A response to Symphony Magazine’s article on social media

The March/April issue of Symphony Magazine takes a look at social media and how orchestras around the country are using it. I was flattered to be contacted due to the Orchestras and Social Media Survey that was published around the article deadline.

The main point I was trying to get across was that orchestras are in a unique position to be adept at social media, but currently they are not quite using the tools strategically. I hope that it came across that way.

The article had a myriad of interesting examples and creative ideas. The New York Philharmonic’s photo contest; Baltimore Symphony’s weather updates via Twitter; blogger nights; and iPhone apps.

These are all great. And it shows that orchestras are dipping their feet in the social media pool with creativity and enthusiasm. But, and perhaps I’m reading too much between the lines, there were a couple of instances that demonstrated why orchestras don’t seem to be quite as ready yet.

The New York Philharmonic’s head of communications told the reporter that social media “is not just an advertising outlet. It’s also something we can use to talk about our educational activities or even fund-raising activities.”

It does seem to me that “something we can use to talk about…” demonstrates that many still see social media as a tool for broadcasting their messages. A case in point comes from the Baltimore Symphony, whose “public relations and marketing releases are now routinely sent to bloggers.”

I won’t argue against telling the stories that don’t get told in the mainstream media or against pitching bloggers, of course, but the language in which these examples were written displays an old world frame of mind. It’s not just the tools that have changed in a static world; it’s the environment that has changed as well, and the mindset and strategy must change accordingly.

Additionally, whenever there is a mention of any metrics in the article, it’s only metrics such as number of followers or fans, unique visitors or downloads. There is no mention of engagement from those fans, actual sales figures or, more importantly, conversion rates.

But there are also some good examples of strategic use in the article. The Indianapolis Symphony, for example, takes an integrated approach to its different social media efforts where “users have multiple venues to discuss certain topics or to embed comments and links in different places, forming a network of street-level promoters.” Now whether they really are creating these promoters and what the impact of such promoters is remains elusive.

In short, I’m happy to see this dipping in the social media pool occurring, but it seems orchestras are a bit behind the curve. Other organizations were dipping away two years ago and are now implementing social media more strategically and are measuring their results. Let’s make sure orchestras catch up.

3 thoughts on “A response to Symphony Magazine’s article on social media”

  1. Amen, Marc. I’ve been Tweeting a lot lately (@ewkrause), exhorting arts & music organizations (including museums) to ENGAGE. Twitter, Facebook, they’re all were conceived as (and work best at) two-way conversation.

    @MuseumModernArt is a stellar example of an organization mixing it up with their followers, and their follower count reflects that.

    All these apps are great (and affordable) tools arts groups can use to raise viz and build a large & loyal following — but only if they “converse with” vs. “talk to.”

    It works for all kinds of groups, selling all kinds of product, or just trying to provide good customer service — ala @MayorSamAdams out in Portland OR.

    Listen up arts orgs: it doesn’t have to be this hard!

  2. Thanks for stopping by Elaine!

    There are some good initial signs and examples out there, but I think a real shift would need to involve an organizational culture shift.

    And engaging doesn’t mean much if you don’t know its impact, that’s why I stress measurement. But with the right metrics for the right objectives.

    I’ll check out @MayorSamAdams. Hadn’t seen it before.

  3. Yep, we at IABC Houston try to stress measurement in all forms of communication. Otherwise, how will you know when you get there? You can have more followers than anyone else in your niche market — but if they’re not retweeting or forwarding or talking about you, someone else’s lower numbers might actually be more impressive.

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