News Column

Social Media Play Fresh Role in Sacramento Arts

January 14, 2013

Edward Ortiz

The profound effect of social media use on the arts community is becoming clear, with a recent study providing a first view of how arts organizations large and small are using online platforms.

In the Sacramento region, some small organizations, such as the fledgling Classical Revolution, rely completely on social media sites, while larger presenters, like the Mondavi Center, are using them as a tool to attract new and younger audiences.

The recent study, conducted by the Internet and American Life Project of the Pew Research Center, polled 1,244 organizations around the nation to identify the effect social media sites are having on the arts.

Social media portals such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others are not only changing the way arts organizations interact with audiences, the Pew study shows, they are also helping define how arts are presented.

A large majority of the organizations polled -- 83 percent -- said they believe social media have made audiences more diverse.

The study also identified two curious downsides to the rise in social media use among audiences. One concern is the expectation that all digital arts content should be free; another is the perception that digital technology and social media have hurt audience attention spans.

Nowhere is the use of social media as vital as it is for small, grass-roots arts organizations. Classical Revolution, a year-old concern that presents classical music outside the traditional concert hall, owes its existence to social media.

The organization operates on an almost nonexistent budget, and does all of its publicity and audience-building via free social media like Facebook and Twitter, said Skye Bergen, organizer of Classical Revolution.

It gave its first concert last summer in Old Sacramento, and now presents monthly concerts at Bows & Arrows in midtown Sacramento.

"We've never bought an ad," said Bergen. "I don't think we'll ever need to ... at least not for now."

The organization uses its Facebook fan page to get the word out on concerts and another page as a discussion forum for area musicians. The organization now relies on Facebook more than email to communicate with the outside world, Bergen said.

Indeed, Facebook is the most prevalent social media tool in the arts realm, with 99 percent of arts organizations surveyed having a Facebook page, according to the Pew study. The study found that the majority of organizations have a presence on at least four social media sites, with some maintaining a presence on as many as nine sites.

The largest presenter in the region -- the Mondavi Center -- uses several platforms, including Google Hangouts, as a tool to build a relationship with new and younger audiences, said Rob Tocalino, head of marketing for the center. Google Hangouts is the latest evolution of the search giant's Gmail video chat application.

With Google Hangouts -- an application offered via Google+ -- up to 10 people can join a live video chat to share information on things like artists and concerts. It allows the sharing of screens and documents, as well as using added apps, like YouTube.

Tocalino said the Mondavi Center decided to give Hangouts a test run with its Studio Classics series -- a concert series that presents edgy classical artists and new music in the casual cabaret setting of the Vanderhoef Studio Theatre.

"New music has an active, curious audience that, by and large, is highly engaged with technology and social media," said Tocalino. "And, because the work often intentionally provokes questions, by virtue of its 'newness,' we felt providing an opportunity to have this conversation was a vitally important parallel to the programming work we do."

Tocalino said there was little risk, since Google Hangouts is free. "It's feature-rich, it provides a high level of control for us as producers, and all the conversations are immediately archived on YouTube."

The Sacramento Youth Symphony and Academy of Music manages two Facebook pages. One is dedicated to the organization as a whole and has 600 followers, the other is tailored to its artistic director, Michael Neumann. The organization also has a Twitter account, a LinkedIn account and its own YouTube channel.

The organization uses Facebook ads to pique the interest of young musicians in auditioning for its several orchestras, bands and ensembles.

"We want to draw in new people in the brass and woodwinds," said Cathy Taylor, executive director of the Youth Symphony.

Facebook allows the Youth Symphony to push its ads to musicians at specific high schools as well as to alumni of those high schools.

"We spend roughly $500 a year to extend our reach," said Taylor.

Social media also are increasingly seen as potential funding tools. The Pew study found that 86 percent of arts groups were using social media to accept online donations and 38 percent to administer grant applications.

"Social media has helped us increase our audience more than it has helped raise money," Taylor said. "It's a matter of cultivation. Ultimately, we hope we can take someone that is a patron and bring them into the category of donor."

With nearly all arts groups now using Facebook and most using other media sites, the challenge is to stand out from the crowd, said Taylor. "The hardest part is having a fresh story to tell regularly that might entice someone to take 'social' action," she said.


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Source: (c) 2013 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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