David Dombrosky

During last year’s Arts Marketing Blog Salon, I stated that an individual or organization’s motivation for using social media is a primary factor in forecasting whether or not their efforts will be successful. This remains true, but even those who are truly motivated to engage their audiences can derail themselves with their approach to content.

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with a number of performing arts presenters, agents, and artists at the Performing Arts Exchange about their web strategies, use of social media, and engagement with mobile audiences. Throughout the course of these conversations, I noticed two important strategic elements for those experiencing success with social media.

Consider your content choices from the audience’s point-of-view.  
One of the most common issues I find in social media practice is that people often select content based on what they want to share. For example, one of the agents I spoke to at the conference had created a Facebook page with performing arts presenters as its intended audience. I noticed that a predominant number of the posts on the page were announcements for where her artists would be performing in the near future. When I asked her how this information is useful to presenters visiting the agency’s page, she was confused by the question. From her perspective, it was a no-brainer that anyone coming to the page would want to know this information.

As our conversation deepened, she started to think about the content on her page from the point of view of its intended audience. Most presenters do not need a running list of tour dates for the immediate future, because they tend to book a year or more in advance. What are they looking for? Updated content about the artists whom they are bringing into their venues. Content that they can, in turn, share with their current and potential patrons. Once the agent began viewing the potential content for her agency’s Facebook page through this lens, the content selection process came clearly into focus.

Having trouble shifting your perspective away from what you want to what your audience wants? That’s okay. Ask them! Whether you conduct a survey, pull together a focus group, or ask them informally, it is critical to find out what your audience would like to get out of their online relationship with you.

Remember to pull as much as you push.  
Do you know someone whose idea of a conversation is to talk incessantly about himself without asking anything meaningful about you? Unfortunately, this characterization describes the way in which many people approach social media.

“See this picture of us performing for the children? Isn’t it super cute? Here’s a video of my boss telling you why you should think what we do is amazing. Hey, don’t forget to buy tickets to our show on Friday! Did you know that we have a huge fan base in Norway? Not only that, but we contribute to our city’s local economy. Here are the numbers to prove it! Did I tell you not to forget to buy tickets to our show on Friday? Do it!”

Mastering the art of conversation requires us to (a) ask questions about the other person’s thoughts and experiences, (b) listen to their responses, and (c) allow those responses to influence the subsequent flow of dialogue. It’s important to note that simply asking questions isn’t enough. There are quite a few people out there who ask questions online because they have been told that this is a good way to increase the number of responses from their fans and followers, but they don’t follow the thread and continue to engage with respondents after asking the initial question. True conversation is an on-going exchange rather than a singular transaction. Correspondingly, it is vital that we listen to the answers our questions garner and complete the communication loop by responding to them in kind.

Remember that a social media conversation need not be a purely text-based one. Fans and followers can also participate in the conversation with images, videos, and audio. A strong example of this is the Mattress Factory’s iConfess project. In 2008, this museum for contemporary installation art erected a confessional booth wherein visitors could record video messages in response to the question, “What does the Mattress Factory mean to you?” When the visitor has finished recording, the video is automatically uploaded to the iConfess video channel on YouTube, where people can view and comment on each other’s videos. Additionally, those videos can be shared on other social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Right now, these types of projects and campaigns tend to feel like channels for gathering positive testimonials regarding an artist or arts organization. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, I look forward to a time when these tools are widely used by all of us to engage our audiences in deeper, multimedia exchanges exploring the work, our communities, and our understanding of each other.

One Response to “Want to Win Audiences Online? Try Putting Them First.”

  1. Jerry Yoshitomi says:

    David:
    Great post. Thanks very much.

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ARTSblog holds week-long Blog Salons, a series of posts by guest bloggers, that focus on an overarching theme within a core area of Americans for the Arts' work. Here are links to the most recent Salons:

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Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.