Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Broken Whispers

Whisper 1 - She smiled happily at the man who had sold her the amazing shoes and he smiled back, shyly.

Returned - She shocked everyone, for the man had given her piercingly sharp scissors, and she bled on them.

Whisper 2 - Smile and the world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone.

Returned - Celebrate after the river turns to custard, swim if you feel lucky

Whisper 3 - The shouting outside in the street was making them tense

Returned - Brown flying pterodactyls over the turkey was faked for Xmas.

When I was looking for an image to illustrate this post it occurred to me that it would have been great to have a cartoonist commissioned to come up with something to respond to the returned whispers. I'd love to have a cartoon of Gordon Brown piloting a pterodactyl over a giant turkey. Oh well, perhaps if I had, oh I don't know, a budget?

In some ways money, or rather the lack of it, is central to why I love these social media platforms and the opportunities they offer us at very little cost other than my time. And as I think I may have mentioned before, I come pretty cheap. At heart, I think that the way we use these social media tools should be playful. Interesting, engaging, informative to be sure but also playful. I'm very excited by the idea that our followers or fans are no longer just an audience but also a community, visible not only to us but to each other.

The idea of the 'Broken Whispers' game came to me as I was listening to Tina Gonsalves talk about Chameleon, the work she was going to show at Fabrica and the ideas behind it, broadly the idea of contagion, about things being passed on from person to person. The reality of course is that emotions are not passed on as perfect replicas, my happiness doesn't transmit itself to you intact, it's filtered by your emotional state. This reflects the way that the tech in the exhibition worked. It didn't just reflect your mood, the portraits weren't mirrors, the emotions were filtered and affected by the prevailing mood of the whole gallery. (For those that didn't see the show, you can see some information about it here.) So I started to think about the idea of memes and things being passed on imperfectly and then I thought about 'Chinese Whispers', the game that was pretty common when I was a kid. We called it 'Broken Whispers' at school, I think. I obviously went to a pretty PC school.

Then I got interested in how that might work as a game on Twitter. Obviously, the messages would be digital and the human intervention would have to be deliberate rather than a question of mis-hearing but I thought it'd work pretty well. I put out a call for people that might be interested to play a game based on the themes of the show without really saying what it was for. I initially intended to limit numbers to ten but in the end it got nearer to twenty and at that point I called a halt to adding more people, mostly because it was a kind of experiment and I wanted to retain control over it.

The idea of the game was pretty simple. I would send out a message from Fabrica and the next person in the chain would change two words and then send it on. Finally the last person in the chain would return the message to Fabrica.

It took a while to set up because I then had to email everyone to let them know about the game and the rules, confirm they were still interested and then DM them (direct message via Twitter) to tell them who they'd receive the message from and who to pass it on to. I had toyed with the idea of doing the whole game by DM but then it got into a confusion of people having to follow each other and it all started to feel a bit hidden and laboured. I also liked the idea of these slightly random messages being out there that other people might see. When drawing up the chain, I tried as much as possible to make it so that each person didn't know the person on either side of them, so that it became an opportunity to discover new people with whom you shared a common interest.

I should probably declare at this point that I had the idea of doing this before the exhibition started but what with one thing and another, didn't get round to setting it up until the last week of the show. That wasn't ideal considering that one of the stated aims was to get people thinking about the themes of the exhibition as a way of deepening their experience and understanding of it, but in the end I felt it was worth doing anyway as an experiment. In fact this is a good illustration of the problems that many small arts organisations face when engaging with social media, which is one of capacity. I devote quite a lot of time to it, have made development of it a priority this year and still don't have enough time to spend on it, enough time to carry out ideas.

So finally the first whisper (twhisper?) went out and I obsessively watched over its progress like an overly-anxious parent. I tweeted about its progress a lot, I prodded people in the chain to move it along. On top of my anxiety about it working, I am also extremely impatient and I couldn't wait for it to get back. In fact it got to the point that one of our followers who wasn't involved messaged to say that as a follower he was feeling alienated by the game. I apologised and tried to dial it down a bit. We didn't lose any followers so I guess it wasn't too bad but it's a reminder that Twitter is a public space and you do need to think about what you're putting out there and what it means to all your followers.

I put out three whispers over three days and they all came back, thankfully. I'd like to say that I got less anxious and less proddy but that wouldn't be true, though I did try to keep it to myself a bit more.

So did it work? Did it do what I wanted it to do? On the scale on which it was set up, I'd have to say yes. I think that our followers will have been aware of something going on, that we were looking for people to participate in something and hopefully that awareness and maybe even discussion about it from participants will have spread out further into networks that I'm not aware of. The more of these activities that you undertake, the more I think that people get the idea that a gallery isn't just a place that they go to see exhibitions, that it becomes something that they can engage with, play with. Something more accessible.

