2012 has been an awesome year so far.
It seems to be the year that the majority of arts groups have hit the tipping point on understanding online marketing, where they now feel really comfortable experimenting. Or perhaps executive directors are feeling more comfortable giving the ok for experimentation.
Either way, the collective knowledge level has risen substantially, and that is allowing us to have deeper, higher-level conversations as a sector. It’s a wonderful thing!
There is a dark side to this experimentation that I am seeing pop up more and more—organizations will launch a new marketing channel, get busy with other things, and then forget about them. But these new, forgotten channels still pop up on search engines, patrons go to them, and then are disappointed to find no recent updates. That can easily send the wrong message to your patrons.
I’m all for experimentation—it’s ok to try out something new, and you should be—but in the case where a new channel is abandoned, it can really dilute the brand. I recently worked with an arts organization that had twelve—count ‘em TWELVE—Facebook pages. And they only knew about seven of them.
Most of them were set up by well-meaning volunteers, or now ex-employees, and if you did a search on Facebook for this organization, you wouldn’t know which page was the “real” page. We heard reports from audience members who were very confused about which one to connect to.
I like to think that a new marketing channel is like getting a new puppy. That puppy needs attention—it needs to fed, watered, played with, and cleaned up after. It’s a big responsibility, and you should really know you want one before you get one.
To continue this metaphor, you may want to borrow a friend’s puppy first to get to know the lay of the land before deciding if that new puppy is the best for you.
It is easy to be attracted to the “newest, greatest thing” in regards to social media or other online marketing channels. And if you’ve got the time, set up a new account and play around.
My recommendation is that you set up a dummy account first, that doesn’t have the name of your organization. Push all the buttons and pull all the levers so you can figure out how it works. And if you don’t get to shutting it down, it’s ok, as nobody will know it was you. There’s your puppy practice before you get one of your own.
In the end, arts marketing managers need to learn a new skill—the ability to understand a new marketing channel, to see its capabilities, and to decide wether or not it is a good fit for their organization. A sort of “separating the wheat from the chaff.”
Some channels will make total sense to you. Others you may want to pass on, or pass on for now, and that is totally ok. When considering adding a new online marketing channel, here are a few questions to ask that you may find of benefit:
1) Will this new channel require a lot of manpower to keep active? (As an example, Facebook is high bandwidth, a blog is lower bandwidth).
2) Is there an existing arts organization using this new channel effectively? Can they be reached for comment? Are they finding value?
3) Is there potential for measurable impact to patrons or constituents? And what is it? (Who is this going to help, and what is it going to help them do).
4) Is there a time period that can be established for trial? (How much time should we allocate before we feel we can measure some sort of “success” and continued time investment?)
Negative answers on any of the above should not stop you from experimenting. But if organizations run through these questions before launching a new marketing channel, it will allow them some perspective to set expectations, as well as bring measurement and efficient time use to the front of the mind.
And remember, if a channel isn’t working for you, and you don’t see a way to make it do so, there is no shame in shutting it down. Your brand will be stronger for it, and your time can be better spent on other channels that are working for you.