grab bag blog

This is where I talk about my work, my discoveries, my creative process, and the ins and outs of marketing in the arts.

Social Media Is Not Marketing

September 3, 2013

Filed under:


Anyone who has told you that social media is marketing, in the traditional sense of the word, hasn’t spent much time with it. Traditional advertising is sales language, flashing ads, “click to buy,” etc. If you want people to ignore you on social media, post that kind of content.

However, there is a new kind of marketing that been developing, thanks in no small part to social media. It’s a bigger umbrella, with more aspects of your business under it. In theatre, it includes audience services (in another line of business, it might be called customer service). It includes customer and patron engagement, which may have once been handled as just event planning. It’s connected to fundraising and development. And it certainly includes original content creation.

It’s very much a full-time job.

Doing Social Media in the Arts the Right Way

Social media is engagement, and engagement is more than just pressuring somebody to buy what you’re selling. People will engage with your product, your art, and your brand when they feel a connection to them. How does a connection develop? By adding value to the lives of your patrons.

Firstly: Know Yourself

For years I’ve watched otherwise savvy arts organizations fail at social media because they didn’t understand it or its importance. Your first test: who is handling your social media? Is it your intern? Yes? You fail.

What did we just say? Social media is engagement with your patrons. It is one of the most important online outlets for your brand. Like your website, like your brochures, like your print ads, social media is part of your brand. It must look like your brand and, more importantly, it must sound like your brand. If your company is about being young and socially conscious, it might speak with an informal voice. Or if you’re part of an esteemed financial institution, you might want a more authoritative and formal tone. Whatever your brand voice is, social media is your mouthpiece. Every day it is representing you.

The person managing your social media must know the brand’s voice intimately. No offense, but that’s usually not the new intern.

Second: Attract Flies With Honey

How do you start any relationship? How do you approach a first date, or a new friendship? Do you begin by talking about yourself and all the reasons why you’d be awesome to have around? Is it all about you? If so, how’s that working out for you?

No, the first thing you do is ask the other person about themselves. We do this to show that we are genuinely interested in the other person. Your social media engagement begins the same way.

Customer service is about finding out what your customer wants and needs, and finding a way to fulfill those desires. If a person or business follows you on Twitter, look at their profile. Look at their website. Engage them on those terms. Ask them how they found you and what do they find engaging about what you do? Find out how your interests overlap. Even if it’s only a quick tweet or two, you’ll have made a connection that will pay off in the long run.

Third: Shut Up and Listen

Social media is a conversation.  A good conversation has give and take, with the participants listening to each other and responding appropriately to what’s being said. Do the same thing on social media. Listen to what your patrons and colleagues are saying. Be aware of what’s going on outside of yourself. Monitor what hashtags are trending and contribute to the conversation.

One of the best social media interactions I’ve ever received was at the HOW Design Freelancer Conference in Chicago two years ago. The afternoon was winding down and no major events were planned for the evening. A certain large downtown theatre tweeted to the conference participants using HOW’s hashtag, inviting them to see a show that evening—the theater was close to the convention hotel, and it appealed to out-of-towners looking for a way to experience Chicago. This theatre didn’t just hype itself to its own followers, it looked outside of itself, at what else was going, and offered a solution to a potential problem. Instant goodwill.

Share more

Social media is all about sharing, which is why you see buttons everywhere to share content on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and Pinterest. Yes, you want people to share your content. But first, you need content.

That’s one of the real game changers when it comes to social media—you need stuff to share. Gone are the days when you made some ads for the papers and were done. Now a marketing team needs real content: photos, blogs, and videos. If you’re a theatre putting on a production, you need rehearsal photos, video interviews with the artists, blogs about the process. All that stuff that you find on the DVD bonus features? It’s not bonus content anymore, it’s the price of admission for quality social media interaction. A steady stream of varied content that relates to your brand or product.

But again, don’t just talk about yourself. Did a nearby business just have a renovation? Share that news story! Is there an op-ed in The Guardian that somewhat relates to what you do? Share that link, ask what your community thinks about it! If you’ve followed the first few steps outlined here—you know your brand voice and your audience— then you know what kind of content is appropriate. Always be on the lookout for informative and clever items to share, especially items that might provoke a reaction or interaction.

All of this content—these are the goodwill gifts you give your patrons. They are what make you a valuable part of their online community, and what will keep you from being hidden from their new feeds.

That’s a Full-Time Job!

Does that sound like a lot of hard work? Good, because it is! Nothing good is ever free, and with quality social media engagement, you pay for that quality with your time. The more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.

So that’s the “what” of doing social media right. But what about some more in-depth tips on the “how”? I’ll cover that in another post. Until then—Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments or on Facebook.


Nobody has commented on this post.