Strategy and social media

In my post on using new media for promotion, I said something that might sound provocative. I said that some people at big institutions may not understand that before they can jump into social media, “they have to

understand how to use them, and make them part of a larger strategy.”

And, even more, that

…they’ll never learn about social media and never

understand a larger strategy unless they jump in first! The changes

social media have brought are so radical, that an understanding of those

changes ought to change — maybe drastically change — your

institutional strategy. So jump in now, preferably under the guidance of

someone in their 20s. And see where it leads you.

That might seem extreme, or improbable. So let me give an example of how it works out in practice. Suppose I think I — or my institution — should take advantage of everything that social media can offer. Suppose then I start learning just what that is, and find out that social media are bound up with audience participation. That is, social media will work best — and I’ll get the most response when I use them — if I give my Facebook fans and Twitter followers and website visitors something to be part of, something to join, a way to be heard, a way to make music on my website, a way to be seen on my website, a way to influence the things my institution does.

This might be radically new. I might not have thought much about doing these things in any way, using old media or new. In fact, if I’m like most large classical music institutions I know, I probably don’t do these things much at all.

But now, by using social media (or, very likely, by finding someone in their 20s to use social media for me), I’ve learned that people — and especially  younger people, but not only them — respond tremendously when they’re given a chance to participate. I might not have known that. I wasn’t focused on it, hadn’t thought about it. It hadn’t come up in the rest of my work, and certainly not in my institution’s strategic planning.

But now I’ve learned that it’s possible. So now, if I’m smart, I’ll rethink my programming and my strategic plan. Here’s something I never knew my institution could do. And it strikes me, all at once, that I’d like to do more of it. Which then makes me ask myself: Does my programming encourage participation? If it doesn’t, should it change? How much should it change? What can the changes be?

And likewise the strategic plan. I want to grow, let’s say. I want to attract a new audience. But I never knew that participation would help me do that. So I have to revise the plan, to emphasize participation.

Or take that further. Maybe I hadn’t focused on any new audience, because I didn’t quite know how to find one, and it seemed — many large classical music institutions, I think,have been in this place — more cost-effective to get people already in my core audience to buy tickets more often.

But now I’ve learned that participation could build a new audience! So I revise my plan. Now it includes a search for a new audience, because now I know how to find one.

And so there it is — one way that jumping into social media, without knowing at first what the result will be (and without feeling I need to strategize about that), might turn my perceptions upside down, and teach me to adopt a new strategy.

(This, too, is a “Solutions” post.)

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  1. a curious reader says

    Willing 20 year old, posting from a new droid phone, here to help :)

    (shameless plug).

    Good post. Another thing that institutions should look into podcasts. Have a weekly news cast about what’s going on in the symphony world. Look at ESPN and how they make hype, it works.

    Be as shameless as you like!

    I’ll be shameless, too. At some point I want to kick off expanded PR for my book. Does anyone want to volunteer to help me go viral? With, for example, your Android phones…

  2. jak says

    Just a suggestion, but one way to increase your social media potential would be to put some sort of “share” links for Facebook and Twitter on this blog.

    You’re right! There’s a lot I don’t do. I should practice what I preach. I don’t fully control the layout of this blog, which might (or might not) make it hard to do what you suggest. If you like, email me at, and brief me a little on how to do what you suggest. I’d be grateful for the help!

  3. Bill Brice says

    I have a negative example from the Palm Beach Opera, here in Florida. They have a fairly new IPhone app for the Opera. Good idea, in itself, but it seems to have been implemented without much thought as to what the medium is. This app basically lists press releases about the season schedule, with some short synopses of the opera plots and a few publicity photos.

    Ideally, it should have links to videos of dress rehearsals and interviews with musicians. At least they could have provided links to YouTube clips from the scheduled operas. And links to online articles related to the operas — have they even heard of Wikopedia?

    They’ve obviously invested some resources into this app. What a shame they didn’t seriously think through how it might help to bring opera-averse listeners into the house!

    I think we see a lot of this — classical music institutions jumping into new media, without really knowing what they’re doing.

  4. ken nielsen says

    Bill, everyone is learning this stuff as we go.

    Organisations should, I believe, try the new media – including iPhone Apps – and polish and improve as they go. The old idea – which is what I learnt in business – of making a fully thought out and researched communication plan is dead. Things move too fast and there are no experts to talk to. Well, there are experts but most aren’t worth talking to in the field we all care about.

  5. Bill Brice says

    Ken… of course you’re right that it’s usually a mistake to wait until we “know everything” before trying a new idea. Speaking as a software engineer (and former wannabe musician), I can attest to the phenomenon of “analysis paralysis”. It is almost always impossible to understand all the implications of a new medium or a new idea, and there comes a time in the process when you’ve defined the goals well enough to just go ahead and do it.

    I was just struck by the lack of imagination in launching an IPhone app that was essentially a reproduction of the program handouts. It had to cost the organization something, and I doubt it returned any value.

  6. Bill Brice says

    I should add that I think the Seattle Opera has made good use of its Facebook page, and does make regular contact with its audience via Email reminders. We got onto their contact list when we attended last summer’s Ring festival, but have since been informed of interesting ongoing events connected with the season’s offerings.

    Since we live in the opposite corner of the continent, we don’t take much advantage of this. But the contact certainly would make a difference if we lived in the area. What we get are announcements about lecture series, podcasts, and interactive blogging about the operas.

    During the Ring and after, we were amused with the “Create a caption” contests — similar to the caption contests in The New Yorker. Maybe it’s a bit gimmicky, but it does contribute a sense of community, sharing irreverent opera humor with other fans.

