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!