Culture: Everyday. Everywhere. That was the theme, and ultimate goal, of this year's National Congress on Culture at the Winnipeg Art Gallery on May 22nd-23rd. Increasingly, those who are committed to making the arts shine more widely and brightly in Canada must take into account the fact that these days, that "everywhere" isn't just limited to the streets, homes and theatres of our cities; it now includes the massive landscape of the Internet, as daunting in scope as it is teeming with potential. This reality was acknowledged at the Congress in the form of a panel on Digital Marketing, moderated by Judy Robertson, Outreach Coordinator for the External Relations Department at Metro Vancouver, and featuring three leaders in the field: Liesl Barrell, Senior Business Development Manager at Unbounce, Warren Wilansky, Founder and President of Plank, and Sue Edworthy, Arts Marketing Consultant and Social Media Expert. The panelists had a lively and enlightening discussion on harnessing the power of the Internet for marketing and audience engagement purposes. Below you'll find some highlights from the panel that you can start applying to your own work or organization—you'll be getting more hits in no time.
1. Be strategic and targeted. The real challenge of digital marketing, as Judy Robertson points out, is standing out among the barrage of "social media noise" that the public is bombarded with. If you want to attract an audience's attention, you have to target its members specifically and strategically. Liesl Barrell's advice is to identify and divide your target audiences into precise groups—not just general "bums in seats" but local artists, your sponsors, etc—and tailor aspects of your marketing to suit each of them individually.
2. Success takes time and effort. Sue Edworthy reminds us that marketing is just as much work digitally as it always has been in its traditional form, and needs to be taken just as seriously: "If it's not working, you have to question whether you are." Be realistic about your marketing goals and don't expect instant success after a few tweets. And don't take the lazy way out and Facebook your tweets, Liesl and Sue agree—every social media channel is different and requires its own style and content.
3. Use digital channels to provide people with a variety of ways to access your work. "There never should be only one doorway into your art," as Sue says, and you can use social media to rapidly, easily and inexpensively offer your audience a number of unique perspectives on what you do. What may seem ordinary to you—like the action that goes on backstage during your production—is an exciting unknown for much of the public. Sue suggests shooting quick video interviews with set designers, actors, etc. and distributing them online.
4. Measure. What's neat about using digital technology for marketing is that it allows you to measure your impact, says Warren Wilansky. Use a tool like MailChimp to keep an email list that lets you identify the people you're communicating with and track how often they're actually accessing the content you send them. Google Analytics permits you to analyze traffic to your site and much more. And this kind of measurement is vital, Liesl tells us, because not only does it give you numbers to show potential funders, it teaches you what works in your marketing campaigns and what doesn't, so you can spend your money on the most effective strategies.
5. Treat negative responses as an opportunity to communicate with your audience. Digital marketing allows your audience to engage directly with the messages you send, which means that you may get a negative tweet or Facebook comment tossed your way. This isn't a social media crisis, Liesl assures us, it's normal—just treat it as a way to connect with a member of your audience. Respectfully engage with your online critics, identify what they didn't like and learn from them.
6. Plan and schedule. Plan ahead and slot your ads and social media/blog posts into predetermined dates on an editorial calendar, Warren recommends. This will help you keep marketing to a precise schedule that will maximize your impact and ensure you're providing a steady stream of content. You can use tools like Hootsuite to schedule future tweets, for instance.
7. Complement the real with the digital. Your digital marketing should always support the work you do in reality; they're not separate worlds, Liesl points out. Add a social media dimension to your real-life events. For example, if you invite your audience backstage or to a Q&A session, encourage them to live-tweet during the experience, Liesl suggests. Provide them with a customized hashtag to use—ex. #culturedays, which trended in Canada thanks to the tweeting of participants at Culture Days' National Congress on Culture.
8. Treat marketing as an art form all its own. "Good marketing is good storytelling," says Warren. Pull in your audience by filling your marketing space with truly engaging, creative material. You can do this by crafting your marketing strategies with the same care you would give to an artistic masterpiece, Liesl adds. Spend the extra time it takes to add some spice to your social media—challenge yourself to do something witty and clever with those 140 characters you're tweeting.
9. Value and make use of your truly engaged fans. Sue explains that it's important to be honest with yourself and figure out how many of your Twitter followers/newsletter subscribers are not just passively following your work but actually actively engaging with you; don't just go by "vanity numbers." Target those people who are passionate about your endeavours, because they're the ones who will spread the word about you. Get them to bring a friend, says Sue. And always respond to them and show your appreciation, Judy recommends—if someone frequently retweets your messages, retweet him/her in return and say thanks!
10. Capture and preserve all online marketing material. When you come across great photos/reviews/other online content associated with your work, make sure you keep copies on your own digital channels, Liesl advises. You never know when another website might undergo reconstruction and get rid of a piece of quality publicity, so keep a running archive of relevant articles on your own site so that visitors can always see what's being said about your work.
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