Artists, artistic and managing directors, board members, and audiences take note: In November of 2007, Hillary Clinton’s chief strategist Mark Penn said, with the kind of disdain only available to those of a mythic-sized hubris, Obama’s supporters “look like Facebook.”
The US presidential campaign losers included a Clinton who was anti-social networking (i.e. what’s the point when we know better than you), and a McCain who was anti-hope (i.e. don’t trust someone who isn’t like you and me, wink-wink).
The losing approach is, unfortunately, replicated across a number of arts institutions and organizations. Amongst so many points of inspiration, Obama’s campaign can have a direct impact on how to make the presentation of the arts more accessible, and better.
Are you looking for how to best use technology to deepen your audience’s connection and to extend your audience reach?
One of the major goals of the Obama campaign, led by campaign manager David Plouffe, was to use technology to create a direct and immediate relationship between the campaign and individual voters.
As noted in Newsweek magazine’s analysis (written by embedded reporters who hold off on reporting the campaigns’ inner workings until after the election), the Obama campaign’s official blogger, Sam Graham-Felsen, said “We never do something just because it’s cool.” Every tool had to have a practical purpose.
Early in the election process, the Obama team hired Chris Hughes, who had been Mark Zuckerberg’s roommate and original partner at Facebook, to be the head of the campaign’s new media and social networking. (Hughes brought us the Facebook “poke” amongst other innovations.) Hughes’ mantra was “I don’t care about online energy and enthusiasm just for the sake of online energy and enthusiasm… It’s about making money, making phone calls, embedding video or having video forwarded to friends.” The key? “When computer applications really take off, they take something people have always done and just make it easier for them to do it.”
The Obama campaign had an iPhone application, which looked really cool, but was actually an incredible data-mining resource. If you hit “call friends” the software would re-arrange your address book in the order of states that campaign was targeting at that specific time. The same application was later used for instantaneous reports back from the canvassing of voters at their homes.
The Vice-Presidential pick was announced via text message, which was an incredible way to match a significant announcement with the ability to collect voters’ cell phone numbers for use later on in the get-out-the-vote work. How many new cell phone numbers did the campaign collect? One million! (One of the new numbers? Beau Biden, Joe’s son. Txt Msg: Congrats Dad!)
How to create a connection at one of those huge rallies? Before Obama would appear, a campaign worker came onstage and encouraged the audience to use their cell phones to call or text their friends and spread the word.
Each step of Obama’s technology strategy was to create stakeholders in the campaign. The campaign was doing what successful arts leaders have always known as the key to audience development: Be in the Lobby.
Today’s (and tomorrow’s) technology allows us to take the post-show lobby presence further. The Obama campaign has shown the way:
- In the campaign and in the arts, you build an audience one by one. Use the technology to parallel and enhance this grass-roots approach.
- Don’t tap out donors all at once. Bring supporters along in small donations. Cash keeps coming, and so does the connection.
- Don’t fear feedback. Crazy as it seems some artistic directors and managers are afraid of unfettered negative response available on blogs and websites. Remember two things: One, most people follow the time honored tradition of if you don’t have something nice to say do’t say it; and, two, you want a response as a way to convert a conversation into a stakeholder.
- Use your audience to spread the word about an event. Friends believe friends.
- Follow your audience: Did your subscribers come to the event? Did they bring any friends? Did they give their tickets away? Who was new to the theatre?
- Use the technology to communicate directly to your audience. They won’t follow if you don’t take time to lead.
If post-election Barack Hussein Obama can be in the White House, then post-performance you can be in the e-lobby.
- Bill Reichblum