The prelude to this interview is a tale of networking weaving.
A few months ago, I created a workshop called "Arts 2.0" which was a strategic social media for arts organizations workshop. (I'll be leading this workshop in Philadelphia for the Philadelphia Cultural Alliance in about two weeks) As part of my research process (using social media, of course), I looked at what arts organizations were doing on social networking sites like Facebook. I wanted to find an example of an official social networking presence, one clearly set up by the organization and one that was set up by the users. Bingo .. I found the Chicago Symphony's Fan Page and the Charlie Vernon Fan Club group.
I was trying to make two points during the workshop
- The first step is to listen - and by listening I mean find out who is having a conversation about your organization or issue. If you haven't done the listening, don't bother with a social networking strategy.
- The "loosing control" aspect of social media will happen no matter and you need to have the conversation internally to figure out how you will address it.
Not too long ago, I got an email from Marc van Bree, the PR coordinator from the CSO, who telling me about his new blog. He also mentions that he saw my powerpoint and thanked me for using the CSO screenshot. One thing lead to another and I directed him to the WeAreMedia project because the idea is that the conversation can become more than a brainstorming session or list of resources. Marc contributed some knowledge to the ROI section and also contributed some reflections about why he participated. (I really value that he took the time to engage in the conversation and the learning process ...)
And, I really wanted to do an interview with him to find out more about the CSO and Facebook. Not just because of my own curiosity, but because I knew there might others there that could benefit from Marc's knowledge.
Does this story illustrate the art of network weaving?
1.) Tell me about you and your job
I started my job at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra nearly three years ago, after an internship at a non-profit and a temporary stint at a PR agency dedicated to the arts. I didn’t have an extensive classical music background, but learned quickly and learned to love it even quicker.
A day in the PR office of an orchestra is never the same; it goes beyond cranking out press releases and pitches. That’s what makes it fun. For example, when the orchestra returned to the airwaves, it was announced that there would be a large Web component to it. I got pulled in to help create weekly Web content for the broadcast, because of my interest in and knowledge of HTML programming and the Web.
That interest of programming started at an early age. When I was very young, I started programming BAT files and then moved on to “programming for kids” by Addo Stuur and when the World Wide Web entered the household I jumped to HTML. It never became more than an interest and I went on to study communications.
Now, I’m happy to combine the two: the Web and communication. Online communication is growing at an incredible rate and organizations cannot stay behind to shape their online image and story. I’m especially intrigued by the possibilities of combining old public relations principles, such as storytelling, and new media, including social networks such as Facebook.
2.) You have a "personal professional" blog. Why did you start your blog?
I find it a good way to formulate my thoughts. Even though I sometimes look back and don’t necessarily agree with what I wrote anymore. I started in 2005 with installing PHP Nuke on my Web site, which combines several elements, such as forums, photos and articles. I was looking for jobs at that time, having just graduated, and I wanted to create some kind of portfolio. But I soon realized WordPress was the better option for what I wanted to create.
George Orwell wrote a piece once called “Why I write.” He lists four reasons: 1) sheer egoism 2) aesthetic enthusiasm 3) historical impulse 4) political purpose. After I hundred posts on my blog, I took these four reasons and turned them into a “Why I blog” article.
The sheer egoism could be translated into ambition and wanting to create a portfolio; the aesthetic enthusiasm is, as Orwell writes, a “desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed”; the historical impulse a “desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity;” and the political purpose a “desire to push the world in a certain direction,” a springboard to formulate my ideas.
I think the first and last reasons are key in my reasoning; I wanted to create a portfolio of my thoughts, but I also wanted it to be a training ground for putting together my thoughts.
3.) I understand your organization has a Facebook Fan Page - can you tell me a little about the strategy, and why you set it up? You mentioned that you've been sharing information with fans, but you hope to be a little bit more interactive. What are you plans for doing that?
We started the CSO Facebook page a couple of months ago. We launched the page with an incentive: a chance to win a free CD of one of our recent recordings. Otherwise, there was no active campaign besides me 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 and now there is an average of about 20 fans joining per day. We get nearly 100 page views a day, but this visibly spikes if we send out an update through Facebook or post videos or photos.
