Sometimes I worry that I’ve succomb to the social media bubble. When you spend a lot of time reading, thinking, writing, and talking about social media, and you’ve acquired a handful of friends and colleagues that are doing the same, it can start to seem like the whole world is obsessed. When really, it’s just you. But if that’s the case, then folks at the Americans for the Arts Half Century Summit have also caught the social media bug. In this 2.5 day long conference, there were 5 break out session opportunities. In each, there was one panel focused on the role of social media in the arts. I did a fair amount of session hopping, but tried to catch the meat of presentation & discussions on the topic. Here are my notes:
Rich Mintz (of Blue State Digital, who you may remember after my fawning adoration of Teddy Goff) moderated a panel of Elena Park, Assistant Manager of Creative Content for the Met Opera, Tim Svenonius, Producer, Interactive Educational Technologies for SF MOMA, and last minute switch from Reverb Nation, though unfortunately I didn’t catch his name.
- Musicians (at least, those using Reverb Nation) tend to be young, hungry, and desparate for a break. They’re willing to do anything to get noticed. They don’t think twice about all the time they spend online building social media fans. I don’t know of many small theatre companies who think this same way. I wonder what the equivalent of Reverb Nation would look like for the theatre. They also have an awesome implementation of game mechanics which rewards artists (with points! and a leaderboard! and a tweetable score!) for being active on the site.
- Artists tend to have a complicated and mysterious process. Audience wants to get a peek into that world; some artists love the attention, for others it can hurt the art making. Transparency is great, except when it’s not.
- iPhone apps are cool, but if you haven’t optimized your website to display cleanly on a mobile browser, you’re missing the point. And don’t forget that smartphones are less than 20% of the mobile phone market. Along the same lines, make sure the new thing you’re trying works better than the old thing you’re abandoning. Email was revolutionary because it was free, instant, and asynchronous. It still works. You could probably be using it better.
- There seems to be a fear that “social media equals the democratization of authority. That it challenges the curator, and makes them less valuable.” I think just the opposite is true. We have more content available to us than at any point in history, probably in the combined total of historical art. We need better filters, and even smarter curators.
- Even the most technologically savvy institutions will be fortresses. The generation of up-and-coming artists will always rebel against those in “authority.” But an individual artist now has the ability to become famous without those institutions, in large part through their personal relationship with a mass audience via social media and technology.
- I asked how the panel thought that art, the artistic process, or artists themselves were changing based on these new digital delivery systems. Didn’t really get an answer to that one. I’m curious what others think.
- And a final kind of brilliant quote from Rich, “Ten years ago we couldn’t have envisioned what we are doing now. We were scared of the wrong things.” So? Learn everything you can about what’s happening now, and in the near future, but don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Be adaptable.
There was a collaborative powerpoint, and a great must reads list (hey! I think I recognize someone listed) by Brian Reich of little m media, Laura Goetsch, of TimeLine Theatre, and Jeff Inscho of the Mattress Factory.
- The standards we judge ourselves against are crazy! Nike got 15 million views in the first 10 days for their Write the Future YouTube video. They weren’t an official sponsor or advertiser for the World Cup, but it’s Nike FTW. But wait, what theatre company would ever think of comparing themselves to Nike? Why not use our own industry benchmarks?
- Sure, there’s a cost to social media. But there’s also the cost of doing nothing. Or the cost of doing the wrong thing.
- Everyone wants to talk about themselves. Organizations, and audiences alike. See the tension? Orgs should spend less time talking about themselves, and give greater power over to their fans. Also, the totality of those fans’ experience at the theatre is YOUR problem. From buying tickets on an affiliate’s website, to parking, to the ushers.
- Brian made a pitch for orgs to stop producing kitchy tote bags with their logo plastered all over them. Depending on the logo, I disagree. Toting a tote with those lowercase npr letter blocks says something about the wearer, and more often than not, that’s exactly why their carrying it. Strand Books does this better than anyone I know. When I see someone using a Strand tote in NYC, it’s old hat, but when I see someone in Texas, my heart swells with pride that I’ve found a like-minded soul. Threadless also does an awesome job of empowering their community to spot their logo in the wild.
- Mattress Factory. Period. Full Stop. Whoa. Jeff was dropping QR Code verbiage, iPhone apps, and a handful of other cool initiatives they’ve deemed Friendship 2.0. Those are all totally cool, but I was so much more impressed with my G20–a platform they created for the community of Pittsburgh to crowdsource cool content in the months leading up to the event last year. They have a tiny logo on the site, otherwise, Mattress Factory simply built a platform for other folks ot use as they please. And it looks damn good. It’s an awe-inspiring example of an arts institution becoming a community resource center. Another cool tidbit Jeff let slip, “We don’t pay for any of our technology, it’s all strategic partnerships with great local companies.”
