Where we are different, we are the same

This post also appears as part of the Arts Marketing Blog Salon hosted by Americans for the Arts.

Midnight Launch by Temari 09
Silos belong on farms, not in arts organizations.

As a writer for the Technology in the Arts blog, I am constantly thinking about which topics will appeal to which artistic disciplines, which specialty, which skill level… and on and on. But the more I have to think about the segmentation of the arts management audience, the more I realize how broad many of the issues we discuss are.

A few months ago, I interviewed Alan Cooke of the e-fundraising company Convio, and we talked at length about the problem of organizational silos. In arts organizations, as in any company, conflicts often arise between different departments and may develop into an “us against them” mentality. As arts organizations become more prevalent in the social media space, it becomes easier to see which organizations have truly good internal communication between marketing, communications, box office and development departments.

We also tend to think that orchestra problems are unique to orchestras, theatre problems unique to theatres, and so on. For example, a few months ago I was at an opera conference listening to a presenter from another artistic discipline, when a colleague leaned over and whispered, “Ok, but what does this have to do with opera?” Unsure how to respond, I sort of nodded in agreement, but later, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. True, it didn’t have much to do with opera, but, I would argue, the point of the conference was to learn new things, not to be told about things we already know.

Working in the non-profit world, we usually don’t pay attention to discussions and proposed solutions going on in the corporate world.  We don’t think that their solutions will work for us. I’m in a class right now entitled Social Media Analytics, where the students are split up into teams and assigned a major corporation as a client. At first, I expected that the corporations would have a pretty good handle on their social media presence, in terms of who they were reaching, who they were converting and how they were making money from their social media sites. What I found, however, was that the for-profit companies involved in the project are asking a lot of the same questions that I see posted by non-profit arts companies all the time. How do we track audience engagement? How do we convert brand awareness to sales?

Technology, especially social media, is an industry in high flux. It’s easy to think that there’s someone out there with all of the answers, but the truth is we’ve only begun to understand, let alone master the seismic shift in online behavior and the potential of these new tools. We still struggle to find tools that will accurately “read” sentiment from user comments and accurately extract what people are really saying about our brand. We question whether our tracking of sales due to social media is accurate. We wonder how much effort, which platforms, and which campaigns are really worth our time.

One of the things I am looking forward to most at the NAMP Conference is getting this broad perspective across artistic disciplines. Learning from each other is one of the most important things we can do, and I’m looking forward to seeing how arts marketing, as a specialty, has developed in the past year.