THE BLOG
09/09/2013 08:07 am ET Updated Nov 09, 2013

The Power and Limits of Social Media

We have witnessed over the last decade the most powerful changes in arts marketing since my career began almost 30 years ago. The advent, and rapid acceptance, of social networking technology have led to new communications approaches that are flexible, potent and inexpensive.

At the same time, we have seen arts organizations using web sites and email blasts with increasing focus and sophistication.

We now have the ability to reach huge numbers of people with little effort or expense. People in our communities can now communicate with us through Facebook and Twitter. And they can influence their friends and associates to participate in our activities through online endorsements.

I have heard more board members than I can count say to me and others: "The key to success in the arts today is to have an active social networking strategy. This is the way to attract younger audiences." I do not disagree at all that every arts organization must rethink its approach to programmatic marketing -- the way we sell our services. We can save money and sell more tickets at the same time, a remarkable win-win opportunity in this era of reduced demand and austerity.

But I fear that the power of social media is being touted by many who are not aware that there are other forms of marketing that are just as essential. In fact social networking activities are not a panacea. They are tools for reaching large numbers of people, inexpensively, but they are not yet the tools that bind people to us enough to make them major donors, board members or volunteers.

But we need other, more personal and engaging activities as well.

We need the one-on-one vehicles that foster true engagement and, ideally, encourage people to take a more active role with our organization than simply being an audience member. Without the personal touch, it is difficult to raise the large sums, attract the volunteers and build the boards we need to support major arts projects.

We also need the institutional marketing activities that impress upon people that we are exciting and fun organizations with which to engage. When we mount exhibitions about our history and accomplishments, present truly special events that are exciting and surprising, announce important new programs or major new grants, form joint ventures with other major organizations (in the arts or out), appear on television and radio, and collaborate with major artists, we give people a reason to want to become more involved with our organizations.

Yes, social media can amplify the impact of any of these activities but a single tweet or Facebook post is not enough to bring wide acclaim. We must include social media as a vital ingredient in a comprehensive institutional marketing program, but not focus exclusively on it.

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