Why Your Arts Organization Needs To Invest In Social

How Social Media Discovery, Search, and Content Are Changing the Game

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How many minutes a day do you spend on social media? How many minutes do your kids spend on social media? What about your parents? Situation has always had an audience-first media strategy and the truth is, so much of our current audience and the audiences we’d like to reach spend time on social media. But with the oversaturation of brands and content, the perceived heavy lift it can take to get a channel going, and the overwhelming task of making content that stands out, many Arts & Culture organizations shy away from investing in their channels.  

This month I sat down with Situation’s Content Group Director Phillip Hughes, who oversees the content strategy for all of Situation’s clients across our Broadway, Arts & Culture, Sports, Attractions, and Live Events verticals. Phil has been working in the social media space for years, has led award-winning social media campaigns, and is a true social expert. 

In my conversation with him, Phil narrowed in on key social media strategy concepts for Arts & Culture organizations to consider, he shared how organizations of any size can get started, and he debunked common social media marketing myths. 

I loved chatting with Phil about how social media can be leveraged to build community, amplify the impact of Arts & Culture organizations, and bring more arts appreciators to arts experiences.

The Power of Social Media Discovery

Meghan Goria: Hi Phil, thank you so much for chatting with me about this today. Let’s start from the beginning. Why should arts organizations invest in social media?

Phillip Hughes: Social media has become so ubiquitous that choosing not to engage with it dramatically limits the reach, community, and impact of an arts organization. What I mean by that is social media now plays a key part in folks’ everyday lives. It’s where we go to check on friends, see what’s new and happening in the world, and discover new restaurants, shows, and things to do. Social platforms have become the hubs that extend the everyday lives of people into the digital space. With this in mind, arts organizations need to take the time to learn about these platforms, and what they are capable of, and participate in order to attract, retain, and build their audience. Social media is also one of the best ways to figure out what people are saying about your organization — but we’ll talk about social listening and business insights a bit later.

Meghan Goria: You mentioned discovery and I’d like to expand on that. There’s been a lot of conversation about “discovery” and how platforms have become more “discovery-focused.” What does that mean for arts organizations?

Phillip Hughes: When we say that platforms are becoming more discovery-focused, we mean that users are often going to these tools looking for what’s new and what’s happening. They want to discover something that feels just right for them and social media is the place to unearth such a find. We’re also seeing an increase among younger audiences using social media for search. This means that rather than Googling “fun things to do NYC” they will type their query into Instagram or TikTok and see what people are posting about. Together, these user behaviors indicate a shift in how social is being leveraged and arts organizations should see this as a win. Museums, performing arts centers, theaters, etc. are hubs of culture and activity often with rotating, limited, or immersive experiences waiting to be discovered. While your email list is always a trusty fallback, focusing a portion of your marketing strategy on creating engaging and clever content for social media means you’re feeding into the discovery process built into social media. I’d encourage arts organizations to work with their agency partners or marketing teams to shift how they see social media fitting into their marketing mix. These platforms are no longer about “click here, buy tickets” and instead are becoming content hubs with a path to conversion that isn’t the linear funnel we’re used to. 

How To Create Compelling Content

Meghan Goria: We’ve seen some really great content from arts organizations over the years. What are some of your favorite examples of nonprofits really getting social right? 

Phillip Hughes: First, I have to give a huge shout-out to the Museum of Natural History. A) It’s a G.O.A.T (greatest of all time) status museum. B) Their social team is taking swings while exploring the intersection of entertaining but informative social content. Their recent video set to Nicole Richie’s Little Gems is a visual reference for what various crystals look like that is hilarious and informative — but also trendy and relevant to their audience. I cannot get enough of it. 

PSB’s Eons has the history and science nerd in me living regularly. I find their way of sharing stories about a topic that many people may not be engaged by, like evolution and the history of the Earth into fun, fact-filled, short videos that feel right at home in your For You Page with photos of friends and endless animal videos.

