Yesterday I attended a workshop on blogging and podcasting organised by Theatre Forum and presented by Susan Hallam. I was there with a couple of hats on – for a start I was the only blogger in the room and as you know, I’m an advocate of blogging for the arts sector. I have written before about the minimal activity in this area for this sector in Ireland but I was really there for selfish reasons to learn a bit about podcasting. The podcasting section was brief and to the point and I got some useful starter material to think about.
The workshop was aimed at Ireland’s performing arts companies and was a basic introduction to the nuts and bolts of getting up and running with blogs and podcasting. Hallam is an advocate of Blogger as a publishing platform because of its integration with Google (makes a lot of sense in terms of SEO) but less sense when one of our main broadband providers can simply drop the connection (as Twenty Major discovered recently). Many of the people in attendance were very new to the whole area of blogging and seemed to get great stuff out of it.
However – I was surprised at Hallam’s stance on commenting.
Hallam doesn’t believe in allowing comments on her own blog (apparently the comments were from competitors critical of her work) – and she disagreed with me that commenting on other people’s blogs should be a part of your blogging strategy. I was genuinely surprised by that stance. Blogs are conversational media and conversations involve at least two people. If you don’t allow comments on your own blog and you don’t deem it to be important to comment on someone else’s then the conversation on your own space is a monologue, not a dialogue – and if you’re not reading other blogs you won’t even know if the conversation has moved. Far too many businesses in my view simply use the blogging platform to update static websites with press release material under the guise of blogging. Hallam’s view of conversation seemed to fall into two categories – the “talk amongst yourselves” forum type of conversation where audience/customers/users discuss their views on a forum of their own – separate and distinct from the originator of the work – or the monologue variation described above.
I’m all for a third way
• One which leaves room for blogs to be informed and influenced by what readers think.
• One that is open to the possibility that our readers and users have an intelligence that’s useful for us in conceiving work.
• One that suggests that the audience is a critical part of the creative process and that conversation is a key way of opening up that creativity in the service of great art.
• One that sugests that our readers are peers, not only purchasers of a product
• One that decides to take on and engage with critical responses to art in a way that can lead to richer conversations about this sector.
or to quote Tom Raftery
Businesses are made smarter by receiving the kind of direct, candid feedback that focus groups and market research surveys rarely succeed in providing
or Bill Gates (courtesy of Tom Raftery)
Another big phenomenon is building communities around Web sites, around products. And virtually every company ought to have on their Web site the ability for their customers, their suppliers, various people, to interact and their employees to see the dialogue taking place there and jump in and talk to them and help them.
Art and culture are never created in a vacuum. The social architecture of the sector is key to its success – not only the “bums on seats” argument (which is such a reductive way of quantifying this community) but the qualitative experience of having access to creators and consumers in equal measure.
Capitalising on the various communities of interest would seem to me to be an enormously important part of that discussion – but then again, maybe some organisations aren’t interested in the immediacy of that conversation?
Of the 20 odd people who were in the room yesterday I think many will go away and assume that setting up a blog is a smart marketing strategy (and they would be right), but I think they may miss the other ways in which blogging makes sense for arts and cultural organisations – as genuine tools for connecting with audiences as active contributors to a community of interest, as peers and as co-collaborators. In an age when most arts organisations are being asked to invest time and resources in “audience development” (oh how I hate that term) blogging is one of the most useful (and one of the the cheapest) mechanisms for addressing that issue. The only real marketing question that matters is – “would you recommend this to a friend?” Arts organisations don’t need to sell tickets they need to convert evangelists who will gladly spread word of mouth about their work. Waiting for “them” to come to “us” has proved to be a limited strategy in the world of arts presentation – more and more organisations have outreach and education programmes to connect with new communities of artists and audiences – commenting fulfills the same function in the blog world. You can’t passively wait for someone to discover what you’re about – you have to engage in a bit of your own outreach by entering into other people’s communities and making your presence felt.
I’m all for marketing but if you don’t want to be part of a conversation – why use conversational media?
Disclaimer: I have written an article for Poetry Ireland on blogging for the arts community which will be published in their upcoming newsletter.