I’ve been thinking a lot about how a line from one of my favorite musicals, My Fair Lady, pertains to arts marketing. Bear with me.
For those who don’t know it, the Lerner and Loewe musical based on George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion, tells the story of famed linguist Professor Henry Higgins and a cockney flower girl named Eliza Doolittle whose elocution improvement becomes his pet project. Towards the end of the play, now a proper lady with perfect pro-noun-ci-a-tion, Eliza delivers the anthem, “Show Me,” admonishing her suitor, Freddy, for saying instead of demonstrating how he feels. “Sing me no song, read me no rhyme, don’t waste my time, show me!” Eliza berates Freddy. Why have I been thinking about this? Well, what Eliza delivers as romantic instruction was actually prescient advice for 21st century arts marketing.
We’ve all noticed the shift towards the visual. It’s impossible not to. Web pages have evolved rapidly to keep up—the more visual real estate the better. Take Facebook as an example: People may have fought the mandatory migration to the Timeline when it first rolled out, but now that it’s here, it’s hard to remember a time when prime real estate wasn’t allotted to visuals, right? And as curators and purveyors of content, our practices as arts marketers have also had to evolve. Marketing once concentrated on the way we talked about our products. Now, it’s about making that message leap off the page—or more often, device—with bold visuals. It’s about showing our audiences what we’re made of. Images have become their own breed of storytelling. We all love our Facebook banner image, our branded Twitter page and our Youtube channel because each offers the chance to distinguish ourselves.
As a content curator for artsmarketing.org and our NAMP Facebook page, I can say with certainty that posts featuring compelling visuals or video clips attract an enormous amount more attention than those that don’t. I consider the visuals that accompany the articles I post as carefully as the posts themselves. I have to. In a world inundated with images, the trick is to catch people’s eyes. Once you do that you have already increased your potential influence. Visuals are a language quickly understood and, thanks to mobile devices, easily shared, so their impact—and your reach—can grow exponentially.
Ironically, I’ve gotten a little verbose. Please take a moment of reading reprieve to consider a handy infographic from our e-book, Marketing Mixology, and the 13 Social Media Infographics Every Marketer Needs to See with hard numbers proving the power of visual content. Pretty remarkable, right? And these numbers will only continue to grow.
I like to think of sharing great visual content not just as branding opportunities (which they of course are) but also as a kind of social media fashion statement, a chance to individualize and set ourselves apart. The artsy kinds in school know how to make a statement with their fashion choices (I know I took it pretty seriously) and the artsy organizations know just how to make a statement and captivate audiences: this is our jam! If anyone knows how to make something pop, sing, or dance on the page, arts marketers do. We’re working with a veritable goldmine. Turn the eyes and ears of your social media on your work and share the inside scoop or the creative process.
People are headed in droves to social media outlets pared down almost exclusively to images—Instagram, Pinterest, Vine to name the big guys so far. In April of this year we published an e-book Hearty, Wholesome and Homemade: Building an Instagram Community that Thrives, profiling organizations and brands who were really killing it with picture contests, unique hashtags, demonstrating their mission or bringing their fans behind the scenes. At the time of publication, The Walker Art Center’s Instagram followers numbered 9,100. Just a few months later they’ve already increased their fan base by more than 25%. Talk about a ringing endorsement for the power of images and the potential it has for building audiences in the arts.
So what can you do to get on the visual bandwagon? First off, create an Instagram account and get creative posting fresh new content. What about your website and
other social media? Worried that you don’t have the capacity to cull excellent visual content? My friend, look no further than Flickr Creative Commons where you can find zingy visuals with simple, no fuss appropriation rules. Better yet, celebrate your adoring fans by crowd sourcing their content with photo or video contests. Believe me, they’ll be delighted.
Want to create original content with real pizzazz? The recent grad-o-sphere is packed with digital natives boasting stellar graphic design skills and social media maintenance savvy. Treat them well, because you can’t deny what the old song by Freddie Scott says, “You Got What I Need.” Given the visual shift, I predict these interns will become staffers whose expertise we’ll continue to depend upon, but that’s another blog post…
The influence of powerful visual content is undeniable and profound. It’s time we all harnessed the opportunities of the new, visual era. So have you joined the visual revolution yet? Ok, show me.