Social Media Is Your Mission. Your Mission Is Social Media.
As an arts marketer, your main objective is to raise awareness of your organization's mission, facility, programs, and productions amidst an amorphous target audience. They might be "the community" in which you are based, a state, America, or something more specific like a set of zip codes or artists or young professionals, etc. We spend our days pitching journalists, cross promoting, toiling over email newsletters, approving signage, appearing at events, and fighting tooth-and-nail for an anemic advertising budget to hopefully make a splash and to catch the attention of your stakeholders along the way. Oh, and when we think of it, try to keep up with the proliferation of social media platforms or delegate it to an intern. Wait a second ...
Having done hard time in-house in arts marketing departments, I know that the litany of communications channels are not only expected internally, they actually succeed collectively in moving the needle. Part of the joy and pain of being in arts marketing is that we get to work dynamically in so many areas. Thrilling! Terrifying! Exclamation points!
But what I've learned in my 20 years of promoting cultural endeavors—7 of those on staff and 10 with the cultural public relations, design, and strategy agency I co-founded—is that there's a difference between what's urgent and what's important. While there's always someone pounding on your desk about the email blast or the program insert, almost nobody else is thinking about social media. It might come up in the occasional board report or strategic planning session ("what are we doing about the Snapchats?") but it likely isn't an integral part of the marketing discussion and most certainly not an institutional priority.
Over the past several years, social media went from novelty to perfunctory to an "us too" affair. Cut to today. Maybe you are in an institution where social media is at the forefront of leadership, programming, and outreach. But in my experience, social media is still somewhat of an afterthought. I've seen it dumped on everyone from the executive director to the IT department to interns or were-just-recently-interning newbies. Nothing wrong with any of those folks doing this work as a general rule, except that it tends to be relegated to the periphery.
What I would like to argue here is that social media can no longer be something we remember to do at the end of the day or that one person alone thinks about. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, et al. are increasingly where we gather, discover, react, and form our opinions individually and collectively. Like a murmuration—that magical flock of starlings above—our audiences are coming together in the air around us and all we need do is to pay attention and flap our little wings.
According to a 2016 report by BI Intelligence, we spend 20%+ of our time on social media—the average person logs 1.72 hours per day on various platforms. So why are we putting a disproportionate time into thinking about people's inboxes, their mailboxes, and billboards? Social media is a dynamic, two-way conversation. It is build to assess interests and engage before a ticket is sold or an email subscription or call. It is predictive and knows our audience's gender, location, age, education, interests, and behavior. Also, it is free or very, very inexpensive.
If you are looking for justifications for putting more of your time or staff budget into making social media a priority, let me arm you for the conversation with your boss you imagine having right after NAMPC (the National Arts Marketing Project Conference).
Here are three really big reasons why social media needs to be a bigger priority for you personally and for your organization:
- It's Your Mission! I mean that literally. Whatever the mission of your organization may be, I'm pretty certain that outreach into the community and engaging stakeholders is part of that—as is sharing your enriching, enlightening audio and or visual content. Seeing as 64% of Americans now have a smartphone, that means you can fulfill your mission much more cheaply and quickly as well as also engaging in a two-way conversation about the issues your audiences face. Social media is not merely a marketing tool. It is a mission fulfillment tool of central relevance to your leadership, fundraising, education, curatorial/programming, and more. Everyone in your org chart should understand it, consider it, and learn what the insights mean.
- It's Your Recon. The reality is that we are all the products in the business model of any social media platform—to be understood and targeted by advertisers. While I would never advocate for obsessively posting on social platforms or spending most of your time with your face glued to a screen (quite the opposite), you would be a fool not to pay attention. If you set up some tools like TweetDeck or HootSuite to watch lists of stakeholders you create (journalists or influential bloggers), hashtags, search terms, or even a trending article that's pertinent to your current show or institution, then you can pop in a few times per day and see who is talking about these topics and what they think. You'll get real-time insights into influencer types and discover viewpoints and content that you can share then act on via social or elsewhere. Arts critic Instagramming about their sick dog? Email them a thoughtful note and then don't pitch for a few days. Boom.
- It's Your Secret Weapon. Different platforms are designed for varying types of communication with distinct demographic categories. Snapchat is focused on FLEETING (new word) ideas for the young and young at heart while Facebook is a more mainstream to reach people you already know. Instagram is a highly visual place where you discover people based on hashtags they use whereas Twitter is like Instagram … with less visuals. Knowing what platforms are important to your mission and audience, being conversant in their lingo and conventions, and using them well—as you have learned email or conference calls or coffee meetings—is not just a way to get ahead with your marketing ... it is an enhancement to everything you do. Think of it like MSG for your marketing soup: bringing out the flavor in everything you put in the pot. With your finger on the pulse of your audience and the journalists that matter, you will be able to test ideas, plan your message and launch times, anticipate crisis PR situations (and monitor/respond to reactions as they happen), make your print/outdoor/event marketing more actionable, and in the process will empower you to march into your executive director's office or marketing committee with data backing your proposed campaign.
In closing, if you're not getting great at social media, you are cheating yourself, your organization, and your audience. Saying that the interfaces and jargon aren't relevant is comparable to blowing off email in the 90s, the fax in the 80s, or telephones before that. Of course, every skill isn't everyone's thing, so you may need to delegate, outsource, or do some professional development. And that's okay. But even still, in order to delegate you must understand the underpinnings. Your mission depends on it!
P.S. I invite you to get deeper into this conversation at the NAMP Conference "Social Media is Your Mission. Your Mission is Social Media” panel on Sunday, November 13, at 3:30 p.m. as I, Alie Cline (Blanton Museum of Art), Lainya Magana (A&O PR), and Nella Vera (BFV Management) sort it out. Submit questions before and during the conference and panel by using the #NAMPCsocial hashtag on Twitter. Later that night, you can ascend to social media glory on stage at the “NAMParoke ATX: Beers, Beards, & Live Band!” event at the Mohawk. Pick your songs now at arts.blackbaud.com/wyattbrand.