- There was a question posed by an audience member about how to get found online. The team missed a great opportunity to talk about SEO. It’s not snake oil, it’s not even all that mysterious. It’s like saying if you’re art is good enough, people will just show up. If that were the case, we wouldn’t need marketing departments. Think of SEO as marketing for your marketing. I’ll be talking more about this next week.
Group discussion moderated by Doug McLennan of ArtsJournal. There were many more questions raised than conclusions arrived at during the discussion, mirroring I suppose the typical role of the critic.
- There are new models for supporting arts critics: from a critic in residence, to a collective of arts orgs funding a single critic, to a co-op of critics supporting each other. None solve all of the conflicts of interest/issues of the past.
- Who’s responsibility is it to prepare the audience for the artistic process? Should they need preparation?
- Critics can be filters. Every critic will have a point of view through which they decide to include/exclude certain topics or information. ArtsJournal does this great, specific to traditional (print) media sources. Who’s going to fill this function for the many great arts blogs out there? The more blogs I add to my RSS feed, the more aware I become of the multiple layers of filters on the interwebs. I used to read the NY Times, then I realized that the Daily Beast offered quicker, more diverse summaries of news items; then I realized more often than not Daily Beast is stealing Gawker content and cutting the snark; then I discovered that Gawker was actually sourcing content from BoingBoing, one of the oldest blogs on the internet; and I’m finally starting to pay attention to the folks that feed BoingBoing. Especially with an RSS feed that shows date & time of stories, it’s become fascinating to track stories as they move from the far corners of the web, to the center of traditional media. We need more layers of filters for arts stories. Who’s going to step up to fill the void?
- Doug pointed us all towards a few cool sources for info, the USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future, the Indianapolis Arts Museum dashboard of key stats, and the Radically Transparent book.
- Readers like personal content. But get too personal, and we’re back in the land of LiveJournal. Barry mentioned his most commented on post ever was the unfortunate death of his dog-that he was so touched, but also surprised, at the level of interest that post generated. Ironically, I can’t find it to link to, but we’ll get back to that issue in a moment. But in general, 9 comments per 2,000 readers seems common among the panel.
- Chad moved the Arena Stage blog from the responsibility of the communications office, to the artistic department. Blogging isn’t about pushing out information–it’s about engaging with your community about the topics you and they are most passionate about (hear hear!). He also urged us to think about the ‘deeper conflict’ for every blog post. I wanted to point out this doesn’t exactly apply to every kind of blog, but it’s a good suggestion in theory. Also, better to post irregularly with compelling content, than fluff once a week.
- As has been pointed out by many, numbered lists work well. I’ve tried this two times, neither were particularly effective. As with most strategies, I suppose it’s all contextual.
- Nobody’s measuring their personal blog (basically). I was a little surprised by this, but then, I’m a girl driven by numbers. I agree that pageviews and RSS subs are pretty rough metrics, and I’m the last one to live and die by numbers that don’t mean anything. But there are measures of success that you could track over time, that might give you insight into the folks who land on your site. Like, how did they land there (via organic search? what were the key search terms? via referrals from another site? who are those like minded individuals who are linking to you? should you be reading their blog?), and how much time did they spend there (were they clicking through to other pages, or did they grab & go?), and what’s the balance between new readers discovering your brilliance versus long-time readers compelled by your brilliance to keep returning week after week. On the one hand, there’s as many means to an end as there are end goals. And certainly, if you’re not interested in making changes to your process or your product based on the numbers, then there’s no use wasting your time measuring. And in a world of never-enough-time, by all means, focus more on content than distribution. Just interesting to note the profession, and assertion, that the numbers don’t really matter.
- Finally, there was a plug for more video content, for which I’m still uncertain. Everyone says it drives huge pageviews, this is the way of the future, etc etc. But, I’m a scanner, and I can’t easily scan video. I’m too inpatient for voicemail, I rarely make it through more than the first ten seconds of a video of a talking head. But if video is your thing, then Gary Vaynerchuck is your guy.
And then there was us. Ian and I co-chaired a rotating roundtable discussion for 4 hours. It felt kind of like an oral exam on all things tech-related, so I was fairly exhausted by the end. I was fascinated by the questions folks asked us, like:
- What should we do with social media when working with middle & high school kids?
- How do we promote a short term event?
- What’s the difference between an institutional and a personal voice?
- What’s UStream? What’s RSS? What’s Packratius?
- How do I find a job using social media?
- How do I find creative/technology folks?
So that’s the Half Century Summit. Robert Redford, Arianna Huffington, and Rocco gave keynote speeches. The NYNeoFuturists mocked and entertained us. There was much to tweet about. So are we in the social media bubble? Probably. There’s a lot to talk about. And things change quickly. And it holds great hope for the future. But when will the (interest) bubble burst?