10 Takeaways From the 2011 Emerging Practice Seminar

CultureLab, a partnership between an informal consortium of arts consultants and the Cultural Policy Center (CPC) at the University of Chicago, recently held an 'Emerging Practice Seminar' in April. The organization was formed to break down the silos of research, policy and practice, and create a new capacity and approach to tackling challenging issues. The topics at this year's seminar were:

  • Uses of technology in audience engagement
  • Revenue management and dynamic pricing

The seminar's website features all of the speakers' presentations (both videos and slides) and is an extremely helpful resource!

Here were my top 10 takeaways from the 'Use of Technology in Audience Engagement' portion of the seminar.

1. Embrace technological innovation, there's nothing to fear! Tim Roberts of ARTS Australia provided an introduction to the day's topics. Tim's introduction called attention to the unfortunate fact that any arts managers and organizations still view technology as something they are fighting against. He quoted NEA chairmen Rocco Landsman as saying "the arts are battling the technology invasion". Roberts argues that many also believed cable television to be the death of television and photography to be the death of painting and that technical innovation has not caused the death of an artform but has contributed to its spread and created new audiences.

Uses of Technology in Audience Engagement - Tim Roberts from Cultural Policy Center on Vimeo.

2. Engagement is an ongoing process: Technology is least effective when it's not used in a proper context of engagement. This process of engagement often begins prior to the audience coming through the doors. Likewise, the process shouldn't end after the performance or visit ends. Technology can help to provide context to a piece of art or performance, personalize the experience and even augment the experience. There are many options when it comes to sustaining a deeper level of audience engagement.

3. Layered Arts Experiences are cool! This type of technology has been extremely underutilized in the performing arts sector. Layered Arts Experiences offer audiences options for real-time assistance imperative during arts programs. They can come in the form of supertitles for opera and dance performances. The Columbus Symphony Orchestra had a device called the 'Concert Companion' which enabled patrons to read something about the piece they were hearing as they listened to the concert.

4. Museums continue to lead the way when it comes to adapting technology: Another common theme during the seminar was the overwhelming lack of technological innovation in performing arts organizations. Even though there were examples of organizations using layered arts experience tools and mobile interactions, it seemed as though they were few and far between and many had even stopped using these tools.

5. The verdict is still out on Tweet Seats: A 'Tweet Seat' is simply a seat reserved in a theater for Twitter users. Tweet Seats have many benefits, including: encouraging a younger audience demographic to get involved in the performance, having this demographic spread the word about the performance to their Twitter followers, and cutting down on distracting other audience members by blocking off a section for Twitter users. The question, however, remains whether or not people can truly become immersed in a performance if they are multi-tasking with other technological devices.

6. Mobile Interaction isn't just limited to QR Codes in Museums Ron Evans of Group of Minds had some great ideas about ways to engage audiences via mobile devices. Evans suggested placing a QR Code on tickets for previews of the show. Evans also suggested distributing digital keepsakes after shows. He also discussed the importance of using these mobile technologies in the proper context of audience engagement. Unfortunately, most technology has focused on the pre-performance and pre-sale with the sole intention of making the sale and increasing attendance. Engaging audiences should also involve increasing their understanding and appreciation of an artform. The 'during' and 'after' is just as important to leading people to the next experience.

Mobile Interaction: adding content and context - Ron Evans from Cultural Policy Center on Vimeo.

7. Location Based Servies has a long way to go: Devon Smith presented the findings of a research study she conducted on arts organizations using location based services. Location Based Service is simply a service that uses the geographical position of a mobile device (Foursquare, Yelp, Google Maps). Applications like Foursquare can be useful in providing real-time analytics on the demographic of those who are "checking in" to a venue. Smith's study found that only 36% of the 76 nonprofit theatres she tracked, had properly claimed their venues on Foursquare, yet 97% of the venues had a mayor. Even though claimed venues had 3% more activity, the real-time analytic information could be very useful to any organization.

8. Blogging Isn't Dead!: Thomas Wickell of Malmo Opera shared one of the most interesting case studies of the day. Wickell emphasized the importance of viewing the stage from the audience's perspective as opposed to looking out at the audience from the stage. With this key distinction in mind, Wickell and his team found that the audience they wanted to attract was not responsive to traditional channels of advertisement (newspapers, television, etc). Since most of their target audience were highly engaged online, the team created a blog that was centered around the life of a character in an upcoming opera. The blog became so popular, at one point in time, traffic to the blog surpassed that of the company's main website! The staff even invited readers to a ceremony for the character (since she does not survive) and over 100 people came to pay tribute to her life. The blog can still be found here!

9. Technological Innovation Often Requires a Culture Change Within an Organization : Linda Garrison and Thomas Weitz at Steppenwolf Theatre gave an overview of helpful practices for creating video content. An important theme during this presentation was the importance of finding allies when seeking to implement any changes. Whether designing a new video campaign or placing QR codes on marketing material, implementing new technology can often mean a culture change within an organization. Finding out who your champions, advocates and contributors are beforehand can make a world of difference when proposing any sort of change. It's also well worth your time to watch the Steppenwolf videos here.

10. Know Your Target! The Steppenwolf and Malmo case studies highlighted the importance of understanding who the target audience is prior to implementing any of the strategies and tools listed above. Steppenwolf researched and found their audience tended to be highly educated, comfortable with direct marketing and confined to a very specific geographic location. As a result, Steppenwolf decided that an online video campaign could be effective in engaging their audience. The Malmo Opera worked backward and began by envisioning what type of audience they wanted to attract. Either way, this process is extremely effective when the target audience is clearly defined.

