By admin in Course
Thanks to Eric Woodhams, Director of Digital Content and Engagement at Carnegie Hall, for sharing his “channels” toolkit with us as a way to guide your thinking about where you want to be active.
Please note: This guide was shared in September of 2016 and we will update it quarterly. When you read it, it could be out of date. Check back for updates.
Facebook is the “meat and potatoes” of the social media world, reaching audiences of all ages (and increasingly skewing older to the age of many arts patrons and donors). Organizations need to be cautious of overwhelmingly “sales-y” posts, as Facebook’s algorithms advantage the use of the platform’s robust advertising and targeting capabilities vs. unpaid “sales-y” content.
Avoid text in images, and incorporate a diverse mix of content (photos and natively uploaded video) while limiting the number of external links in your posts.
A spontaneous, public, and shareable platform for live event/live audience interaction, customer service, and breaking news. Hashtags were born on Twitter, and they’re a great way to collate posts surrounding a specific topic, theme, or event.
Reciprocate! When new users engage with your organization in a positive way, be sure to favorite their tweet, reply with thanks, and/or follow them back.
Instagram is perfect for conveying your ideas and projects in images and photography, and as well as brief video clips. Using images and very few words you can share your activities, performances, artworks, artists, and behind-the-scenes activities.
Invest in an inexpensive WiFi-enabled DSLR camera with a nice lens for shutterbug photo quality
The world’s most powerful online video platform. Create and customize your own channel and playlists to reflect your organization’s values and identity
For marketing purposes, link to your channel using this URL, which prompts user to ‘Subscribe’: https://www.youtube.com/subscription_center?add_user=yourusername
Skews toward a younger audience, but is emerging as a powerful way to reach younger people.
Ask whether you are really creating a blog with original content, or are you simply sharing news content? How can you make your Tumblr or blog unique? Why will people want to read and share your posts?
Stream of consciousness writing is writing whatever comes to mind without editing along the way. This exercise is a process that doesn’t need to be shared with others. Write for the full time allotted. If you get stuck, write about being stuck, or simply write or type out the alphabet until something comes to mind.
A pioneer in vertical dance performance, BANDALOOP seamlessly weaves dynamic physicality, intricate choreography and the art of climbing to turn the dance floor on its side. Founded by choreographer and artistic director Amelia Rudolph, and based in Oakland, California, BANDALOOP’s indoor/outdoor work has been presented in theaters and museums, on skyscrapers, bridges, billboards and historical sites, in atriums and convention halls, in nature on cliffs, and on screen. BANDALOOP honors nature, community, and the human spirit by bringing dance to new audiences, activating public and natural spaces, and re-imagining what dance can be. www.bandaloop.org
We spoke with Amanda Moran from BANDALOOP (California) and Melissa Higgins from Sozo Artists (New York) about collaborating on BANDALOOP’s digital engagement from opposite sides of the country.
Amanda: We regularly document when we perform and rehearse—a lot of times it’s just on cell phones—and then we send it to Melissa. Early on we also did Twitter trainings with our dancers to familiarize them with the platform and to encourage everybody to start tweeting a certain number of minutes each week. That helped to give them the freedom and the voice to get their work out there, empowering company members to take it on as well. We were a little concerned about messaging, but it seems that people have been fairly consistent and we haven’t had to rein anybody in.
Melissa: A lot of times what we’ll do leading up to, during, and immediately following an event is set up a chat room or platform so that everything that everyone is capturing is sent to the same thread. That gives me one place where I can be pulling content as it is happening and I can make sure that it is getting out there with consistent messaging and branding.
If we have a particular campaign (for example, crowd-funding projects), we’ll put together a style guide and send it to everyone internally. That will have the messaging that we’re using for the particular project, links, basically a reference guide, so it takes the guesswork out and makes sure the branding and messaging are consistent no matter who is putting something out there.
With a lot of the projects that are happening, Sozo is involved from the ground up. If we’re not, Amanda and I are in consistent communication with each other. The info all flows to me and it goes out from there.
Melissa: It is two-pronged. A lot of it is event-driven. In the lead-up, we try to get the word out. As it’s happening, we’re sharing what is going on. After the fact there’s an event redux that goes out. What I’ve found with handling the marketing across numerous artists is if you’re only trying to get material out in front of people when there’s something that you want them to attend, that doesn’t really create an engaged following. It’s a relationship and if you’re only popping up when you want something from audiences that’s not the best way long-term approach. Certainly around events we have a lot of things going out there, but maintaining a consistent presence is something we try to be mindful of. With Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, I try to get something out at least on a weekly basis—fantastic photos, a clip, or something that’s enjoyable to engage with—so we’re not radio silent if something big isn’t happening. On top of that, we have emails that go out on a monthly basis that contain general updates, upcoming events, etc., and a blog on the website that pretty much mirrors the email blast.
Melissa: We will try to plan out announcements and general information in advance and I will frequently schedule that via a dashboard. Typically if we have an event, I keep my accounts logged in. As things are happening I’m basically on-call until the chatter dies down. It’s key to have a person identified who will monitor it when something is happening. On an on-going basis I will check in on the accounts once a day and I’ll engage with them pretty much on a daily basis.
Amanda: We recently had a video go viral and it’s now at 3 million views. That kind of thing is rare (that’s the 2nd time this has happened) and we’ve had to make plans and scramble to respond quickly to the international press inquiries that come in. It is a good idea to have a plan in place.
Melissa: These unexpected things happen and they’re very in-the-moment and time-sensitive so you need to have flex room built into your schedule so you can dedicate unexpected extra time to the amazing things that are happening in social media.
Melissa: That’s pretty organic between us. I have Google news alerts set for BANDALOOP. If I can’t do something right away, I have a folder to store content that I need to do something with so I can go back later and work the content into social media.
Amanda: Because so much of our content is just captured by our team on cell phones it is only when on a real show cycle that we’re scheduling photographers. The other part that is challenging for us is archiving the footage that we get from everyone that is engaged in presenting a performance. Contractually we bind our presenters to producing a video and getting us our own files within 30 days of a performance, but it can be difficult to pin down. Even if they do film it, unless they have a really stellar team we often don’t get the footage right away. We added this into contracts about 4 or 5 years ago and, despite not always getting footage, overall it’s been great. A lot of university presenters have a media department they can employ. It’s not a financial burden for them, whereas for us it’s a big output. A lot of presenters can do this easily and it’s a big help to us. Having it built into the contract means the ask is already up front.
Amanda: One thing that we’ve done is we’ve outsourced this work to an amazing person!
Melissa: Having somebody whom you can trust, who gets the message and what you’re trying to convey, is really important. If it can’t be outsourced, having a specific individual at the organization who is fluent in different platforms, is quick to learn new technologies and developments, who understands that it is a constantly evolving moving target, and who everything can be funneled to is a really smart way to set it up. It prevents the integrity of the brand from being watered down and helps make sure everything is clear and consistent.
Amanda: One thing I’ve seen recently is an adaptation of new technology by the older generation. They’re being much more interactive and proactive. They’re real champions of the performing arts. Obviously social media is the playground of the young, but I also see so much more participation by administrators, boards, etc. There is a real possibility to utilize them as well as brand ambassadors.
On Being is a Peabody Award-winning public radio conversation and podcast, a Webby Award-winning website and online exploration, a publisher and public event convener. On Being opens up the animating questions at the center of human life: What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live? We explore these questions in their richness and complexity in 21st-century lives and endeavors. We pursue wisdom and moral imagination as much as knowledge; we esteem nuance and poetry as much as fact.
Wanderway spoke with Digital Editor Mariah Helgeson and CCO/Executive Editor Trent Gilliss to learn about how On Being attentively engages audiences across a range of social media channels.
Our key product is the public radio show and podcast, On Being. Krista [the program’s host] lets our audience know that social media is a place that we inhabit. It’s not just, “Go to Facebook.” Social media offers a place that extends what we do—directly related to the radio show, yes, but also stuff we’re thinking about that we can’t possibly cover in the radio show. But beyond that I usually try to stay away from cross-promoting one social channel to another. If I’m on Twitter, I wouldn’t send somebody to Facebook or I wouldn’t send them to Instagram. I’d rather have the content native to that channel, or to send them to the space that we caretake, which is onbeing.org.
