Arts and Cultural Organizations Trending Toward Using Online Marketing to Fill Empty Seats, New Online Marketing Diagnostic Tool to Help

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TV commercials and radio ad buys used to be strong ways for symphonies, ballets, and theatres to get the word out, but now many groups are struggling to learn to market themselves online. "Social Media Audit," a new online diagnostic tool, aims to help them bridge the gap.

This is a unique format approach because it has continuity after the workshop. It’s great to have a careful analysis that you can then build from as you gain more skills.

Many local community theatre actors are peeking out of the corner of their eye and seeing a half-full audience. With the economy inching along, a great number of arts patrons are still playing it safe and staying home. And reaching them to entice them to come to your play is becoming increasingly difficult in a world of fewer TV commercial viewers and radio listeners (thanks to DVRs, streaming online video, and create-your-own-station online radio services). So many arts organizations are turning to online channels to spread the word about that upcoming Eugene O'Neill farce.

"I'm getting contacted by more and more arts groups who are looking for help with social media and online marketing," says arts consultant Ron Evans. "Revenue and ticket sales are really important at the moment -- the economy started having major problems in 2008. That didn't affect donations to arts groups much then, but many arts grants from foundations run on a 3-year cycle, so the pain is hitting right about now."

It's been a hard few years for arts organizations. In the past, a show could be made a hit by a great review in the local newspaper. But with arts coverage getting slashed or eliminated at many papers, there often isn't a reviewer left to write the story. And that means that arts marketers who have been used to the old system for decades have a tough challenge: navigating the often confusing world of online social media sites, writing email newsletters, and shooting video clips, all while trying to launch an artistic production.

"It's that twin focus of creating the art and marketing the art at the same time that often gets groups in trouble," says Ron. "A half-baked online marketing plan, a rarely updated social media page… they hurt more than they help. Those problems need to be identified and fixed in a way that allows the arts group to carry on its artistic mission, and still market themselves with a small staff."

It is this need for online marketing help that inspired Ron to create a new service in his arts consultancy: "Social Media Audit." He explains, "We meet with the theatre, dance, or music group, and apply a score their use of online tools against other groups who have been scored before. This allows us to find the gaps in knowledge so we can fill them quickly and get the organization up to speed." But Social Media Audit has a few tricks up its sleeve, including some techniques you might have read about in your college psychology textbook. "We tell the groups that sometime in the next six months, we're going to score them again. We don't tell them when, so it keeps people on their toes," says Ron. "A big part of switching to this new way of marketing is changing existing long-term habits, and we find that the game-like element of 'never knowing when we'll be watching' really changes a marketing director's behavior."

Social Media Audit has been workshopped with several individual arts organizations over the past nine months, and was applied to a group of 33 arts organizations in Philadelphia. The format led to measurable increases in online marketing capabilities. Workshop attendees were happy with the results. "This is a unique format approach because it has continuity after the workshop. It’s great to have a careful analysis that you can then build from as you gain more skills," said one workshop attendee.

Social Media Audit is a service of Groupofminds Arts Marketing and Technology Consultants. The Silicon Valley based firm with offices in Sunnyvale and Salinas, CA was established in 2008 to assist arts and cultural organizations to find new and appreciative arts audiences through the use of technology. The firm was founded by arts marketing consultant Ron Evans. Ron is a leading developer, researcher, and commentator on the technology usage and trends of arts organizations. His site, http://groupofminds.com offers a wealth of articles, research materials, and tips & tricks for arts organizations exploring new technology.

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Ron Evans
Group Of Minds
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