    I agree that the Seattle Opera does pretty well with all this. But since I, too, live on the coast opposite to theirs, I wonder if they might want to separate their mailing list, so they write differently to local people and to people like us who are far away. What could they think of that could keep faraway people involved with them. and thus more likely to return and see more operas, or give money?

  7. thad says

    Facebook is great, and musicians and concert promoters should explore ways to make use of it, but what about more closely tailored social media, appealing directly to music lovers?

    Since joining up in December 2009, has completely transformed the way I listen to music. By combining one-time free hi-fi streaming of entire works with an interactive social networking application, it not only allows you to discover new music but also connects you with others who share your musical tastes.

    For artists and ensembles, I would think it would be a no-brainer to try to connect with EVERYONE who listens to one of your recordings at, directing them to other recordings, external websites, live appearances, etc. The potential of this place is amazing and has barely been scratched, in my opinion.

    The only downside is that there’s so much music to explore for free, I doubt I’ll end up buying very much!

  8. says

    Right now, we live in a world where 20-something year olds are very comfortable in the new online environment, but they don’t necessarily have the strategic insight that more senior managers might have. But on the other hand, those senior managers don’t have the knowledge of this new environment.

    There will be a time when senior managers are required to have that knowledge (you already see it in corporate positions), but until then a social media strategy should come from a collaboration between generations. As I wrote on my blog before:

    “As a senior manager, it is your duty to listen to those lower-level employees that might have more familiarity and experience with the tools and the environment and help them understand how it fits into your organization’s mission and strategy.”

    “As a lower-level employee, it is your responsibility to start thinking strategically and help your superior understand how to use the tools and how to adapt to the new environment.”

    “It is the responsibility of both parties to start trusting each other.”

    Marc, I might differ from you in one way. I’m not sure that senior managers in classical music know much, once you get them out of their comfort zone. Their comfort zone is producing the concerts they’ve always produced, for the audience they’ve always attracted. If the idea is to use social media to keep on doing that, then the collaboration you’ve discussed is possible. But then social media aren’t much needed to keep things going in their conventional state. The promise of social media is the promise of doing things differently. The new technology has created a completely new culture, and I fear that the senior managers don’t understand this at all. Which then makes the collaboration pointless.

    I’d love, Marc, to see some examples of the collaboration you’re talking about. If I wanted to be indiscreet, I could give you some concrete examples of senior managers so radically not understanding the implications of social media — and new technology of all kinds — that they simply get in the way. Unfortunately, I can’t talk about what I’ve seen, but because I’ve seen it, I’m not wildly hopeful about the collaborations you suggest should happen.

    Beyond that, they may not know much at all.

    And so the collaboration isn’t going to be very useful. The senior managers, all too often, won’t be able to hold up their end of it. This may seem shocking, or insulting, but I’ve found it to be true, especially when these things get discussed inside mainstream classical music organizations.

  9. says

    Thanks for the reply, Greg. I see what you’re saying, and yes, even a larger strategy is in need of chance (fueled by the changing environment) and it is a question of if managers will realize this change in strategy as well.

    It’s also a matter of framing these environmental changes in the manager’s language. Social media has developed quite the jargon of its own and I’m guilty of using it just as much as the next person. But I have seen and experienced instances where framing social media into the secular, corporate language of a particular field did change some opinions, rather than talking about “joining the conversation” or simply the tools like Facebook or Twitter.

    On the other hand, as you indicate, I’ve seen managers that don’t get it. At all. But I don’t think it’s as dire as you indicate. In reality, I think a lack of resources, time management and measurement are the biggest concerns, and that’s why managers might not hold up their end of the collaboration. But this can all be remedied (and inevitably will over time, albeit too slow).

    Here’s an excerpt from a blog post that I think illustrates a good example:

    One organization, which I will leave unnamed, kept popping up for me as a great example of how change occurs not because of the technology but because of the shift of consciousness that occurs when everyone starts to “Think 2.0”. Basically, this organization knew they were facing some major challenges so they organized a technology task force. They brought together stakeholders from every part of the organization from musicians to staff to board members for a series of information sessions on technology. They then invited experts in to educate the team. What happened was that the stakeholders got engaged with the organization in new ways, they became activated and in some ways the DNA of the organization shifted, creating new pathways to participation. Musicians who normally didn’t have a voice in the program or organizational structure began to bring ideas forward, good ideas that were adopted and implemented successfully. The experts that were brought became excited and engaged, and five of them became new board members. Not only that but the six point recommendation plan for adopting new technological approaches was implemented so successfully that the task force became a committee on the board and is now an ongoing part of the life of the organization.

    That is real change that goes beyond twitter or facebook. It is about fundamentally shifting consciousness to embrace new ways of thinking and being in the world.

    Good thoughts, Marc. The true situation is deeply nuanced, I’m sure, when we look at many organizations. And very varied.
    I had the experience in recent weeks of sitting in on a meeting of a technology committee at a large mainstream classical music institution, where the flow wasn’t as clearly positive as what you’ve described. I also think, from past experience, that the descriptions organizations (and, often enough, their funders) release about changes going on are overly optimistic, and, at bottom, not entirely trustworthy. Everyone wants to show that they’re changing. The reality, when you have first-hand contact with it, might not be so favorable. Of course, I’m not saying that this is the case in the situation you’re citing here. That really does sound genuine.

    I guess I should say that a good part of my doubt about what institutions are doing comes from first-hand contact with many of them over a number of years. But I might be stressing the half-empty glass, instead of the half-full.