What I love about social media is that it can really build trust in your project and the personalities behind it. It can also tether people to people, rather than to entities or organizations. I really value social media in that way. It’s a way to introduce those voices and connect them.
We were early adopters of Tumblr and that started out of pure need. Our parent organization at the time wouldn’t support a blog. I was doing a reporting trip to the rural parts of Alabama and I wanted to share my experiences—not just the reporting, but I wanted to show people what I saw and I wanted to do it knowing that I might not have access to Wi-Fi. At the time, Tumblr was a great way to report live on the ground. That was my inroad in two ways: first, I could start blogging about the experience in real time and second, I could also be very mobile with it. It not only served a utilitarian purpose but it also embraced the spontaneity of the moment and allowed for different kinds of media to come out in very short form, very immediate ways.
If you have a need within your own production process to do something, there is almost always a social platform that will allow you do that in some expedient manner that is not only native to the platform, but also native to you as a content creator or journalist inside a nonprofit or arts organization. That’s what I’ve loved about Tumblr. It allowed a pretty formal journalistic media project (On Being) to express itself differently and for new people.
For me, Tumblr is about discovering new communities that can then inform our journalistic process in very overt ways or in subtle ways. We’ve connected to a lot of different groups there that never listen to public radio, never listen to On Being, but discover some of the audio we’ve produced or some of the content around it.
It also allows our wonderful group of producers a vehicle to participate, to embody our work. They have varied interests. It could be about architecture. It could be somebody who travels a lot and just wants to show bits of the world and the people in it. It could just be beautiful quotes. Tumblr is a place for this and for us it doesn’t need to be vetted in the same way that a blog for our website or for our radio episodes would be. It can be more spontaneous or more personal. Something that goes up on Tumblr might be more in the vernacular or not so formalized. Or it won’t even be written into at all. It will just be posted; it won’t have to be explained. That’s what’s kind-of beautiful about these little vignettes. You don’t have to say much, you just post it.
I think Twitter is something like this, as well, but in much shorter form, and Twitter is a very public experience. For instance, we’ll have conversations on Twitter with people who might be tweeting about a show they listened to via podcast. Or they might be asking a question of Krista or they might be spreading the love about our weekly newsletter. So we engage in that dialogue on Twitter. It’s much more of an interactive space in that way.
We live-tweet Krista’s interviews for On Being in real time. We are selective in curating the nuggets of wisdom that come out of each interview. We’ve found that direct quotes are much more effective than reporting or paraphrasing the interview. If we were to just talk about it, not document it, we find it will not be as responded to. It won’t be liked as much or retweeted as much as direct quotes.
Tumblr and Twitter are not drivers; they don’t drive traffic to the website.
On the other hand, Facebook is a huge driver of traffic. I know that people are wary because of how Facebook’s algorithms change and then the changes shift what fans see in their personal feeds. On the other hand Facebook remains a powerful medium. We’re trying to cultivate a brand that asks deeper questions of meaning and offers a space where you can feel intimate and comfortable and safe. That’s what matters to us. Within our Facebook community there is a panoply of highly curated voices and a comment community that is original in thought, rather than acerbic and caustic. Our Facebook page has been a wonderful way for that to happen. A lot of times the comments happen in a way that is much more native on Facebook than they ever would be on our website. I love that robustness. People are more likely to share within those rhythms and that’s powerful because instead of 10,000 people, we can reach half a million—that just happened with one simple article.
“Likes” on Facebook are nice, but I think they’re just an indicator of people paying attention. I pay more attention to people sharing articles—I think that’s an important measure—and how they share them (do they write in and out of them?) That is another way for us to introduce people to On Being who’ve never listened to public radio, who may not be aware of our website, who may have adjacent interests but just don’t know we exist. Through those circles of friendships and tribes, people encounter us, and that’s why I think it’s most important to be on Facebook.
On Facebook what we’ve found to be effective is we do at least a daily post, but we don’t post on Facebook more than 3 times a day. We don’t want people to start tuning out because we’re white noise. We want to post stuff that is meaningful and makes them pause. They may not always click through or read everything, but they see it. My sense is that people that post too much drown out their own voice. We try to be very disciplined about that.
We’re finding that early morning is a wonderful space for our kind of content on Facebook. 5, 5:30 a.m. 8 or 9 at night also seems to be a good time for us—a few hours after supper, after the kids go to bed, when you settle in, because our work tends to be more thoughtful and contemplative and reflective. We want people to sink into that. When we post to Facebook we often start with a quotation rather than just a description.
We do some paid advertising, boosting posts. I’ve found that to be very valuable. In my key metric on what makes those successful or not, is not necessarily the number of likes or reach of that paid advertising. It’s the number of people who then like our page. Once they like our page, they’ve subscribed to our feed directly. Now we have a higher likelihood of our content showing up in their regular Facebook personal feeds.
We’re on Instagram and that’s something that we’re still playing with. How do we find our style in there? We sometimes do behind-the-scenes posts or Instagram postcards where there is a lovely image that might be curated from one of our readers or listeners, or someone we admire, along with a saying or a quote or a poem. It’s a way of resharing the community that has invested in us. There are some wonderful creative people out there. And we have some people who aren’t on Facebook, but they’re on Instagram, and vice-versa.
For LinkedIn, where we’re a little newer to it, we’re kind-of dancing slowly. LinkedIn is a particular group that is coming in for particular things. One thing about our content is that it’s about inner life and outer change and how those two work together. For LinkedIn, there is a focus on vocation, so things that have to do with being a better person that might weave into one’s work life are important there. There might be leadership sensibilities in the content. We may not feature stuff that doesn’t have a bit about lessons—about how to be a better manager, how to be a better colleague, how to lead a better life between work and personal life.
Soundcloud is an interesting example for a podcast and radio program. We first created a relationship with Soundcloud to have a place to store all of our audio when we split off from our parent organization. That was a great way to defray costs because it was in-line with their strategy of being a place where people come for content as well as music. It was a zero-cost transfer for us. So they were going to host all our audio, which then streams to our website, to our mobile apps, to Tumblr, and that was all for free. So there was a very practical business decision about that. What I’ve loved about that space is that it’s also a listening community. It’s a social space that responds whether in audio comments or they start to pay attention. The users there never listen to public radio; they’re more international. They tend to skew younger than traditional public radio audiences. That has been a space for new types of listeners and a different encounter with On Being.
Google+ for example, no matter what we post, the number of people commenting, or liking, or sharing stays the same. It has plateaued. It has plateaued for a long time. Something I’ve learned about these media channels—and this is social, website, or audio channels—if they don’t plateau and then spike a little bit, plateau, and spike, then that’s probably a community that either we’re not cultivating properly or that’s not a robust community to begin with.
After a few months of plateauing like that and trying some experimentation, I’ll say let’s back off it. Let’s focus on the ones we know are doing well. That can manifest itself in very mundane ways. I think a lot of times media projects like ours respond to criticism—negative criticism—rather than positive feedback. We get a lot of people that say, “What you’ve done has made a difference in this way…” It’s part of the spirit of this project to be hospitable. Which would mean we should say thank you to them. If “this is wrong,” we’ll respond because we want to either balance or correct the record, or give a response that is thoughtful.
Sometimes we neglect our strongest audience, the people who thank us. Which is 95%! So I’ll redirect energy in those very nondescript ways. Let’s make sure that we say thank you or acknowledge it, even with a like. Or let’s focus on Tumblr where it’s not just about posting our own stuff, but also about reblogging stuff we find valuable, using our media platform to elevate other people’s curatorial sensibilities. So I’ll redirect that way because we know we have a robust Tumblr community. Which means paying attention as much as just hitting the reblog button.
I think what I’ve learned about all of these channels is these are very particular communities and if you don’t have human touch points with them—you’re just using them as a forum to push your content without personalization or a human hand that provides that touch point—it will fall flat. You will work really hard and people won’t attach to you. It won’t be an emotional experience. I think with good marketing, good experiences, there’s an emotional experience—“Man, I really relate to what they’re doing.” It doesn’t have to be this first-person voice that feels like a blogger, but it does have to have a first-person sensibility behind it. A quality that feels like, “Hey this is somebody that is caretaking and nurturing this.” I’d say, do fewer channels, but really pay attention to them. Also align it to your goals.
