Commentary: On the Internet, the rise of the amateur critic

Alison Croggon, Theatre Notes blog, 4/14/11

The rise of [a] critic who simply writes about art because he or she wants to has, with an astonishing swiftness, broken the monopoly of the mass media, and I think that is only good: now a diversity of response is beginning to match the diversity of the work that is made....  [T]hose who never had a public voice, the audience themselves, can add their two cents to the polyphony.... This is the democratisation of opinion, which is where we started. What's new is not the existence of this opinion but its public airing.   People have always had opinions; for as long as there have been theatres, audience members have been starstruck, or have muttered darkly as they left foyers. It mightn't be reviewing, necessarily, but it is and always has been part of the discourse around art. What's so bad about listening to what audiences have to say?  Corporations find this power terrifying, because it's uncontrollable: but the arts company prepared to listen and imaginatively participate will learn a lot about the people who see their work, and more, can build up an invaluable fount of goodwill, an active relationship, with their audiences.  What the internet means is that more people are talking about art. They are talking about it because it moves them - it angers them, or pleases them, or excites them. They connect in small, volatile communities: some might last a microsecond, others might endure for years. They are not waiting - if they ever did - for some authority to come along and tell them what they think. Some are speaking from areas of deep expertise while others are not, but in the age of twitter and blogs, that's just the beginning of a conversation. As an arts manager once said to me, anything is better than the white death of silence. And the chatter online sounds like life to me.


UK study: Increase in arts website visitors looking to participate digitally

The Stage, 4/21/11

The number of people participating in culture online increased by almost 10% in 2010, according to the [UK] government's annual Taking Part survey. The research shows that the proportion of adults who had "participated digitally in culture" in England increased from 25.1% in the year 2008/09 to 34.8% in 2010. More than 40% of those who had participated in 2010 said they had visited theatre and concert websites.  Digital participation is defined in the survey as visiting a culture website for any reason other than buying tickets or for finding out information such as the venue's opening hours. This includes visiting a theatre website to view or download an arts performance or to discuss the arts.  John Benfield, the Royal Shakespeare Company's head of digital media, said: "Now, before people make a decision to see something, do something, spend their time, spend their money, they do a lot of research.... The more content you create, whether it is around the production or blogs on events, blogs on our productions or behind the scenes - what it is like to work in casting, what's it like to be a stagehand - the more material you create like that, the greater the ownership the audience has of the organisation because they understand it more."  The survey shows significant increases in the percentage of people participating in culture digitally in all of the English regions. However, it reveals that people living in the least deprived areas of the country have almost double the digital participation rate of those living in the most deprived areas (48.7% against 24.5% respectively).  Benfield said: "To a certain extent, you are providing new information to existing audiences."


Commentary: What the arts get wrong in social media

Clayton Smith, Asking Audiences blog, 4/1/11

Imagine you're at a cocktail party with 100 other people. It's Friday night, the food is great, most of your friends are there, and, martini in hand, you're looking forward to having a good time.  But every ten minutes, a man you think you know but can't quite place comes over and tries to sell you a blow dryer.  You think, "Well this is a strange place for a salesman to make a pitch," but he seems harmless, so you politely say, "No, thank you," and get back to your friends.  Ten minutes later, he's back. He tells you he has world-class blow dryers and boy, would you be crazy to pass them up! This time you tell him, a little more curtly, "No, thanks."  Ten minutes later, he offers you a two-for one discount. You tell him you're not interested, please stop asking.  Another ten minutes, and he interrupts to tell you that it's a special edition blow dryer, available only to people at this cocktail party. You tell him no once and for all and demand that he leave you alone.  But when you go to get another drink, there he is at the bar.... You can see where I'm going with this. The cocktail party is the social media universe, and, unfortunately, the blow dryer salesman is many of us marketers, peddling our products in the social space as if it were a traditional one-way medium. A theater's "Buy one ticket, get one half off" headline might be great for an ad, but as a Facebook status, it shuts down any conversation before it can even begin. Programs like Facebook and Twitter offer us a chance to be something more than a pixelated billboard. They give us the opportunity to really communicate with, and not at, our target audiences, and they challenge us to experiment with entirely new, creative methods of connecting. Don't be the guy hard-selling the blow dryer. Be the guy collecting peoples' most embarrassing hair fiascos. Be the guy hosting a "Design a Blow Dryer" contest. Be the guy offering fifty bucks to the first person to use the blow dryer to melt the ice sculpture. 


How to track what people are saying about you online

FROM TC: There are a number of free online tools that allow you to easily track discussion of your arts organization in social media.  Here are a few you might want to check out:


Please consider the environment before printing out this email.  Thanks.
YOU'VE COTT MAIL is a free service for professionals in the arts.  Emails are sent most weekdays. 
If you are not already on the distribution list and would like to sign up, please click here:

Join Our Mailing List      Follow me on Twitter     
Click here to view an archive of recent past editions of "You've Cott Mail."