I wrote before, the ultimate goal is bringing classical music to the community and the Internet greatly expands that community from local to worldwide.

    On specific actions, perhaps Seattle Opera has a radio broadcast, and you might tune in next time. Or you might listen to a performance or podcast on their Web site (which might lead to a chance to monitize those efforts).

    And yes, I agree on your observation about people who are already interested becoming fans. I think that’s the point. Online relationships are meant to complement offline relationships. I think it’s not necessarily a good idea to look at social media to “attract new, young audiences.” Sure, it can help in those efforts, but it’s important to segment your audience. You’d be surprised to see how many Facebook fans are baby boomers.

    And although I think customer service at orchestras has made great strides, I think social media can help make it even better. Just look at Comcast and UPS who are using Twitter to enhance their (usually poor) customer service.

    Thanks again for your comments!

Comments are closed.