New culture (2)

First I should say that you can find me on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter. If you’re on Facebook yourself, I’d be happy to be your friend. Just look for me, and friend me.

I like what I’ve learned about social networking. I’ve made friends, reconnected with old friends, and done some useful networking. And the communications we all set up are a lot quicker, a lot more direct, and also a lot more fun than plain old e-mail. In at least one professional situation, I’ve strengthened contacts with some of the younger people involved much more quickly than could have happened in any other way. Plus, it’s fun — and, I think, even professionally helpful — to give people a fuller picture of myself than they’d get from my in-need-of-updating website, or from this blog. By being on Facebook, I think I advertise myself as available for informal contact, in a way that wouldn’t happen in any Web 1.0 way, through an e-mail list, a website, or even a blog.

So in the midst of all that, I was fascinated to see that the New York Times and the Washington Post both have Twitter streams, and in fact many of them. I looked at the Post‘s streams, and signed up for one of them. Some are for news stories — I signed up for politics, and get maybe four to six links each day to politics stories in the Post. But I could also follow Post personalities, columnists and bloggers, which I’m sure would be much more fun.

Obviously these newspapers use Twitter to connect with younger people. So I was interested to see whether big classical music institutions do the same. I couldn’t check dozens of them, but I did look for the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera, both of which have made efforts to reach a younger audience. (Yes, even the Philharmonic, with what looks like success. Check out the search page on the Philharmonic’s website, and see from the word cloud of search terms that “student discount” and “student rush tickets” — and other student-related things — are among the most frequent searches.)

But neither the Met nor the Philharmonic currently use Twitter. That’s a mistake, I think, though I believe both institutions will be using it before too long. What concerns me, though, is that I don’t think either is using Facebook very well. They’ve both got lots of Facebook friends, but they don’t communicate with their friends often enough, or in the right way. The Philharmonic, for instance, mostly sends what amount to press releases. Yes, they’re livelier than normal press releases, which is a good thing. But what’s missing is any kind of personal touch, any sense that there are people involved in each institution who’d be interested in making contact with others outside.

Which, after all, is how social networking works! That’s why they call it social networking. If you ask me, the Met and the Philharmonic — and any other classical music institution that uses Facebook — should be sending out updates every day. Most of these updates should be something more than press releases, or attempts to get people to buy tickets, or participate in some other activity the institution has going on. Most of the updates should be more personal — news tidbits, quick anecdotes, snapshots of something behind the scenes, or, best of all, communications from individuals.

Ideally musicians, singers, staff members, and others would send out updates in their own names. The Philharmonic and the Met could do what the Times and the Post do, and have many Twitter streams, some from the institution, and some from people involved with it. Maybe this violates some sense these institutions have of their proper dignity, but I promise them — if they really do want to engage younger people, at some point they’ll have to do what I suggest. The world is moving that way, and classical music can’t afford to be left behind.

I’d love to hear from classical music people who use social networking the right way.

(And for an example of an organization that, I fear, doesn’t quite get it, see the comment to my first new culture post, from someone with From the Top, the radio and TV show that presents young classical musicians. They’re going to great lengths to get kids to participate, but if they were approaching kids in the right way to begin with, they wouldn’t have to do all that. Nothing on their home page suggests that they want people to contact them.

(They have a Facebook presence, but they don’t seem to take it seriously. They post just a few updates each month, all of them are press releases, and they have only 90-odd friends, many fewer than I have. For a show that’s been around for years, and is all about younger people, that’s not nearly enough. They don’t seem to be on Twitter.)

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  1. says

    It’s true that organizations can use the Internet to announce updates. And it’s a great idea. But do you really want to trust Facebook with that? We have a nice flexible technology already: RSS.

    Michael, I might hire you as my IT guy, but not as my publicist. It doesn’t matter what technology is available. What matters is where the people are, what technology they’re actually using. If you want to reach younger people (and a surprising number of older ones), many of them are on Facebook. And they react very warmly, on the whole, to others who reach out to them there.

    As for commercializing classical music (the point you raised in your other comment) — that’s a red herring. (If anyone uses that expression anymore.) Mainstream classical music, in many ways, is already far more commercial than most of pop music. It’s like a deer in the headlights, frightened to do things its audience won’t accept. And locked in an unforgiving dance with the people who give it money. And meanwhile, it offers a most uninteresting, and often unintelligent, face to the outside world. I’m not talking about making it commercial. I just want to see it lively, smart, and welcoming.

  2. says

    Michael, I might hire you as my IT guy, but not as my publicist.

    Sorry, just hard for me to keep my mouth shut when I have something to say :)

    I’m not talking about making it commercial. I just want to see it lively, smart, and welcoming.

    To what end? Not so more tickets can be sold?

    Well, almost everybody wants to sell more tickets. But in the short run, they can do that (as the New York Philharmonic, for example, has) just by using normal marketing techniques.

    In the long run, more than marketing is needed, and the goal has to go far deeper than just selling tickets. I want to see organizations revamped, internally and externally, so they play better, think more deeply, and connect more passionately with contemporary life. Social networking is a tiny part of that. I think that as classical music organizations become a more central part of contemporary life, they’ll get artistically stronger, and far more interesting. I’ll certainly be more eager to go to their performances. Then they’ll also sell more tickets, or at least more tickets to younger people. But a purely cosmetic attempt to put on a younger face won’t get them anywhere.