4 Tools for Creating Websites on the Fly

websiteRecently, I’ve been hearing about website creation platforms for artists, musicians, and designers. (They are also great for student portfolios!) These days, many people are starting to focus their efforts on mobile apps or websites, but still more may lack a functional, easy-to-use website in the first place or need a secondary site, like a company intranet or a micro-site for an exhibit or show. I’ve found four that are worth checking out if you’ve been thinking about creating a website. The interfaces for these website creation platforms are very easy to use, with no coding required. If you have all your copy ready and your songs or artwork prepped, you can create a professional-looking website in about an hour, hosted by the site. Many of them are cheap or even free. Here’s a four tools for creating a website on the fly: Individual artists and small organizations

One of the easiest, cheapest (free!) options I’ve seen out there is It produces great looking websites, with hundreds of free templates. Best for individuals or small groups, there are lots of options for photographers, designers, or artists here, and I also saw a few modeling/acting pages and a musician page with a music player for musicians or ensembles.

Wix is really good for people who just need something simple and don’t care too much about the site being particularly flexible. For example, I ran into problems posting lengthy text (like a full resume) in the page of the website, because the page sizes are set. Of course, you always have the option to link to an outside page or a PDF if this happens, but it’s important to be aware of the limitations. For this reason, I would recommend this tool to individual artists/ensembles or smaller organizations who just need something simple that they don’t necessarily want to deal with updating very often.

Another disadvantage is that Wix uses Flash, which means that the site cannot be viewed on iPhone, but for sites that will likely be viewed only on desktop/laptop computers or Android phones, Wix is fast, easy, and free.

Google Sites: A helpful collaboration tool

Google Sites (formerly Google Pages) also has some good options for individual artists, but what really impressed me was the templates built specifically for business collaboration. These sites may be useful for arts managers who are working on projects with outside companies or production managers who are trying to coordinate a design team who are working in 5 different cities in the initial planning phases of a production. Google also emphasizes that many businesses use Google Sites for company intranets or wikis.

There are a number of versatile templates, which you can play around with here.

Maestro WebBuilder: Classical Music Organizations, Ensembles and Artists

webbuilderFor those of you who are still hung up on the Flash-iPhone compatibility issue, I have two tools for you: InstantEncore’s Maestro WebBuilder and WordPress. Maestro WebBuilder is part of the InstantEncore suite of tools for classical music organizations and musical artists who primarily play classical music. (We had a fascinating interview with the COO of InstantEncore a few months ago--check it out.)

What’s great about Maestro WebBuilder is that, by building your website through InstantEncore, you are already set up to pull all the information into a mobile website or app. Maestro WebBuilder is a paid tool, but it's cheap, and it gives you the flexibility to easily convert content on your site into a mobile platform and makes it extremely easy to streamline all your social media presences into one system.

Wordpress: A tool for nearly everyone and everything

When you think of WordPress, you probably automatically think “blog”, but you can also build a nice-looking and functional website on the platform. Of course, it is the ideal choice if you want to fold a blog into your site. For example, the Technology in the Arts blog is run on WordPress. The front page is the most recent blog articles, of course, but we also have a number of “static” pages or pages that change less frequently with (shameless plug) resources for the arts field, publications we’ve produced, and webinars focused on ways that arts managers can use technology to meet their mission and goals.

With WordPress, there are thousands of templates out there, some of which are cheap and some of which are free. You can find a very professional-looking one without spending a lot of money. Ceci Dadisman of the Operagasm blog is a big advocate of WordPress as a way for arts organizations to save money.

It's also a good option if you are not a web expert, but want to/are willing to learn the basics of content management and HTML. It's easy to set up and maintain a basic site, but there's room to grow if you decide to get fancy. There are the thousands of WordPress plug-ins out there that you can download to jazz it up. For example, look at the top of this post. See the box with the number of times this article has been tweeted? That’s a WordPress plug-in! Scroll down to the comments section. Disqus pulls in comments from Twitter and Facebook. That’s also a WordPress plug-in! You have lots of options to connect your site with the greater community.

Changing Up The Check-in Pt. 2: Recommendation Engines

groupie_bigA few weeks ago I wrote a post on some of the latest updates to Foursquare's specials. To make the platform worthwhile beyond just a fun game for users, Foursquare has overhauled a lot of their services with version 3.0. This went beyond just specials, the location-based social network wanted to make using their platform a useful way for users to discover new places in their surroundings. Boom, new algorithms that form a better recommendation engine for you and me. What does that mean for us non-techies? It means the 'Explore' tab, a new service that takes info from your check-ins, your friends check-ins and presents you with search results of nearby venues that are more relevant to your interests.

Hit the explore tab, type in something like 'art' or 'mexican food' and Foursquare will take into account all your and your friends past check-ins to come up with the most relevant venue. So not only will it tell you where a venue is, but why you should want to go there. In addition to searching, there are also buttons along the top focused on common venue types people are looking for. You might already be familiar with how recommendation engines work, it is how music sites like Pandora and are able to suggest relevant material for their users.

Image via
Image via

So why should arts organizations care? Because this may be the simplest of all ways to participate in the location-based game. Claim your venue, add relevant information and start showing up in search results. Claiming a venue is free, gives you control over your brand, and will improve your search and recommendation results not only with Foursquare, but all of the apps and platforms out there using Foursquare's API (programming language and database) like Gowalla and hundreds of others.

