Soul Food and Social Media Strategy

By Vanya Foote, Executive Director, Atlanta Chamber Players

In November of 2017, I attended the National Arts Marketing Project Conference in Memphis, TN, thanks to a grant from The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation’s Audience Building Roundtable. Memphis, with its history rich in music and art (and not to mention having some of the best soul food around) provided a beautiful backdrop to bring together colleagues to collaborate and discuss some of the toughest challenges that arts organizations face.

The biggest challenge for me personally was “these ideas are great! But can I feasibly apply them to my organization…?” I am the only full-time staff member of the Atlanta Chamber Players, overseeing all of our marketing initiatives, as well as the general day-to-day operations. But you know what? I found out very quickly that even organizations that are large enough to have dedicated marketing departments have limited resources, and they were willing to share both their achievements and their failures with small organizations such as mine.

So in an effort to focus on finding those ideas that I could apply to my organization, I chose to attend “Mapping Your Own High Impact Social Media Strategy” on the very first day of the conference. It was presented by Doug Phillips, Creative & Digital Media Manager of the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation/The Freeman Stage at Bayside (Delaware).

This session was listed as a “Beginner-level Workshop” and as far as concepts go, social media is generally considered a beginner’s concept nowadays. However, I have found that because social media is often an organic process and intertwined in our daily lives, we tend to take an organic approach to it and ignore the basic concepts of planning—and I, for one have been guilty of that. In the massive “sea of culture” that’s out there, we need to find ways to stand out from other organizations and maintain engagement with our audiences.

Doug began by laying out a social media plan and a content calendar—which can be as simple as a printout hanging on your wall or tasks entered into your Outlook calendar. In his approach, he always aims for a mix of posts that include:

  • Appreciation: Thanking donors, volunteers, patrons and including videos of donors, sponsors or audience members explaining why they love your organization.
  • Advocacy: Raising awareness and educating the public about your cause.
  • Appeals: Targeted, action messages about fundraising and ticket sales.

The second part of Doug’s presentation included free and low-cost tools. He had tried hiring high-end professional videographers and editors and had not found the return on investment that he (or his Board) was looking for. So he recommended the following tools that anyone can use on a tight budget:

  • Animoto: to create videos and slideshows
  • Vimeo: for video hosting
  • Flickr: for photos that can easily integrate with your website
  • Grammarly: checks your content for grammar and errors
  • for free stock photos

Finally, he spoke about content generation and this topic has proven to be especially useful to my organization as we fill in the gaps in the year when we don’t have our own programming—like in the summer months—and when we need to communicate with our audience about other than ticket-buying. Some of his “go-to” places to create content are:

  • Google alerts: set this up to receive emails about your board members, staff, musicians, organization, causes, etc.
  • Feedly: RSS feeds of blogs
  • Medium: Curated content of interests

Returning home after the conference, I decided that the first thing I needed to do was to lay out a simple social media calendar. I used a filter on my google calendar—which is color-coded, simple, and very visual. I began with blocking out a few hours every Tuesday morning to plan and schedule the social media posts for the coming week so that I would always keep planning a priority. Sometimes it has been hard to stick with each week, but it has proven to be a good place to start.

Then, I built my plan around like “throwback Thursdays” or “Feature Fridays” and highlighting musicians (human interest stories) or causes that are similar to ours. Then, when appropriate, I featured ticket sales or other appeals.

After I built my plan, I focused on filling in the specific content. I began by being more visual. As a music ensemble, we often focus only on our concert recordings, but I’ve implemented more photos into our posts, revived our Instagram account, and am beginning to experiment with video.

Already I’ve noticed that our social media accounts see the largest engagement in posts that are not about selling tickets (not major news, but now I have the proof that it is true for us!). For example, we saw the highest organic reach with photos from our most recent concert, in which we also thanked our sponsors and audience (270 people reached, 28 comments/shares, and 61 post clicks). We’ve also seen strong engagement with feature articles about our Artistic Director or other musicians performing in non-Atlanta Chamber Players-related activities, stories about what other chamber music ensembles are doing, and simple, thought-provoking dialogue.

Our Instagram account has had 10% growth over the past few months, which may not seem like a lot (but that platform has our lowest following to start with), and when we share photos of rehearsals or performances we see more engagement there than when we post updates on Twitter. Facebook is still our number one platform, but since many of our musicians use Instagram, it makes it easy for us to tap into their content and their followers.

To generate additional content, I have set up google alerts for our organization and any of the musicians that play with us (especially guest artists that may have a more international career), so that I never miss an opportunity to post on social media and the information is always timely. This method gives me content to use when I’m not promoting a concert or we have downtime in between concerts—and we ensure we stay top-of-mind with our audiences.

At Atlanta Chamber Players, we are slowly making the transition from being “transactional” to being more “relationship-focused” with our audiences; our social media plan and the ideas we’ve embraced to mix up our content has made all of the difference. It has helped to alleviate our issue of keeping up our engagement in between concerts and other events.

The NAMP Conference as a whole was eye-opening and it was a great platform to exchange ideas. The conference attendees included representatives from many smaller organizations and we were able to learn from larger organizations’ successes (and failures.) We learned how to implement some of those ideas into our own work and it’s already (less than six months later!) making a difference. We intend to keep at it.

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