The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently published an article on how not-for profits – which tend to have much smaller budgets than for-profit businesses — use social media. “The challenge, especially for the greater than 1 million smaller organizations with tight budgets and limited staff, is how to use scarce resources most effectively to reap the benefits,” says a new 10-page report by the Rita Allen Foundation and the Bridgespan Group. “But in the rush to “go social,” many nonprofits are failing to think through their strategy, define their target audience, match online tactics to real world goals, or consider how they might measure success and learn from failure.”
The hard truth is, you cannot simply adapt offline strategies and post them online. “The web is not TV. Organizations that understand the New Rules of Marketing and PR develop relationships directly with consumers…”
This should be great news for not-for-profit Arts institutions, as it offers opportunities to interact directly with audiences. And yet some Arts institutions have held back, sticking to traditional media and neglecting social media all together, or worse, limiting its use to a mere dabble here and there, frequently damaging the ‘brand’ more than helping. While seemingly low-cost, Social Media does require regular maintenance, making it labor intensive.
That said, while many arts institutions still question how to best use social media. Beyond posting events, luring fans and offering occasional trivia contests or free tickets, questions remain (as they do throughout the business world) on how to best further engage constituents.
Below are some case studies that offer examples of the creative ways arts organizations and others have used Social media.
American Museum of Natural History: The Blue Whale:
“I am the whale on the ceiling of the Natural History Museum in New York City.”
The Blue Whale – one of the most popular attractions at the American Museum of Natural History on New York City’s, Upper
West Side, has been tweeting since late 2008. He has over 14,000 followers and regularly tweets about visitors and current events. Young people have been known to visit the whale, just to see what ‘he’ will say about them.
Théâtre du Nouveau Monde (TNM): Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme
While frivolously tweeting away in classical French verse, characters from Molière’s play introduced themselves to a new clientele. Three profiles were created – the Bourgeois, his wife and the Marquise – and social media hosts were hired to “play them.”
“Deceits, anachronisms, ribaldries and misunderstandings: they held nothing back. The characters not only interacted with each other but also directly with young Twitter users who were exposed to the verbal thrusts and parries of characters many of whom they did not know from Adam.”
TNM and its media specialists also identified top “influencers” on Twitter in Quebec (people with high Twitter ratings whose interests touched on technological innovation or culture). The results?
In one month, the Molière characters attracted a total of 1,045 subscribers on Twitter and sent out more than 1,000 tweets. This generated visibility to more than 60,000 people and a secondary visibility of more than 600,000 people. Even more importantly, there was such a demand for tickets, that TNM needed to extend the run for four additional performances. The originality and never-seen-before character of the initiative had an impact extending Canada-wide in the Web media and the traditional press, the equivalent to a traditional press campaign worth tens of thousands of dollars.
Lionsgate: The Hunger Games
Speaking about a record-breaking success of a worldwide commercial phenomenon may not seem relevant when addressing the not-for-profit realm, but there are lessons to be learned from Liongate’s use of social media. As Brooks Barnes writes in his piece in the Business section of the New York Times called, “How ‘Hunger Games’ Built Up Must-See Fever,”
“The dark art of movie promotion increasingly lives on the Web, where studios are playing a wilier game, using social media and a blizzard of other inexpensive yet effective online techniques to pull off what may be the marketer’s ultimate trick: persuading fans to persuade each other.”
The article goes on to describe the yearlong digital effort focusing on “near-constant use of Facebook and Twitter, a YouTube channel, a Tumblr blog, iPhone games and live Yahoo streaming from the premiere.”
A quick peek at the movie’s Facebook page reveals sophisticated use of Facebook Pages “apps” with a number of games, guarded by a “Like: Gatepost” with opportunities to enter polls, interact, become a “Mayor of Panem,” etc. Key also was
the planning and monitoring: one team member was assigned to cultivate “Hunger Games” fan blogs; the senior VP created a chronology for the entire online effort, using spreadsheets (coded in 12 colors) that detailed what would be introduced on a day-by-day, and even minute-by-minute, basis over the length of the campaign.
The key element in all three examples is “engagement.” Audiences are cultivated as active participants, not passive recipients. Scale need not be the issue — whether its simple tweets from a unique perspective or a multi-million dollar, complex strategy: if you engage you spark interest and cultivate audiences.
 “Tweeting For a Better World,” by Sivan Nemovicher, Elizabeth Good Christopherson, Jill Nagle, and Jonathan Kartt The BridgeSpan Group”, http://www.bridgespan.org/tweeting-for-a-better-world.aspx
 “The New Rules of Marketing & PR,” by David Meerman Scott.