A Reality, A Challenge, An Adventure

Performing Arts Marketing Online

I’ve been working here at Schipul for almost a year now. I came here after 4+ years of working for the Society for the Performing Arts in Houston, TX. During this time, my mind has not strayed far from trying to find better ways for performing arts organizations to harness the power of the Internet to enhance audience development and, more importantly, sell more tickets.

This post is a first step in helping performing arts institutions to better understand and use the Internet for their organizations and their artists. I welcome your feeback, and hope you forward this on to anyone you know that works for a performing arts organization if you find it useful.

A Reality: Performing Arts needs SEO

You probably think an organization like Lincoln Center wouldn’t need Search Engine Optimization. You’re wrong.

Despite being quite familiar with their site, I had to Google them first to find their site. Today’s web user is very reluctant to start slapping .com on anything you want on the web.  For instance, try typing whitehouse.com into your browser. You will not find our President.

Need more proof? Take a look at this report from Google Insights about searches including the words lincoln and center. NOTE: These results are from New York state.

 

I don’t know about you, but I know Lincoln Center is in New York City. Yet above you can see that many people actually search for “lincoln center nyc” or “lincoln center ny”. Again, these are searched from the state of New York. The point here is that regardless of how strong your brand or position is in a patron’s mind, they will more likely be Googling you or the performer first.

Wait! Don’t go optimizing your performances just  yet. You need to develop your strategy first. You’re probably thinking you’ll succeed if you start optimizing around the same time you start marketing the performances through your other outlets. That’s not going to work. You need at least three months of continuous optimization to start getting attention of the great and powerful Google. This means your online marketing should not, in any way, be tied to your other marketing plans. Why?

Newspapers are dying because they thought reprinting their paper on the web was all they needed to do. They were wrong. You must market to an online audience (i.e. Google) if you want people to find your web site. This means you need to start treating Google like your oldest subscriber and donor.

A Challenge: Performing Arts needs Video

Do you remember when we all thought how crazy it was to have a camera on a cell phone? Now we have phones offering HD video! But there’s a HUGE drawback as it’s not so easy to transmit video via today’s web. However, as the Internet continues to become more mobile, and the transmission lines get faster and more widespread, sharing video is going to become as ubiquitous as photo sharing is today.

Today, many performing artists rely on photos to tell their story. Take this image from Diavolo’s Trajectoire.

But doesn’t this video do a better job of telling their story?

Of course, it’s not just about presenting it, it’s HOW you share the video. Take this video I’ve embedded from Alvin Ailey Dance Company. NOTE: Alvin Ailey has restricted our ability to share their videos to this format.

Revelations from AlvinAileyAmericanDanceTheater on Vimeo.

Not very impressive, is it? If you do decide to click on it, you will bear witness to one of the greatest displays of American choreography the world has ever seen. But if you’re like most web users, you are more likely to trust the Diavolo video link (32K+ hits) over the link from Alvin Ailey (26K+ hits).

Proving a picture is worth 6,000 clicks.

Artists and presenting organizations have to work together to provide better opportunities for patron video consumption. It’s not about showing entire pieces or performances, it’s about whetting the appetite of an audience that is starved for good content. And like we’ve seen above, how you allow your patrons and fans to present is important as well.

An Adventure: Check in, Experience the Performing Arts

Do you remember your reaction when you first heard someone talk about Twitter? It was probably the same reaction you have had listening to someone talk about Foursquare, Gowalla or SCVNGR. I must admit, I long fought against the location-based check in services. However, the more I learn about them, the more I begin to see the dawning of a new level of personal interaction.

The purpose behind these services isn’t to alert people of your location, it’s to tell a story about a location. Every time you walk into a special place, like a performing arts venue, a memory is made. You are not the person you were after you’ve walked into one of your special locations.

For a performing arts organization’s patrons, this is a regular experience every time they walk into your performance hall. The hall is your sandbox, and you now have some pretty amazing toys to play with in it. Whether you create photo contests with Instagram or Hipstamatic, or offer discounts to patrons who check in via Gowalla or SCVNGR, you now have the ability, generally for FREE, to create memories and expand your patrons’ experiences beyond the stage and performance.

Performing Arts Online

I want to explore these and other ways the Internet can be used to tell the story of performing arts over the course of this year. I can tell you now, the performing arts groups are not fully utilizing the power of the web to further their mission and vision. My goal, my New Year’s resolution, is to help change that.

I hope this is a first step in the right direction.

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