It seems that the people involved were pretty excited about the game, enjoyed it. I received a lot of messages from them saying so, I know that at least one of the other participants was following the progress of the whispers and I was able to see people talking to each other about it. I enjoyed the sense of community that that engendered. I was particularly excited by two participants who, to the best of my knowledge didn't know each other before being placed next to each other on the chain but who are both Brighton - London commuters, tweeting each other to discover if they were on the same train during some fairly typical train problems. Sadly they weren't but it would have been awesome if they'd been able to meet up. I'm hoping that some of the participants will post a comment when they read this and let us know what they thought. Hint. In fact I'd like to get one of them in to record something about their involvement. Another hint.

You could argue and you wouldn't be wrong, that the people that joined in are already engaged. Of course that's true but their engagement was, hopefully, deepened. After all, audience development shouldn't just be about finding new audiences. It should also be about the development of your current audience, providing new ways for them to engage that are interesting and fun and that encourage them to be advocates for you. In fact, in this case, one member of the chain was new to the gallery and was encouraged to join the game by one of our followers who thought he'd find it interesting.

So back to the question of success. I guess my benchmark for success for this type of activity, being as I don't know of any meaningful impact measurement could be defined as follows (at least for today)-

  • Assuming that people have the tech, what you're asking them to do needs to be as easy as possible.
  • The time commitment you're asking of people should be commensurate with the idea. In this case, for a simple fun game, a couple of minutes was all that was required.
  • It should deepen the engagement of your audience and hopefully engage new audiences.
  • Give people a different way to engage with an exhibition and its themes.
  • Develop the idea of your audience as a community.
  • Demonstrate an openness to engagement.
  • Demonstrate a commitment to other people's creativity and encourage their creative participation in the gallery.
So, check, check, check, check and check. Job done.

Seriously though, I am very passionate about the possibilities and working with our audience, to play with them. Our next challenge is to develop something that goes out into the social media world that has the ability to engage people beyond our current fans and followers. There's going to be a lot happening over the next years and dependent on funding we want to research the possibilities of developing an exhibition that is generated through social media in some way. So, you know how it goes, watch this space. In the meantime we'll continue to play around with ideas like 'Broken Whispers' and the remote drawing activity we did for White Night about which I wrote in the previous post. I'm very open to ideas from other people and I'd love to hear them because I'm just one person and much as I hate to admit it, I'm sure there are limitations to my imagination.

Just remember though, there's no budget.

Twitter follow stuff-

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Carrots for eyes (thoughts on the remote drawing activity)

The remote drawing activity was conceived to sit alongside Fabrica's other activities for White Night as previously posted. The focus for the evening in the gallery was drawing and I wanted to offer something to sit alongside that using social media, specifically Twitter in this instance. The basic premise was that we would send out tweets with prompts for people to draw something, take a picture and send it back to us. The results would be displayed in the gallery during the evening.

After toying with a number of ways of achieving this I decided to use Posterous to display the work in the gallery. Posterous is a blogging site that can be updated by email and therefore from anywhere, which was handy because I wasn't going to be at the gallery for the whole evening but could still update it from elsewhere. It also had two further advantages for this particular activity. Firstly, the resulting blog is very clean with little to distract from the images. Secondly it can be set up to automatically update your Twitter feed meaning that all your followers can check out what's being displayed. The resulting projection was a bit rough and ready but ultimately that worked really well with the rest of the activity in the gallery.

I was very excited about the remote drawing idea because for me it delivered in a number of areas that I think are crucial for the arts using social media. The low barrier to engagement as ever is really important, in this instance it meant that people could take part in Fabrica's White Night drawing activities without having to come to the gallery or even be in Brighton. In addition to driving participation in the arts in terms of attendance, it's also about creative participation, you could very easily make a piece of work that would end up as part of an exhibition. (We tried to stress that we weren't expecting people to be fantastic at drawing or have expensive materials to work with, that they could use what was to hand - that's one of the reasons that I chose the image above to illustrate this post. Also because it made me laugh out loud when it arrived, so thanks to @blogbookblog for that). What I also want to put across with everything that we do with social media is a sense of fun, a sense of play. I think it's hugely important for contemporary visual arts which often need to overcome people's self-imposed barriers, the idea that cva may not be for them, that they won't get it or that it's too serious, too intellectual. Failing to have that sense of play I think is failing in an opportunity to engage. It also helps to open up the organisation and I hope make it feel more accessible. You could argue that we are only followed by those that are already engaged or willing to be engaged and that's certainly true but it misses the wider issue and the power of social media networks. We are engaged not only in a dialogue with our followers but potentially with their followers and beyond and everything that we do or say has the potential to engage, to intrigue, to start to chip away at those barriers.

And what, I hear you impatiently asking, was the result. (Well ok probably not, but a boy can dream, right?). The initial announcement went out via Twitter to a flurry of excitement and some opportune retweeting, a general air of excitement and feeling that it was a cool idea. On the night we asked people to draw faces, which seemed appropriate for the exhibition and indeed mirrored the activity in the gallery, which was also centred on drawing faces. In the end we had some 15 responses which are posted in a gallery on Flickr, there's a link at the bottom of this post. We sent out the prompt three times through the evening and had vocal support from one of the participants who was urging other people to take part. There's a tiny competitive part of me that was a little disappointed, that wanted to receive hundreds of drawings but also a much larger more pragmatic part of me that knew that wasn't going to happen and was actually quite pleased with the number that we did receive.

