How social marketing has impacted the Minnesota Fringe Festival

Dominic P. Papatola,, 7/27/12

In 2007, the Minnesota Fringe Festival printed 110,000 programs to help audiences navigate the annual summertime bacchanal of theater, dance and alternative performance. This year: a mere 5,000 copies. That's the most eye-popping statistic demonstrating how social media has become the common language of the Fringe. Audiences can plot their play-going preferences on the festival's website or on a special site designed for smart phones. If the days of producers sending out show-touting postcards via snail mail aren't dead, they are certainly on life support as email and social networks become the new lifelines. For Fringe executive director Robin Gillette, the digital revolution has dramatically altered the administration and execution of the festival. In 2006, the festival sold about 15% of its tickets online. Last year, 31%. In 2008, the Fringe's website had fewer than 90,000 visits; last year, nearly 160,000 visitors. "I can't, of course, prove causation," Gillette said, "but between 2007 and 2011, our ticket sales increased 28%. I think it's at least clear that cutting back on printed material hasn't hurt us." In the pre-social media days, word of mouth was the primary way would-be audiences found out about promising shows among the 165 offerings in the festival. While lobby chatter is still vital to a show's success, the review section of the Fringe website, where audiences can critique and comment on specific shows, has exploded as a marketing device: In 2001, the first year the Fringe hosted audience input, about 300 reviews were submitted. Last year, 3,829 reviews were posted. But, like any other marketing tools, the Web and social media have to be used judiciously and intelligently to be effective. Gillette estimates that two-thirds of this year's Fringe Festival shows are using Facebook to get the word out, but not everyone is using the platform equally well: "It would be really rude if you and I sat down in a bar and I just kept saying, 'Hey, come see my show. Hey, come see my show. Hey, come see my show.' You have to treat it like a conversation." Fringe artists agree that while digital marketing can help a show stand out in the flurry of the Fringe, it's not the be-all and end- all. A great marketing effort can't save a lousy show, and at the end of the day, theater is a handmade craft that requires interaction that's more personal than electronic. "Sometimes I worry that the lobbies are going to become filled with people with their noses buried in their phones," Gillette said. "But I don't think social media can really replace what happens in the lobbies. The conversation is still alive and well. It's just evolving."


How social marketing has impacted a New Jersey arts advocacy group

Ann Marie Miller, Executive Director, Art Pride NJ Foundation, on Dodge Foundation blog, 7/9/12

The ArtPride New Jersey Foundation has discovered that one of the best ways to stay connected not only to the nonprofit arts community, but our constituents and potential constituents is through social media. While we are reinventing our website, we found that our Facebook page is a dynamic way to share spur of the moment happenings and ways to inspire through the arts. ArtPride's Facebook page has gone past virtual to IRL (in real life) to feature an annual gallery exhibit for those who "like" us. Twitter has offered ArtPride a way to extend our reach beyond in-person convenings for Arts Day in May and most recently at the Thrive conference held at Princeton University in early June. Our conference space was limited to 150 participants, but by coordinating "Twitter Teams" who tweeted notes using a common theme, or hashtag (#NJThrive12), we were able to reach over 15,000 people as far away as California and Canada with takeaways from the professional development conference that featured expert presenters on topics including advocacy, building audiences, and the use of hyperlocal media. Most recently, ArtPride has ventured into the world of Pinterest, which seems like a natural fit since its intent is to share visual media based upon personal interests. We've created a Pinterest board that links to our programs and another that is called "Inspiration Station," containing posters and quotes for those days you just need more than another cup of coffee to keep you going. Another Pinterest board holds infographics on clever ways to boost your social media profile and analytics. ArtPride Advocate Members, who enlist through the Jersey Arts Member Center, have become a special online audience and receive a dedicated e-newsletter called "The Inside Track," that offers exclusive insight into arts related issues and happenings including periodic "Movers and Shakers" events throughout the state. While ArtPride will continue to evolve online socially, we vow to never lose sight of opportunities to bring virtual friends, members, likers, and pinners together to network, interact, and come together in community -- exactly what the arts does best!