While you're staking your claim with Foursquare, you may want to claim your venue on the two other big location-players - Facebook Places and Google Places. Google has some recommendation engines in the works and while Facebook doesn't offer one, claiming your venue there will still make you more visible to a very large group of users.

Claiming your venue on these three platforms is an easy and free way to take advantage of a fast-growing social media form. It's a simple step that may equal a return for your organization that a lot of other social networks can't offer - foot traffic.

  • Learn about claiming venues on Foursquare here.
  • Learn about claiming venues on Facebook Places here.
  • Learn about claiming venues on Google Places here.

Arts and Technology Round-up: Museums and the Web Edition

Happy Friday everyone! For this arts and technology round-up we decided to try and hone in on a few of the awesome projects that we saw at the Museums and the Web conference last week. Up first are our picks of some of the best and most innovative projects. After that, the winners of the Best of the Web 2011 awards from the conference.

Technology In The Arts Picks

Zooniverse - This group marries together the researching needs of the scientific/historical communities and the power of crowdsourcing. By creating a series of interactive web portals, Zooniverse creates communities of "Citizen Scientists".

PhilaHistory - Philly based GIS firm Azavea worked with the City of Philadelphia to create a platform for linking historical photos of the city to their real world locations using geo-location and augmented reality.

One To One with the Artist: Ai Weiwei - A simple idea with a great effect, this project from the Tate allowed museum visitors to record and upload a video in the gallery and have a video dialogue with the artist Ai Weiwei.

The WALL - The Museum of Copenhagen's giant multi-touch multimedia screen installed in one of the central squares of Copenhagen.

ARTfinder - A new recommendation engine for artwork, this site works very much like, taking your current interests and using them to introduce you to new works.

The Collective - Sounding a little bit like a bad 50's sci-fi flick, The Collective is the Denver Art Museum's interactive website/online programming space and a new way of connecting and bringing in the Denver community.

MoMA Learn - An extremely in-depth arts education web portal, the Museum of Modern Art's education department went all out on this one.

ARtours - The Stedelijk Museum's innovative augmented reality program.

The Best of the Web 2011

Education & Best Overall: The ACMI Generator

Mobile: The AB EX NY iPad app

Innovative: Nationnaal Historisch Museum / Museum of National History

Museum Professional & People's Choice: Smithsonian Web and New Media Strategy Wiki


Research/Online Collection: Portable Antiquities Scheme

Audio/Visual/Podcast: Access All Areas podcast

Project by a Small Institution: ASI: Archaeology Scene Investigations in North County Louth

Museums and the Web 2011 - Thomas's Recap

logoThe 2011 edition of the international Museums and the Web conference wrapped up this past Saturday and was a 4-day whirlwind of presentations and workshops. Presentations covered many of the exciting new technology projects currently in place and coming up from museums around the world. Topics at the conference ran the gamut from mobile technology to augmented reality to ways of creating interactive communities of constituents online. All of the papers from the conference can be found online at the Museums and the Web’s conference website. Here are just a few of the themes and tidbits that stood out to me from the 4-day conference:


Crowdsourcing - Now in 6 delicious flavors!

I attended an unconference session, roundtable talks with topics proposed by conference attendees, that aimed to crowdsource the idea of crowdsourcing. The overall feel I got from the discussion was that many museums are taking crowdsourcing very seriously these days. The talk brought up a lot of cool new projects, ranging from including constituents in collections and archives work to new ways to display crowdsourced material.

Johan Oomen, Head of Research of the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, presented his ideas on how crowdsourcing can now be defined in 6 distinct ways:

  • Correction & Transcription
  • Contextualization (Adding to wikis, telling stories)
  • Complementing the Collection
  • Classification, Tagging
  • Co-Curation
  • Crowdfunding
  • Out of the Museum, into the streets - taking advantage of geo-location

    Geo-location was a popular theme, using GPS and mapping to take information and media from the museum and attach it to a location. Many presentations touched on how this idea could really help visitors build a strong connection to the history and importance of objects and sites of a community.

    Some notable projects included PhilaPlace and the Rock Art Mobile Project.


    Access, access, and more access

    There was a lot of discussion around how to not only get more content on the web, but also make that content easily accessible. The types of content being made available on the web, for free, ranged from things like online collections to projects like online teaching portals. There was a general call to standardize access to this content and data and to use more open systems to encourage data sharing among organizations.


    Intuitive design - What's the point of building it if no one can figure out how to use it?

    The conference featured a variety of opportunities for museum professionals to gain feedback on their projects, one of the most popular being the Mobile Crit Room. A reoccurring theme of these critiques was the emphasis placed on the user experience, how easy was it for someone to use your mobile app/website? The Rock Art Mobile Project led the charge, along with a few others, in insisting that any project's user experience needs to be designed in a way that is both intuitive and immediately easy to use. Building around this concept will ensure that users of all ages and skill levels can take part in a project, not just the tech-savvy ones.

    Check out the range of mobile projects from the conference’s Mobile Parade.


    So now you want to build an mobile program? Better be up on some of the new business models.

    One of the most informative presentations I attended was the “Getting on (not under) the Mobile 2.0 bus”. This talk featured case studies by MoMA, SFMOMA, Balboa Park and the Smithsonian on the new business models that now exist for developing a mobile program.

    Some of the subjects from the presentation included: Digital retail (app/download sales), Donations (e.g. by text message), Sponsorship and ad-supported content, Monetizing data from mobile social media and Using mobile to support membership and other revenue channels. The full paper is available here.


