TechsmARTs Follow-Up: Social Media at The Weather Channel

Note: The audio of April’s TechsmARTs discussion can be found at the bottom of this post.

If I were to split out the world of social media professionals into two camps (for the sake of this post), there are those who like to refer to social media as a conversation, and those who don’t. Mark Elliot, an on-camera meterologist with The Weather Channel falls squarely within the pro-conversation camp.

Mark is a TWC meterologist who is specifically charged with keeping the conversation going. A quick check of his Twitter feed at any time offers a glimpse into the conversation. His latest tweets generally tend to include replies, questions to his followers, and updates on weather events. Mark also maintains a Facebook page that doesn’t cross-post to his Twitter feed (thank you for not cross-posting, by the way).

A few months ago Mark approached us with an offer to speak at a TechsmARTs session. We decided this was a good opportunity to try something new, and see what wisdom we could glean from his experience and apply it to the arts world. Many thanks to those of you who showed up to indulge us. 🙂

Mark offered a wealth of information on who is using the various social media platforms, and how each of them tend to be used. But he began by making the point that social media is a conversation — and it’s a conversation where you (as an arts organization) want to be involved.

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I’m not going to speak too directly to Mark’s presentation. You’ll find the audio from the presentation included at the bottom of this post. Inspired by Mark’s presentation, I’ll focus on the point of social media being the conversation, and what I believe that means for artists and organizations.

What is the difference between having a conversation and broadcasting a marketing message? First, if your organization’s marketing director is the only one “managing” the Facebook page and/or Twitter stream, your organization may be, as Trevor O’Donnell put it, acting out the wrong love story. That is to say, if every message sent out over Twitter and Facebook is about the greatness of the organization or the next show or event, then you might want to reconsider your messaging. You may be inadvertently sending out a message that says, “Our organization takes no interest in its audience. Just as our audience is irrelevant to us, we are irrelevant to our audience.”

Mark’s presentation tells the story of a broadcasting company becoming a social company. He offered ten ways TWC is using social media. Your average artist or arts organization would likely collapse before trying to emulate TWC’s incredible social machine. Most of us don’t necessarily have the capacity to fully take advantage of even the free resources that are available. But that’s okay. It’s better to focus on “how” rather than “how much.” Beth Kanter has a blog post listing 52 tips for using social media more efficiently, and you don’t have to focus on all 52 of those things.

Artists carry a natural advantage over many other types of businesses when it comes social media. But as Mark McGuinness explains, there are some mistakes artists tend to make, too. The natural advantage artists carry: artists are already in the practice of producing content. Many artists tend to fear “giving the product away for free.” At the end of McGuinness’ blog post, he asks, “What you would add to this list?” The first comment: “Not understanding what it is they’re really selling or what it is that people are really buying (hint: it’s not a piece of artwork).”

I think one key lesson from Mark’s presentation is that most of the on-camera meteorologists maintain their own Twitter feeds and Facebook pages. This is a major aspect of an organization engaging in a conversation with its audience. Even considering the resources at TWC’s disposal, that’s still a very high level of engagement. I’d like to hear from you if your arts organization has attempted anything similar.

According to many marketing studies of the arts, a majority of first-time patrons never return after that first visit. Could social media be an avenue for better engaging those new patrons? What strategies have worked for you as an artist, or for your organization to more consistently engage your first-time patrons? Or, is social media more effective as a platform for patrons who are already engaged and inclined to return?

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