4 Ways Social Media Could Save The Arts

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Last week I had the fortune to be part of an event that we should all care about. It was a meeting of the National Arts Marketing Project, a conference sponsored by the Americans for the Arts and designed to help art based organizations around the country use marketing to drive more engagement, subscriptions, and attendance with patrons (a much better word than consumer, by the way). To understand the vibe of the event you need to look no further than a colllection of titles from some of the sessions put on during the three day conference:

  • Are You An Urbanite? Attracting Young Ticket Buyers and Donors
  • Hacking Copyright: Making "Free" Work In The Arts
  • She Says Pithy, I Say Prissy. Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off: How Marketing And Development Can Sing In Harmony
  • I Can’t Do That! How To Make The Big Ask For A Major Gift
  • Release Your Organization’s Inner Blogger
  • Strategies For Countering The Reasons Patrons Resist Subscribing

My own session was called "Embracing Your Accidental Spokespeople: How Obama Let His Best Supporters Speak For Him, And Why You Should Too" and in the roundtable format, we talked about how to find the voices that are passionate about what you do, and unlocking them to share their experiences more widely online and through social media. Over the course of two round table discussions, I learned a lot about the unique challenges that many arts based organizations are facing, as well as discussed several engaging ideas for solutions. Here are a few of the creative solutions that we all came together and discussed as a group about how social media and interactive marketing techniques might help arts based organizations to better promote themselves:

  1. Create a sonic brand. Though more specific to groups that create or promote music, one idea that we collectively talked about was what it might be like if every venue or group had a sonic brand. So, for example, like you might hear the Intel jingle at the end of an ad, you would hear a signature piece of music to signal the end of intermission. Something that offers a recognizable brand for a music based organization, while offering an apt extension of a brand based on something that is inherently a part of it.
  2. Offer creative material openly for mashups. As more and more people create content online, they will need material like music, still images, and video clips to incorporate. One of the marketing tactics I am fond of at istockphoto.com (a site I use all the time to purchase images to use in my posts and presentations) is having an image for free download each day. What if an arts organization created their own collection of content and offered it for free reuse, dependent on giving credit back to the organization? It could be a great way to spread some brand awareness, as well as offer something viral and useful to content creators.
  3. Invite social capital donations. Many people using social media tools are supporters of the arts, but not necessarily donors or people to go to art events. Though it may be difficult to convince them to open their wallets, it may be much more acceptable to have them donate their influence. One brilliant example was a campaign run across both parties during the recent election where you could "donate your Facebook status" to remind people to vote for your guy on election day. It’s an example of letting people donate their social capital instead of real money.
  4. Allow patrons to share their experience. This topic raised some concerns among the group for a variety of reasons. The two most vocal were that sometimes performers have union contracts that prevent any recording, and that sometimes the artists are afraid of negative criticism that may come with letting their work be freely shared. Still, there are other ways to let people share their experiences – perhaps through live Twittering, or making a cast available after a performance for flipcam interviews with video bloggers. The point is that every arts group needs to find a way of helping word of mouth about what they are doing to travel.

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