As of now, we’ve mainly been sharing information; pushing out information. We posted our new music director announcement with an update, links and information. In addition, we’ve tried creating an event for a radio broadcast and one for a specific concert to see if people would RSVP. One example of a little more interactivity was a ticket giveaway where fans had to answer a trivia question about a certain piece of music and the answer could be found on our Web site (in this case beyondthescore.org).
In the future, rather than simply pushing out information, we would like to see the users take more action and ownership of the page. We’re looking at ways to accomplish this and ways to make it easy for fans to participate by lowering the entry barrier. One such example is fan photos. This does, however, get a little tricky for performing arts organizations. We don’t allow photography during concerts, so it would work against our own policy to feature fan photos taken during concerts (which, as you can imagine, would be the majority of fan entries).
4.) What has been the key value to the CSO for setting up a Facebook page?
Over half our fans on the page are younger than 24 and over 85% of the fans are younger than 34. Compare that to the average age of classical music patrons, which usually runs toward the mid-fifties or even sixties. I suspect that this means we have a whole new group to communicate with, which is enormously exciting.
As we’ve had the CSO page for a fairly short time and we are figuring out how best to communicate and reach out, I believe up to this point the key value has been simply listening and participating. This should always be the first step in any new media endeavors: survey the environment and see what you can learn.
5.) What have been some of the results so far? What have you learned?
As I mentioned earlier, there’s a tremendous amount of young people joining as fans, much younger than our typical audience. I’ve noticed many of these youngsters are music students and proudly so (there are many that have profile photos with their instruments). I’d like to see it as a small sign that classical music is still important in many households and a whole new generation of patrons is growing up.
The results so far have been learning what works and what doesn’t work in communicating. In the future, we need to formulate more concrete objectives. These may include raising awareness (of a season theme or a composer festival) or perhaps community activation and participation (does the community respond to a message or a call to action?)
6.) I understand that there are several groups on Facebook that support the CSO - but are not the official site from your organization. How do build relationships and work with these other sites?
The people who started those groups are obviously passionate about supporting the CSO. Reaching out to these people works very similar to reaching out to bloggers; know who is writing and what they are writing; participate; build relationships; and adapt materials. Right now, we’re just at the “read and participate” stage, but we’ll have to come up with ways to engage them and provide them with useful materials that could easily be integrated into their group (RSS feeds, videos etc.).
7.) You mentioned that you've become the 'go to" person on CSO for social media/networking strategy. Is it a formal part of your job? Have you encountered any resistance or do they feel it is important?
What convinced them?
It’s currently not explicitly a part of my job, although you could argue that it does fall under public relations. And I’m by no means an expert on the topic, but I am passionate about the possibilities.
Fortunately, I have not encountered resistance. On the contrary, I have noticed much curiosity. But it goes hand in hand with a lack of understanding on what to do with the possibilities, because there are very little go-to resources. I’d like to think that’s where I can be helpful. I do find it difficult to explain the “whys” and “hows” because there is a lot of unqualified information out there, but blogs like yours and the We Are Media modules are extremely helpful for formulating the answers you need.
Once I delved into the ROI of new media (which doesn’t mean just ticket sales), I found it much easier to explain and justify the possible endeavors into new media. In the end, it’s all about results and return of investments. With orchestra budgets as tight as they are, you’d be foolish not to make that a priority. Keeping up with the Joneses is just not a valid justification.
8.) Any advice you want to give other arts people wishing to explore social media?
Just explore! Set up a Bloglines account, set up a Google Blog Alert, set up a del.icio.us account, set up a LinkedIn account, listen to Pandora and so on. It doesn’t take much to get a basic grasp of what social media entails. You don’t have to jump on every latest fad, but find out what’s useful for you and learn what works best with your needs and what fits into your lifestyle. Then, when you’re comfortable enough, try to participate and engage.
The same counts for an organization: survey the environment, determine what you are trying to accomplish and then find the right tools that work for you.