    The Rise of the Mobile Internet

    Kristen Purcell, from the Pew Research Center Internet and American Life Project, gave the opening plenary of the conference. Kristen presented on some of the changes in technology from 2000 to 2011. Some pretty surprising stats were thrown up during the presentation. Among them:

    • 1 in 3 adults do not have broadband Internet access.
    • 69% of Internet users watch online video content, 14% of Internet users upload/create video content.
    • 85% of adults will own a cell phone by 2011, making 2011 really the Year of the Mobile. (Purcell stated respondents had difficulty being able to distinguish between what was and was not a smartphone, so that statistic was not available)
    • Mobile usage varied among different ethnic groups, Latinos and African Americans were shown to be in the highest percentage of users actively engaging with mobile content.
    • 11% of mobile users use their phones to make charitable donations. (These numbers may be skewed by mobile donation drives for large natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the recent earthquakes in Japan)
    • 35% of adult mobile users have apps on their phones, but only 24% use them.
    • The 90:9:1 rule for understanding the level of engagement on social media. It states that 90% of social media users are lurkers, just observing content and never really interacting or contributing. 9% are regular contributors, the ones who often like, retweet or comment on online content. 1% are the super users - always online, always engaged.

    These were just a few highlights, for me, of the conference. Coming up, Molly will do her recap on what she found interesting at Museums & the Web 2011. Definitely go to the Museums & the Web conference site to check out all of the presented papers from the conference.

    QR Codes: What are they and how do you make one? [mini-nar]


    So, what is a QR code and how do you make one? Wonder no more. After watching this mini-nar (mini+webinar), you will have all the know-how you need to create a QR code and stick it... well, wherever you want, really.

    Plus, it is explained to you by Tom... in pirate garb.

    Technology in the Arts Mini-nar: QR Codes from Technology in the Arts on Vimeo.

    Links from this Mini-nar: will not only create a QR code for you, but will also track it. (Note: You have to create an account to track QR codes.) will create a QR code not only for a URL, but also for text, a phone number, or for an SMS text message.

    We are also looking for ideas for future mini-nars! If you have an idea for a subject that we could cover in about 5-10 minutes, please comment below or suggest one any time via Facebook or Twitter.

    Update: For those of you wondering what the giant QR code that Tom referred to looked like, here it is: qrcode-croppedw

    Mobile Audience Participation with Jonah Bokaer and the Ferst Center

    Audience interaction has become a pretty major trend this year and arts organizations around the country are experimenting with different ways to engage their audiences. But how does one go about making their experience a participatory one? Artist Jonah Bokaer and the Ferst Center for the Arts at Georgia Tech decided to approach the issue using mobile technology. Jonah Bokaer is an award-winning choreographer and media artist participating in the Ferst Center's first ever year-long dance residency program, ARTech. Jonah worked closely with students from the Georgia Tech Music Technology Program to develop MassMobile, a smartphone app that acts as an interactive platform for audience members to participate by affecting the stage in different ways. On April 2nd, MassMobile will premier with Jonah's new work FILTER at the Ferst Center.

    I had to opportunity to speak with Jonah as well as Stephen Garrett, one of the graduate students on the MassMobile development team, and dancer Adam Weinert, who can be seen in the sneak peek video at the end of this post.

    XY Coordinate

    Where did the idea to include the audience in the performance, through a mobile app, come from?

    Jonah - Well, in 2004 I made a work called RSVP, which planted 12 cellular devices in the audience. We used those devices and their ringtones to create the music for the piece. And that was engineered from offstage by the composer. But, when doing some initial research down here and planning this production called FILTER, I wanted to put forward the idea or the proposal that there could be interaction or intervention even, with the show.  And maybe Stephen can take it from here, but we spoke with Jason Freeman and the Ferst Center and this relationship started.

    Stephen – Yeah, and I think Jason’s idea, who is my advising professor on my master’s project, was to create a system that allowed for a rapid deployment of audience interaction devices through peoples’ mobile phones. So the idea came from Jason through some previous mobile development work and with several other projects, to create an iPhone and android application that will allow any type of input that the phones will allow. Whether that be an accelerometer, motion data, text messaging, touch data, drawing…anything that the phone will accept, to try and incorporate that into the performances in some way.

    What are some of the direct ways that the audience is affecting the performance through MassMobile? Does it affect the lighting or are there sound elements that change?

    Jonah - Well, one thing I just want to clarify is that this production will premier in it’s full form here in Atlanta on April 2nd. So we’ve had a six or seven day production period in Avignon France and we premiered the choreography, but MassMobile and these technological components have not yet been unveiled and actually this week we are holding a workshop with invited public to interact with it further.

    So in terms of how the audience affects the performance? We’ve identified four ways for potential interaction. In particular I wrote in one section of the performance which is very much open-ended and is a 9 minute section which can basically be reconfigured a bit.  Specifically the lighting is influenced. We worked closely with Aaron Copp, who is my lighting designer, to integrate that into the performance.

    Stephen – And certainly MassMobile itself, the way that the app can interact with a piece, is not set in stone. It’s a creative conversation that is always happening. But specifically for this piece, for one of the sections that involves interaction during the pre-show, the audience is quite literally plugged into the lighting board through their app.

    The actual technical details of the connection is that the mobile app is connected through a client server relationship to one of our servers here at Georgia Tech. Then there is a laptop that sits in the lighting booth that constantly pulls for information. Based on what items people have selected in the app, the laptop is connected directly to the lighting board and will instantly turn lights on and off. You can change color palettes and things like that pretty much instantly.