And, Last Night at the Met, an offshoot of the Met Opera’s social presence has become a new obsession thanks to you, Meghan! A whole Instagram channel devoted to people who show up looking fashionable and amazing at the opera? Sign me up.

Meghan Goria: For an organization looking to dive in for the first time or re-think their current social strategy, where should they start? Specifically, what can nonprofits learn from the Broadway sector? 

Phillip Hughes: I love this question because figuring out where to start can be the hardest part. Here are four recommendations that may help point you in a better direction:

  1. Change your mindset. When it comes to social you do not need every post to be “buy tickets.” Audiences will disengage because it’s clear you only want to sell them something and people get enough “buy now” messaging from the ads across social. Give them a break and instead focus on informative, fun, and exciting content. What would you want to see more of in your feed? That’s always a good place to start. 
  2. Get a social captain (if you don’t have a social team). A social captain serves as an on-the-ground extension of your social team who can capture content on behalf of the social team. This is especially helpful for performing arts organizations. A social captain can work with the folks covering social to make sure there is a steady stream of content that is reflective of the show or experience. And to be clear, we strongly recommend you pay them for this based on how much you expect from them. If you have agency partners like Situation, we can work with your social captain to develop social content, refine social strategy, and build an engaged online community.
  3. Consider dialing back approvals. We understand that for many arts organizations, there are requirements that can send marketing and promotional materials through dozens of rounds of approval. This may seem radical but I would say when it comes to social, unless it’s a major announcement or event, reduce the amount of people that need to sign off on a post. Social moves fast and is meant to be a playground. If you’re going through more than three rounds of revisions for a post that will live non-chronologically on the feed and become mostly irrelevant after 24 hours, you’re doing yourself and your team a disservice. Move fast and break stuff. Test, evaluate, repeat.
  4. Learn what the platforms do. While it may seem intuitive that we post pictures on Instagram and funny videos on TikTok, these platforms are capable of so much more. Taking the time to learn what they can do and what the features are will allow you to use them better and see better results. Need to post a link? Consider making it an IG story and use the link feature vs. saying “link in bio.” But IG stories expire after 24 hours! Correct, so make it a highlight on your page. There are a lot of ways to do the same thing across these platforms, it’s up to you to figure out what works best for your audience. 

Common Misconceptions

Meghan Goria: On the client side, I’ve seen a few common misconceptions across the industry. Let’s do a rapid-fire to help set the record straight. 

  • MG: True or false: To have video content you need a big video team, budget, and production studio.
  • PH: False! Video production is a spectrum and if you don’t have the resources to produce high production quality, there is still a lot you can do with the medium.
  • MG: True or false: TikTok is just dancing teenagers.
  • PH: False! There are plenty of Arts & Culture brands that are successful on TikTok. Get in there and start having fun!
  • MG: True or false:  The point of social media is to sell tickets. Always. 
  • PH: FALSE! Please, stop this trend! The conversion funnel we learned in Marketing 101 is dead. Long live the multi-touchpoint, cyclical, infinity loop that is conversion on social media.

Meghan Goria: Thank you so much for chatting with me today. Is there anything else you think the Arts & Culture community should know about social media’s role in cultivating community?

Phillip Hughes: My final thought for arts organizations is that social media is all about community building. I hate getting on this soap box but I’m going to; if you are on social media because you want to tell people over and over “buy tickets,” “become a subscriber,” or  “join us now” you will isolate and push away new audiences. Use social media as a way to SHOW not TELL audiences why you are worth their time. Hundreds of online niche communities have been built around shared interests and experiences that you can tap into if your organization speaks to that interest or experience. If your organization is looking to bring in a younger and more diverse audience, social media is where you need to be. If you want to find new audiences, then developing content that is built for discovery, showing off what makes you special and the value you add to someone’s life, is always a good investment. Social doesn’t have to be this stressful headache of an experience, in fact, it shouldn’t be, so if it is, ask yourself why and make a change. 

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