Commentary: A personal approach can greatly impact an arts org's social marketing

Ron Evans, Group of Minds blog, 7/2/12

I know that a lot of arts organizations struggle with best practices for social media. In this personal, social space, which isn't like any other form of "marketing," by now we know it's bad to just "sell sell sell." Here is an actual Facebook post I recently saw for the XYZ Ballet Company (names changed)

Come to our opening night performance of Romeo and Juliet this Saturday. Tickets are on sale now: 800-555-1212.

Who is speaking? The ballet company? People who work at ballet companies should be doing the talking. Sharing their real experiences. Their anticipation for a performance. With this in mind, how about this rewrite:

I can't believe opening night is three days away. Everyone here is so excited; there is this feeling in the air. We've never done Romeo and Juliet before, and I've avoided the rehearsal so I can be surprised on opening night! If you still need a ticket, call me at 800-555-1212 and I'll see what I can do to help you. Can't wait! -Ron

It's a story. It's excitement. It's transparent and real. It offers personalized help. It shows a real person, with a real name and signature. It implies that many tickets have been sold already but there still may be a chance for you to experience this one-time event of the first-time performance. And it is much more effective. I'm getting reports from clients that they are seeing double and even triple the numbers of likes, comments, shares, and retweets since implementing a personal voice instead of the institutional voice. For a live example of this at work, see Opera Australia's Facebook page which is run by the incredible Anna Mcdougall. She signs all posts. She signs all comments. And she gets personalized responses and a huge number of interactions. It is especially remarkable because I find that ballet, symphony, and opera companies have the hardest time making this marketing switch to having a personal voice -- they are usually very entrenched in traditional-style marketing voice, and consider it unprofessional to have this level of openness. But why? The evidence seems to show that personal social media voice gets more interactions. When you treat people like individuals instead of the "unknown public," when you present a real person who is passionate about the art form who helps other people to become passionate too, wonderful things can happen. 

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11 nonprofits that excel at social media

Heather Mansfield , Nonprofit Tech 2.0 blog, 7/30/12

Large nonprofits usually have the expertise and resources necessary to launch and maintain successful online communications and fundraising campaigns. They've been able to hire some of the most well-trained and experienced staff, consultants, and designers that work in the nonprofit sector. Small to medium-sized nonprofits with small to medium-sized marketing and communications budgets may not have the resources that many of the larger nonprofits do, but that doesn't mean your online communications campaigns can't be as good. Your nonprofit can learn a lot from [these] 11 (mostly large) nonprofits listed by simply following, liking, and subscribing to their e-newsletter, blog, Facebook Page, Twitter, YouTube Channel, etc. and then studying and duplicating their methods. How I chose the nonprofits is that I have a basic set of criteria that I use as a litmus test when I audit nonprofits and their social media campaigns. A small selection of that criteria is as follows:

  • Consistent use of a visually compelling square avatar across all social networks
  • Custom-designed Twitter and YouTube Channel backgrounds
  • Consistent publication of fresh content to a blog or website
  • Their website, e-newsletter, and blog all include links to their social networks
  • Their blog has an e-mail newsletter subscribe option and a "Donate Now" button
  • They consistently get retweeted, repinned, and reblogged and have an active fan base
  • The right balance of what kind of content to post on their social networks and how often
  • They are early adopters and boldly pioneer the Social Web

That said, none of the nonprofits listed met all the criteria (all are at 90% or more).  There's always room for improvement since social media best practices change as often as the tools themselves. Many best practices that were tried and true just 6-12 months ago no longer apply. A good social media manager understands this and evolves with their communities and quickly adapts as the tools themselves change. Finally, it was very tough to narrow it down to just eleven nonprofits. A hundred nonprofits could have easily made the list, but I'll tell you this: If I couldn't find links to their social networking communities on their website's homepage, then the nonprofit wasn't even considered.

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