Twits for the Arts
May 19, 2011
I'm impressed by Twitter's attempt to reach out to local arts organizations here in the Bay Area.
The San Francisco-based social media company invited a bunch of arts marketers and media types (me included) to their offices in the South of Market neighborhood yesterday afternoon for a "Performing Arts and Social Media Discussion." The hour-long event featured a short presentation by James Buckhouse, the Marketing Director at Twitter, followed by casual drinks and chat. About 30 people attended the event, including communications employees from the San Francisco Opera and the San Francisco Ballet.
But despite Twitter's good intentions, the event left much to be desired in terms of making me really understand how Twitter can help to connect artists with their audiences and peers.
Things got off to a shaky start with Buckhouse's non-sequitur of an opening gambit. He spent the first five minutes telling over-labored hypothetical story about a driver in a car flipping over upon accidentally hitting a deer in the road and then surviving against the odds. He followed the anecdote by saying something along the lines of: "This is what makes me want to work hard. This is why the arts are so important."
I'm not sure what Buckhouse was driving at with all of this. I certainly felt like a deer in the headlights by the end of his monologue. When, much to my relief, he stopped talking and played a video packed with endorsements for Twitter from celebrities like Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart, I was still none the wiser.
Another strange thing: Buckhouse explained the importance of using Twitter to share personalized thoughts and opinions on the arts, rather than sending out institutional-sounding reminders about upcoming performances such as "Blah Dance's next concert happens on Friday. Visit www.blahdance.org for more info." But the example the marketing director used to illustrate the kind of re-tweet-worthy, "in your own voice" messaging that he says works well on Twitter was a Tweet from an arts worker quoting someone else! Though I suppose the message was personal in the sense that it didn't just communicate factual information, it still wasn't written in the sender's own words at all.
I spent a little while before I left exchanging pleasantries with a Twitter employee, Claire, who had been sitting in the back of the room the entire time working on a completely different project. Claire told me that she had been interested in attending the session as the company's expert on the non-profit sector, but once she was in the room, didn't apparently feel compelled to pay much if any attention to what was going on around her. I tried to find out what exactly it is that Claire does for Twitter as its non-profit guru, but her explanation sounded quite abstract and left me puzzled.
I did however learn one useful thing from Claire: I explained that that I have been having trouble dealing with the onslaught of Tweets from the people I follow in my Twitter feed. She suggested creating "lists" to help manage the madness. I very much appreciated this advice and will no doubt act upon it.
I felt quite baffled by the event, all in all. I would have liked Buckhouse to include a Q&A session in the proceedings. But instead of opening up the floor for a formal discussion to allow the group to share views and ideas en masse, Buckhouse simply urged us to have a drink and chat with our colleagues. I had to leave early to get to an event in Berkeley, so perhaps everyone reconvened at some point after I departed. But I somehow doubt that that happened.
I don't mean to sound completely negative about Twitter's arts outreach event. I think it's a great idea in principle and I felt privileged to have been invited. But I think Buckhouse and his colleagues should give more careful thought in future with regards to how to manage the event in order to really engage those present and hopefully make a difference.