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. 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.