Wednesday 25 March 2009

Ping ... I am not a storker.

Using on-line tools to push product (even for public galleries)can give people like me a bad case of the twitters

I was asked by Shelley Falconer, the owner of the Toronto based art management firm, Cultural Asset Management Group, to speak at a University of Toronto Master's Level Museum Management this evening (March 22, 2009). The topic? Marketing the Museum and How New Media - twitter, facebook etc is changing the landscape.
I was to have spoken last week but a group of on-line journalists mildly storked me into coming out to a Fashion Week show by Jamaica's Carlton Brown (check out my photography page for one photo from the runaway There was a concerted effort to make sure that the event was standing-room-only, and, because there was no budget for this drive-to-put bums-in-seats excercise, it was all done by Facebook, Plaxo, email and Twitter.
It was a raucous 15-minute show of Brown's fashion line for men. I was suprised by how vocal some of the guests were when a mostly topless, mostly tat-covered male model hit the runway. I was being paid minor minor league money to cover the event and had I not been reminded a few times by Brown's loyal Canadian Twitsciples, I probably wouldn't have made the effort to register for the show. And, in hindsight, after getting beer (am I the only one left with a Visa card that still works?) for a couple of journalists, buying street meat and paying for parking, I once again lost money.
No worries, I still enjoyed the show. Was it successful? First glance would say yes: no empty seats, people standing in the aisle, members of the auidence hooting and hollering. But, after a serious study of the auidence I realized something. Not counting the media in the stands at the end of the catwalk I know about 20% of the auidence. I worked for Fashion Week a bit last year, but, I don't know anything about Fashion. And, if I don't know anything about Fashion (which you would know if you met me), probably most of the people I knew in the stands, don't know anything about Fashion too. And, if they know me, they probably got in free.
So yes they achieved the numbers, which covers their immediate marketing goal but what about the long term? These were not people that are going to place orders for their men's stores to stock Brown's fashion line. These aren't people that are going to consider becoming a sponsor of the next Fashion Week event, nor are they likely to write the government and insist they invest more money in the Fashion Industry. No, like me they probably were amused and entertained and maybe wondering (again) how they got sucked into responding to yet another twittergram.
So what do tattoos, fashaholics and beer parched journalists have to do with the art world? Lots.
Most days I live in the Noughties. I have to. Without text messaging, twittering, emails and the like, I wouldn't be able to survive. Why I'd be arriving at party just as the pattywagons were taking away the hosts. That is how it can be like in the museum world where many are still planning for the Millenium.
Most museums in North America take a very traditional approach to putting bums-in-seats. Shows are planned years out, regardless of what might be happening when they are finally launched. (Wouldn't it be great if ROM had an exhibition running right now about what Toronto was like during the Depression or the Smithsonian had an exhibition on the history of race in politics).
Advertisements are taken out in the daily newspapers. Banners are hung from lamp posts, and if there is budget, posters are put on billboards, the sides of street waste bins and in subways. Members of the media get press releases e-mailed to them, press kits might arrive at the front desk and a publicist might call to promote the show and beg them to attend a pre-show press conference.
The goal is to create enough of a buzz that the public will buy the puppy, and let word-of-mouth do its magic.
Trouble is that method isn't working so well these days. Newspapers are losing readers and cutting staff every day. Those journalists who are still standing are getting double the workload with half of the support. All those emails, press kits and calls are seen now as an annoyance rather than giving a journalist an important information package.
Television is suffering the same fate. Staff have been reduced, stations have been closed and chartable auidences have left for TiVo, web-based infotainment, play station and, well the list goes on from there. Getting a museum opening covered these days is a huge task, but, as the cliche goes, "at the end of the day" how many people actually watched the items, heard the story, read the review and actually retained information?
Radio is still retaining its audience, but, when was the last time that Mad Dog and Billy talked about the Gardner Museum?
No, to reach people who are still breathing, you have to use the tools that work ... this week.
Last year I assisted with the launch of a magazine which was held in the showroom of a Mississauga condo project. We had a great line-up of guests including Farley Flex, cabinet minister Margarett Best, world boxing champion Lennox Lewis and a bunch of singers and songwriters who were known by everyone but me.
The event started at 6pm. At 4.30pm the client was worried that the emails, calls and press kits hadn't done their job. Time for twitter. Using my media list we issued a brief note to key players ... free beer, free food, meet the celebs and be part of a happening. We had hoped for 150 people. The beer and rum ran out at 800. I headed out the backdoor when the walls began to bulge outwards.
This year I twittered for another event. It wasn't as successful. My audience wasn't as taken with the medium as it had only a few months ago. Twitter Burn-Out! And, about 10% of my audience had blocked my messages since the last time I had pressed send ... in their minds I am a storker, and it will be a long hard climb out of their Spam bin.
The creation of the Twitter hit list really makes or breaks the campaign. It is an excellent tool to preach to the converted, but, less successful when you contact people that have not actively requested to be on your list.
Twitter is the new black ... for now. But, as the bloom is off Emailed marketing and PR pushes, so too will Twitter fade. Don't even think about texting -- some people are downright hostile when they get an unwanted text. Flickr, YouTube, Blogs and websites are very much last hour ... but you are reading this blog aren't you?
In this era when such a large portion of a museum's potential customer base is no longer reachable by traditional media methods, the successful marketing campaign is not the campaign with the biggest budget but the one that understands how to hit the ball every time you swing.
The question was asked - if museums can't effectively advertise in mainstream medium and blanket advertising in niche media is too expensive, and since they have difficulty using emerging social media ... what will happen in the future? Major Media partnerships ... Galleries and Museums brought to you by Rogers, or CTV or Google, or Facebook. Partners who can deliver everything from advertisements to text messages. This approach comes with a price, both in terms of content and in terms of ethics ... both subjects for future postings.
Anyway, for those students in Shelley's class who are checking me out as I stumble around at the front of the classroom, this is what I want to talk to you about tonight. Please pass this along to your fellow classmates who are busy on facebook and not listening to a thing that I am saying (don't blame them either!).

Survey Says, 47% Of Canadians Use Twitter

Update: The survey results were conducted by polling over 10,000 Canadians including members of the Vancouver Board of Trade. 6S Marketing, a Vancouver-based Internet marketing firm conducted a survey to its database of over 10,000 people on their use of social media. Here’s some interesting data from 6S Marketing,
70% of Canadians say they use social media.
Facebook is the most popular social networking site with 70% of people surveyed currently having an account.
47% of Canadians use Twitter and the majority of users are 19 – 25 years of age.
Only 20% of people surveyed currently use MySpace.
YouTube & Flickr are the most popular social media sites with 38% & 29% (respectively) of people surveyed using the sites.
42% of Canadians do not blog, while 58% do blog.
74% of people who blog, do so for personal purposes, 57% blog for work and 35% blog for both.
9% of people surveyed have hired an employee online and 22% have received a job offer online. 69% have done neither.
61% of businesses said they track what people are saying about their brand online.

CUTLINE - Photographer Dave Tollington is assisting me with a travel feature about Florida. I gave him an open ended assignment ... take pictures of a cultural event. I was hoping for a museum opening or an art fair or even an antique road show. I should have been more specific ... Dave covered a south Florida pig race. He probably was responding to a twitter ... the results are shown above.