Social Networking Technology and Arts Organizations

Recently in the Artful Manager blog, Andrew Taylor discussed how social networking technology evident in popular user-driven sites (MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, Dandelife, etc.) is rapidly changing the nature of the web and how we use it by enabling individuals to share their voice, vision and story with the wider world. For many months now, I have been ruminating over how to (a) strategically integrate the use of social networking technology into my programs and services, and (b) convince my organization's leaders that we need to move in this direction.

I know many artists are finding ways to utilize this technology as a tool for furthering their artistic endeavors. Comedian Dane Cook has used his MySpace network to catapult himself into the national spotlight as today's top-selling comedian on tour; Boston painter Jeff Hayes produces a successful painting-a-day blog to sell his work on a daily basis; hundreds of filmmakers post their trailers and short films on YouTube to promote awareness and generate buzz for their work.

So what can social networking technology do for arts organizations?

  • Given the current trend in the field for arts organizations to market the "artistic experience" coupled with contemporary audiences' desire for greater interactivity, social networking technology has great potential to assist arts organizations in deepening their audience's experience by providing more avenues for engaging with the art, the artists, the organization, and each other. For example, check out Chicago Classical Music (CCM). Founded by nine classical music organizations, CCM launched in March 2006 as a six-month pilot program under the auspices of the Arts & Business Council of Chicago. This online community is dedicated to connecting its 11 current membership organizations with classical music enthusiasts through a blog, interactive forums, a chat room, a ticket swap feature, an events calendar, and more.
  • Due to the "tell your friends, who will tell their friends, etc." nature of this technology, another benefit for arts organizations is the viral expansion of their reach and awareness. Earlier this fall, I started a weblog for our Southern Circuit - Tour of Independent Filmmakers program wherein touring filmmakers post about their experiences on the road in the South. Even in its nascent phase, the blog has been viewed throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, and South America; thereby providing our program with a reach and awareness we could never afford to garner through another channel.
  • A third potential function for social network technology is to galvanize a virtual community around a mission, goal or issue to spur positive change in the real world. Take a look at how the New Orleans Video Access Center has been using YouTube to answer the question "Why should New Orleans be rebuilt?"

These are just a few ways in which these sites and online services can benefit arts organizations. With every passing day, further innovative uses are realized. So why stay behind the curve? What could social networking technology do for your organization?