    Did you build MassMobile specifically for this performance or is this a platform that could be used for other performances/performers?

    Jonah – I would almost say that it is still in progress. But, you know, Aaron Copp and I have known each other since 1999 and have been building work together for a long time and often in our creative discussions we would say, “Is there some way to interface or interact?” As opposed to working with just video or with sound, lighting is so integral to these performances that MassMobile seems like a natural fit. I think that for light and choreography I am working in very particular ways. For larger applications of MassMobile I know there are many options.

    Stephen – So MassMobile itself is the platform and the app, and is still in pretty active development. Working with Jonah and his FILTER has been a great way to beta-test the app and see it grow to more of its current capacity. My professor Jason Freeman already had the plan to use the application in a live music notation work with saxophone where the audience could directly affect the notes that the performer is seeing onscreen. So there are other uses for MassMobile in the arts imaginable.

    Could you speak to the importance, for you, of having participation from the audience?

    Jonah – Well, I should say that my degree is not in choreography, it is in media and visual arts. For my thesis I focused on the myth of interactivity and focused on a lot of mid to late video work in the 1980’s and 1990’s. My sense was that there is a certain parallel between what we could call this myth with interactivity with video, but also with performance.  Just because it’s time based, it’s not necessarily interactive. This is one area of focus of mine in terms of creating performances.

    I guess the impulse to say that an audience could interact, is still pretty much in progress. So far, at least in this stage in the piece, we’ve only had pre-show interaction. It’s kind of an open question.

    I think some major conventions of theater are called into question, for example having the phones on during the show, the light of a cellular device on in the theatre. Some artists would consider this distracting, but in this case we are actually inviting it.  There are certainly questions of attention and attention span. We’re sort of walking into this project and saying that it is assumed that this will be unusually structured.

    So why create such an unconventional performance? Well really, the participation is a part of why we wanted to open this out. Because instead of really disrupting or undermining a performance, we wanted people to be able to engage and help the author.

    Stephen – The way we’ve enabled that interaction is a very direct and literal effect the audience can have with the lighting of different parts of the stage. [The pre-show] is an opportunity for people to come in and the curtain is open and they can see the initial set and it gives them a chance to explore. Our hope is that creates a deeper and more meaningful bong throughout the rest of the performance. That [the audience] has really explored the set and can experience it on a different level.

    In addition to the interaction between the viewer and the stage, do you think that this program will cause the audience to interact with each other?

    Jonah Bokaer (left) and Stephen Garrett (right) do a run-through of MassMobile

    Jonah – The way that we piloted MassMobile was to have six mobile devices distributed internally to members of the creative team, producers and close colleagues over the course of a few days. I did note, on a couple of occasions, the social interactions that would occur person to person. Maybe Stephen would like to address any interactivity within the platform itself.

    Stephen – We did see people that were using the app that were sitting next to each other sort of communicating in person and coordinating their efforts, but at this moment that’s not something we’re doing. [Interactivity within the platform] is something we are looking at in the future of MassMobile. More specifically looking at how do we enable or make sure that people have their own voice in their interactions with the performance.

    From a performer’s perspective, what is it like working with something like MassMobile?

    Adam – From a performer’s perspective, I think what excites me most about this kind of initiative is that as a performer we’re always looking for new ways to engage the audience and make each articulation of the performance event unique and special and fresh. I think that MassMobile can be a unique way to do that.

    The other thing I really appreciate is how we’re using this mobile technology and multimedia to make more personal the performance. Which I think is rare and hard to accomplish.

    If you live in the Atlanta area I highly recommend heading over to the Ferst Center for the premiere of FILTER on April 2nd. You can find more information about performance times and tickets at the Ferst Center's main website here. Until then, he is a sneak peak of dancer Adam Weinert and MassMobile.

    MassMobile App Sneak Peak from Ferst Center on Vimeo.

    Changing Up The Check-in: Foursquare Updates Specials

    Screen shot 2011-03-17 at 11.04.24 AM
    Image via

    Foursquare, the popular location-based social media platform, decided to shake things up a little at the annual South by Southwest festival last week. Rolling out their new 3.0 version, Foursquare has made some significant changes to their platform in the way it operates, most notably in the way it recommends venues and offers specials.

    I'll be covering the changes to the recommendation engine in an upcoming post, but today I really want to talk about the new ways arts organizations can offer specials on Foursquare. A "Special" on the platform refers to an incentive that organizations and brands can attach to a venue that is unlocked when a Foursquare user "Checks In" and meets a certain criteria. Up until last week, these specials were limited to either the frequency a user checked in (1st time, 5th time, etc.) or if the user was the "Mayor", a title held by the user that checks in the most frequently at a particular venue.

    While a great idea in concept, personally I felt the result was a little lackluster in practice. Becoming the Mayor of a venue is tough, requiring checking in at that venue a large amount of times to temporarily steal the title. While this may be easy to do for somewhere like a local coffeeshop, frequented everyday, it is unrealistic to offer this incentive for an arts organization. Then there is the average check in, some organizations have offered incentives like reduced ticket prices for having a certain amount of check ins, but this is often a one-time special. The hesitation to use a more tantalizing incentive may be the fact that organizations want a little more involvement than having a user hit a button on their cell phone once.