One of the things I’ve realized, especially in the nonprofit world, is that there’s this double or triple bottom line, but sometimes people are afraid to say it out loud. I’ll give an example, at my previous organization there was the idea that we don’t care about page views and unique visitors; we really want to cultivate conversation and community, we want deep engagement. But, on the other hand, at the end of the month, there was a PDF that was shared company-wide that basically presented quantitative numbers for number of page views, unique visitors, downloads. It was all about the quantitative. If those numbers do matter then chose your social media and where you put your efforts in-line with that really matters to you.
Also, what kind of community do you want to build? Is it really a demographic you want to build for push reasons, or do you want to build a self-correcting community or a community that connects with itself through you as that organization or that media project? What do you want to cultivate there? How do you want to empower those people that come to you? And how much effort do you have toward that?
And consider how different it is to use Twitter on your phone versus on the website, and that comes right down to the icon that you choose. I think that’s an important part of social. We’ve designed icons and logos that are about the mobile first experience. That’s part of your social stream, too.
HowlRound is a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community. HowlRound designs and develops online communication platforms and in-person convenings that promote conversation, collaboration, and field-wide discourse. They work to illuminate the breadth, diversity, and possibilities for community-powered theatre practice.
The word “howlround” is a technical term for the howling noise that results when sound from a loudspeaker is fed back into a microphone. This idea represents the spirit in which HowlRound was born five years ago, as a place for artists to provide feedback, learning, expertise, frustration, and vision, in an effort to enliven the fields of theatre and performance for the aspiring and established artist alike.
Access and engagement are HowlRound core values—believing that everyone has something to contribute to the learning, the making, and the sharing of theatre. Based at Emerson College’s Office of the Arts, HowlRound’s core values mirror those of Emerson College: civic engagement, diversity and inclusion, internationalization, and innovation.
We reached out to Director and Co-Founder Dr. Carl and Cultural Strategist and Co-Founder Vijay Mathew to learn how HowlRound has cultivated an online commons for connecting with and empowering their audiences.
Initially we were thinking of a smallish audience—whatever one would mean by “the theatre community”—primarily artists and insiders and probably professional theatre artists, people in the regular business of making theatre. That was where we started. Quickly the gap we were filling became clear to us and our audience blew up. We realized that we were filling a gap for instructors in theatre—that ended up being one of our biggest constituencies. We realized that we were really important to students, so not necessarily just professionals. We were actually reaching a pretty young audience because we were reaching undergraduate and graduate students and very early career professionals. Our audience, in a way, became known to us. I don’t think we had a really defined sense of it when we started and then, through the experience of making the tools that are HowlRound, we began to see who the audience was. Even at that time, we thought it very much to be an American audience and now 10-15% of our audience is international and expanding. So it evolved over time.
The key for us is the frame we started with: we wanted to create a commons and by creating a commons we wanted to access the expertise and the resources of the communities we were reaching. We created by design a participatory infrastructure that immediately became an invitation for people to share their thoughts, concerns, expertise, and practice. Because we cull our content directly from the community versus curating content that we decide is meaningful, we really created an audience from the ground up from the expertise of the audience versus from our expertise. Most online platforms often come from the perspective: “we have an agenda and then we’re trying to get other people interested in what our agenda is.” Our approach was curatorial listening, which is listening to the community and then creating agendas based on the listening model.
One of our primary values in building the platforms was a focus on positive inquiry. One of the ways that we’ve been able to create a sense of invitation is that we’ve managed through positive inquiry to let people know that HowlRound is a safe place to have hard conversations. We have unbelievable dialogue in our comments section which almost no other site, certainly in the theatre field, has and that’s because we’ve created a frame where people feel they can come into that frame and have hard and nuanced conversations with each other via the comments section and feel that it’s a safe space to do it. We rarely have to intervene, but we will intervene if the conversation turns away from respectful and positive. It’s about managing an online platform with a value system versus creating a free for all online platform.
I think part of people’s sense of engagement comes from knowing that the content comes from their colleagues (that it’s not coming top-down) and because the content is so diverse they see themselves in it and connect with HowlRound. Something touches almost everyone and that becomes an invitation and then the conversation itself becomes an invitation.
We do a couple things. We track analytics so we know what people are reading, what they’re interested in. We have an open system for pitching articles or live streaming events—so anyone can pitch ideas. We regularly survey our readers to understand better how we’re succeeding and failing. We just completed a 3-year strategic plan that has given us a lot of information about where our constituencies are and what they feel our next steps should be. We’re very accessible via Twitter and Facebook; we have a huge social media presence. And we’re very responsive at an individual level to our constituents who reach out to us.
The bulk of our work happens online, but as part of our work, we organize regular in-person convenings about hot spots in the theatre world. Those convenings are proposed by people in the community, and one of those convenings was proposed by a Latina theatre artist named Karen Zacarías. She wanted to gather some Latino/a theatre artists in a room and have a conversation about the state of Latino/a theatre. That ended up being 8 people—academics, artistic directors, playwrights, and directors—they all had different areas of expertise and different institutional affiliations. We literally pooled those resources and created a 3-year plan for improving the theatrical infrastructure for Latino/a theatre artists.
It burgeoned into this incredible movement. It started with a convening in Boston in November 2012 and we simultaneously worked with what became a large steering committee of people to create an online presence, called Café Onda. One of our philosophies is trying to use existing infrastructure and existing resources. I call it an environmental model. Rather than building a new building or creating a new website, or putting more resources into play, we try to use existing resources. We felt like the Café Onda content could fit inside of the content of HowlRound. It was a way for a group of people who didn’t have time or resources to create their own large website and manage all of the things that requires to use our infrastructure to hold Café Onda.
And so that’s how Café Onda started and that’s how the Latina/o Theatre Commons started. It’s still going. They do convenings, festivals, and play readings. They’ve met several times in different regions of the country and it’s had an unbelievable impact on the infrastructure of the field in terms of the plays that are out in the world and the artists who are getting recognized. In my twenty years of theatre making it’s been one of the most impressive examples of how to share existing resources for the betterment of the community.
I think that’s one of our questions moving forward: Are there things we want to celebrate more as stewards? But, I also think we know what to celebrate based on the active engagement of our audience. With the Latina/o Theatre Commons there was a group of people in the community that said, “this is the most important thing to us,” and because they sustained their investment, we sustained our investment. The way we celebrate is: when the community celebrates their own work, we stay with them. An idea, a pitch, a movement, anything will go as far as the energy of the community. Celebration really comes from the community and then we’re able to keep saying yes to the celebration.
Definitely we’ve had to say no. We’ve had some exponential growth and we’re running behind the growth in a way. Part of what we need to think about is: What’s the change we want to make? What’s the intervention we want to have?
We’re starting to think about the “no” question. Should “no” come up more? Is “no” an opportunity to say yes to other things? We’ve definitely said “no,” but it’s a question moving forward if we want to look for more opportunities for yes that aren’t possible unless we say some no’s.
We’ve definitely said no to ideas that are not well thought out. We’ve said no to ideas that are intended to call people out. We don’t do open letters; we don’t call out individuals. Anything that falls out of the frame of positive inquiry we’ve said no to. We’ve said no to things that don’t have energy behind them—things that others wish we’d do, but we know that we can’t do because we have a small staff and we can only do so much.
Part of our philosophy is minimal infrastructure, maximum impact. So we’re trying to keep a minimal infrastructure. We don’t want to be an organization of 60. We really like that we are in a fluid relationship with the community. At the same time, there was a point in the last few months where we had 100,000 unique visitors to the site. We had so much interaction; what’s the relationship between our desire to keep impact, but also to have a broad reach?
I think the biggest thing is: What real gap are you filling? Going in we didn’t know all the details of what that meant, but we had a very clear sense of the gap we’re filling.
