Don’t do it online

Not long ago I got an email from someone trying to promote some musical events. As part of the promotion, she’d posted things that seemed interesting — questions to answer, videos to watch — on her group’s Facebook page, hoping to get some discussion going. But there wasn’t much response. 

Which, I thought, was more or less what I’d expect. A performing arts center I’m in contact with created an extensive blog to promote a fascinating concert, and the blog was full of tasty things, including videos (really lively ones) of musicians talking how they learned to play a Messiaen piece, overcoming their initial dislike. But none of the varied stuff got any comments, which surely means that hardly anyone was reading it. 

And again that didn’t surprise me. If you want to promote something on a website or a blog or on Facebook, the first question you should ask is how you’re going to get people to look at what you put online. And why, in fact, should anyone look at it? if your problem is that not many people as yet know or  care about your events, how is posting anything online going to fix that? Because if they don’t know or care about you, why are they going to go to your blog or website? 

If, of course, you’ve got an active blog or Facebook page, that’s another story. People already are visiting you. So you can add something new, and they’ll see it. 

But if you’re promoting a new organization, or trying to attract a new audience, then putting things online is probably a waste of time, at first. Or rather it’s a waste of time if you don’t have a strategy for getting attention to what you put online. And if you have a strategy — if (at a university) you go into the student union to make noise about what you’re doing, or if you recruit a small core of people to promote your project (actively!) to their online networks — then the best use of that strategy would be to promote the event itself, not its online adjuncts. Unless, of course, the online stuff is so delicious that it stands completely on its own — like, let’s say (in a slightly different realm), the Aflac commercials with the duck, or the Geico commercials with the gecko. 

But now I’m getting into the advanced course. So let me repeat the basic lesson here. If you don’t already have a following for what you’re trying to promote — and don’t already have a web presence that lots of people pay attention to — then don’t start off promotion for your project by putting something online. It just won’t work. 

(What you need to do is take some initiative — go directly to people who might be interested in you, or else create excitement in some very public way. Which you can do even if the nature of your project means that it’ll always have a small audience. You can create excitement in whatever niche your project fits in. Let me repeat this — you have to go to people. And the problem with putting something on the web is that you’re expecting people to come to you — which is exactly the reverse of what’s required.)

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  1. says

    Greg, I see your point, but I think “putting things online is probably a waste of time” is not entirely accurate.

    This might be self-evident, but you have to have at least some kind of web presence. Likely a website.

    Your promotional materials will include a “For more information, visit” and even articles in newspapers will often include a URL.

    Of course, this doesn’t mean creating a bunch of expensive or time consuming content, but the basic website should be there.

    That’s what I did for a small start-up theater company. Of course, it helped that the Chicago Reader donated banner space on their website, but the site received something like 40,000 hits in just three months. All because of regular press and promotional materials, without much of a budget. It was before social media.

    A basic presence is key.

  2. says

    As they say, I think it’s ‘marketing mix;’ the different elements of personal interaction, on-line materials and a promotion strategy linking them all together is what helps. Relying on individual elements within themselves is no good: they all need to function together!

  3. says

    Hey Greg- How are you? Happy Thanksgiving.

    I have had two blogs-

    “Whither Public Radio and serious music”, now sort of dormant as all of the issues of PubRadioLand have gone away in the wash of “Classical 24″, the rental service from Minnesota Public radio.

    And, now, MusicSprings”, following five labels for new releases; Q2 from WQXR, and spreading the word for several other news sites.

    The thing about Facebook and Twitter, these preach to the already converted, the existing followers.

    But, a blog, with good search keys, attractive graphics, etc., this goes out to a wider world. MusicSprings is averaging 50 views a day.

    When I asked a friend in the business if he might critique my blog efforts, he said that the blog was a start, but to link it to Facebook and Twitter. He was correct. I originate everything on the blog; but then it all goes to FB and Twitter. The measure of my friend’s being right is the number of people who ask to be “friends” on Facebook or “follow” me on Twitter. My friends on Facebook started with family and known people, about 25 active computer user. The figure is now up to 51, all of the additions composers, artists, music organizations, etc.

    Twitter has gone up also, mostly with the same sort of people.

    The point is, a well constructed blog, which people will find by searching on keywords, works. So, the composer or artist is best served by originating on a blog, and linking it to any social media utilities he or she deems appropriate.

  4. Joshua Bavaro says

    This is an interesting consept, but I do think it is too generalized. Marketing is an art in and of itself. If you know who to reach out to, I think it is still worth getting online even without a following. You can’t start a following if you don’t get there first.

  5. says

    Greg – this is very much like our Twitter discussion last year. You said, “Hey, we can cut out all the goalkeepers, go direct to your people.” And I said, “But your people are already slammed with 50 million invitations from all of their friends, colleagues, and ‘likes’ … there’s no easy way to break through that.”

    I think your point here is right on. No one likes following a promo-only machine; it’s just boring, there’s no connection made, no fun. You have to earn your right to talk about yourself and have people feel invested in what you’re doing; you can’t start with this. I feel like with our/my community on FB/Twitter, most of us are at that point where we can share successes and encourage people to check out our work, but aren’t just talking about what we’re doing. Same thing for more successful Twitter/FB accounts; NAXOS comes to mind.

    But most people on Twitter/FB who are super-successful do have significant organizations behind them working with them to go to people, create this excitement, on which they can piggyback.

    There are exceptions, of course.

    But the question is how, without the backing, to get to the right people, the power brokers to put your ensemble on the right series, how to in fact “go to people” … if you’re out of college without a student center, what do you have? The subway? Where’s your outlet if not the web? Is what you’re really saying, “don’t push too hard on your new project and only talk about that because it makes you 1 dimensional” ? Are you saying “You’ve got to be more interesting than talking about musicians’ reactions to their next Messiaen concert.”

    And I know you’re not saying that folks shouldn’t have all the videos, promo material, information, easily accessible online for anyone who might want to check it out.

    No easy answers, right? Happy thanksgiving!

  6. Saul Davis Zlatkovski says

    We are artists, not marketing and p.r. executives. If such services were available to us on reasonable terms, we might be able to flourish. The problem you outline with online presentations is the same as live presentations. Getting people to actually attend. The fragmentation of the media after decades of declining coverage of the arts is to blame. Artists are constantly exploited by peripheral figures and professionals who want outrageous amounts for their services, such as grantwriters, public relations reps, anything to do with production. We need bureaus for such services at no-profit rates. Very few ever donate their services or reduce fees to a reasonable/feasible level.