Monday, 1 October 2012

On social media one... socializes

Image taken from Devon Smith´s presentation The science of social media building.
A commom assumption is that all means of communication serve one single purpose: advertising. And more specifically: advertising a calendar of events. Very often we come across various promotional materials advertising the same event (an exhibition, a concert, a theatre play, a debate), in various formats (outdoors, posters, postcards, leflets, newspapers, newspaper ads, TV and radio spots), all with the same information (what, when, where). I believe that the use of each promotional material should have a concrete objective. The choice of format, the contents to be introduced, the timings of distribution, they all contribute in the promotion of an event, but, beyond this and most of all, they contribute in building something larger in terms of communication: the idea, the feeling and the involvement one wishes people to have in relation to the institution or person that promotes it.

The social media are still a rather new means, which has not been adequately studied yet by the majority of us in terms of purpose, possibilities and impact. I am talking specifically about Facebook, the one I use the most. Following the activity of a number of institutions (both cultural and other), I reach the conclusion that, as a social medium, Facebook is, first of all, just that: a space to socialize. As a friend of mine says, we should look at it as a café, a public space where people converse and share – ideas, opinions, experiences, information. It´s a space where we want to be because... everybody else is there, because we want to be part, because we don´t want to be left out, because we also want to converse (especially about ourselves...). Based on my personal experience, organizations that do just that, converse, are the ones I feel more involved with, meaning I give like´s, I share and I comment (thus contributing for a specific post´s larger visibility). In the case of organizations that limit themselves to promoting their calendar events (and which also exagerate in the number of posts or post a number of them consecutively), I pass over them or even hide them from my news feed, letting my ‘friends’ do the sorting out of what´s more relevant and interesting (and then, yes, I do pay attention).

This has been my experience with using Facebook at a personal and professional level. In the meantime, and although the majority of us have not properly explored these means yet, this area has already got its specialists. I was very fortunate to meet one of them during a seminar at the Kennedy Center last July. Her name is Devon Smith, she is very young, clearly a specialist, and she holds the post of Director of Social Media in Threespot, an agency that designs digital engagement strategies for not-for-profit organizations. I learned a lot in that seminar (the presentation is available here and it´s very clear), while, at the same time, I saw one of my greatest suspicions being confirmed: Facebook doesn´t sell tickets...

This is exactly why we should carefully consider why we are there, which is the best way of guaranteeing our presence and what we expect to get out of it. Among what I learned with Devon Smith, my experience as a user and my ideas on what communication means for a cultural institution, here´s what I think:

Why are we on Facebook
- To talk with our ‘friends’, people who like us, who like our way of being, who like what we have to say, who like our work;

- To strengthen our brand, that is, the idea we want people to have about us, about what it is we stand for;

- To multiply our ‘friends’, because through the ones we have already got we can make more, helping to spread our word further and further and, thus, broadening our base of supporters.

How should we be on Facebook
Before anything else, I should say that I feel it is essential that our voice in this conversation is concrete, recognizable, the one our ‘friends’ are interested in listening to. Some time ago I wrote a post called Faces, where I was writing about the importance of humanizing our institutions, of giving them a face, because it is a way of creating a relationship with people, of involving them. In this case, it´s about the importance of also giving them a voice. And as Marc Sands, the brilliant Director of Marketing of Tate Modern, puts it, people don´t want to listen to him, they wish to ‘listen’ and ‘talk’ to Nicholas Serota, the museum director (it´s worth watching the video How to engage with new audiences in the gallery). The impact of a post is totally different when it is a museum director, an artistic director, an orchestra conductor, a director, an artist, talking about the event, inviting us, telling us why we cannot miss it, revealing secrets, sharing his/her inspirations, emotions, concerns. Afterwards, this is the voice that will be ‘shared’  and taken further and further by our ‘friends’ (those who are ‘friends’ with Jorge Silva Melo on Facebook know what I am talking about).

Image taken from Rijkmuseum´s page on Facebook.

Having said this, I believe there are a few more points we should be paying attention to:

- Conversing means abandoning our dry, institutional language and use a more human, direct, everyday tone, with a sense of humour. The best example among the institutions I follow is Rijksmuseum (it is worth watching the video Rembrandt´s timeline, the objective of which was to increase the number of fans of the museum´s Facebook page, or to follow the monthly voting for the Misses that will be part of a calendar the museum will produce)

- Conversing means talking, but also listening. And answering. Quite often, questions and comments by ‘friends’ and fans (mainly on the pages of known personalities, run by them or by their agents) remain unasnwered, putting an end to ‘communication’ (very good examples of portuguese artists conversing with their fans on personal pages are those of Mísia and Aldina Duarte). It is equally important to know how to deal with controversial or unpleasant comments. On of the best examples I´ve seen recently is the way Woolly Mammoth theatre dealt with the controversy around the re-staging of Mike Daisey´s monologue The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs (read here  and here). The theatre answered all comments on Facebook and did not hesitate to post on its page articles that severely criticised the option to re-stage the play, proving to be totally open to dialogue and encouraging more and more conversation... about itself (those posts are no longer available on the theatre´s timeline, but it´s worth becoming a fan of Woolly Mammoth, one learns a lot).

Answer of the Editor of Multimedia of the newspaper Expresso to a reader´s comment. More on the blog PiaR.

Finally, some common practices I think should be revised:

- It seems to me that it does make sense to consider the number of daily posts, should we really wish to keep our ‘friends´s´ attention (there are institutions that really overdo it, without having anything special to add to the conversation);

- Although posts containing photos generate more ‘conversation’ (likes, shares and comments), it doesn´t seem to make sense to post photos of a specific event one by one, in consecutive posts, instead of organized in an album; as it doesn´t make sense to post photos which our out of focus, badly taken, various shots of the same scene or of the same moment in a conference or debate;

- Posts with calendar information are not interesting at all, they have little or nothing to do with Facebook´s nature, they don´t stimulate conversation (much less sell tickets). They actually give you the feeling that a seller is trying to impose something on you, something that... doesn´t sell (with or without a good reason).

So, in the end, what do we expect to get out of all this? A conversation. A good conversation. Moments of wonder, of laughing, of surprise, of discovery, of pleasure, of complicity, which make our ‘friends´seek our company more and more, both virtual and... real company.

Devon Smith, Case studiesof theatres using social media (presentation)

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