Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Do you have an Audience or a Community? Why Social Networking Matters

Today we welcome Douglas McLennan to the Conference Blog! Mr. McLennan is the editor of artsjournal.com and will be one of our panelists for the Toolbox session called Getting the Most Out of Social Networking on June 12.

Posted by Douglas McLennan:

I’m trying not to freak out. Everything is changing. The news business is falling apart, the economy’s a mess, and every time I look at ArtsJournal, the website I edit, it seems about ten years out of date. This time next year, the news business won’t look anything like it does now. At least half a dozen major newspapers will be out of business, and at least one or more major American city will be without a metro daily paper.

This week General Motors went bankrupt. I recently saw a list of brands predicted to fail this year, including Budget rental car, Borders books, Old Navy, Chrysler, Eddie Bauer and United Airlines. And how many banks have gone out of business so far in this recession?

Business models that were fundamentally changing before the recession hit are in free fall as the economy tanks. Systems that have worked for decades suddenly no longer seem up to the job. And speaking of jobs, there don’t seem to be any. Something big is going on, not just in the way America does business, but in the ways our culture works, and even some of our usual approaches to solving problems don’t seem to be working.

It isn’t enough, for example, simply to reach for a new set of tools. Many industries (hello newspapers) have mistaken the business they’re in, confusing their platform for their product. In the new digital economy, this is a disaster. Platforms are transitory, tools are constantly changing, and if you’re not careful, today’s platform is tomorrow’s anchor tied to your feet.

Social networking is the It Girl of the moment. Everyone’s blogging, twittering and Facebooking trying to figure out how these tools fit in to a new business model. The good news is that the social networking movement is pushing arts organizations to reconsider their relationships with audiences. The bad news is that many social networking projects are more about the tools and the platform than the ideas under the hood.

Chasing after tools on the web is a losing tactic that puts you in the position of always trying to play catch up. The better strategy is to understand that social networking can fundamentally change the relationship between you and your audience.

The Open Source movement has proven to be a powerful model for a number of reasons, not least of which is because it allows users not to be tied to and limited by closed platforms. Progress is incremental and continuous and new tools can be absorbed without the need to be making radical shifts in direction.

I think there’s a big difference between building audiences and creating community. If you’re just about getting audiences, then you’re just one more product on an increasingly crowded shelf. It doesn’t matter how good you are at what you do; when every other product is just a click away (or its equivalent), you’re not always going to be first choice of the fickle consumer.

If, on the other hand, instead of seeing yourself as a producer of product you’re also an infrastructure around which a community can form and interact, then the relationship is dynamically different and your importance in it fundamental. Social networking, at its best, is the tools that help you become that infrastructure for a community.

1 comment:

Alton Accola said...

Developing a presence of social sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter is an ongoing work in progress. We are consistently looking for community groups which match our artist's demographics and interests. Each member of our team is in the midst of reading "The New Rules of Marketing and PR" by David Meerman Scott. Internet social sites are the new version of the old telephone party line. Listeners with similar interests are tuned in. Five By Design is excited about the future of POPS because they are listening to the comments of our audience which is shaping their productions.