The 2006 Orchestra Website Review: Special Recognition Awards

During every orchestra website review, several orchestras deserve special recognition for how well they satisfied the requirements for each category or subcategory as well as demonstrating particular originality and creativity for specific website components…

The 2006 Orchestra Website Review evaluations are broken down into five categories, each with several subcategories. Although an individual orchestra may have had an overall low score that certainly doesn’t imply that they didn’t do a particularly good job at satisfying the requirements of any individual category or any of its subcategories.

The Special Recognition awards are designed to highlight individual achievements among orchestra websites and to promote them as benchmarks within the business.

In 2005, the Detroit Symphony combined the idea of an interactive monthly concert calendar with a flash based pop-up frame. The result allows patrons to hover their mouse pointer over a date on the calendar and the respective concert info appears immediately to the right along with a nice graphic (usually of a soloist or conductor). In 2006, Detroit continues to offer this outstanding feature and was matched by similar offerings from the Chicago Symphony, the Grand Rapids Symphony, and to a lesser extent by several other orchestras.

Although not as advanced as Detroit’s system, the West Virginia Symphony and Colorado Springs Philharmonic were able to implement a similar feature that provided concert info by hovering the mouse pointer over a calendar date. This is a wonderful example of how smaller budget orchestras can deliver a high quality website component that makes it even easier for patrons to find concerts and buy tickets.

Without a doubt, the Nashville Symphony has set the new standard for how orchestras should allow patrons to select their seats. Details of their virtual fly-though seat selection can be found in the article from 9/25/06 or you can visit their seating chart to discover just how much fun it is to find your ideal seat.

Another new feature that began to take shape in 2006 was the advent of helping new ticket buyers determine which concert they might want to attend. In particular, the San Francisco Symphony offers a handy feature they call a Concert Concierge which helps patrons select concerts based on mood, performer, period, or time frame. If that’s not enough, they even have a separate list of Staff Picks, although I think it would have been nice to have some of the musicians select concerts as well. In general, the SFS website is a good example of how orchestras are beginning to take online customer service seriously.

Although it could stand to be displayed more prominently, the Detroit Symphony offers a list of Best Sellers concerts, providing a beacon for ticket buyers that like to follow the crowd.

Finally, two smaller budget ensembles have found ways that allow patrons to select individual seats when purchasing tickets: the Harrisburg Symphony and Toledo Symphony.

For the third straight year, the Oregon Symphony receives special recognition for the best method for showcasing the musicians. The formula remains unchanged since it was introduced in the 2004-2005 season but it’s still a winner.

At the same time, the National Symphony has updated their Meet The Musicians page to include a flash based interface where you can see a picture of each player by hovering your mouse pointer over their respective instrument in the orchestra layout map. Even better, the organization has enhanced their Learn More video feature with a series of highly polished video interview segments about each member of the orchestra.

I was particularly impressed with the Stephen Dumaine interview. During a portion of the final interview, Stephen, the NSO principal tubist, is describing the sound of one of his smaller tubas. While he’s talking about playing it during a solo in Mahler’s Symphony No.1, they fade away to a video him actually playing the solo from a performance of Mahler Symphony No. 1 from 2004. I don’t know if every musician interview has this same level of production quality but this particular example will knock your socks off.

If we can combine the production values from the National Symphony video series along with Oregon’s ability to let patrons make a personal connection with musicians through the relaxed nature of their player profiles, we would see a much stronger connection between community and orchestra throughout the entire field.

The Las Vegas Philharmonic deserves special kudos for being the only orchestra to offer both biographical information and contact information about some members of their board. Bravo!

Finally, the Cincinnati Symphony deserves special attention for their media pages. Not only do the have the name, email address, telephone, and fax information for multiple PR representatives displayed prominently on the initial media page, they also have a very comprehensive database of just about anything a member of the press could require.

Among all the categories, this one suffered the most in 2006. Fortunately, there are still a few shining examples worth pointing out. The best examples of how to design a straightforward donations page that provides a variety of giving options are found in the #1 and #2 ranked orchestra websites: the Nashville Symphony, and the Chicago Symphony.

In fact, both pages are nearly identical, which is no surprise since they share the same web designer, Lynch2. Both sites allow patrons to make one time donations, regularly reoccurring gifts, or establish matching contribution programs. Another crucial factor on both pages is a clearly marked secure transaction notice, something that was missing from far too many orchestras’ websites this year.

As orchestra websites evolve, so does the amount of content they include. In the past, the only organization that was able to design a navigation system that allowed users to easily move around a voluminous amount of content was the Chicago Symphony, and they continue to retain the same wonderfully easy to use navigation structure in 2006.

However, two other orchestras deserve special recognition this year for finally managing to perfect what has traditionally been an unsuccessful multi-tab navigation format: the Nashville Symphony and the Seattle Symphony both utilize similar multi-tab formats that separate major components of their organization.

Both organizations have designed a format that doesn’t force users to lose where they’ve been by whipping them back and forth between tabbed components. They’ve also ensured a consistent look and feel throughout each tabbed component, making navigation much more intuitive and easy to use.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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