Hey, Choir, Listen Up!

Talking to Myself by FALHakaFalLin and Mlle Franny

I read a lot of blogs. Blogs about arts, marketing, non-profits, arts management, arts education, technology, and so forth. I read great posts on a weekly basis about selling tickets, working within the new economy, raising interest, and strategizing an online presence.

There is a glut of online advice, musings, guidelines, reflections, and discussions about organizations hopping onto the social media bandwagon and embracing Web 2.0. And I can't help but wonder: are we just preaching to the choir?

If you are on here reading this, I suspect that you are already, in some way, connected to this issue. You already browse the web, you probably already have a profile on at least one social media site. Your organization likely has a website, and, I venture to guess, you are already diligent about trying to keep that website presentable, navigable, and current.

You probably frequent the same sites that I do. Your RSS reader might even have a roundup of many similar resources. You are aware of the possibilities that Web 2.0 offers for the new connectivity of organizations. You want to engage people online AND in the real-world, and believe that by strengthening your online position you will experience a positive correlation in the strength of your real-world operations.

I recently read a post from a for-profit marketing perspective, iterating that when we establish our online presence what we want are a small group of strong, loyal supporters, rather than a large number of filler fans. The principle is that these informed, dedicated followers will spread the word personally to their friends, increasing the likelihood that their friends will take their recommendations seriously, and be more likely to check us out as a result.

But it seems to me that in this niche of arts organizations and technology, we are all following, and being followed by, each other. We talk to each other, echo one another's concerns, make suggestions, offer encouragement. We are the ones listening, we are the ones talking, and ultimately it begins to get a little schizophrenic.

I have come across some great bloggers (who are transparent in their affiliation with arts organizations) writing insightful, informative posts--but don't link to their organization's website and aren't linked from there. If an audience member does get online with the hope of learning more about an organization via its website, wouldn't the blog of its communications manager, or artistic director, or someone else on staff, be of interest to them?

If our audiences continue to be people who are unlikely to go online to seek out their arts information, who are comfortable with the ever-smaller blurbs in the papers and the mailings sent to their homes, why are we doing all of this work online? And if we are doing all this work online to find new audiences, but it isn't transferring to our organization's presence in the real world, something needs to change.

We are not going to bridge the chasm between the online and offline supporters if we keep telling people who are already doing what we think they should be doing (because it's what we are doing!) to do what we recommend everyone do.

I love that Project Audience exists precisely to address the best way for arts organizations to attract online media users who may be new to the arts, and to brainstorm ways to stop doing the same things repeatedly simply because it's what is comfortable, or understood, or widely accepted. Additionally, Joe Solomon guest-blogs on Beth's blog, asking the very important question: "How can your online community also support events in the real world?"

I hope that this daunting chasm is a misconception on my part, and that all of what we are saying to ourselves here is really making the leap to the real world, to ticket and art sales, to increased donations and support. I hope that people from outside are plugging in to get more information, and that dialogues are happening among artists and organizations and audiences as never before, facilitated, enabled, by Web 2.0.

But if it isn't a misconception, we need to be open to change and aggressively seek innovation to this model of organization/web interaction.