Thursday, August 4, 2011

E-marketing and Social Media: Not a place for trial and error

What form of communication will be really important to an Arts Organization in the future?

The news is full of arts organizations looking for ways to trim costs and yet be more effective in gaining audience and by extension the financial success sold out events imply. New York City Opera got rid of their Music Director position. Numerous symphonies and opera companies have renegotiated contracts with musicians trying to pave a way forward in this uncertain economic climate. AND more and more of these same companies are looking at Social Media and e-Marketing as a way into new markets and a broader audience.

All of this can be positive, however, arts organizations tend to have narrow vision as to how to use new platforms and what can be achieved with engaging potential audience via these mediums. To often, e-marketing is treated simply as a new venue for the already existing marketing voice. Social Media is looked at as an 'advertising venue', another outlet for the publicity staff. Social Media roles are often filled by recent graduates with degrees in arts management or marketing. These graduates may have little to no experience in emerging platforms and no background in the technology that's leading the way. This hiring philosophy leads to hires that experience writing the 'marketing-speak' arts organizations are familiar with, but familiar isn't getting new audiences, and 'marketing-speak' isn't effective in social media circles. Social Media is a totally new type of communication, one that users prize because it offers a 'peek behind the curtain' and direct, personal connection with the artists, performers, writers, and thinkers they admire.

It is cheaper to hire a young, fresh-out-of-college person, but is that the most effective use of money? 80% of the under 30 crowd get their news exclusively from the internet. More and more symphonies are building mobile apps to enhance their internet savvy audience's experience - and driving sales as a result. The Met has proven by expanding their performance into cinemas they can massively broadened their audience (and bottom line). If arts organizations are going to reach their new audience they will have to do so electronically, through the internet, e-mail, mobile phone apps and social media.

There are professionals out there who not only have a knowledge of marketing and arts organization needs, but are also savvy with social media, understand how the audience responds to e-marketing techniques and always looking ahead at what's coming down the pike in terms of possibilities.

As with any professional, these people aren't cheap. In the early days of the dot.com rise, programmer positions were reasonably paid, but nothing outlandish. As companies realized that in order to get the best they needed to pay a higher rate, programmers pay scale was dramatically affected. There's an old adage, you get what you pay for.

In terms of cost effective solutions, it makes sense for arts organizations to take another look at their e-marketing positions. These are the positions that can potentially yield up to 80% of their audience interaction. In some respects it's like hiring a new conductor. A major symphony wouldn't consider a young graduate for their principal conductor, unless that conductor had already proven to have mass audience appeal (i.e., Gustavo Dudamel). Why? Because a conductor leads the orchestra and can make or break the sound. They are the front-piece that is often sold to audiences. Well, the e-marketing/social media person is a similar front-piece to the orchestra. Used correctly, they are the one talking to your audience first, getting them interested in coming to the concert hall. No, I don't think e-marketers warrant the same salaries as major conductors - but, used correctly, they can be far more important to an arts organization's success than we currently credit.

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