This leads me on neatly to some thoughts about engagement through social media and in some ways continues on from what I've discussed earlier about measuring achievement/impact of that. Ultimately, I'm not disappointed by the response to the remote drawing activity for a number of reasons. By doing this kind of activity, by putting it out there we demonstrate a commitment to the dialogue with our audience, a commitment to engaging with them, to welcoming their creative input and there is huge value in that. Unmeasurable right now to be sure but I'm convinced huge nonetheless. Secondly, whether we had received one or one hundred drawings it demonstrates neatly the power of online, the power of the long tail. The Long Tail is a theory/book developed by Chris Anderson, which for those of you that aren't familiar with it, I will try to summarise very briefly. It's really an online business model and Amazon is a prime example. Because it's an online business Amazon can afford to 'stock' very obscure books. These books may sell only one or two copies a year but what the customer gets is 100% satisfaction in finding something very easily that they would never find even in their local mega-bookshop. Obviously Amazon don't make money from selling those books, they make it on Dan Brown etc but they provide satisfaction to that person who will likely go on or carry on buying books from Amazon. Physical bookstores are never going to be able to provide that service. So, slightly round the houses, I come to my point. It's very easy for us to set up these online activities, it's free in financial terms, costs some time for sure, a bit of brain power but it's largely free and if we can engage one, or in this case fifteen people in a deeper way with the gallery, if we can encourage them to participate creatively then they will undoubtedly be more likely to come to the gallery, to recommend it to their friends, to talk about it on social networks and that word of mouth cannot be bought. To me it's more powerful than advertising or press coverage or any of the traditional (and dying) routes through which we market ourselves because it's about engagement and dialogue and not about push marketing.

I'd like to say thanks to all those who took part in the remote drawing activity. Please take a look at the drawings which are posted in a gallery here. I'd love to hear any thoughts from any of the participants or others in the comments.

A reminder that you can follow us on Twitter @fabricagallery or me @laurencehill - the two are sometimes interchangeable.

A late disclaimer - I'm aware that I probably repeat myself slightly in these posts but in my defence this is all new and I don't have it all worked out yet. Probably never will, but it's fun and fascinating trying to get there.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Remote drawing

On October 24 2009 Fabrica will be taking part in Brighton and Hove Council's White Night event. White Night is based on the French Les Nuits Blanches and involves cultural organisations in the city staying open until 2am when the clocks go back, giving you another whole hour to play. There's lots of good stuff happening in galleries, other venues and on the streets too. Check the website for full details.

At Fabrica we will be offering a number of drawing activities through the evening for those that can make it to the gallery but we also wanted to use social media as a tool so those that can't can still participate. To that end we are setting up a remote drawing activity that will be driven by Twitter. At certain points in the evening we will send out a word via Twitter as a prompt. We are then asking people to make a drawing based on that word, photograph it and send it back to us via Twitpic, we will then project the images in the gallery during the evening. The images will also be available to view via Twitter so if you take part you'll be able to see what other people are doing. We want people to use anything they have to hand to make the drawing and don't expect you to have any particular talent for it. If you're in the pub draw it on a beermat or the condensation on your glass, do it with pebbles on the beach, in the dirt on a van if you're out and about or with your kids' crayons etc etc. The possibilities are endless. We'll keep it simple in what we ask you to draw but your response can be as elaborate or as casual as you want. Long term we'll put the images on our website so they'll become part of Fabrica's archive of the event.
It'd be great to have an idea of anyone that'd like to join in so if you are interested send us a DM.

We've also set up a collaborative playlist on Spotify with the theme of 'emotional contagion' which reflects one of the ideas behind the exhibition. Have a listen and feel free to add something.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

And the winner is.........

Mark Barkaway

Big congratulations to Mark, this is a great picture. We were looking for something that delivered a different perspective on The Elephant Bed and this certainly does that. All the shortlisted pictures are great but this one came out a clear winner when the votes from the panel were collated. Mark's £50 Amazon voucher will be winging its way to him shortly and I'm hoping to record a boo with him in the next couple of days so keep a look out for that. It may even prompt me to write about Audioboo, which I've been meaning to for a while now.

I just wanted to take some time to reflect on the competition. Firstly, I should say that I set the whole thing up really badly. I do have a habit of thinking of an idea and rushing in. We asked people to post photographs on Flickr and to tag them fabricacomp so that we could find them, which was fine but did cause a couple of problems. We asked people to submit a maximum of three images but a few people entered more and during the competition I tried to contact them to reduce the number of images, but the only way to do that was through Flickr comments and that isn't very efficient. The upshot was that when it came to shortlisting, a couple of people had to be disqualified. The second issue was that after we had shortlisted, I needed to be able to put together a document containing all the images to email out to the panel for their votes. Once again we were obliged to contact everyone via Flickr to get a low res version of their image that we could send out. This all took time and has made the process much slower than I had hoped. The next time I think that I'll ask people to email the images they want to enter and we'll post them on Flickr. I think that'll iron out the wrinkles and speed up the process. If anyone has a better idea or wants to point out that I could have used Flickr better I'd be very happy to hear from them I'm clearly no Flickr expert.

