How Arts Organizations Win Gold Medals in Social Media | Beth's Blog

How Arts Organizations Win Gold Medals in Social Media

Digital Strategy

Flickr Photo - Of Small Things

Note from Beth: I missed out on the Olympics in London this year while I was traveling in Cambodia.     While the world acclaimed sports event was taking place in London,  the Gay Chorus Olympics was taking place in Denver.  Not only do choral groups from all of the country gather and perform, they also hold sessions to share best practices about managing the nonprofit organizations that support these community choruses.    James Nickerson, who has worked with the SFGMC and was a participant in a peer group learning exchange that I designed and facilitated for two years had the opportunity to share some lessons learned about social media with peer chorus organizations.     Here’s his reflection.


Gold Medaling in Social Media and Arts Organizations, guest post by James Nickerson

So there I was, seemingly suddenly, early on a Sunday morning, coffee in hand and 900 miles from home. I was in a random hotel ballroom in Denver, ready to present on the importance of social media to over 60 social media managers from LGBT choirs around the world.  I was attending the once-every four-years GALA Choruses  Festival, aka the Gay Chorus Olympics. My chorus, SFGMC brought 280 ppl to Denver to sing, and then we took a side trip to Laramie, Wyoming to perform a benefit concert for The Matthew Shepard Foundation.  But I was also asked to present on Social Media and the Arts at this “Gay Chorus Olympics.”

As my co-presenter Teddy Witherington kicked off this packed presentation, I had a “How The Hell Did We Get Here?” moment.  The critical path quickly became clear.  I have been a singer with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus for 10 years, and its social media manager for the last three.  Additionally, over the past 2 years, Teddy and I were very lucky to work with other SF Arts organizations in the “Leveraging Social Media” (LSM) workshop series.  Because of our participation in this program made possible by The Wallace Foundation and ongoing contact with Beth and our newfound SF-based peer group, we’ve had great success growing SFGMC’s social media presence, and the good people at GALA Choruses asked us to share our experiences with any other choruses that might be interested.

And boy, were people interested!  The 30 people we expected doubled to 60, and it was a great 75 minutes of sharing, laughing and making plans to do big things with what was learned.
And because sharing is caring, I thought I would share some of what we learned with you.  Above all, the Olympic sized theme we walked away with is Arts organizations lead the way in social media innovation. We do less with more, and when you add the creativity, inventiveness and moxie Arts people possess, that is fertile ground that enables incredible social media campaigns and tools.  Our group also discussed

  • Social Media-ites… This is a TEAM Sporto As Social Media Stewards, we have the responsibility to frame the social media function to our Boards, bosses, peers, and audiences as a strategic communications tool that requires resources, integration and a commitment to long term support. Doing so ensures the integration of the function into strategic planning and communications; neglecting to do so will position social media as a one-off, “band-aid” function buried in the organization. Reach out to others for the support you need to make this happen.
  • We are at the Tipping Point: “Something I have to do…” to Something we WANT and NEED to do!”    There was a general sense in the air that this group had moved past the idea that social media was something that had to be done, versus something that was great to do. The Social Media groups I moderate on Facebook are seeing other organizations benefit from thoughtful social media strategy and implementation, and more proactive social media efforts are beginning. For example, social media campaigns are now part of planning for entire seasons instead of trying to sell tickets to one-off shows.
  • Facebook Fans and Twitter Followers and Tweets are NOT the end game, rather the tools to achieve strategic goals! We were in agreement that social media tools exist to achieve the strategic goals of an organization, not the other way around. Counting the number of tweets or Fans defeats the purpose of social media.  It’s the conversations and depth of relationships that matter.
  • “Have a passion for the art, and the technique will follow.” That is a quote from co-panelist Matthew Dyer from the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus who is commenting on the kind of people who should be social media managers.  I agree.  The most effective social media managers eat, drink and (don’t) sleep it. (Additionally, the most fun social media managers are the ones in the Arts, but this author is biased…)
  • “To Be There, Or Not To Be There?” The entire room agreed that there are just too many social media properties out there to try and be on all of them. Build and populate the social media properties that are a crucial part of achieving organizational goals, and the rest will can be visited when more capacity is found.  It’s better to be robust and thoughtful on three social media properties than spread out and ineffectual across
  • “Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so.” – Galileo Galileio.   All the social media builds are for naught if you can’t measure their effectiveness.  Our group was in agreement that analytics are the Ying to content’s Yang.

In closing, you might wonder, like in any Olympic-themed story, who were the winners, and were there any losers?  At least in Denver, at the GALA Choruses conference, the 170+ choruses all agree that it’s not really a competition, it’s about coming together and sharing music, experience and connection. I will say, however, one of my Gold medal moments was spending time with the 70 other social media gurus from choruses around the world who do Herculean-sized work on behalf of their Arts organizations.  Onward, Social Media Olympians… Citius! Altius! Fortius!

Jim Nickerson is a Social Media consultant who has a soft spot in his heart for Arts organizations, weimaraners and Barry Manilow.

4 Responses

  1. teddy Witherington says:

    Fantastic blog Jim! What an amazing journey it has been. I will always remember us chatting away about designing SFGMC’s social media plan in the office one Saturday and looking at each other and saying “Wow, we sound like we know what we’re doing!” Quickly followed by, “wait a minute. We do!” Thanks to The leadership of visionary funders, the guidance of Beth, Julie and Kami and the support of our peers, we did it and now are able to share that gift with others. Doesn’t get much better than that. T

  2. We really enjoyed reading this blog Jim! We found very useful tips that we can use on our Social Media Sites! We will be sharing this on our pages, make sure to connect with us on our channels @uwnca and

  3. Tyler Moss says:

    I liked this article very much but it raises more questions for those diving into social media without much knowledge. How does one analyze the use of Twitter? Are these tools readily available? How many team members is an ideal approach? I’m not sure you have answers to these questions but they are definitely important for non-profits who want to have a presence in social media and also want to be efficient with their time.

  4. Beth says:

    Tyler: Great questions!! I have written about these topics in depth on this blog. For example, here’s a post about measurement tools and other tools that can help you be efficient with Twitter –

    There are many tools available for social media measurement – many of them are free. I maintain a large list of them here:

    Answering all the questions about social media in one blog I think is an impossible task, although a good post will raise more questions and inspire learning.

    A lot of your questions are more easily answered if you have robust strategy — and that starts with defining SMART objectives –

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