At Monday’s Oregon Arts Summit, I participated in a panel called “Media, Community, and Conversation,” which focused on “reliable, flexible tools for creating meaningful engagement, expanding dialogue, and generating enthusiasm for arts programming.” Here’s the original script of my presentation. (Special thanks to Portland Emerging Arts Leaders for the invitation.)
Today I want to talk about how your digital strategy should emerge naturally from organization’s objectives.
I’ll start by giving a simple example from our recent work.
In designing a new website for the Oregon Arts Commission, as we discussed their goals and reviewed content on the site we’d be replacing, we discovered that a simple, evocative description of their work and impact remained conspicuously absent. A typical user is unlikely to download a PDF and dig through your strategic plan; nor should they need to. And yet it’s vitally important that people know why you exist and what difference you make in the community.
We wanted to make this information as easy as possible to digest, so our team created a very short (48-seconds), animated infographic to do the job.
That’s really all I want to say about our work with the Arts Commission for now. Just that example.
Start with your objectives. Ask, How can digital tools serve them? Not, How can we have a Facebook presence? Don’t just decide, We should really be on Twitter. The question is: What new opportunities do these tools present that could help us achieve our mission?
“Digital” is your website. It’s your newsletter and blog. It’s Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram. It’s Foursquare and it’s Yelp. It’s iTunes, Kindle, Google and Bing. It’s every app you haven’t yet heard of because you only have so much time in the day, right? Vivino—do you know Vivino yet? It’s like Shazaam for wine: You snap a picture of the label on a bottle, Vivino recognizes what wine you’re drinking. You get ratings and prices and comments from other users; if you choose, you can contribute to those comment threads, or you can simply save your ratings and your tasting notes privately so that next time you’re dumbfounded in the wine aisle of Fred Meyer in an instant you can retrieve the name of that Montepulciano you loved but can’t remember.
“Digital” is also the platforms and more broadly the technologies that no one’s thought of yet. Maybe some kid who’s learning about creativity at one of your workshops or in one of your audiences will imagine one into reality someday; there are boys and girls out there today who twenty years from now are going to be on the cover of Wired, for who knows what inconceivable expansion of what we now know to be possible, some technology that soon enough we’ll take for granted, such as, for example, carrying a phone, a camera, a notebook, a calculator, an atlas, a jukebox, a set of encyclopedias, a newsstand, a movie theater, and, yes, a wine steward in your purse or the pocket of your jeans.
The point being: More and more, like it or not, “digital” describes a state in which your audiences and funders spend much of their lives. Think, yourself, of the hours in your typical day, from when you wake up until you go bed. How many of your hours pass without either sharing or consuming some form of digital communication? Think about it. You checked your email or the weather or last night’s scores; you texted your spouse or your son; you snuck in a few minutes of Words with Friends. Now think about your organization and your goals for building not just audiences but communities. Pretty much every hour of the day, potentially, you have access to them. The New York Times this morning referred to contemporary American culture as “an always-on society.”
There’s tremendous competition for your audiences’ time, that’s true.
To be successful, you will have to make yourselves vulnerable. And you will have take risks. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the secrets to healthy digital relationships are not altogether different from the secrets to healthy face-to-face relationships: Have empathy. Give of yourself. Don’t make it all about you. Dare I say, love freely.
So, back to the beginning: What are your objectives?
Now, consider: What resources do you have? Potential funding or partnerships…staff members with a jones for this stuff. It’s possible—I would argue it’s even likely—that one or two impassioned staff members who thrive on digital communication will achieve more in a fraction of the time of a full-time hire who doesn’t naturally inhabit digital worlds.
Give them structure. Set purposeful, measurable goals. Empower them. Encourage the occasional failure. And then harness the creativity and dedication in your organization to apply these tools and technologies toward your success.