    Glad you asked this question. It gets me deeper than my post did, and brings up issues I might well have talked about.

  3. says

    Hey, your Twitter link goes to the Twitter home, not your account (might be intentional, but folks out here might want to follow you….)

    Thanks for catching this! And for informing me. Wasn’t intentional at all, just ignorant. As I said in my latest post, this underlines how much many of us have to learn about the new online world. You can find me on Twitter right here. .

  4. says

    Greg, Thank you for bringing up this topic. I find social networking to be completely fascinating, and am working to utilize it more effectively for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. We have been on Twitter for several months, and I think we were even the first Orchestra to have a presence there. I think it is a great (and rather fun) way to keep people up to date with behind-the-scenes as well as just the regular scene of the Orchestra and our activities. We don’t have a ton of followers yet, but it has been growing consistently.

    We also have just recently created a Facebook page and are working to find the best way to reach people and communicate with our “fans” through the page. I would love to hear your comments about either or both.

    Consequently, we can also be found on MySpace, Flickr and YouTube – although we haven’t done much here. Union rules make it somewhat difficult to post videos of performances, so we are looking for other kinds of videos that we can post…

    Something that I feel very strongly about, and that I think many organizations have a particularly difficult time doing, is being an active participant in whatever social community you may be a part of. It isn’t enough to simply be there, post press releases, and do all of the things you do on your website, just somewhere else. It is important to truly participate – comment, discuss with people, have pictures up, invite people to be a part of an experience they might not have if you weren’t a part of that particular community.

    One final plug for a way LACO likes to communicate online with our patrons. We have a blog, and a really great recent addition to our blog is our newbie blogger. This is someone who is pretty new to LACO, and new to classical music. He presents a great comedic commentary on orchestras, classical music and the LACO experience. Anyway, I just wanted to share. Thanks again for your thoughts.

    Thanks, Lacey. The LACO uses Twitter pretty well — congrats on that. And the blog is nice. Seems like you all are doing better than most.

  5. says

    Greg, you may already have seen this, but here’s a post I wrote for Scanning the Dial about why classical stations should use Twitter. Your comments are dead on and spurred me to some additional thoughts that I’ll share in a future post at our blog.


    It’s true that organizations can use the Internet to announce updates. And it’s a great idea. But do you really want to trust Facebook with that? We have a nice flexible technology already: RSS.

    There’s no reason an organization shouldn’t use both. Not all RSS users use Facebook (and vice versa). They’re not even close to equivalent in functionality and stickiness. My guess is that many more younger people use Facebook than are aware of RSS.

  6. Yvonne says

    «What concerns me, though, is that I don’t think either is using Facebook very well. They’ve both got lots of Facebook friends, but they don’t communicate with their friends often enough, or in the right way.»

    Speaking from an inside perspective, I know this sensation all too well. It has some parallels with the situation that initially existed when newspapers decided that their journalists and columnists could maintain blogs on top of all their usual work – “it’s just another 10 minutes a day, isn’t it?” – whereas the reality of communicating regularly and really well in that fundamentally different medium required a greater time investment.

    So an orchestra with a busy if not overworked staff has a desire and need to embrace media such as facebook or twitter, sets up the accounts with gusto, and makes a brave start. Then it fizzles or dwindles because the administrators realise that the “press releases” and other humdrum postings they’re making are really not what it’s about but they lack the time to properly “repurpose” existing content or to write and nurture genuine contributions intended specifically for the medium or to any of this with the frequency that we’d attend to our personal facebook pages or tweets. Same thing happens with some orchestra blogs. The idea is there, but no one’s willing to acknowledge the staffing and structural changes that might be necessary (in some organisations) to do this really well. (And Greg, you know who I work for but don’t go checking us out ’cause we won’t stand up to your scrutiny I’m sorry to say. Certainly not yet.)

    Thanks as always, Yvonne. And you’re absolutely right, of course. Not that you wouldn’t know all this better than I do! But I’ve run into the sad but inevitable things you mention myself, in my work with organizations. I also know a scary story, a real warning to all of us, involving what happened when one of the biggest orchestras in the US tried something they weren’t ready for, but I’ll have to be discreet.

    Bottom line? I’m sympathetic to the reasons why classical music organizations don’t do a lot of things. But these are things they need to do, so the problem will have to be solved, one way or another.

  7. says

    Hi Greg,

    Very happy to come across this post. I’m now in a position at a performing arts non-profit where I monitor our Facebook, MySpace, and blog. The blog is the most useful tool, for sure, and I’m struggling with figuring out the best way to use Facebook for the company, even though I’ve used it myself for four years. Right now it is basically serving as just another web-presence for us, with nothing unique save for a few videos. I would say though that sending out messages everyday would be much too intrusive, as that is essentially the same as sending out e-mails everyday (Facebook sends an e-mail notification of messages received, a feature most don’t choose to disable). I don’t use the Facebook group to message press releases but rather more conversational updates, as you recommend, though at this point rather infrequently, with more frequent updates via the blog…It’s a fine line to walk, one I think most of us are still trying to figure out.