    The game has changed with the release of Foursquare 3.0. More types of specials have been added and split up according to whether they are loyalty specials or customer acquisition specials. Plus, nearby specials now appear when a user hits the "Places" tab in Foursquare's mobile platforms, showing users which nearby venues are offering incentives for their foot traffic. Here's a look at how the new specials work:

    Customer Aquisition

    check-inThe Check-in Special - This is the run-of-the-mill, every-time-you-check-in kind of special. It allows organizations to attach an incentive that users can claim with every check-in and is the one most often seen on the platform. Many organizations may still want to take advantage of this by offering cheaper incentives, such as a dollar off admission, to encourage visitors to adopt Foursquare and take advantage of more rewarding specials in the future.

    newbieThe Newbie Special - Most of the new specials say it right in the name and this is no exception, this rewards users only for their first time check-in. Organizations may want to take advantage of this for the same reason as the regular Check-in special, to encourage initial use of the platform.

    flashThe Flash Special - Now we start to get into some of the more interesting specials. The Flash special works like a flash sale, once a certain number is reached the special expires. It is first come, first serve. For example, say your special events are dragging a little bit for the first few hours, on average. A Flash Special can be used to create some interest in showing up first, such as "First 10 people to check-in unlock a private meet and greet with ______ !".

    swarmThe Swarm Special - Swarm specials are all about building a crowd. Swarm specials are only unlocked if a certain number of users, set by the organization,  check-in at that organization's venue within a set three hour period. This can be a great way to reward a large crowd with an incentive that would be more attractive for a group event than for an individual. For example, an organization could  have a special encore from a performer if that night's swarm special is unlocked.

    friendsThe Friend Special - This is by far my favorite new special. Users can only unlock this special by having a certain number of their foursquare friends, not just users that happen to be at the venue already, check-in alongside them. When paired with a great reward, this can be a great way to incentivize people to bring their friends along to your venue. The number of friends required to unlock the special is completely up to the organization.

    Rewarding Loyalty

    mayorThe Mayor Special - Hey now, we can't forget about the Mayor! This special works the same way as the old special, it is unlocked by the current Mayor of the venue. The Mayor is determined by which user checks in the most times in the previous 60 days and the check-ins only count once per day towards mayorship. This is so a user cannot stand in your lobby and just hit the check-in button over and over again until they have the mayorship.

    frequencyLoyalty Specials - A little bit like the regular check-in special, this special rewards frequent visitors who are regularly checking in. One version of a Loyalty special gives users a goal of total check-ins to unlock a reward. Since you can set the number, organizations may want to pair this with a sweet reward for that user who visits over 100 times. Again, only one check-in counts towards this special per day. Another parameter organizations can set with Loyalty specials is the time that user has to reach the set goal, such as having a goal of 10 check-ins for one month. This type of special could be paired up with a more temporary event like an exhibition or a performance series.

    It will be interesting to see if and how arts organizations take advantage of these new specials that Foursquare has launched. The biggest advantage to the service is that it is one of the few social media platforms out there that require users to physically be in the space. Coming up in a future post, I will go into some of the other improvements Foursquare has made to its platform, including the ways their new recommendation engine will help direct users to your organization.

    Instant Encore: Classical Music goes Mobile

    Margo Drakos, co-founder and COO of InstantEncore
    Margo Drakos, co-founder/COO of InstantEncore

    Margo Drakos is a woman on a mission. The co-founder and COO of InstantEncore wants to take classical music directly to its audience via a host of online services, including a digital strategy package for powering custom websites for organizations, a website builder for artists and the development of mobile apps. Recently, the company has been busy building custom mobile apps for Android, iPad, iPhone and all smartphones. InstantEncore’s mobile apps have previously been featured on this blog in Tom’s article 10 Arts and Culture Mobile Apps from 2010.

    apple-interface-250wInstantEncore currently powers about 100 iPhone apps and 50 Android as well as hosting mobile web apps, which make an organization's website functional on a mobile phone. Their platform powers the app for the popular YouTube Symphony Orchestra, which, at over 125,000 downloads, and beats both the Taylor Swift and Linkin Park apps by about 90,000. Instant Encore also hosts the apps of notable organizations like the NY Philharmonic, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Cleveland Institute of Music and Houston Grand Opera.

    I talked with Margo recently to catch up on Instant Encore's latest endeavors.

    What is InstantEncore? is a classical music platform that enables artists and arts organization to harness the power of technology to connect with their fans anywhere, any time. We are the infrastructure! We have created the only classical music-specific digital asset management system that essentially allows our Partners from a broad spectrum of the performing arts world to enter digital content – event listings, ticket selling, audio recordings (streaming, download, public or private), video (live or on-demand), news, blogs, and photos - one time, and have all of their content published in real time to their own website, mobile apps, Facebook or Twitter accounts.

    instantencore1 How did the idea for InstantEncore come about? Two things happened: I was playing cello for a living and I had sort of grown frustrated with the disconnect between musicians and the audience, where the field was going, and how technology was disrupting the traditional models. I felt passionate about re-personalizing the concert experience without losing artistic integrity.

    An InstantEncore concert card offering a music download.

    An InstantEncore concert card offering a music download.

    Meanwhile, I had the pleasure of meeting some wonderful engineers and they had a really powerful search engine specific for classical music that resulted in a high-end jukebox called Maestro. It had originally been created to help catalog vast CD collections, like that of our chairman/CEO. I was talking to them about how sometimes as a performer you would go to a live event and afterwards people would say “I loved the concert. How can I hear it again? How can I get a recording?” And of course I was always trying to sell some unrelated CD. So I talked to these engineers about this predicament that a lot of musicians always find themselves in, and so we actually created this concept of the “Instant Encore”—where you can take a card at the concert, go home, and download the content that you just heard.

