Saturday, May 1, 2010

Embracing the Larger Conversation

Over at Mission Paradox, there's a few weeks old post on the wasted power of social media. The basic sentiment of the short post is "Social media are tools for conversation, NOT SELLING."

I cannot tell you how many arts marketing workshops I've been to where professionals are encouraged to get on twitter, facebook, foursquare and the like without having the mindset on how to properly use these tools. Many theatres that I love are tweeting "BUY TICKETS NOW" as if twitter and facebook were simply advertising space.

Social media is about having a larger conversation. For arts organizations, it is more about showing our true relevance to the larger world than it is about butts in seats.

And given the precarious position arts funding is, particularly in the state of Florida, engaging in the larger discussion to prove our relevance to the larger community has never been more important.

Arts organizations could learn a lot from Unitarian Universalists. For example, on twitter, I've had insightful conversations with Melanie of TapestryUU, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Mission Viejo, CA. If she was using twitter simply as a way to advertise her congregation, I would not be a part of her target market. There's a slim chance that I'll ever get to visit, much less join her congregation. But we're had conversations about the importance and relevance of our greater religious movement. There are active social media ministries that I'm proud to be engaging with.

Another conversation that I'm excited to be listening to is the reaction of the Chicago Theatre Community to Mike Daisey's production of How Theatre Failed America at Victory Gardens Theater. While I can't participate in the conversations that are happening in person, I get to read about them on blogs, facebook, and twitter. If Daisey's point is to start a national conversation on the state of regional theatre (and I think it is one of his goals), then social media has done a great job of keeping those outside of Chicago in the loop (pun intended). These are difficult, fascinating conversations that need to be had, and I'm thankful for the theatres that are engaging. Its a lot more terrifying to use social media to engage in difficult conversations than it is to simply direct market.

But its necessary for art organizations to engage in difficult conversations. We need to treat the larger community as more than simply potential ticket buyers. As non-profit leaders, we need to return to our missions and remember why most of us got involved in this crazy art form anyway: we wanted to change the world. Social media is another way to engage in the larger world, another way we can participate in the greater cause.

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