Social-media collage

The Networked Orchestra

Experts run your marketing department. A CFO with post-graduate degrees handles your money. And your musicians are at the apogee of artistry. But when it comes to your orchestra’s digital-media initiatives, who does the work? Until recently, it might have been the intern. But things are changing—fast—and what was once relegated to the sidelines or handled ad hoc is now a central means for connecting with audiences, communities, and the larger world.

So what does it take for an orchestra to develop effective social-media strategies? Three different sessions at the League’s National Conference  in Minneapolis will explore the role of social media at orchestras, delving into everything from the basics to guiding principles.

Social-media guru Beth Kanter will lead or co-lead the Conference sessions. Kanter co-founded Zoetica, a company that serves nonprofits and socially conscious companies with online marketing services. A conservatory-trained classical flutist and former orchestra administrator, she writes Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media, one of the longest-running blogs for nonprofits, and co-authored The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change with Allison Fine (J. Wiley, 2010).

We caught up with the energetic Kanter as she prepared for the League Conference.

Robert Sandla: What attracted to you to these Conference sessions?

Beth Kanter: I trained as a classical flutist, but when I figured out that I would not soon be sitting in the first chair at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, I worked there in administrative capacities. I’ve made half my career at orchestras, doing fundraising, marketing, and development. For several years, I was general manager of Boston’s Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra. So it’s always fun to present my ideas to arts organizations—particularly to symphony orchestras, because I can use a picture of me playing the flute years ago. I just did a presentation to the Association of French Orchestras through Skype—they were in Paris.

Sandla: Why should orchestras embrace social media?
Kanter: Social media is not a fad; it’s here to stay. Many nonprofits and orchestras recognize that the media landscape is changing—it’s not just three television channels and some newspapers any more. Newspapers are disappearing, and the job of music critic is disappearing as well. It’s difficult to get young people to come to concerts, although that has always been difficult. Orchestras are always reaching out for new audiences, and they are changing with the times. It’s a new world out there. So we need to be thinking forward. And it’s better to have a strategy and have developed your network and not get caught by surprise. During the strike at the Detroit Symphony, people were publicly commenting on the musicians’ pages and the orchestras’ pages, which shows that the people formerly known as the audience know how to use media channels, too. Don’t let it catch you by surprise. Why not have a strategy and be ready for it?

Sandla: Do smaller orchestras have the capacity to deal with social media?
Kanter: Smaller guys have an advantage, probably because they have more agility. The tools for the most part are free, but it does take time. But you are building up an audience and reaching out to people in an inexpensive way. Who has $50,000 for an ad in The New York Times? Now you can be your own New York Times. You can be your own media channel. Small organizations are often lean and agile. You hope that they have the ability to respond and reap the rewards.

Sandla: On a personal level, do you live on your apps and on the Web?
Kanter: No, I’d go crazy if I did that. You could if you wanted to. Social media is unstructured information; like the Web, it’s nonlinear and can be endless. You could post a million things on Facebook and look at friends’ cat pictures and follow every tweet. But that is not a productive use of time. So many people feel that if you are not 20 years old, dealing with new media can feel overwhelming. But once you learn the lay of the land and workflow, it does not take much time. I determine the particular workflow that I have to get done. When I use Twitter, I set a structured schedule and then go on to the next thing. We all have other work that has to get done.

Sandla: Are orchestras’ social-media programs driven by marketing imperatives, by a desire to connect with audiences, or by something else?
Kanter: They usually start in marketing or fundraising or some externally facing part of the organization. Social media can be useful for getting feedback, doing research with audiences about a program or program planning. You can find out what people like and dislike, and what you might try.  Some organizations have everyone on staff doing social media, cutting across departments for different purposes. With more and more board members getting iPads, imagine having a board meeting at which they seek input and tweet out a question.

For more on the League Conference, click here. For more on how orchestras are using social media, click here to read Rebecca Winzenried’s 2010 article in SymphonyOnline.

Below, watch Beth Kanter as she discusses using social media for good causes at Gnomedex, a “Tech Conference of Inspiration and Influence,” in 2008.

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