The First Step Toward Cultivating The Fruit Of Social Media

On Monday, 12/14/2009, Marc van Bree published an article at his blog, Dutch Perspective, announcing the results from his Orchestras and Social Media survey. In addition to a downloadable copy of the full report, there’s an excellent slide presentation on the key findings and recommendations. Van Bree’s survey is the first I’m aware of that focuses on defining how orchestras use social media as well as collecting and cross tabulating details about budgets, resource allocation, and benchmarking…


Like any worthwhile initial study into a topic as expansive as social media, Van Bree’s survey leaves the reader with more questions than it answers. That’s not to say it doesn’t provide useful recommendations; it does, and we’ll examine those later in the piece. However, the responses provide just enough fundamental data to trigger any good professional’s strategic thinking process.

In the spirit of full disclosure, it has been my pleasure to serve as a sounding board for Van Bree while he was designing the survey as well as reviewing the full report for feedback before it was published but at the same time, I had no hand in implementing the survey or compiling results. Consequently, Marc van Bree deserves a great deal of kudos from those inside the field for taking his own time to develop this project.

Instead of reviewing each key finding and recommendation, we’re going to focus on a few points.

1. Process the results as they are intended.

Van Bree clearly advises readers to see the report as informative, rather than authoritative. This is good advice and yet another indication that ample room exists for additional research (this is an ideal project for a Foundation or similar private, philanthropic organization). Granted, some of the questions contain terminology that could easily be interpreted differently by respondents but this is acknowledged by Van Bree and should be an expected byproduct of a survey designed to study social media; a field that is itself, in a state of rapidly evolving nomenclature.

2. Plenty of enthusiasm, but is it genuine?

One of Van Bree’s findings is that most organizations have moderate to high levels of interest and believe social media is important, yet 53% allocate zero budget resources to social media efforts and another 20% allocate less than $1,000 annually. On the surface, this data could be interpreted as contradictory.

Alternatively, this could be an indication of a transitional period within the field where groups want to dive into using social media but a profound lack of knowledge (as indicated in a separate key finding) is preventing those efforts.

3. So revenue isn’t important?

One of the more shocking findings is how little significance respondents placed on developing revenue as a goal of social media efforts. On a scale of one to five (1=low, 5=high), respondents rated the importance of ticket sales at 3.2 and increasing fund raising at 2.6 as specific “social media goals and objectives.” My immediate thought was “who is completing these surveys?”

Nonetheless, this could simply be another indication of just how deep the general lack of understanding behind how social media works. Certainly, organizations shouldn’t exclusively use social media as an outlet to shill and sell tickets yet there is no way to reasonably separate revenue development from other mission related goals. Simply put, revenue performance and the institution’s mission are not mutually exclusive.

Also interesting are the responses that received the highest marks for social media goals and objectives: increasing Web traffic (4), increasing awareness of programming (3.93), and increasing brand awareness (3.93). The gap between increasing web traffic and revenue generating activity (ticket sales and donations) is puzzling, especially if respondents believe one of the paramount functions of a website is to generate revenue. It is unclear why this level of disparity exists and subsequent study would undoubtedly shed light on additional details.

4. We need to think bigger.

The author’s recommendations are all spot on and should be taken to heart by every orchestral organization regardless of where they are in developing social media activity. Furthermore, when taken as a whole, Van Bree’s observations point to an undeniable conclusion that most groups are approaching social media activity outside of annual planning sessions. There’s a strong sense that social media work is approached subsequent to strategic and budget sessions have concluded. Until it moves beyond this after-the-fact status, orchestras will never maximize the medium’s potential.

Ultimately, social media tools and platforms remain one of the most promising mediums for improving revenue performance and expanding awareness. What appears to be lacking is a thorough understanding of social media avenues and how to track campaign performance. One way or another, this will change and the business will reach a point where social media efforts are ingrained into the fabric of marketing, development, and education efforts. Van Bree’s survey is an excellent first step in moving the field toward that goal.


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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5 thoughts on “The First Step Toward Cultivating The Fruit Of Social Media”

  1. Thanks, Drew.

    1. Yes, I can’t stress enough that it’s informative and hopefully a good call for more research. And I agree that it’s hard to get people to define the questions in similar fashion. I hadn’t thought of it, but yes, it’s made especially hard by an industry that’s perhaps not clearly defined yet.

    2. I think there’s enthusiasm, lots of initial activity, and even knowledge of the tools themselves (as in knowing how to update a Twitter feed, reply to followers or post a photo in Facebook). However, it seems that the main thing that is lacking is the knowledge and experience in using social media strategically and speaking in a language beyond “marketing speak.”

    3. I would guess if pressed on why would you want to increase web traffic, or why would you want to increase awareness, it all comes back to ticket sales. Then again, not necessarily. I think social media can be a great tool to advance the orchestras mission of bringing classical music to the community and ticket sales is only one of the components. I’d say your mission is your goal, ticket sales can be an objective.

    4. Right on the mark again. Think bigger (as in mission statement) and measure your performance. Regular marketing efforts, even education programs, are all subject to rigorous analysis. Why not social media?

    I’ll be digging into the findings bit by bit on my blog this week, posing some of those exact questions. Curious to hear if someone has some thoughts, or even answers.

    Thanks for highlighting the study!

    • Re point #1: It could be very useful for future efforts to present terms along with definitions and measure the degree to which respondents agree with the provided definitions. Once completed, take those definitions and create a more detailed survey focusing on those issues.

      Re point #3: I’m looking forward to years of protracted discussion on this one 🙂

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