Your internal sense of what you’re doing is also important. We’ve done surveys and been in conversation with our audiences and we recognize that we formed entirely around a value proposition and our audience often connects with the content but not the value proposition. What is the relationship between what you intend and how you are consumed? Are you ok with that? What are the possible ways that people will value you that you hadn’t imagined? Because the online presence is so broad it’s easy to become too interior in your own thinking without understanding the unbelievable amount of responses and perceptions of what you’re doing. When we did our strategic planning survey, we heard exactly conflicting responses in every single area: you’re too academic, you’re not academic enough; you have too much content, you have exactly the right amount of content; you’re kind-of elitist, you’re a completely open platform. It’s very hard to control when you have broad reach all the ways in which people will perceive you.
Museum Hue is a multicultural platform for diversity, advancing people of color within arts, culture and museums. Museum Hue offers digital and onsite tours, talks, trainings and active learning opportunities to engage all people around culture, community and careers. Museum Hue’s robust membership is a community of practice, growing, learning and reflecting ideas of intersectionality, inclusion and equitable approaches within creative economy. www.museumhue.com
We reached out to Museum Hue Co-Founder & Strategic Director Monica O. Montgomery to learn about how they approach their work and audiences with intention and commitment, using digital platforms to foster community and change both online and in the museum sector.
Our community is a group of millennial black and brown (Latinx, Caribbean, black, Asian, Indian, First Nations, Middle Eastern, white allies and more) socially conscious museum and culture workers, who came together to hold space for ourselves and our peers. Since 2014 we have been unapologetically making our presence felt in museum spaces, and countering false narratives that we are ‘hard to find’. We celebrate ourselves and the spaces and places that highlight our lives, our demographics and psychographics. If something checks off the boxes of ‘Colorful, Cultured. Cool!’ then it gets featured. If it embodies vibrancy, energy, fierceness, education, enrichment, style and swagger, then it gets posted.
We have largely grown our audience base through aggressive social media follows and reposts. We follow mission aligned brands, individuals, platforms and associations, often blurring boundaries between audiences, by following the following:
Museums (i.e. Museum of Impact & Portland Art Museum),
Individuals (i.e. Michelle Alexander & Nina Simon),
Culture producers (i.e. Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute)
Thought Leaders (i.e. Betty’s Daughter Arts Collaborative),
Events (i.e. Smithsonian Folklife Festival & Figment Festival NYC),
Business brands (i.e. Museum Next)
Nonprofits (i.e. The Laundromat Project, ARTE & Haiti Cultural Exchange),
Universities (i.e. SVA School of Visual Arts & St. John’s Masters in Museum Administration)
Associations (i.e. AAM & Association for Critical Race Art History), Media Outlets (Remezcla & Blavity & Abernathy Magazine)
When making our digital decisions for Museum Hue we operate from an intersectional premise. How will this content empower our audiences around Community, Culture & Careers? How can this content showcase the power of people of color, the importance of Diversity, the necessity of equity, and the mandate of Inclusion? How can what we share create a closeness, a bonding of our online community, an inspirational jolt of energy birthing new ideas for praxis, and a conscious ethos of social justice centering that is responsive to the challenges we face as a society?
We create very little content of our own, and envision ourselves as a resource by doing a lot of dot connecting and sharing. We serve as a bulletin board, as opposed to a megaphone; a hub for resources, posting articles, jobs, think pieces, cinema, music, visual art, video and other media that we find compelling, humorous, enlightening, or righteous. We want our audiences to check back frequently and often on our pages and platforms to loop in to the resources we post. We aren’t trying to persuade or propagandizing our audience, rather standing firm in our brand; with a consciousness, resolve and posture of unapologetic resilience, holding space for ourselves, and expanding our footprint to center the narratives of communities of color and cultural institutions that cater to our different dynamism and diversity.
We have expanded our content offerings to include a pro-social justice ethos. We retweet much of our content, to offer the undiluted authentic voice of our collaborators, supporters, and brands we admire. We don’t feel the need to “white-splain” things to our audience or reformat the content to make it comfortable to the user, rather we thrive in the dissonant spaces, sitting with the discomfort of a polarizing society, that often doesn’t honor our voice, our personhood, our needs, our agenda. The disquiet that we offer up is a scathing indictment on a society that actively participates in the erasure of black and brown people. We are pro #BlackLivesMatter and in solidarity with movements and collectives that seek justice for people of color in the boardroom, in the courtroom, in cultural institutions, in the streets, in the prisons, in the schools and in the public space where art and activism can blend to uplift everyday people.
We say “No” when things are not within our mission. Because we have so much goodwill and influence, and tend to be the poster child of diversity in action within the sector, we get approached all the time, with propositions to have us endorse things, and share things. Our network and mailing list is vast, and as such, many people want our endorsement. Recently a museum that is slated to open in 2018, asked us to publicly endorse them and add our name to their founders’ council. The museum is headed by all white women and had no traces of multiethnic diversity reflected on their website. We politely declined the use of our brand and inquired about their plans for diversity staffing, community engagement and our openness to have a conversation with their leadership around their plans for inclusion. Needless to say, we never heard back.
We learn what our audiences need and want by asking them. We have done periodic online and in person surveys of our members to ascertain their interests and needs. In July 2016 we conducted a poll among our private Museum Hue Facebook jobs and resources group, to ask what they were looking for from us. Overwhelmingly 100% of the respondents indicated they were looking for “jobs, fellowship and internships,” but a solid 65% were seeking “a sense of community and connection” and 55% were looking for “information on Museum & Cultural events.” Even more heartening, was that “mentorship” was a community generated response, added to the list of things people need from us in our online survey. This aligns with our programmatic values of offering “Mentorathon: Creative Career Fairs,” customizable career fairs fusing group mentoring, job seeker resources, collegiate guidance, and professional networking to helping students bridge into creative careers.
Our community loves up on us, and gives us the encouragement, confidence and energy boosts we need to keep working on this, as a labor of love. We see our users regularly (monthly) at in-person events, online tweetchats, one-on-one during career consultations, and in small groups at tours and talks. Every time we see our folks, we ask them, “What has Museum Hue done for you?” And their answers and admiration never cease to amaze us. We have concluded with a mailing list of 15K+ and social media followings of 10K+, that Museum Hue is an idea whose time has come. We are the ones we have been waiting for!
AXIS Dance Company exists to change the face of dance and disability.
Based in Oakland, AXIS has become one of the world’s most acclaimed and innovative ensembles of performers with and without disabilities. Founded in 1987, AXIS has paved the way for a powerful contemporary dance form called Physically Integrated Dance. Under the artistic direction of Judith Smith since 1997, AXIS has expanded its work beyond in-house choreographers to include commissions from leading choreographers and composers. The company is widely lauded for its breath-taking, beautiful work.
We spoke with Executive Director Eugenia Bowman to learn about how AXIS grew their social media profile and engages brand ambassadors to expand their reach.
I sat in trepidation having some real barriers because I was ignorant, frankly, about how easy it is to use social media. I didn’t know how people used it. I didn’t know how it was tracked. I didn’t know how important it is for getting your information out there.
Prior to coming to AXIS I never had the benefit of working with a Social Media Coordinator. Rebecca Fortelka, an AXIS board member, had a degree in marketing and management and the prior Managing Director had hired her as a contract employee for 10 hours a week. She works from home, and people were so busy here they couldn’t find a way to pull her in. As soon as I arrived I started Skyping with her once a week and she started bombarding me with resources and tips, just throwing all sorts of good, juicy things my way. That helped me to become a little more familiar with the terms and trends and what was necessary. I negotiated her part-time employment, increasing her hours to 20 a week, and she willingly stepped down from the Board to dig in deeper with me.
In advance of “East Bay Gives,” a day of nonprofit fundraising, the East Bay Community Foundation did a social media boot camp. We got a template to work with around the campaign and two or three quick and easy 1-2 hour trainings. The most important lesson during the boot camp was the importance of “link campaigning.” They shared how important it was to find like-minded people and organizations, sharing content, and building an expanded community network.
