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Arts Organizations and Twitter: What Would Wellstone Tweet?

June 14, 2009

Twitter seems built for arts organizations. They have small budgets, but those budgets are offset by passionate audiences, rich content, and articulate employees. Yet I see arts organizations fumble and sometimes even offend people on twitter.

An arts organization on twitter is like a politician on the campaign trail. You are forming a number of micro-relationships (Bill Clinton joke here) which you hope will lead to a vote, an advocate, a donation, a commitment, or an ally.

Politicians have seconds with the average voter. But in that time, the good ones seem glad to see you and willing to hear you. They hold your name in short-term memory. (The great ones hold it in long-term memory.)

Bad politicians make a show of asking for your vote but you can feel them looking over your shoulder because they just saw one of their politico buddies.

Too many art organizations are like bad politicians. They only want to talk to their buddies. They are missing opportunities to turns wisps of good feeling into true support.

I will offer up my own pettiness for the greater good here. When you ask me to spread the word about your theater festival, and I do, and you then can’t be bothered to follow me back, I am offended. When I have purchased and tweeted about your books, and I serve on the board of another literary organization in your town, and I follow you: follow me back.

You need to have a strategy for following people and I would suggest that it needs to be much more inclusive than exclusive. You do not need to follow everyone who follows you. Twitter is filled with hustlers and people who seem to relish racking up quantities of irrelevant followers. But if people show a legitimate interest in the arts, follow them. If they show interest in your organization, engage them. If they do something nice for you—a kind word, a retweet–thank them.

Finally, think about the people who are representing you. If the staff you have assigned to manage your twitter accounts are snubbing people when they should be charming them, give them a chance to reconsider their approach. This stuff seems obvious to me, but it may not be obvious to everyone. If they still don’t get twitter, assign them other tasks.

Credit: Carnivale-Carnival parade : The handshake. on Flickr – Photo Sharing!.

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