Social media, money and the mission statement

During last week’s League of American Orchestras conference, I was following the session on social networking on Twitter. Mark Pemberton, who tweets @aborchestras, asked where the “business” is in social media. In a blog post on the League’s conference blog, he wrote:

I found today’s Social Networking session interesting up to a point. But Russell Jones was spot on in his cry of “what about the dollars?” The speakers kept talking about the “new business model.” But Facebook and Twitter have no business model! They have no means of generating income.

Here is an excerpt of what I commented on his post:

Social networking is not “a business model.” Social networking is a tactic or tool in your strategy. Most managers will want to see dollars coming in from social networking in the short term. But that is exactly the wrong approach. Social media is not a short term solution. To think so is short-sighted.

Going into social media with the objective to sell tickets is, in my opinion, wrong as well.

There is a lot of pressure in marketing and public relations departments of orchestras to sell tickets. Fewer subscriptions bought and more single tickets to sell means more and harder selling. It’s not surprising that a lot of managers look at social media as an addition to their marketing and sales efforts.

In these departments, it might almost seem that selling tickets is the organization’s mission statement. I was glad to see another post on the League’s conference blog. Alan Jordan posted the following:

A constituency session comment re-iterated a line shared with me a long time ago from a concert hall manager in Concord, NH who passed away from cancer a few years back: the official moniker for 501(c)3s is not “non-profit,” but “not for profit.” For profit firms are obligated to their shareholders to produce results. We are obligated to the public to produce results, and those results are not necessarily—and most beneficially—financial ones.

In my comment to Mark Pemberton, I continued:

Although nonprofits need to make money to operate, they are not here for profits. Social networking/media can help you in your core mission: bringing art and music to people. It can extend the life of a performance and engage and build communities. And that’s a goal or objective too.

Beth Kanter writes about return on investment on the NTEN blog and hits the nail on its head:

If you approach ROI as a financial analysis only, you’re missing the point. An ROI process focuses on identifying and unpacking the benefits of efficiency and effectiveness and how these support your organization’s mission.

Well, what is your organization’s mission exactly? Let’s look at some of the mission statements from orchestras around the country:

New York
To maintain and foster an interest in the enjoyment of music and musical affairs, and to inculcate in its members in the community of New York city and the nation at large, an interest in symphony music and in order to foster such interest and the appreciation of music, among other things to cause the performance of symphonic and other musical performances in the concert and other halls, over the radio, television, by phonographic recordings, and in any other manner now known or hereafter to be.

The central mission of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association is to present classical music through the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to Chicago, national and international audiences.

The LSO’s mission is to give the finest performances of music and make them available to the greatest number of people.

These statements speak of bringing art to communities and audiences the world over. While ticket sales and revenue are important for the financial stability of the organization, the statements do not mention financials.

Clearly, the New York Philharmonic’s statement was written decades ago—yet still pertinent—and I particularly like “in any other manner now known or hereafter to be.” Let’s add the Internet to the list.

Alexandra Samuel has an interesting article at the Harvard Business blog on why nonprofits are so good at social media. Although the article should have been more appropriately named why nonprofits are uniquely primed to be good at social media—because not many are so good—she does bring up a couple of excellent points. Alexandra writes that “in the nonprofit sector, relationships have always been the key currency.” How can social media build upon those relationships? She outlines five points, three of which I thought particularly noteworthy:

Engage your audience by speaking to their core concerns: What do your customers care about most, and how can you speak to those concerns?

Offer a mix of tangible and social benefits: What tangible benefits can you offer that will encourage their participation?

Innovate within the bounds of your core mission: What value or services do you offer that could be delivered through a social network or online community?

In the SWOT analysis found in my Orchestras and New Media e-book, I look at some of the market opportunities best suited to company strengths and capabilities: maintain strong relationships with patrons; extend the life of a performance; and open the door to other geographic and demographic markets. (Read the e-book for particular examples.)

Sure, it is okay to think about monetizing these market opportunities to strengthen your financial base, but more importantly, you should start thinking about how they can help your organization’s core mission of providing classical music to audiences in your community and around the world.

That’s your first order of business. Heck, that’s why you’re in business.