The day I went viral

That would be Thursday. February 19.

And I don’t want to make too much of this. It’s not like I got two million hits on a YouTube video, or sold 40,000 downloads of a song I wrote last week.

But something really did happen. For at least that one day, people on Twitter were telling each other about two things I’ve written. One was my skeptical piece for the Wall Street Journal about arts funding in the stimulus bill. The other was my post here about one way that classical music institutions might use Twitter. These were largely people I don’t know. My writing took on a life of its own, right before my eyes, and by the end of the day, I had many, many more new Twitter followers than I’d ever had in a single day before.

So why am I saying this here? Not to brag, though I’d never deny that I loved my moment in the Twitter sun. No, I’m blogging about this because I learned something. This is what social networking can do. So it’s what classical music institutions that use social networking should aim for.

Of course, you aim for a viral take-off the way a Zen archer takes aim — without any scheme for hitting your target. You don’t want to craft your tweets or your Facebook updates with both your eyes (or even one eye) on fame. Your goal is saying things you care about — which, let’s note, is not the same thing as tweeting about this week’s performance, as I’ve seen institutions do, without one word to show you’re really interested.

And all the worse if you put an exclamation point at the end of your tweet! That only underlines how little, in what you wrote, there is to care about. Because if you don’t show you care, others won’t care. Your job, in using social networking, is to reach out in a human way, showing you care, and then forming bonds with others who care enough to respond to you, or at least to be your friend or fan, or sign up to follow your tweets.

Which brings me to another lesson I learned, which is that my new followers, and others who tweeted and retweeted about my stuff aren’t just scalps I’ve collected. (A “retweet,” for those who don’t know, is a tweet you get, and then send on to everyone who follows you.) They’re people I’m now joined with in some way.

And since the writing of mine that people were talking about involved ideas for the future of classical music and, more generally, the arts, I’m now interested in ideas from the people who read me. The first tweet I sent out today thanked everyone, said hello, and said we should share our thoughts.

Too often, big institutions (I’m sure not only in classical music) put old wine in new bottles, treat new media as just another way to send the messages old media were good for. Thus they use social networks to send out (sorry to repeat myself; I’ve been saying this a lot) the equivalent of press releases.

Press releases are perfectly reasonable if you’re using the press, because readers of the press can’t easily reply to you. But if you’re using media where people can contact you as easily as you can contact them, the game changes. Now they want to know who you are.

Or, much more simply — it’s a network. It connects us to each other. And the pleasure of being connected — of hearing what others say in response to anything you say — is both the measure of marketing success in our new culture, and trumps all the measures (how many hits you got on your website, how many newspapers wrote about what you sent out in your press release) we used to use.

That’s what I learned from my viral day.


A new Twitter delight, though it started on Valentine’s Day: a Twitter production of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. Read the press release — ironic, huh? — to see how it works. Click any of the links for a sample. You don’t have to sign up for Twitter to do that.

Follow me on Twitter. Or friend me on Facebook.

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  1. says

    The best way I’ve found so far to go viral is to keep your tweets to 120 characters (to leave room for the retweeter’s name and RT designation) and give links that are inspirational, controversial, valuable, amusing or problem solving. It’s super fun to watch your words/comments flow through the Twitter stream!

    You make insightful comments re: social media needing a different treatment than the press release approach. When the long standing institutions, like museums, operas, etc. begin to do it, you know it’s starting to make an impact. Your desire to marry classical music interests into new media is brilliant – it’s likely the way that a new generation of fans will be born. Keep at it – the dinosaurs move slow but they fall big.

    Vicki Flaugher, the original SmartWoman

    Good thoughts, Vicki. Here we see a consultant/entrepreneur earning her keep!

  2. Jesse says

    Fantastic! Congratulations!

    I attended a small forum just recently with a group of marketers from different performing arts centers here in NJ.

    They all stressed the importance of social media, but they were all having trouble. They Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Blog, etc. I then raised the question of HOW they were treating each social medium…only to find that each and every one of them were simply *pushing* sales, ads, press releases, and the like through *social* mediums. It was about interruption for them – the way traditional media behaves.

    Strangely enough, I was by far the youngest one there (class of ’07). They didn’t seem to understand how the users of each medium (be it Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter) *behaves*.

    Sadly, none of them were taking the time and investment to nurture what they had tried so hard to start. Again, they treated each person as a ticket buyer, rather than a human being who wants to simply CONNECT. Instead, they pushed out information and moved on to other things (just like how a traditional ad is pushed out).

    Professor Sandow, you are one of the few who gets it! It’s amazing once this concept is understood, a whole new world of creativity reveals itself. It’s fun, exciting, invigorating, and TOTALLY worth it…look at the responses you have been getting on your blog!

    From my point of view in terms of marketing, nothing has been more exciting than this – to be able to authentically and personally connect with your customer, a human being!

  3. says


    Getting recognized by people you don’t know is a huge accomplishment. It means things have started to happen for you outside your own efforts – which is always a good thing.

    Thanks! I liked that part of it myself, gotta admit.

    And I also liked the feeling that my community is growing larger. I’ve said several times here that there are many people in classical music who are looking for change, but don’t know each other. All this social networking gives us all a chance to connect, and share ideas. And encourage each other. Which then leads to change. Makes me happy!

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