I'm discovering that it's difficult to quantify success with social media, so although I blithely said in an earlier post that I'd report back on whether the competition had delivered what I had hoped it would, I'm not sure how to do that. I can talk about the number of entries (135), quality of entries, (v high), people in the gallery talking about it (a lot) and more, but I'm not sure that they are a measure of success when what I'm really interested in is deepening engagement, in driving creative participation. This is a tricky question and something that will undoubtedly need to be addressed in depth at some point but at the moment I'm sort of enjoying the fact that it is difficult to quantify, that no one really knows and that there's no one standing over my shoulder demanding meaningless stats. I'd be interested in talking to Mark about his response to the competition and his relationship to the gallery and I'm sure it'll be part of our boo. One unexpected result is that John Grade has asked permission for some of the images to be used on his website, which is fantastic. There will definitely be more competitions and games coming up so watch this space.

In the meantime congratulations to Mark again.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Shortlisted Photos in competition

Thought it would be nice to post the shortlisted images from the Elephant Bed photo competition, which I blogged about earlier. Will post some more thoughts on how it worked soon. Along with the winner of course.

Sara Ingman

Jo Stevenson

Adrian Powter

Adrian Powter

Perry French

Maura Hamer

Emma Gray

Perry French

Joe Wilkins

Mark Barkaway

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Inhabiting the tangled hedgerow

It's been a while since I posted on here. Sometimes I feel like I have so much to say that I don't know where to begin without it becoming an incoherent mess and I get slightly paralyzed and end up saying nothing. But today I read something that really clarified for me the answer to an issue that I've been thinking about a lot.

I read an executive summary of a report commissioned by HSBC, The future of business: The changing face of business in 21st Century Britain. It's not the sort of thing I normally read, though maybe I should, but I read it because the report names Brighton as one of the five supercities of the future and hey, I live and work in Brighton so it's relevant to me, and once I got past the hilarious and frankly slightly desperate jargon, I learned something.

The issue I've been thinking about is this- How do arts organisations inhabit this new world? This crossover world, the overlapping space between an organisation and the online world, the tangled hedgerow to steal my own analogy. I was at an event called Shift Happens a while back and one of the speakers was Bill Thompson, he's a commentator on The Digital Planet a BBC world service programme about digital stuff and describes himself on Twitter as a hack and a pundit. One of the things that Bill talked about was what he believes is the challenge for arts organisations in the future, which was to pitch camp in that online world, to make it their own. This was the last talk of the event and I chatted with Bill afterwards very briefly and said yes, that's exactly right, I felt fired up by the idea, I may have even have embarrassed myself slightly. Then I left and got on a train and during the long journey home that excitement didn't leave me but the question kept coming up in my mind, but how? How do we do that, how do we pitch camp in that world?

I want to quote a little from the HSBC report-

'How many of us for instance, see social networking sites as a tool for personal rather than professional, g
ain? Yet for many entrepreneurial groups, social networks are now regarded as one of the best ways to develop and maintain new business contacts, test and market new products, organise and manage new business initiatives.'

Now I'm not in any way anti-business but this depressed me slightly. There's plenty more in the same vein and it made me more determined than ever to work out how to make sure that arts organisations are part of this new world, that it's not inhabited solely by businesses who are only looking to make money. Then it occurred to me what we have to do. We have to do what we do. There's no magic bullet, no blinding idea that'll make it happen. We just have to make sure that our work, our organisations are there, online, engaging with people and enabling them to engage with us, to share what we do, what we're about. This is exactly what business is doing right now, and we have to make sure that we don't lose out, that we build a future in which our online presence is as important as HSBC's in the same way that our presence in the real world is as important as theirs. And now, right now is the time to be doing that because otherwise we risk getting left behind and that world may become a commercialized one not open to us or one we no longer want to be a part of.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Social media and social conventions

I recently came across this blog entry on a website called Sociability, it's a summary of a talk given by Andy Gibson at an Arts Council event Do the arts speak digital? Andy Gibson is a consultant specialising in the social uses of technology. It's definitely worth reading the whole thing but I'd like to pick out a couple of ideas that are particularly relevant to things that I've been considering and some ideas that I'm working up.

