Keep those cards and letters coming

When I was a kid, Dean Martin (whose show I really despised, by the way…remember his female dance line “The Golddiggers”?) used to close his show with the phrase “keep those cards and letters coming.”  According to the trusty internet, the line originated with a Cincinnati, Ohio disc jockey, but after Dean Martin used it, it became part of pop culture.  Keep those cards and letters coming — let us know you’re out there, that you’re watching, that you care.

We talk a lot about social media enabling a two way (or multidirectional) conversation, in contrast to broadcast media, where one side broadcasts something out into the void and hopes that it will be received.  In social media, the feedback can be immediate and interactive.  In broadcast media, unless you’re hosting a talk show, you have to wait a while to hear what your audience thinks.  But with both broadcast and social media, the philosophy is the same: get the audience involved, and they will be more loyal to your program.

Commercial entertainment has done this well — perhaps even too well in our celebrity obsessed society.  The not-for-profit arts? Mixed results.  Okay, I’ll give you this: we’re comparing media with media, and until the advent of social media, it was harder (and more expensive) for the not-for-profit arts to take advantage of media technology.   Many of us (and I’ll include myself on the list) have for too long scorned the “lowest common denominator” attitude that we perceived was a part of mass communicated entertainment.  We were the arbiters, the high priests of art.  Nobody came to the arts except through us.

It’s a different world now, and the lines are a lot more blurry.  I can go to YouTube and within 30 seconds I’m watching one of the greatest (IMHO) opera performances of all time, Maria Callas singing Vissi d’Arte from Tosca. 

I can also watch Katie Couric being auto-tuned.    So there you go.

We’ve got a panoply of options for interacting with audiences.  We can do this old school by sending board members out into the lobby to talk with patrons, or we can take advantage of the opportunities Facebook and YouTube offer us. But we need to do it – because our audiences are doing it, and they expect to be able to interact with any business or organization that wants their patronage.

So what are your thoughts? What are some ways that arts organizations can interact with audiences in positive, productive ways?

Keep those cards and letters…and blog comments…coming!

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About Ellen Rosewall

I am Professor and Chair of Arts Management and author of Arts Management: Uniting Arts and Audiences in the 21st Century (Oxford University Press, 2013). I believe that arts and culture are undergoing a profound change in the 21st century, and I love talking with people about how we continue to bring arts to our communities and individuals give the brave new world of social media, technology and economic changes. Join the conversation!
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7 Responses to Keep those cards and letters coming

  1. Bari says:

    First I love this blog and I can’t wait to read more and I hope that you continue it beyond your class.

    I also want to say that even though social media is out there we have to use caution when using it, and here is why. A year ago the NPO that I was working for decided to jump into the social media fray and it blew up in our face. We jumped first without thinking of how to use the tools. In essence we didn’t do our homework and we were guilty of thinking using social media for our org would be as easy as how we used social media to keep our friends posted about our own lives. Therefore I say social media is great but we have to treat it just like any other media, plan first apply second.

  2. Absolutely right, Bari. I’m planning on dealing with this issue in future posts. Social media is like a cocktail party, right? Gotta know the social rules!

  3. Mark Zirbel says:

    A great example. For three years running, a small-market community festival in Wisconsin has successfully combined traditional media (broadcast, print ads, flyers) along with social media (Facebook, YouTube) to create a flurry of interest.

    The annual buildup starts with e-mails to major partners. After preliminary meetings with these groups, organizers post invitations on Facebook for lead-up events, such as dinners, art exhibitions, and athletic contests – activities which, over time, build community interest in the project.

    As festival D-Day approaches, the Facebook page is heavily pumped at lead-up events. Facebook is then used for all-important volunteer recruitment. Final touches include “old school” commercials and print ads, along with a “viral” online video.

    This organization’s diverse media approach has proven successful, and it shows how important flexibility is for today’s NFP marketers.

  4. Sandy Simpson-Kraft says:

    I hate to point back to the Sound of Music, but if the shoe fits…It started with an activity in time that has gone VIRAL in the virtual world. It allows millions of people across the world to participate in that activity.

    When in DC recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a “sit-in” at the Greensboro, NC Woolworth’s counter. Kudos to the Smithsonian for creating an experience that was not static! However, it was disappointing to come home, click into the Web site, and find not one way I could engage–or share the experience with others–except with a static description of what happened in Greensboro, NC that day.

    It is in participating and sharing that we can create community with the arts. Not sure this is specific enough.

    Sandy

  5. @Mark, are you talking about the Pride Fest? If so, I think that is an excellent example, and also an example of a situation where “traditional” marketing might not work — the organization has no venue where people can pick up materials and is new enough to just be establishing a mailing list. It also lends itself well to social media because that is often how target audiences for this festival communicate. Thanks for sharing!

    • Mark Zirbel says:

      Yes, Ellen, I was referring to “Pride Alive” in Green Bay. It’s such a regional reference, so I thought a more general description would relate better to this blog’s audience. For those interested in more specifics, please check out newpride.org, or e-mail info@newpride.org attn. Andrea or Andrew. I’m sure they can fill you in!

  6. And here is the link to the viral video that Sandy was talking about: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EYAUazLI9k. It’s a good example of using social media to spread a message, but I question it as an effective bit of marketing. Most people who look at this video have no idea how it was produced, that it was a stunt for a local theater, and it’s unclear if it benefitted the theater. That, I think, might be an example of what Bari was talking about…know what you’re doing before you do it in order for it to be effective.

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