How do you spell success? F-a-c-e-b-o-o-k?

Nobody likes them, they say, but if they didn’t work we wouldn’t have them.  Public radio pledge drives?  Tetanus shots?  Of course I’m talking about political advertising.

No, this post isn’t about negative ads, although I could get good and riled up about that — and you would most likely agree with everything I said.  Since we’ve been talking about social media, I think it’s only fair that we put our candidates under the same microscope we’ve been using for arts organizations and other businesses for the past couple of months.

I’ve been seeing a lot of articles attempting to analyze the effect of social media on this year’s political campaigns.  NPR has a good story, and I even like the take in yesterday’s Green Bay Press Gazette.  The essence of most of the articles I’ve read seems to be that Facebook and Twitter seem to be required these days, but few candidates use them successfully.   As Timothy Dale, political science professor at UW-Green Bay says in the Press Gazette article,  most candidates use Facebook and Twitter sites for news posts and fundraising appeals, but “it’s wasted resources if it’s not going to result in votes.”

The trouble is, it’s hard to measure whether or not a social media presence results in votes, and it’s hard to prove that a successful social media presence is an essential part of a successful campaign.  Many media pundits point to Sarah Palin as an exemplar of social media use…she has over 2.3 million Facebook friends and almost 300,000 Twitter followers and her tweets and Facebook posts are often quoted by other media.  But by Tim Dale’s measure, Palin has not been successful because she hasn’t won anything (at least since the advent of social media).  Whether she can be credited with delivering votes for others…well that’s a different story, and much harder to measure.

One problem with measuring social media success is the very nature of social media.  The object is to get people to respond, to interact, and to spread your message for you.  When the message goes beyond the borders of the organization’s message, it is no longer controllable by the organization.  Someone may well be enticed to vote for a candidate, or purchase a ticket to an arts event, because of something they saw posted on a friend’s page.  Does that count?

Some organizations spend a lot of time just collecting friends, and I’m not sure that is the best use of their time.  Clicking “like” is a very easy thing to do — and it doesn’t mean much of anything other than that your new friends will see your posts in their news feed.  It’s very much like signing up to be on someone’s mailing list because you’re required to do so in order to enter a contest.  Sure, you’re now on the list, and you’ll get their materials, but how far is that along the line to actually buying something?  And in the meantime, how much is the organization spending to send you stuff?  At least with social media, the messages you get are free – but even easier to ignore.

Our next task in the social media class is to try and to come up with some measures of success for social media in arts organizations.  What are your thoughts?  How do you define social media success?

Because the LAST thing that most arts organizations need are more things to do that don’t really have much impact on the success of the organization.


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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5 Responses to How do you spell success? F-a-c-e-b-o-o-k?

  1. Students, the answer to the question this week, much as I hate to admit it, is “Sarah Palin.”

  2. Sarah Palin and her 2.3 facebook followers

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