I've been thinking a lot about audience development and what that means. It seems to me, possibly naively, that the focus is mostly on making your audience bigger, developing relationships with hard to reach groups for example or encouraging those that don't traditionally engage with the arts. Of course all of that is important but I'm also interested in thinking about how you develop your current audience as well, how you deepen your relationship with them, how you can encourage their creative participation, especially through the use of social media and the low barriers to engagement that it offers. A quote from the blog - 'I believe that social tools make the invisible networks of our culture visible, and therefore possible to engage with'. What Andy Gibson also elaborates is that not only do social tools allow us to engage with our audience more easily than we could before, it also means that they can engage with one another. If you follow Fabrica on Twitter then you can also see who else follows us, the same with Facebook and other social networks.

I've been thinking about how to use social media in a playful way to encourage some of those things, creative participation, deepening of relationships, the opportunity for our audience to engage with each other. As previously discussed the photo competition we're running via Flickr is part of that. I'm working up a couple of other things, no details as yet because I'm still thinking them through, both of which will happen during the Tina Gonsalves show, Chameleon (title tbc), in October/November this year. One, forming part of Brighton's White Night activities, will be a drawing game, (no actual drawing ability required - I'll be taking part so you can be assured of that), resulting in an online gallery. The second will be something that plays with the idea of contagion, of passing things on, in the same way that Tina's show is about emotional contagion. It'll be a game that will specifically use Twitter and I'm hoping will put people in touch with each other as well as fostering their relationship with us. I think that together, in addition to the photo competition, they will represent a step forward in our use of social media and hopefully the beginnings of a model for future interactions.

Another thought from the blog to end on - 'So if it’s a time to play with convention, it’s also a time to challenge some of the 19th Century assumptions about how things “should” be done.' The convention of the silent audience he points out is relatively recent and one that's beginning to crumble. Time to find new ways of interaction.
Love this image which represents sociability in a virtual society.

Friday, 14 August 2009

It's a Ning thing

A few months ago I attended a training session organised by the Arts Council on all things digital and the arts. It was a good session and something I'll probably refer to again in the future because I got a lot out of it. Alongside the training, which happened across the country, there were a series of social networks set up in order to facilitate continued conversation. The South East network can be found here. I'm not sure that the conversation has really continued as yet but I'm hopeful it will. (Actually since I started writing this there's been a move to create a nationwide network with the regions represented in groups within it. I think that's a really good thing.) The social network is hosted by Ning, it was the first time that I'd heard about it though it's been around for a few years. Ning.com allows anyone to sign up and create a network.

In the lead up to the current show at Fabrica I had a conversation with Natasha Ba-Abdullah who jobshares the Front of House Manager role and has responsibility for volunteer development, about her need for something, a blog she thought, that could be a focus for the volunteers, a place for them to go for information. Like most small arts organisations, Fabrica is heavily reliant on volunteers, at any one time we have 60-odd signed up. One of the big challenges of Tasha's role is email management, there are a huge number of emails going backwards and forwards with the volunteers, which is both time-consuming and frustrating for everybody and she wanted a solution for that. Then as often happens in small organisations like this we both got very busy doing other things. (Insert montage here to show time passing). Because it had been knocking around in the back of my mind, I sent out a request to our followers on Twitter for examples of Nings they used, good or bad experiences in setting them up etc because I thought it might be a good solution for Tasha. People were, as always, generous with their thoughts and experiences and that, along with my own research, started to give me a good picture of what a Ning could do and what it could be. Last week I sat down with Tasha and asked her what she needed from this volunteer 'hub'. Her answers were-
  • A place for Fabrica to post information that the volunteers need
  • A place for Fabrica to post opportunities the volunteers may be interested in
  • A social space for the volunteers to meet
  • A place to promote themselves and what they're doing
  • A space in which they can offer and ask for help
  • A way of reducing the number of emails sent to and from volunteers
A Ning seemed to answer all those needs and so we set up 'Fabrica Volunteers', unimaginative I know but keeping it simple and descriptive seemed right. Tasha and I are currently the only members and we are populating the site with some content so the small group of volunteers we invite to test it out won't be faced with emptiness. I'll blog again about the Ning I'm sure because ultimately we hope the volunteers will drive its development and make it a useful tool for themselves. I have some thoughts on my perception of its value for Fabrica which I'll blog about soon, maybe with some feedback from the early test volunteers.

Monday, 10 August 2009

History part 2 - Let there be Twitter

I've just scrolled back, because I can, to the first Tweet I made on Twitter on behalf of Fabrica. It was 4 April this year and I was in the gallery for a venue hire. In fact the first part of this post could probably read exactly the same as the post about Facebook with the two words switched over. To summarize and thereby save myself a couple of hundred words:-

-Thought Fabrica should have a Twitter feed
-Thought vaguely along the lines that it'd be for marketing
-Set up a personal Twitter account to get familiar with it*
-Realized push marketing angle was not that interesting
-Fell in love with Twitter

*Actually it turns out I already had a Twitter account, which I'd opened a year or so before and then promptly forgotten. It was only when I discovered that someone else had taken my name on Twitter and I was trying to think of an alternative that some dim and dusty memory was stirred and I remembered that I already had an account and the person that had taken my name was me. Since then I've come to love Twitter and use it a lot but when I first opened the account I didn't know what it was for and what it might mean to me. I suspect this is the case with a lot of people, you have to find your own way to it and your own value in it. This is on a personal level of course, for arts organisations I don't think there's any question of its value and I'm getting pretty evangelical about it.

