You’ve got a Facebook page and a Twitter. You use Constant Contact eblasts, and your Executive Director has a linked-in profile. Seventy percent of non-member sales are on line. But “it doesn’t work, because we never get gifts from the eblasts.” I’m not going to write here about why your arts organization should be using social media. Plenty has been written, better, elsewhere on the why’s, how’s, and what’s of jumping into SM. Unfortunately, most of the social media guides I’ve read focus on “causes”  very different from production arts (i.e. people making art, rather than “outreach arts” or art for social change, or in schools).

Production arts are oddly reluctant to get into social media. The complaints I hear?

“Our audience is old, they’re not on line.”
“Our staff is already overworked, we don’t have time for that”
“The intern was doing it, but she left”
“Only the actors/artists/musicians use it”
“The executive team and the Board President have to approve every word written about us”
“We can’t risk the negative comments”

I’m sure everyone reading this can add another dozen to this list.

But as we all know, not one of those statements is, or needs to be true. And Social Media is an amazing tool for professional support, mission reach, PR, and yes, advertising and ticket sales.

It’s not just about sales
Arts organizations figured out how to put together great websites early on, in fact they were ahead of the curve. And then they stopped. My twitter feed for my arts groups is FULL of ticket deals and completely absent any conversation. Get everyone on your staff talking, to everyone on other peoples’ staffs. Get them on the Twitter chats. START a Twitter chat. Pretty soon your tech-savvy audience will find you and trust me they will love being able to talk to you directly.

Join the party
The head of the organization needs to get with the program. Insane to think you’re going to be able to run, let alone succeed at, a social media strategy if you and your senior management aren’t on line! It’s not “for kids” and it’s not a waste of time. Saying you “don’t have time” for social media today, is like saying you didn’t have time for professional meetings in the 80s. It’s where everything is happening now. Get a personal FB account, get a personal Twitter account, and start following industry and competitor blogs, tweets and Facebook. Find out what you respond to, and who seems to be doing it right, based on number of followers and degree of engagement.

Facebook is not about you
Okay, okay, FB  is  about you. But it’s about what’s interesting about you.  The organizations with a lot of followers allow comments on their pages, and don’t just use it as a kind of free display ad– if all you’re putting on your Facebook is a link to your website and announcements on upcoming programs that people are already getting in the eblasts;  if you don’t respond to comments, if you don’t have Page Favorites, who cares?  People are on Facebook to gossip, argue, and laugh, not to read what amounts to a newspaper ad about your organization. Further, while everyone advises that you not just talk about yourself (or your org) on line, in fact that’s just what people want to talk about. So go to them, and talk about, and to, them.  Because FB is about all the other “you’s”– all those organizations (including foundations and corporations) that want to talk about themselves.  So go to them and talk to them, about them. You’ll find people “tracking back” to you.

Decades ago you could talk to foundation executives easily and directly. When it got out of hand, the corporations and foundations went into a siege mentality and cut off access.  Well, the drawbridge is back down and it’s called Linked In. Foundation executives are on there, and they’re talking.

Jump in with both feet, but have a life jacket
Write a Social Media guide–who may post directly, who must be vetted by another staff member, who has veto power, what kinds of things are accepted/verboten, etc.  There are many excellent templates for a social media policy on line.

Like the old ad said, I’m not a Social Media expert. I just play one on the internets. For an integrated social media strategy, go to your marketing team and have them make it a part of their regular communications planning process, because all the old rules still apply.

But you can start by getting your staff active in social media, as professional support, and it’s a great place to start. Part 2 will be a simple plan that you can implement in a month.