So what I did to circumvent that fear and ignorance was to read everything I could, go to these boot camps, and then just start plugging at it. I brought on an amazing marketing specialist as a volunteer who skyped with Rebecca and I almost weekly for the initial build out and continues tracking and supporting our progress. I learned how to write concisely (we try to avoid getting the “read more” prompt). We try to get it all in—writing concisely, keeping our hashtags current, and finding out the content that relates to our audiences. Now we’re testing times of day, making sure there is always a picture or an article or a video. The other great thing about it in terms of the inspiration is—it’s free. There’s staff time, but you don’t have to go to a printer you don’t have to deal with expense and time of some of the design.
It was Rebecca who pushed the organization early on to start, but perhaps no one had the time or bandwidth, or understood how important it was. I made some strategic decisions when I came in. I hired a systems, IT, and finance person and I took on the responsibility of learning our audiences, and of learning these content issues.
I think it’s one of the best decisions I made. We are converting Dropbox to a file server and are transferring the database that we inherited onto the server and getting it organized to create an infrastructure that will help the organization become self-sustaining.
Rebecca did some analytics and found which hashtags had the most juice for us. We picked 3 or 4 that we pretty much stay consistent with and then, depending on the programmatic part, we alter them a bit. When we’re on a tour there’s a certain hashtag, when there’s an education event for youth there’s another. But we’ve always stayed with #dance4all, #uhaveabodyucandance, #AXISDanceCompany, and #SpokesPeople. We also looked at national trends for big campaigns that related to our mission, divvied them up, and then became consistent. We communicated this to everyone and we asked our ambassadors—whether they’re board members, volunteers, or staff—to use these hashtags consistently.
When we started on the East Bay Gives campaign we did a step-by-step breakdown with our board—how you invite people to like our page, where to find our event, this is how you invite people, this is how you share our post on your wall.
We did a national convening in NYC in May. We got organized ahead of time and created a hashtag campaign. We had a bibliography and content strands. We had exciting results! We hit 495,000 timelines! We have regional meetings now that are going to follow along on the future of physically integrated dance and we gave participants a brief toolkit. It was clear for the regionals we needed to do a lot more training, and now we have a program for that.
We do a summer intensive—3 different modules—for teachers, choreographers, and individual dancers to learn the principles and philosophies behind physically integrated dance. We decided that all our scholarship recipients could become brand ambassadors. We’re going to give them a content strand to use and we’re modifying the toolkit we already made for the regionals so they can push out our hashtag campaigns and continue to draw folks to the work and to us.
To get started, Facebook was enough for me. Rebecca did Instagram and Twitter. We divvied it up and figured out which was the best based on our analytics. I just started posting and then I watched. The minute one of my posts hit 1,000 views I was hooked! And then 5,000 people would see a post and then we got up to 15,000 people seeing one post. And that’s all it took. I could see it spread like wildfire.
Now we’re watching what happens when people go to our website. We’re tracking the time they spend on the website; we’re tracking what interests them. We’ve gone from people spending 45 seconds to spending 2 minutes on the website, looking at the history of the organization, our bibliography, jumping around here and there. Our big concern right now is landing pages and calls to action, to drive donations up.
I had a goal of reaching 100,000 people in 6 months. We reached 100,000 people in 4 months! And then 2 months later we reached over 450,000 at the convening. Now that we’ve gotten some big audiences interested in us, we’re creating some strands. Collaborative campaigns were our next step, partnerships with other organizations, joint posts and blogs.
Social media needs to be demystified, especially for people in my generation. I started at a community at-risk foundation when there were no databases. We were basically just getting on the Internet back then. That’s where many executive directors of our day started out. I really didn’t get inspired about social media until I saw what had happened in Egypt (the Arab Spring). Then I thought, “Okay, maybe this is a viable form of communication. Maybe if I give it a shot and figure out how to use it, we’ll create our own revolution here for physically integrated dance.”
One mistake was over saturating our channels. We’re still kind-of digging out of that. We were on a roll, hitting 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 15,000 and then East Bay Gives happened and since we had prizes we were competing for, we had timed posts scheduled for every prize we wanted. But the Kimbia network slammed. It was an epic fail. But we still had something every hour on the hour and it was too much. Rebecca’s postings were marked as spam by people (“haters”) who wanted to steal our traffic and steal our positive outcome, as well.
That was a lesson. Immediately after, things got back to a couple hundred, maybe 600. We’re now regaining our post hits, keeping most at a minimum of 1500 again, being more selective, not ramming things down people’s throats on a constant basis! We average a reach of 200,000 now.
Rebecca says, “It’s just a pound sign people!” There’s nothing to be nervous about. Even if you over saturate and you watch your numbers go down, you’ll figure it out. You just pull back, and become more selective. Leave people wanting more! And think strategically. And have fun. I’ve learned a lot and made new friends and feel like AXIS is creating the foundation for great things in the future.
The philosophy of Wonderbound centers around three fundamental values—community, collaboration, creation. Under the artistic direction of Garrett Ammon and Dawn Fay, a radiant energy has grown around the ten exemplary dancers that make up Wonderbound. From creating new works with Ammon to utilizing the talents of various musicians, poets, and visual artists, Wonderbound’s dancers bring their considerable classical prowess to the table while simultaneously tapping into a vulnerability that strips away pretense.
Impressed by Wonderbound’s rich content across channels and media, we reached out to Communications Manager Amber Blais to ask how she thinks about the traction or impact of Wonderbound’s digital engagement—from blogs to social media posts to developing routines around video creation.
You have the analytic tools through your website and through Facebook, but the biggest way, which isn’t really scientific or measurable, is when we see people in the real world and they are engaging us and mentioning these things they saw on our website or on our Facebook page or through Twitter. Because Facebook changes analytics so frequently, you never know if you are reaching people based on Facebook’s statistics alone. We put out surveys at performances so we do know how people find out about our shows or campaigns, but a lot of this is anecdotal because we interact with everyone who comes through the lobby for our shows.
Our photos get a lot of mileage. Any time we post without a photo it really doesn’t get a lot of traction, so we try having photos or something interactive. With videos we’ve found that a lot people won’t stop and watch them, so we’ve started tailoring our videos so that they can be watched without sound if people are scrolling through the home feed. Or, once they do click on them, they can watch them that way, too. So, we’re trying to figure out how to grab people right away and that’s through videos and photos.
We’re constantly changing and adjusting, trying new things. We’re always researching the newest trends and we’re never afraid to try something new. We do look at our likes. They have dropped significantly since Facebook changed the way they do things. We used to get between 100 and 150 likes on each photo and now we’re getting 10, so something is definitely changing. We create a lot more content on our website and we’re trying to do a lot more email content, reaching out to people one-on-one.
We just put out a really great video for our last show, Dust. It was a behind-the-scenes look at how the sets were made that was really well received. People seemed to enjoy learning about how things were done, aspects of the process that they don’t get to see all the time.
Social media is fleeting, so if something doesn’t work, we move onto the next thing. The things that don’t work for us are posts with a lot of words and not anything else. We stopped doing that a while back because it wasn’t effective. Even if we put up a picture, a lot of times people don’t read the content that goes with it; they just like the picture.
I think the biggest thing is that you may think you’re not having an impact, but more people see this than you realize. It really just has to make a difference to one person and then it ripples out from there. I think not getting discouraged and just having consistent content is really the way to go.
We haven’t really had a flop post or outreach, because it’s impacting someone. It’s getting out there and inspiring them and making a difference.
The mission of the Library as Incubator Project is to promote and facilitate creative collaboration between libraries and artists of all types, and to advocate for libraries as incubators of the arts. We serve this mission both through the Library as Incubator Project website and through other offline projects. At a time in which both libraries and arts organizations are often having to do more with less, it makes sense for these two parts of our culture to support each other. The Library as Incubator Project calls attention to one of the many reasons libraries are important to our communities and our culture, and provides a dynamic online forum for sharing ideas.
We reached out to Erinn Batykefer, Laura Damon-Moore, and Holly Storck-Post to learn about how they manage digital engagement as a team and find ways to streamline their work with LAIP to efficiently manage the project on top of their other jobs!
There are three people on our team and all of us post to the website and social media, on all platforms, as appropriate.