Looking back over the early tweets it's clear from the outset that I was doing what I now believe is one of the key opportunities with all social media and that is giving some insight into the process, the 'behind the scenes' that people don't get to see. I'd like to say I was really clued up from the get go but the reality is, having started the feed, I didn't want it to just wither away and I was tweeting the only things I could think of given the lack of any events to 'market' at that time.

What I have always been focused on was the opportunity for dialogue with your audience, for feedback, and one of the early ideas I had, in fact looking back it was in the first few days, was a tweet review competition. It was a simple thing, see the show, tweet a review and the best would get posted on the website. I thought it was a great idea, still do, as did everyone I talked to about it. Throughout the Kapoor show I kept pushing it and at the end of it we had three entries. Discounting the one from a Fabrica director and the one from my partner, we had one entry. To be honest I don't really understand why. Perhaps, I thought, it was because the Kapoor show was a bit tricky, a bit difficult to engage with, but re-launching the idea with our current much more immediately accessible show has elicited no response at all, even with prizes on offer. I'm flummoxed but I'm not giving up so watch this space on that one.

That's all for now on Twitter, there's a lot more to come but I am vaguely trying to keep this in bite-sized chunks for all you busy busy people.

You can follow Fabrica on Twitter and/or me

What the f**k is social media?

I came across this today, it's a slide show that answers the question above. It was written by Marta Kagan, self-described social media evengelist and is an update of a presentation she made a year ago. It's nicely done and though aimed directly at business contains a lot of useful information about the exponential growth of social media. I particularly like the fact that if Facebook were a country it'd be the 8th most populous in the world and the idea that social media is like word of mouth on steroids. I will definitely be stealing that one. It's also good in that it reiterates the fact that I've mentioned elsewhere that using social media is about so much more than just one-way push marketing.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Thoughts on padlocks

This is just a quick one. It's something that really bugs me and I've just figured out why. When someone starts following either me or Fabrica on Twitter and it's someone I'm not already following I always go to check them out. And I get really wound up when I see that little padlock symbol denoting the fact that they have protected their tweets and that if you want to follow them you'll need to make a request. You may have a very good reason for doing it, I don't know and honestly, I don't really care. My immediate reaction has always been that I'm not interested in following you on a personal or organisational level. I've just worked out why that is. It seems totally against the spirit of Twitter which for me has always been about connecting with people that you know, people you don't know but who are interested in similar things, people that make you laugh, people that are interesting for whatever reason. You can follow them and they can choose to follow you back or not, they can even block you if they want and vice versa. It's all about that openness that opportunity to build a network. Facebook serves the primary function of being a network for just your friends which is fine. Maybe I'm cutting off my nose to spite my face and missing out on the opportunity to follow some interesting people but until that little padlock disappears I'm not going to do it.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

History part 1 - In the beginning there was Facebook

This is how it started. Back in February '09, I was at work for a weekend during a hire of the gallery for a fashion market. I'd been vaguely thinking that I should set up a Facebook group for Fabrica with an equally vague idea of why, just that it might be a good idea for marketing. Somehow. At this point I ran up against the fact that I knew nothing about Facebook, I wasn't on it personally and had only the vaguest idea of how it worked. I'd been generally resistant to it on a personal level and had declined numerous invitations from friends to join. I spend enough time on a computer at work, I don't need it in my social life too, was pretty much my reasoning. Looking back and giving in already to the hindsight that I promised to avoid, that wall had already begun to crumble because at the end of last year I got an iPhone and actually the division between my online and offline life suddenly disappeared, in fact they began to overlap. With my phone never more than a few metres away I became permanently online, in a sense I began to live my life online. This is a digression but it's an interesting theme that I'm sure I'll return to, because I think it's probably central to what's interesting about this work.

So I set up a personal account on Facebook because, I reasoned, I needed to understand the ins and outs before I set up a group for Fabrica. Fast forward to exactly a month later and I'm back in the office again for a weekend of gallery sitting and I'm beginning to understand the attraction of Facebook. I have cousins scattered across the globe that I rarely see and we're all equally bad at keeping in touch but through Facebook I started to know what they were up to and where they were going and sometimes what they had for breakfast and I loved that, it made me feel that I was somehow more a part of their lives and them a part of mine. Please excuse this detour into my personal life but it is relevant because it was at that point that I began to have the first inkling of an idea that maybe Facebook could mean more for an organisation like Fabrica than just a way of marketing ourselves and events, that maybe it was about making yourself more of a presence in the lives of the people that chose to join your group, your audience.