    How has InstantEncore evolved from the days of concert cards to now? Instant Encore started with a very powerful search engine that had organized and standardized all classical music meta data, and our objective was to build the tools that would enable fans to connect with the music and artists they love, in a personal, immediate way. We wanted to leverage technology to extend and enhance every aspect of the live concert experience. We are committed to providing the 21st century tools that will save organizations time and money by automatically or quickly powering their digital assets to connect with fans and engage sponsors.


    How does the Instant Encore component fit in with an organization’s existing social media presences and organizational website? Our goal is to streamline redundancies and save resources. Right now, you have a lot of people that are trying to update their website, spending a great deal of time developing a content management system internally instead of spending development time and resources on the front end. Then there is the mobile space--if an organization does not have a good web-browsing experience from a smartphone, people will close the site. Then organizations are manually pushing content that is often a PR push to Facebook and then to Twitter as well. So there’s a great amount of time and effort in trying to maintain all these very necessary social network platforms.

    Obviously details about classical music can be a nightmare to organize or for data entry. We have a very standardized way—unless it’s a world premiere, it’s all in our search engine’s system. For example, if you start to type in “Beethoven Symphony No. 5”, it’s going to have the opus number and the key and all the movements and you just click on that and it’s automatically transferred. So, you’re never entering all that information yourself, which is 1) time-saving and 2) tagged at the most specific level, which allows people that are not looking specifically for you to find you and you that already know you and want to find you to customize their experience.

    Our system is set up so that you as a Partner can enter an event listing in moments in our secure Control Panel. By that one simple event creation in our content management system, it updates in your website with our webbuilder or more advanced API (Application Programming Interface—see the end of this entry for more information). posts to the partner’s social networks, mobile apps, etc. You can do a host of different things—tag your YouTube channel. You can manually upload music for streaming or download purchase. Or you can create a private download code campaign for donors or concertgoers. One of our most valuable features is this web crawler that goes through hundreds of RSS feeds and finds articles specific to arts organizations and tag any article from newspapers or blog. This can automatically appear in your app or website as the latest news, so you’re not having to physically manage your app or site but your content is current.

    The music player feature on InstantEncore's Android app (left) and the events feature on InstantEncore's iPhone app (right).The music player feature on InstantEncore's Android app (left) and the events feature on InstantEncore's iPhone app (right).

    So basically it’s just a one-stop shop. It’s a digital asset management system where you come to enter your content in one place and it goes to all the platforms that you’re using. We’re just an aggregator and publisher of that content… Our concept was that it should be something that a two-person organization can use our tools and manage and have a very robust, beautiful integrated social media presence or an organization with a budget over 10 million can use the same tool.

    Regardless of all the features you offer, many organizations might have trouble getting the rights to use pieces of music or convincing players that a mobile app is somewhere the music should be. What are some of the arguments you can make to convince them that this is something worth doing? I come from the musician/recording side of things, am a current member of the AFM and as a child was a member of AFTRA and SAG, so I certainly appreciate where the musicians are coming from. What I think is important is that, fortunately or unfortunately (however you want to perceive it) we’re in a new period that is such disruptive change, brought on in part by technology and change is always painful. There are new great opportunities but the existing models and the days of residuals in the way that we used to know it, at least right now, are not there. I think it’s really important to actually be very upfront about this. Artists are highly intelligent people and creative people and have wonderful ideas to bring to the marketing and development side of the business. I think it is so important that everyone be a stakeholder charting this new world together.

    I think part of this is taking a holistic approach and saying that there are certainly a group of people that are going to want a physical CD’s and there’s people that are going to want to download content. But there’s a certain group of people know who just want what they want, when they want it. We see from our stats that music or videos are increasingly having a very short shelf life. People will often want to hear a new live recording over and over and then they move on and that is it. I often say to my friends and colleagues that you have to have some faith and work together to try things. Every community and every audience is different, but if you don’t have the tools to even explore or try things, that’s very challenging. I think mobile is so essential. People will be accessing the internet via their mobile devices more than from a computer within the next few years. If you don’t have a good user experience to access your content via mobile or any content in it, in my opinion, I think it will be very, very challenging.

    You mentioned that you are focusing your research efforts on return on investment in digital media and how orgs can get sponsorship for their technology initiatives. Can you tell me more? Why should anyone care about social media and an integrated digital strategy? Why should anyone care about having a mobile app? I’m a very “nuts and bolts”, frugal person. When I look at some of the organizations that I work with and see how much they’re spending on print material and yet they don’t want to spend a few thousand on a mobile presence, or want to wait a few years to see where this mobile thing goes, I think it is quite alarming. Showing people the return on investment is critical for them to care.

    Many arts organizations' apps are sponsored by corporations or foundations.

    Many arts organizations' apps are sponsored by corporations or foundations.

    Many organizations we are working with have packaged a digital or mobile sponsorship package and in many cases, new donors or people who were not previously interested in sponsorship at a significant level, are excited to be part of new technology, sponsoring live video streaming on websites and mobile platforms and much more.

    It’s built into our platforms—ways for people to feature sponsors, going through their audience to create new audiences, etc. What I’ve found is that I’ve been pushing organizations to think outside of their printed program with a printed logo and think, how can we think outside of the box and take the old ways that we used to monetize and seek corporate sponsors and take this into the digital space? Some organizations have come up with some fabulous things. Whether it’s embedded streaming announcements featuring sponsors, ad spots with sponsors, getting grants to cover new educational and audience development initiatives—various things. They’ve been able to monetize this in new ways, from new sponsors (not cutting out of other things).