We deliberately didn’t set forth a digital strategy. Our goal was to open a conversation about how libraries influence and support creativity and creative practice, and doing this just by sharing ideas and seeing how people respond to them accomplishes this. Because we’re a team of 3, we are really nimble in terms of responding to trends, and we all have slightly different interests (from children’s to adult, to tech services when it comes to libraries, and from art history to graffiti and street art when it comes to creativity and art), which means that over the course of the week we share a broad range of material.
Our social media engagement is the listening part of the conversation more than the talking part. We talk a little bit on the website. We mostly just prompt others to talk and then listen in. It helps us respond by seeking out new features that address interest areas and questions, and it helps us ask better questions of librarians and artists when it’s our turn to talk again.
We are working in a nascent area for libraries—one where there aren’t best practices yet—as well as a somewhat nascent and highly changeable platform when it comes to social media. Already people are abandoning Twitter for Instagram, so that may be where we end up taking our conversation if it feels right—and we’re only 4 years old. Creating a digital strategy that is flexible enough to accommodate how fast social media and just basic conversation moves is impossible. Ours is basically: this is a tool to help us listen.
Erinn: I sign up for newsletters from places we admire in terms of content, and places that are producing relevant content, and that consistently gets re-tweeted. I have a Google filter set to move all of the roundups and newsletters from these places into a folder marked “Hootsuite Fodder” so they don’t clutter up my inbox all week. During the week, I also send myself links to things I find on the internet—a great article, a Facebook post, an NPR story etc.—and put them in this folder. On Saturday, I queue up the week of content for Twitter (I’m in charge of Sunday, which is a roundup, as mentioned before, Monday, and Tuesday), and Facebook (I am completely in charge of all content on Facebook).
To do this, I just open my Hootsuite Fodder folder in my e-mail and comb through all the cool stuff that came in that week and then throw out tweets with the most interesting and relevant stuff.
Personally, because I am scanning content all week and relating it to features that I know are coming up, by the time Saturday rolls around, I’ve already been making connections as I gathered material. Streamlining gathering in this way also makes the actual work of curating several days or a week of content easy. When we first started out, queuing a single day of content was like pulling teeth, because I had to go find stuff to share first and then figure out how to make it cool in 140 characters. This eliminates that part of the work and makes it automatic.
I’m a huge fan of automating what I can. I have a number of IFTTT recipes working for Incubator content. That has cut down the amount of manual work the team has to do and I’m considering doing a test run for some of IFTTT’s scraping recipes. Google Alerts used to be a great way to do this, but I’ve found their results to be mostly chaff so I’m looking for other options.
Laura: Similar to Erinn’s process, I subscribe to a number of favorite sites that I aggregate with feedly. I have my feeds loosely categorized (arts, design, libraries, books and reading, tech, etc.) so that when I’m queuing up content I can make sure the stuff I’m tweeting is varied in content.
Erinn: I deal with rights and permissions for content created for publication on the LAIP website by creating a Guest Blog Agreement for every one of the writers I manage—this outlines the content of a series, who is responsible for what, and it links to our License Agreement, which is also online on the website.
The language of this document is off-putting (to me at least), as is all legalese. But it is pretty straightforward: we share content and hold rights as original publishers. Anything people share with us, either online, or in the context of a formal writing contract, is done with the understanding that they are giving us the right to use it on any current or future LAIP platform, including published works, social media, on the website, etc. We always do this with credit. Authors own their work and can re-post or re-publish, as long as they acknowledge the Incubator as the original publisher. This is pretty standard practice in little magazine publishing (I’m a poet, so we work with that model, since it works for both publication and creator).
When we re-post other content, we treat it the same way, working with the author and editor. We re-publish the piece with an acknowledgement and external link to the original. We’ve done this a couple of times.
In terms of rights and permissions for stuff shared on social media, I take a firm stance on pushing the boundaries of copyright every time I have the opportunity. I believe strongly that libraries present a counterbalance to corporations like Disney when it comes to public domain and free access to information, including artistic and creative works. We haven’t had any notices to take content down for violating copyright—partially because we solicit content directly and people want their stuff there—and partially because of the nature of social media. It has no memory; so it’s pointless for content creators or corporations to police, if we have ever shared content that is limited.
But when it’s a gray area, I err on the side of free access every time.
Laura: Also, we put the onus on the people we work with to provide us with the correct photo credits, video credits, others who should be mentioned as co-creators, etc. If we don’t get the photo credit directly after asking the contact person to include that in their post material, we’ll say “image provided by [story contact person/library]”. Sometimes people will see something after the fact and write and say, “Can you add so-and-so” and we always do, of course!
The success of our online presence has to do with the content we create and the aim of the Project, which is to talk about libraries and library service from a new perspective. We don’t have a message or a product we’re pushing. We’re pushing conversation, curiosity, and exploration, which means that people feel welcome to share what they’re doing, to ask questions, and to feel like their ideas can contribute. We’re not saying we have the answers. We’re saying there are a lot of answers to the question, “What makes a library a good incubator for creativity?”
I would advise organizations looking to create a digital presence to see social media as a conversation. It has to be a genuine, respectful, and curious give-and-take.
John Emerson works at the intersection of digital design, data, and social change. Based in Brooklyn, he has designed web sites, applications, print, and motion graphics for leading media companies as well as local and international human rights organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the United Nations. He has lectured and conducted workshops internationally, and his writing has been published in Communication Arts and PRINT magazine. His poster designs are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the New York Public Library. Since 2002, he has published Social Design Notes, a weblog of clippings and writing on design and activism at http://backspace.com/notes
We asked John a few questions about his experiences creating Twitter bots that draw from museum collections in order to gain insights into how organizations can invite audiences to be creative with their assets.
I’m a graphic designer and programmer and work primarily with nonprofit organizations in the human rights space. On the side I’ve been having fun making bots of various kinds – Twitter bots, blogging bots, and I recently launched a FOIA bot that sends Freedom of Information requests to the New York City Law Department.
An API is a way for computer systems to talk to each other—a predefined set of commands, URLs, or tools to exchange information. One of the keys to Twitter’s success is that early on they had a well-documented, easy-to-use API so that anyone could write their own program to read or post content to Twitter from their own applications using the API.
I started making museum bots after the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum redesigned their website. I was poking around the new site and stumbled on their API documentation. It turned out that their API has a “get random object” feature so this seemed to be a perfect opportunity to dig through the digital “crates” and surface things that I wouldn’t necessarily find otherwise. A way to do this was to create a bot that would take get an object’s information from this API and use Twitter’s API to post it—so anyone could follow along on Twitter and discover objects in the collection. The museum has cataloged hundreds of thousands of objects, and the vast majority are not on display.
Well-documented public APIs are a nice invitation to get creative. Some organizations have posted their collection information on GitHub, a website where people share source code and a platform for programmers to collaborate with one another. Even without an API, institutions that invest the time and resources to build robust websites and put their collections online with nice pictures and metadata don’t just benefit bot makers but other audiences as well.
While digitizing a collection can be resource intensive, I suspect the main stumbling blocks are concerns about licensing and permissions. My argument would be that making your collection accessible online does not diminish it—it enhances its position. Circulating photos of the Mona Lisa, for instance, doesn’t take away from the experience of seeing the real thing. It makes the experience even more precious. I think that’s true with these collections as well.
I’ve looked and searched for good websites or APIs on the art of India and Mexico. I haven’t found much and this absence online reinforces the dominance of American and European collections on the web. If the mission of your organization is to be a bridge between your collection and the public, this is a fantastic way to do it, to supercharge your work.
If you are already putting together a catalogue, you probably already have high quality images and metadata for those objects. At minimum, just put this information on a web server or on GitHub. Ultimately it makes sense to have a digitization pipeline, a dedicated process and resources. It took the Cooper Hewitt a long time to digitize the objects in their collection, but now it’s streamlined: objects come in, they are photographed and cataloged, go immediately into the database and onto the website. There are tools and a process in place now; it’s not just ad hoc.
Looking at what other cultural organizations are doing is one good source of inspiration.