So I set up Fabrica group and invited some people to join and during the course of the first part of the Anish Kapoor show Blood Relations the group grew to around 180 members and I posted events on the group and pictures from the installation of the show and sent out invitations and invited comment and…… nothing really happened and I started to feel a bit frustrated with Facebook. Then they launched pages for organisations or maybe I just caught up with the opportunity and on investigation something became much clearer. By joining a group, any group on Facebook, people demonstrate an interest in something that goes as far as a willingness to click on a button that says 'join this group'. But crucially that's it, and what you've signed up for is to be on a mailing list essentially and unless you choose to go and visit the group you get nothing more from it. Now I've joined plenty of groups but rarely visit them and I’m guessing most people are the same. The crucial difference with a page is that once set up anything you post on that page automatically appears in the news feed of all your fans. It’s a much more direct intervention into their lives. Of course you run the risk of people then deciding to undo their relationship with you because you post too much or post things that don’t interest them but so be it. You don’t want people that are not genuinely interested anyway. Of course if you’re regularly losing followers then you probably need to be rethinking your posting policy.

So next I set up a Fabrica page and invited, over the course of a couple of weeks, all of the group members to switch, warning that the group would be closed down on a specific date. About 130 of the group made the jump and the rest fell off. At the time I thought it was a shame that you couldn’t just switch all members of your group over to the new page but actually, sorry hindsight again, I think that a natural cull is not necessarily a bad thing. As I’ve said elsewhere, it's better to have ten great followers than a thousand who don’t really care.

So that’s where we are now with Facebook. We get a lot more comments than we did with the group though we’re always searching for more. We now have over two hundred fans and it grows steadily. As I’m, again, way over my word limit, I’ll leave this one there but will of course return to Facebook at some point. There’s plenty more to talk about.

Click here if you'd like to become a fan.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Some thoughts on the photo competition

Wonderful space. Cool gallery with cool staff. Unafraid of democratic photography unlike many establishments up themselves. - Stuart S

This quote from the Fabrica comments book back in April during the Anish Kapoor show really struck me. I love reading the comments book, I love that direct and generally unframed feedback. It's been knocking around at the back of my mind since then and came to the front when I started thinking about the idea of a photo competition. The full rules are on our website but it's essentially very simple. Take photographs of the current exhibition, The Elephant Bed, choose up to three to enter and put them on Flickr, tagged, so we can find them easily. We'll select a winner at the end of the show, who'll get a £50 Amazon voucher and a selection of the entries will go onto our website and eventually form part of our online archive. We will also select an image to use on our New Year card.

I wanted to keep the rules as simple as possible in order to keep to that low barrier to entry principle that I think is one of the most useful and interesting aspects of social media.

One of the guiding principles for me in this work I'm doing is to discover ways of encouraging dialogue with our audience, of encouraging them into a deeper engagement with Fabrica. We've known for some time that people take photos in the gallery and that many of them end up on Flickr, we often look at them but we've never, with one exception, commented on the photos or tried to establish any kind of relationship with the photographers. This now seems kind of foolish for all sorts of reasons. The one exception was in 2006 when we used an image we found on Flick for our New Year card. As is our policy we credited the photographer after seeking his permission to use the image. The image is below and was taken by Danny Hope (yandle on Flickr).
I hope and believe that the photo competition will deliver a number of benefits to Fabrica, to the entrants and to the wider audience and at a minimal cost-

-Encourage dialogue
-Open up the organisation
-Encourage the entrants to have a deeper engagement with Fabrica
-Allow our audience to create content for our website
-Allow us to see the exhibition from different perspectives
-Allow the entrants to have a creative relationship with the gallery
-Encourage the idea that we're interested in a creative response from our audience
-Give us a bank of images for our online archive that go beyond the relatively straight documentation that we now have
-Increase Fabrica's reach and online presence

I could go into a lot more detail on these things but I've given myself a 500-word limit for each post and I'm already nearly there. I'm hoping that all these benefits, which in many ways encapsulate a lot of the aims of this work that I'm doing, will be discussed in more detail in later posts.

I launched the competition a week ago and with five weeks to go we've had some great entries and I'm looking forward to seeing more. I'll blog about the outcome at the end of the show and whether I feel the competition has delivered what I was hoping for. Or I might pop up with the odd update between now and then.

Damn - I just went over my limit.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Game plan

When I first thought about writing this blog I had intended to do a sort of chronological history to date but I've realized now that events and thoughts have overtaken me and if I do that I'll probably never catch up. So the new game plan is to write about things that are happening now and intersperse that with some of the history, which I'll try and write about without hindsight. Think that may be difficult but I'll give it a shot.

PS - as far as images that I'm using for the blog, at the moment my philosophy is to Google search images for a word in the blogpost and see what comes up. So the above image is 'hindsight'.

The Elephant Bed photo competition

We've had some great entries in our photo competition that we announced last week, you can take a look here

The photo above is not eligible mostly because I took it and I can't enter and also, whisper it, it's not that interesting though it's not bad. I'm going to write more about the competition later and the reasons for launching it but it's encouraging that people are responding positively.