    I am very excited that Telstra, the telecom company in Australia, hired us to create a premium custom app for the Sydney Symphony that will include live video streaming of ten concerts in their mobile apps and website. This is a win-win for everyone.

    How should arts organizations approach technology? There are so many platforms out there, there is so much information and everything’s changing so rapidly. I remember launching the app with the New York Phil and at that time, apps were still—people thought “what the heck is that?” So, the most important thing is to integrate digital media strategy into organizational strategy—into every aspect of decision-making across all departments. It involves PR, it involves marketing, it involves development, it involves operations, the audio recording department, musicians—absolutely everyone. I think that buy-in is essential. I think one of the most important things is just to start small and get permission to try something. If it doesn’t work, don’t let it validate that “this is never going to work” and if it’s a home-run, that doesn’t mean that it’s going to work the next time. It’s important to look at just getting started but with a clear, integrated strategy approach. And really, actually, there’s a lot of fear sometimes when it comes to technology and I think part of what’s been fun to see is that oftentimes, it’s a lot more fun than people necessarily anticipate and I think that that’s been a really rewarding part of what we’re doing.

    When Thomas Hampson made his recital available for download and Performance Today, Minnesota Public Radio, and European Public Broadcasting Union announced it on air. We read the comments from people from around the world—from United Arab Emirates, to Germany to California to Wisconsin—about how that music impacted them and how grateful they were for that. I was very honored and proud that some of our tools could be helping to connect the power of his voice and his artistry globally in a way that’s never happened before. I think that’s really what it’s about and instead of feeling more protectionist, as scary as it feels, to embrace democratized access in this engaged age.

    More info on Maestro API:


    A Guide to Mobile Marketing, Pt. 2: Check-In Platforms

    In part 2 of this Mobile Marketing Series, let's examine the value of two mobile-based check-in platforms: Facebook and Foursquare. We'll take a look at how to properly set up your organization on these platforms and explore some creative ways to run check-in campaigns. Foursquare

    As of December 2010, Foursquare reported over 5 million registered users worldwide. These users often use the platform to see what their friends are up to and discover nearby businesses and organizations that may interest them. Foursquare allows users to "check-in" via their mobile phones, collect points, let friends know where they are, and earn badges.

    Foursquare Screenshot

    Here's how to get your organization setup properly on Foursquare:

    • To register with Foursqaure, visit:
    • Registering with Foursquare allows you to edit venue information, view analytics, activate and deactivate specials, and add employees.
    • One of the most valuable benefits to registering your organization is the ability for venue owners to view real-time stats like: total daily check-ins over time, your most recent visitors, your most frequent visitors, gender breakdown of your customers, what time of day people check in and the portion of your venue's check-ins that are broadcast to Twitter and Facebook
    • Bonus Tip: Just as with Google Places, your check-in campaign will be most effective if you ask customers to check-in. During the registration process, a business may request for Foursquare to mail them a free promotional sticker that invites users to check in.

    Make sure to claim your FREE sticker when you register!

    Facebook Places

    Another popular mobile check-in platform is Facebook Places. A recent Merchant Circle survey (the largest online network of local businesses owners) suggested that Places is gaining popularity over other check-in services like Foursquare and Gowalla.

    Facebook Places Screenshot

    Here's how your organization can get setup in Facebook Places:

    • To claim your Place, search for your business name on Facebook via the normal Search bar.  If your business’s Place already exists on Facebook, click on it to  visit its page. At the bottom left side of your Place there will be a  link that says "Is this your business?" Click on the link and you will  be directed to a claiming flow.
    • By claiming your Facebook Place page, you can manage your place’s address, contact information, business hours, profile picture, admins and other settings.
    • Facebook also allows you to merge this Place page with any existing Facebook Fan Pages you may have. To do this, visit a place that you have successfully claimed, and scroll to the "Merge with existing Page" link in the left side navigation menu. Click this link, and a prompt will appear to walk you through the process.
    • Bonus Trip:  Facebook offers a fantastic resource on offering deals after you set up a Place page.

    How Arts Orgs Are Using Check-In Platforms

    Here are a few examples of how arts organizations are currently using check-in platforms:

    • Austin-based film and music festival South By Southwest decided to turn this process into a game.  The festival's website lists what types of badges users can compete for. In addition to competing for badges, points are also awarded to users who check in at unusual places or at early hours of the morning.
    • The Whitney Museum recently partnered with FourSquare on creating a custom badge. Users who unlock this badge can present their smartphones to the front desk and redeem a $5 admission to the museum. This is a great example of how organizations can offer deals to customers.
    • Brooklyn Museum      offers great incentives for customers who unlock the coveted 'Mayor' badge. Foursquare mayorships are awarded to customers with the most days checked into a venue over the last 60 days. If a customer is Mayor on their Target First Saturdays events, they can receive a 1st fans membership for one year. Brooklyn Museum's community page also utilizes      FourSquare's API to show who has recently checked in, what badges their customers are unlocking, and who has obtained the title of 'Mayor'.
    • These types of services could also be used for arts events like gallery crawls or for arts organizations to partner with local restaurants. A gallery crawl could provide a similar type of adventurous environment where users could compete for special badges and earn points based on how many organizations they check-in with during the span of the crawl.

    So what about your organization? Are you registered with location-based social media sites?  If so, how are you using your presence there?  (Please, share your thoughts and experiences in the comments area below.)

    In the upcoming parts of this series, we'll take a look at QR Codes, SMS, and mobile app creation!