When the New York Public Library did a big release of public domain content several months ago they didn’t just make it available, they put up some experimental projects of their own. They also broadcast to their community, saying, “We have this data. We made these projects. Let’s see what you can do.” Then they went even further and set up a modest artist commission. The recipient would get some funding and a desk to come and work with the library and their collection. They were also broadcasting the community’s projects, so when people were making Twitter bots or applications, the library would let the community know. It became this cycle of inspiration and feedback.
Hack-a-thons are another way to invite the community and get people excited about data. People love getting a peek behind the curtain. That said, it’s hard to get a real project done in 8 hours from start to finish and hack-a-thons tend to be in evenings or on weekends. By the way that they’re structured, they may exclude different populations that have children or other kinds of obligations. Another way is to set up a media lab, artist residency, or community grants—opportunities that are more flexible in terms of time and commitment. Most of what I’ve done has concerned images and the museum bots I’ve built are oriented around art objects. There are potentially valuable projects that could be done with other materials, especially audio or video.
People have all kinds of crazy ideas. Maybe there are cool ways to crowd source some of them and make institutions not just gatekeepers, but facilitators. It’s not just about acting as a filter to protect the integrity of the collection, but really being a place for experimentation and for fun. I think everyone benefits. The institution benefits, the public benefits. Putting this stuff online helps extend the reach and missions of organizations beyond local communities.
The Flynn Center for the Performing Arts fosters the enjoyment, understanding, and development of the performing arts in Vermont through diverse and engaging artistic experiences. As Vermont’s premier home for performing arts programming and education, the Flynn collaborates with artists, organizations, schools, and the community to encourage the creation, appreciation, and understanding of the arts. In the theater and online, the Flynn seeks to nurture a vibrant arts community, foster artistic excellence, and bring people together for powerful shared experiences that inspire a creative exchange of ideas.
Social media is not a transactional space; it is a space to generate an animated conversation. The first thing I did was dismantle the singular voice. I have multiple people post. I also post as myself and re-tweet as the Flynn.
We also invite people to post for us in different media. For instance, we invite visiting artists to take over our Instagram account. For our blog on Tumblr, we have a partnership with the Burlington Writer’s Project and we offer them a pair of free tickets if they do a blog piece pre-show and a blog piece post-show. We only edit for grammar; we don’t edit for content.
We don’t try to control the conversation or defend the conversation. It’s really important that if it is a community—and we really want it to be a community—there can be dissenters. It’s important to not squelch dissent. If it works properly, and if you have built a community, the community will rise up and support the dialogue. If something is wrong, you can correct it, but the institution shouldn’t be in a defensive mode.
What we talk about internally are mission moments. We have 38,000 kids who come to our student matinees. When a teacher shares an experience about what a seven-year-old said to her on the way out, it’s magical for us. So we want to share those kinds of things. We keep thinking: “How can others speak for us?” It’s all about multiple voices, emotion, engagement and people seeing themselves at the Flynn.
We are a rental space so we cross-promote. We don’t see these other nonprofits as our competition, but as our community. There is greater payoff to being less insular. It’s about the community—all of this is happening at the Flynn!
There is a through line to all our mission moments. It’s about how people have found joy in the arts and the transformative power of the arts. So it’s not just about featuring great shows, but here’s some background, some more writing about it, some examples of it, some experiences of it—and here’s you in it.
In January Donald Trump rented our theatre. We receive federal and state dollars and previously we had rented to Senator Leahy, who is a Democrat. So there was no justified reason that we could say no to Mr. Trump. We live in a very progressive community here and negative commentary went out on Facebook and Twitter. I urged all staff not to defend or get involved in the conversation. We of course had our message: we’re not endorsing any candidate, and there is a 1st amendment, so we’re allowing the conversation to happen. Eventually that turned around and it became very positive in support of the Flynn, which was terrific, but for 48 hours it didn’t feel so good for our staff.
I have urged our staff in their own personal social media to be politically neutral. That has been a heated conversation internally, but, as I’ve reminded people, if you’re the Artistic Director or the Director of Education and you’re out in your own social media attacking any political party, you’re assuming that all our donors, or members, or audience members share that same ideology, which is not true. It think in the social media world, we wear multiple hats and none of them are in siloes anymore.
Empowering others is essential to our strategy. It is about us in a community and how to invite multiple voices in. When we have interns they’ll sometimes ask, “What do you want me to write?” I say, “Whatever you want to say about your experience here.” It is very important to me that when people go to our blog they see multiple voices. Sometimes the artists themselves will re-tweet a blog post and that will get a lot of traction. When you invite multiple voices in and empower them, they will also repost things on social media. So you immediately get a viral engagement that you don’t get if it’s just one-way transactional relationship. One post gets immediately multiplied because you have multiple stakeholders.
We are speaking to many communities and as a public institution we have to be reminded of that and encourage the dialogue. Our community is reflected through our voices. It is always plural.
When the Trump tension was at it’s most heated, it was really fun to see people’s reactions—for and against. I liked when people were supporting us, of course. I loved when teenage girls were writing to other people saying, “Don’t you understand the power of the first amendment?” This is great that we’re having this conversation in our community. The Bernie people and Trump people were both outside and it was a very porous line between the stage and the park where people were protesting. The whole community was here and that’s fantastic.
In expanding work online, some people wonder, “Why do we need to do this?” We need to do it because that’s where the eyeballs are. That’s where the communities are having conversations. If we’re not part of that space, we’re not part of that dialogue. I also had to encourage people to understand that there is a dialogue; it’s multiple stakeholders, not just us. I wasn’t looking for one singular voice and there was concern about protecting the brand. But including voices expands the brand—we’re more embracing, more porous.
Likewise, don’t think that the 24 year-old employee is the only one who should be involved. People want to hear from staff at all levels. We become a fully embodied organization in that way.
With exception of sponsored posts on Facebook, don’t think it’s going to be about selling tickets. It’s all part of the joy and the unexpected nature and the fun of being at the Flynn. Snap a picture of Béla Fleck doing sound check and share it! It’s better than just saying, “Buy a ticket to Béla Fleck.” Because you’re really saying the same thing!
Located just blocks from downtown Durham, the Museum of Life and Science creates a place of lifelong learning where people of all ages embrace science as a way of knowing about themselves, their community, and their world. Situated on 84-acres, the interactive science park includes a two-story science center, one of the largest butterfly conservatories on the East Coast, and beautifully landscaped outdoor exhibits which are safe havens for rescued black bears, lemurs, and endangered red wolves.
We reached out to Ranger Greg Dodge, who writes the museum’s Nature Watch blog, to learn about how he uses his voice to give audiences a peek at the “nature in between” the larger exhibits.
It was suggested that I author a nature blog here at the museum due to my background in natural history and my penchant for finding and pointing out to visitors or guests at the museum plants, frogs, snakes, birds, insects, whatever might be present at the time that was of interest to me. There are many outdoor exhibits here at the museum that range from red wolves to a sailboat pond with remote control boats. Guests are constantly strolling along the paths that wind through acres and acres of woodlands and wetlands that lead to those exhibits. There’s a lot of nature in between.
Besides interpreting the outdoor exhibits for guests or answering questions like “where is the restroom” or “how do I get back to the main building” I thought it my duty to inform folks of certain aspects of nature that they may be walking past, unaware. It’s in my nature to want to share what I see with others, and being a Ranger at the Museum gives me an excuse and an opportunity to stop and talk to people who I might not ordinarily come in contact with.
At first, I was reluctant to jump into a blog. Having come from a background of video production, I wanted to somehow incorporate video into the Museum’s website. That wasn’t an option at the time. A blog and twitter was the way to go. I would most definitely need a camera to help convey whatever it was that I was going to say on the blog. One photo can often communicate much more than a page full of words. I was given a camera. Many of the posts are photo heavy. Since, the blog has evolved into part identification guide, part calendar of events, science journal, and anecdote.
A concern was that I would be writing for a potentially wide audience and representing an organization much larger than myself. Of course, I wouldn’t be saying anything controversial but I would need to be accurate in what I did say. I planned to do so regardless, but when speaking for or representing more than just yourself the thought of accuracy in reporting does cross one’s mind, or should.