A tweet too soon

On Thursday (23 July) I tweeted that Fabrica had just hit 250 followers, I think it's good to mark these kind of landmarks and to say thank you. Sadly that night Twitter did a spambot purge and the next morning we had lost about 20 followers so I'd tweeted just hours or maybe minutes too soon. I don't have any issues with losing the numbers of course, I'd rather have ten meaningful followers than a thousand not, but what surprised me is that roughly ten percent of our followers were spambots. That's a big number considering that I'm pretty careful to block anyone dodgy looking, you know the ones that are following two and a half thousand people but have like three followers themselves. Beyond that it got me to thinking about how we reach out to people as an organisation and how people are using Twitter. I read somewhere that 20% of Twitter users generate 80% of tweets, you know if you use use Twitter yourself that this seems about right. In terms of the Fabrica followers there are a hardcore who respond to tweets in different ways, commenting, retweeting etc but what are the others doing. Are they listening but not responding? Are we just lost in the twitter noise generated by all their friends? Are they people that signed up but haven't engaged since? I'm assuming that anybody who hates what we're tweeting has stopped following us. Of course it's all those things and probably more but it made me think that when we're thinking about how to encourage dialogue or get a message out we need to think about all those different users and their differing needs. Maybe that's obvious and I've been a bit slow off the mark but I suspect that many organisations using Twitter for whatever reasons think about their followers as a single body.

Thursday, 23 July 2009


Welcome to ‘The Tangled Hedgerow’. I’ll explain the name in a minute, but first, a kind of mission statement: the purpose of this blog is to document the work that I’m doing (and the fun that I’m having) as Fabrica’s development manager in developing the gallery’s digital footprint. I’m hoping that eventually, as it grows, the blog will become a resource for others, specifically other visual arts organisations. There’s a lot of digital/social media stuff out there to learn about and to do, lots of tools, a lot of it free and therefore very tempting but that’s just it, there’s a lot of it and a lot of it changes on an almost daily basis. So as much as I hope the blog will become a resource, I also hope it will become a focus for debate, for sharing ideas, successes and failures, and a place where others can also pass information on to me. I intend to be fully open about my ideas and those of the rest of the team here, and I encourage others to do the same. This stuff is all pretty new, and my guess is that as a sector we haven’t really started to make use of it beyond a limited marketing application. The opportunity exists to work together, and to think, debate, and play – above all play: there are no rules really, no established (n)etiquettes, and we have the opportunity be playful. We should always remember that – it’s not about tech, it’s about people.

I should probably own up right here to the fact that I’m no expert. I’m not an early adopter, not a geek, but once I started to look at all the possibilities and move beyond my initial marketing outlook on social media I started to get really excited, and I want to keep looking and keep exploring and to share that with anybody that thinks it might be worth coming along for the ride.

Just reading back through this I’ve made some assumptions in that you may not be my mother or somebody who works here, and you might not actually know the gallery or me.

Fabrica is a contemporary art gallery housed in a former Regency church in the heart of Brighton. It’s a place where artists come to make new work, and it supports and encourages the artists with whom it works to be adventurous and to test the boundaries of their practice. It encourages an open dialogue between artists and visitors within the gallery space and produces an integrated programme of education and audience development activity that strives to remove barriers to access, engagement and understanding. And yes, I did just lift that straight from our website.

My role at Fabrica is development manager, which covers a number of areas: audience, business and venue development; marketing; sponsorship and individual giving; and, you know, other things too that just need doing, as in all small arts organisations, I guess. I started working here in 2004 as a volunteer.

I could go on and on in this introduction about my emerging philosophy on the use of social media and other tools for arts organisations, but I’m thinking that maybe I should just let that emerge in later posts rather than make this an essay. I’ll round this entry off by explaining the blog’s name.

When the idea of the blog first came up I spent a lot of time thinking about a name for it; I roped in Matthew Miller, one of Fabrica’s co-directors, who’s renowned for his ability to come up with great titles. There were large pieces of paper covered in scribbles involved, scratching of heads, chewing of pencils and other cartoon depictions of deep thought, but the light-bulb moment didn’t happen and no name was forthcoming. Trying to sum up the purpose of the blog practically or conceptually in its name just wasn’t working – it was too complex. Finally I began to think that something random might be a better solution and, sitting on a train one day, the idea popped into my head: ‘The Tangled Hedgerow’. I liked it; it seemed admirably random and the more I thought about it the more right it felt. A hedgerow between two fields is like the space in a Venn diagram where the circles overlap, and that’s pretty much how I conceptualise the digital world in relation to an organisation, Fabrica in this case. There’s us and there’s the rest of the world, and there’s a space in the digital world where we can overlap and where interesting things can happen. Both sides can put things into that space and take things out, but the space also allows unique things to grow and prosper that can’t exist outside it. All things that are true of a hedgerow. The name also references Darwin’s ‘tangled bank’ theory of evolution, and I liked that and the idea of the gallery evolving in a new world and also trying to make sense of a complex and changing environment. So I give you (at length) ‘The Tangled Hedgerow’.

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