In this next instalment of hands-on articles, creative business consultant, Sinead Mac Manus, jumps into the world of social media and social networking and provides an overview of its benefits and pitfalls. In the coming weeks, she will address specific apps and platforms, starting next week with the world of blogging.
What is Social Media?
As we discovered in the first article in this series, social media can be defined as the sum of online tools that facilitate communication and multimedia content sharing. When used effectively, social media can help market your work, raise your profile and enable you to connect with potential audiences. It encompasses technologies and platforms such as blogs, podcasts and social networking sites to name a few. I will be looking at the most useful applications and platforms in some detail, but as an introduction, I want to explore some key social media concepts and their relevance to artists and professionals in the performing arts. I will also address some of the issues and common concerns that can arise when using social media.
Why use Social Media?
One of the main reasons why you might use social media tools is that the entry barriers are low, both technologically and financially. The explosion in online content creation in recent years has been facilitated by the mainly free and easy to use tools and applications of the ‘Read/Write Web’. With the availability of free blogging platforms such as WordPress and Blogger, anyone with basic word processing skills can publish a blog at zero cost. Free-to-use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are some of the biggest in the world, the former now has over 300 million active users. Traditional marketing methods, particularly in the theatre, involve spending money on printing, ad placement and poster and flyer distribution, and while social media is unlikely to fully replace traditional marketing strategies, it certainly can complement and enhance any campaign, and provide a good return on a small investment.
A second reason is that social media harnesses the most effective of marketing methods: word of mouth. The tools and networks of Web 2.0 allow you to build and maintain a solid network of friends and followers – a targeted, niche audience that you can communicate with directly. Social media gives these online ‘fans’ the power to recommend or pass on marketing messages to their own networks of followers. The Royal Opera House has employed this strategy effectively with their Facebook group that boasts over 17,000 ‘fans’. If you think of social media as nothing more than a sophisticated recommendation system, then you can begin to see the power of these media.
In a similar vein, Web 2.0 has given rise to Viral Marketing. Viral marketing describes any strategy that encourages individuals to pass on a marketing message to others, and like a virus there’s the potential for exponential growth in the message’s exposure and influence. The viral capabilities of online video and photo sharing sites such as YouTube and Flickr have enabled the circulation of image-based media at the click of a mouse and without charge. I will be looking in more depth on how to utilise social media to create both word of mouth and viral marketing campaigns in the coming weeks.
The third reason why social media can be of benefit is that it allows you to expand your marketing potential and reach a wider audience or client base than would be possible in an offline scenario. This concept is called ‘The Long Tail‘, and was first named by Chris Anderson, editor of Wired Magazine, in October 2004.
Perceived Problems with Social Media
So far so good…but if social media is so effective and simple to use, why isn’t every artist and company jumping on board? And perhaps more alarmingly, where many have dipped a toe in the social media pool, why have their efforts amounted to so little?
The number one reason why creative people do not engage with social media is lack of time and more specifically the concern that if they do commit, it will eat up large chunks of an already busy day. However, with some simple strategic planning and a little Web savvy, this does not have to be the case. Rebecca Coleman, a Canadian PR consultant in the performing arts has written an excellent guide to getting started in social media. She recommends that artists create a Social Networking Marketing Plan outlining what you want to achieve with social media; which platforms and tools you will focus on; and lastly, how much time are you going to dedicate to being online. Think of social media like email: a brilliant innovation that when used strategically can enhance your business and increase opportunity. Of the social media-savvy people I know, many deliberately limit their time online to one or two hours a day for this very reason.
Another issue to be aware of is privacy protection and safeguarding intellectual property. Many online applications will require that you submit a certain amount of personal data in order to set up a profile and there have been a few cases of identity theft including Facebook. However, there are ways of reducing any potential risk such as limiting the personal information that you post as well as being aware of the privacy settings on social networking sites. A recent article on the ReadWriteWeb blog suggests that it is safer to set up real social networking profiles for yourself to ward against identify thieves setting up fake profiles in your name. Users also need to be aware that any content you create and post online forms part of your ‘web portfolio’ – be conscious of what you post online, especially in a professional context, and ask yourself ‘will I be happy with this content in five years time?’
Data portability can also be an issue with social networks. At the moment you have to set up individual profiles across individual sites, many of which do not allow you to export your data when migrating to new services or in the case that you want to keep a personal record on your computer. This is particularly important if you’re thinking about using a service to input large amounts of data on a regular basis.
Copyright violation can be a concern when showcasing your creative work on the Web. Initiatives such as Creative Commons with its tagline of ‘Share, Remix, Reuse – Legally’, provide a useful framework for thinking about how to safegard and license your work on a platform that allows almost any type of public-facing data to be copied.
Lastly, there can be a fear of the technology itself and the fact that it is yet another thing to learn. I hope to allay some of these fears in the coming weeks by looking at some of the most useful platforms in more detail.
Basic Principles of Social Media
Before we jump into ‘the case studies’ (starting with the wonderful world of blogging in the next article), lets take a look at some of the basic principles and ‘rules’ of social media that apply to many of the platforms.
Much of social media is about collaboration, connections and participation. It is about starting conversations, increasing your profile, connecting with your audience or clients. It is not about directly selling products and services, but using social media well should help your bottom line.
Conversations are two way and therefore to really get the most from the experience, you need to be generous with your involvement. Like offline networking, the more you give away, the more you will benefit. By helping others achieve their goals you will build strong relationships online that will ultimately benefit your business.
Don’t expect to see results straight away. It takes time to build a presence on these networks. If you have something specific to promote, start at least three months in advance to build momentum.
Have a plan. Do not set up a Facebook group because you can. Have a good reason why this is going to help your business and a plan on how to achieve your goals. Dedicate some time to maintaining your social media profiles but don’t get lost in the world of cyberspace! In the coming weeks, we will look at some suggestions for connecting and cross-linking social media profiles, expanding your social media reach, while potentially reducing your time online.
In the next article, I will look at the world of blogging and attempt to answer the question: is blogging dead or should it be a vital part of your social media strategy?