Effective Use of Social Media

By Mary Beth Smith

December 1, 2012, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

You probably don’t need me to tell you how quickly the media landscape has changed, but a study published this past summer by Arbitron, makes it clear that social media is becoming central to American experience—and mobile is increasingly the way we access our social networks. More than half of Americans have a profile on a social media site. In addition, adults 45+ make-up the fastest growing segment using social media, mobile use is exploding, and online peer recommendations are driving sales. Social media and more broadly, digital engagement, can no longer be an add-on or something we do on the side—it must be seamlessly integrated into our marketing and communications strategies.

Social media is a multi-purpose tool. Smart use of social media can generate awareness of your organization and its programs, more deeply engage audiences by offering behind-the-scenes content and encouraging real-time dialogue with fans, and it can also be an effective sales channel. Here at San Francisco Ballet, we are constantly learning and optimizing. Here are some of our recent takeaways:

1 Listen. Pay attention to your followers and fans—they’re like a giant focus group and they are providing you, every day, with feedback that you can listen to and act upon.

2 Keep posts short. In our experience, the shorter the post, the more likely it is to be engaged with. Also, short questions or “fill in the blanks” typically elicit a good response: Balanchine or Robbins? Did you dance this weekend? My all-time favorite dance icon is _____________.

3 Photos drive engagement. Our audiences have referred to our photos as “little gifts” and a wonderful “time out” from their day. Beautiful photos are easily shared by fans who want to pay the gift forward.

4 Go big on occasion. Strategically punctuate your daily engagement activities with programs that are larger scale and multi-faceted. Use contests to generate buzz, promotions to drive “likes”, or provide opportunities for your fans to express themselves on platforms like Tumblr or Pinterest.

5 Ask for what you want. Ask your fans to “share this”, “like this”, etc. Don’t be afraid to be explicit about the actions you’d like your fans to take. In our experience this can make a big difference in engagement rates.

6 Be responsive. Pay attention to what your fans are saying and respond quickly to any concern or complaint. If you respond to a negative comment with genuine interest and concern, that is what people are going to remember. Even if you don’t have an immediate solution, let the fan know you’re working on it. Whether you like it or not, if you manage your organization’s social media channels, you are also responsible for customer service, so make sure you’re acquainted with your customer service and ticketing policies.

7 Determine your best time to post. Try posting late at night or on the weekend and see how that affects your engagement rates. Use the Facebook scheduling feature to schedule posts outside of business hours.

8 Engage first, then sell. Concentrate on building relationships with fans and followers before you ask them to make a purchase. Our audience appreciates our ticket offers and promotions because we’re judicious about how much selling we do on social media.

9   Connect with your community. Use social media to connect to other organizations and to be part of your community. Don’t be the boring person at a party who does nothing but talk about themselves. Reach out: follow other organizations and congratulate them on their work, look for opportunities to participate in community celebrations, comment on what’s happening in your neighborhood.

10 Use a single voice. I know there are differing opinions on this topic, but I believe that people connect to people—not organizations. I like to think of our digital engagement associate as a sort of “DJ” for the organization and the curator of our social media experience.

The best advice I can give you, though, is to experiment and learn. Every organization is different. What works with one fan base may not work with another. Listen to your fans—they’ll tell you what’s working.

*The Social Habit, June 2012, Arbitron & Edison Research

Mary Beth Smith is the Director of Marketing and Communications at the San Francisco Ballet.