    Brian, glad you’ve joined the discussion. Some people on Facebook have hundreds of friends. They can’t possibly find the updates obtrusive. Otherwise, why would they make all those people their friends? Some of my friends post updates every day, and I like that. I find myself missing some of the friends who don’t post much. I’d guess that if people friend your group, they’d like to hear from you.

    But really we shouldn’t speculate about this. Is there any data, any studies about what Facebook members expect? You might survey your group’s friends, and ask how often they’d like to have updates from you. In any case, if you find yourself being too obtrusive, you can lower the pace. A bigger mistake, going in, might be not asserting yourself enough. And of course the quality of updates matter. If they’re lively and informative, people will be happy to get them. I’m always amazed at the response I get — there’s no telling when some update of mine (and I send at least one every day, sometimes more) gets a delighted response from someone, which then warms my heart no end.

  8. Bill says

    I don’t know about From the Top, but Christopher O’Riley is a genius and an example of the best way to reach people with classical music. Here’s hoping he gets the recognition he deserves (From the Top or not).

  9. Yvonne says

    Re Brian’s point:

    It seems that Updates from organisational Pages have the capacity to be quite a bit more intrusive than the status feed and other items from personal accounts. Facebook gives you the option to turn most email notifications off, but many don’t do this. I’m a fan of a number of Pages. If I received all their Updates via email (and not just on the facebook site itself) I would go nuts.

    So I think he’s right in saying that care is needed. Sure, post and add to your orchestra’s Page regularly so people have a reason to visit, but use of the Update feature, which results in a broadcast to fans, probably needs to much more selective.

    For current facebook users who administer orchestra Pages, there’s also a discussion group:

    Thanks, Yvonne. I’d love to hear more thoughts on this.

  10. says

    Social networking can really make a huge difference for smaller community based organisations. My experience of it is particularly of the use of facebook to promote concerts at University. Now of course facebook was started for students and it’s now rare to find a student without it, but some groups have managed to make concert audiences almost double on previous concerts, simply by creating a facebook event and marketing it in a way which will engage their friends. One particular concert I went to I think had about a quarter of the audience never having been to a classical music concert before. Almost every single concert at my uni (Edinburgh) is now advertised as an event on facebook – and since most people have a few hundred friends, even if only a few of the orchestra invite all their friends then there are a hundreds or even thousands of people invited. This has the added bonus of you getting a personal invitation from one of your friends, and also of seeing how many people are going to the event, which can generate more excitement. I’m not sure this would have the same effect for professional groups, or very busy amateurs doing more than three or four concerts a year, but it has certainly made a dramatic difference for us.

    Thanks so much for this, Iain. I’ve forwarded it to an administrator at a major American music school, to whom I’ve been speaking about social networking. I’ve been advising music schools to make sure their websites foster social networking, not as a substitute for Facebook or MySpace or YouTube or Flickr or Twitter, but because social networking is one of the most important online activities for students. Often music school administrators haven’t quite caught up with this. Your comment is a big help!

  11. says

    I think I’m the only youngish person I know who doesn’t use Facebook, but seriously, screw Facebook. Like I need to spend more time propagating my visage and prose ‘cross the Internet. Classical music organizations need to be creating ways of interacting with their audiences that are uniquely appropriate to those organizations, not just slapping up a profile and expectantly awaiting the friend requests.

  12. says


    Just emerging from preparations for a board meeting and the design of a new web site and coming back to this topic… the reality of life in a nonprofit, and reminiscent of Yvonne’s and Brian’s postings in this thread about how much there is to do and how scarce the resources can be to accomplish it all. Like most other nonprofits, From the Top is trying to maximize the impact of its communications without antagonizing fans and supporters with too-frequent emails, updates, twitters, requests for donations, etc.

    In addition to the FTT web presence on our site, on NPR, and on PBS, we have a fan page and an alumni group on Facebook. Do we update them as often as we’d like? No. Is it worth having them? We think so. There are about 200 friends in the alumni/performer group, by the way. A major activity for us on Facebook (that isn’t visible via the fan page) is one-to-one relationships that staff have with kids who’ve been on the show.

    The audience for our radio and TV shows is largely middle-aged (as is typical of the audience for public broadcasting). We’re looking at how to engage a younger audience on the web, which is part of the reason for the contest in Iowa. Over the summer of 2008 we worked directly with a group of teenage musicians to find out what THEY would like in an online community for young classical musicians. They were very clear that they use Facebook to manage their broader social networks. But to connect with other young musicians AROUND MUSIC, they wanted a platform that made it easy to share content and resources, post comments, and organize information about repertoire, camps, competitions, etc. Facebook isn’t it. As an organization that is committed to serving these kids in a valuable and scalable way, we are looking at a range of platforms and talking directly to kids about what will work for them.

    A blanket statement that we “don’t get it” is pretty harsh – “getting it,” as you’ve noticed about your own learning curve, is a process.



    Very reasonable points, Laura. Part of my ongoing learning curve. Thanks.