The first few months of postings were simply listings of all of the “sightings” I had had on the museum campus during the previous week, what birds, insects, or other animals I had seen, or what plants were in bloom at the time. That can be interesting on one level but can quickly become boring and repetitive. I realized that I should simply be myself, and yes, make note of what observations I was having, but enhance or expand on certain subjects. If a subject strikes me as particularly interesting or unusual, I expand and include background information on that subject.
Conversations with museum visitors and frequently asked questions often initiate blog posts. Visitors asking, “Is that snake poisonous?” or “Is that a copperhead?” when looking at a water snake might prompt a posting on the difference between a venomous snake and a non-venomous snake, or copperhead vs. water snake, how to identify each.
I have a keen interest and curiosity about nature and am interested in helping other people who are also curious, or perhaps help spark any latent curiosity within them. One aspect of nature leads to another, all things are connected. If a person can appreciate one aspect of nature they soon see that it’s all interrelated. I prefer to present the material in a way that is not too scientific or esoteric, which tends to turn people off, especially those in the early stages of discovery. Present the material in a friendly, conversational manner. That, I think, is what the audience has come to expect. Although we are the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science, most of our visitors are not hardcore scientists, yet.
Dear (name of potential board member),
I’m beginning to experiment with new ways of engaging people online with (my institution), and I’m creating an “advisory board” of people that inspire me. I’m writing to see if you’d have the time to receive the occasional update from me about my progress and challenges. There’d be no required or expected response on your part, though if you ever wanted to chime in with advice or encouragement, that’d be welcome.
Optional: The other members of the board are: (names and/or generic descriptions)
I know we’re all strapped for time, so if you don’t have the bandwidth for this, I completely understand. I’ve got a few “Plan B” alternates I can revisit and ask. Do let me know if you’re interested, thanks!
When you mess up, it’s human nature to focus on what went wrong. Fortunately, it’s also human nature to learn from our mistakes. The next time something goes wrong, intentionally choose the latter.
Look for evidence of what you and your organization learned instead of evidence on how you failed. Brainstorm what you’d change if (when) you try again. This perspective not only helps from an emotional point of view, it can help you communicate to others about what happened. Consider all of your digital engagement efforts as experiments, the results (failure or success) of which are purely data to be understood and applied to the next experiment.
As you already know, the digital landscape is ever evolving. Algorithms change, audiences sign up and sign out, devices are upgraded, and new ways of sharing are invented and abandoned. What’s popular today will be different tomorrow, even if users don’t want it to change. An attitude of “we’ve already done that” isn’t really true, because whatever platform, audience, or features you used then are surely different today.
This doesn’t mean you can’t learn from what you’ve done before and it shouldn’t discourage you from investing in one platform or media type for the long haul. But if you find yourself or a colleague saying “no” to an idea that’s been tried, consider treating it like an experiment. Look for the data (what happened before) and identify elements that are different now, or that you can alter, to test the idea again. Make it small, define something to measure, give it a timeline, and try it.
This approach gives ideas the opportunity to live if they work in an evolved environment, and it gives them the opportunity to go dormant if the conditions aren’t right.
The next time you feel paralyzed when you don’t know how to do something, take a few minutes (5-20) to write out what it’d be like if you had complete competence and confidence to do the task at hand. Include how you’d feel, what your interactions would be, who you’d interact with, and what would happen (from an optimistic viewpoint) as a result. You can also consider things like environment (online and off) and even the clothes you’d wear or the music you’d listen to or the food you would eat.
Now, pretend to be that person. You don’t have to do the thing you’re paralyzed to do right away, though. You can pretend to be that person while you check your emails in the morning, or getting coffee in the breakroom, or having a conversation over lunch.
Occupy the headspace and habits of the kind of person that wouldn’t be paralyzed, and see how that changes your ability to make space and progress to behaving as he or she would.
Most everything you can post online can be either edited or deleted and so it may be tempting to remove posts with mistakes. At the same time, hiding or erasing can backfire and may make your followers distrustful of your motives. And you can’t be sure someone hasn’t obtained proof of it via a screen grab or browser cache, as it’s easy to do.
The next time you make a mistake online, post a follow-up that explains the mistake instead of deleting the errant post. For typos and incorrect URLs, follow the five-minute rule: if it’s been less than five minutes, delete and re-post. If it’s been longer than five minutes, post a follow-up explaining what went wrong.
If you’re the type to open an account and post before you know what it’s for or why, establish a practice of embargoing your content for a set timeframe (depending on your style this could be anywhere from two weeks to six months). You can embargo content by making your account private, or by stashing whatever you’d post in an offline file. Consider reviewing with a trusted colleague or a select member or two of your audience for feedback.
If you’re the type to over plan, give yourself a deadline. We recommend the same two weeks to six months, given the nature of the project and your tendencies) and research until that point and no longer. Dancer and composer Twyla Tharp has some great words for the pitfalls of overplanning in her book, The Creative Habit.
The most productive artists I know have a plan in mind when they get down to work. They know what they want to accomplish, how to do it, and what to do if the process falls off track. But there’s a fine line between good planning and over planning. You never want the planning to inhibit the natural evolution of your work.
Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit
If you’re the type to ask for permission instead of forgiveness, consider using the following guidelines the next time you’ve got an idea.
A little common sense goes a long way online. Most of the examples people use to illustrate how bad things can happen to people and organizations online don’t follow this simple guideline.
If you have a feeling that there’s something not quite right, respect that instinct, take a break, and reassess the next day. Better yet, talk to a colleague that you trust and admire for their risk-taking and use their reaction and advice to inform how you’ll proceed.
Make It @ Your Library is a team developed by 5 librarians, via a grant through ILEAD USA. Make it @ Your Library provides free maker resources to the library community, and has done so through partnerships with Instructables.com, The Knight Foundation Prototype Fund, and the Illinois State Library. The Make It @ Your Library team, comprised of Amy Killebrew, Elizabeth Ludemann, Katy Hite, Allison Parker, and Vicki Rakowski, encourages the adoption and adaptation of maker culture into library culture. They’ve done so through things like sharing a curated selection of manageable, inexpensive hands-on projects to circulating 3D Printers to libraries.
We were drawn to the story of how Make It @ Your Library saw a need and created a cross-organizational group to fulfill this need, collaborating to create a presence that exists solely online. We reached out to Vicki Rakowski and Katy Hite to learn more about how they faced the anxiety and challenges of getting started.
In the beginning of both the group and our initial foray into social media, our biggest fear was that people wouldn’t find us, or if they did, our mission wouldn’t resonate with them. That lack of resonance would look like: no “likes” or engagement of any substance.
What helped us gain confidence was that people seemed to respond to the information and community we put out through social media and web presence, and that removed a lot of the fear we felt while experimenting with what works for us as a group.
We certainly were nervous in the beginning, but those feelings lessened as we gained in confidence. One big difference about working in this particular group is that we never really feel alone. That experience in a professional setting is really rare. When one co-founder wants to try something, she can count on the others for feedback and support, as well as for evaluation. A big part of this is that we only have to answer to ourselves, and not a board or a larger organization. This experience has been unique in that way, and something we can compare to our day jobs as being quite different.
With Make it @ Your Library it was relatively early on, because we live online exclusively. But the thing that gave us confidence was when people started responding to us online. When we saw people repinning pins, or talking with us on Twitter, we realized that we were putting out information and creating a community that people wanted. That gave us a lot of courage.
Twitter is a great way to get new energy when it comes to a particular conversation. A big part of social media is just taking a step back and looking at what people seem to be interested in right at that moment. It may not apply directly to your voice or mission, but something will come up soon enough that resonates a little more that you can use.
Many of the mistakes we have made have been related to over-commitment. For example, one time we tried creating an online forum. We quickly learned that we simply did not have the time needed to monitor it, and we moved on. Your dreams are sometimes bigger than your capabilities! We have learned that it’s fine to keep things smaller and more constant rather than huge, splashy, and unsustainable.
Create a team, find your collective voice, and empower each other to move quickly.
This course was created to encourage small and under-resourced non-profit professionals to navigate the changing landscapes of digital engagement with a spirit of possibility, experimentation, and thoughtfulness.
Read more about what inspired the course and learn about its makers.