Today, I interview Ling Chan, Social Media Manager at The Vancouver Opera. I have long been a fan of the VO’s forward-thinking and cutting-edge social media marketing techniques (which resulted in a Georgia Straight Best of Vancouver pick for Best Arts website), so I was super excited when Ling agreed to sit down for a few minutes with me and talk about their strategies.
RC: How did you get started with Social Media?
LC: I have to first of all give props to our general director, James W. Wright. He’s very forward-thinking and progressive, and he walked into our office one day and said “Why don’t we have a blog?” The managing director, Christopher Libby and I started this in May of 2008, and eventually I took over the whole thing. We were very lucky, because I think a lot of companies are or at least were, resistant to social media.
RC: What were your first forays into social media?
LC: Well, I was already familiar with all the tools. I had a Myspace page (this was before Facebook), and I blogged. It makes it less scary when you have someone inside your organization who is already familiar with the tools. At the opera, we started a Facebook profile, and also a blog. It was a new thing–we weren’t sure how we would be received. We started blogging about company going-ons, how we were planning our season. Then, as it caught on, we branched out with other features to engage our readers: we did Bizarre opera video, Tuesday Trivia, Top 10 Fridays. We try to post 3-4 times a week, currently. We have over 1,100 posts on our blog.
We got involved in Twitter about a year later. I took a workshop organized by Powershifter Media and came back to the office and said “we gotta get on Twitter!” and opened an account that afternoon. People started following us right away! Now we have 3,350+ followers.
RC: For me, one of your coolest initiatives is Blogger’s Night at the Opera. Tell me about that.
LC: Rebecca Bolwitt, @Miss 604 came to one of our shows and blogged about it. She suggested to us to do a blogger’s night. We ran with it for Carmen in early 2009, and she came to the shows, along with @TrisHussey, @Kimli, @Netchick, @Hummingbird604 and @Somisguided. At first, it was a bit of an oddity, but everyone loved the idea of it. We invited them to blog pre-show, at the intermission, and we also invited them to the after party. We gave them a backstage tour.
RC: What kind of results have you seen?
LC: I think we opened the door to people who were “opera-curious.” There is a kind of stereotype about opera-goers: stuffy, expensive. Blogger’s night and other initiatives, like the Get O.U.T.! Program, which offers $25 tickets to 18-29 year olds, are helping to bring in a younger demographic.
It’s to make them aware of the art form, get them excited, get them curious about it. Once we get them through the door, they will come back. We’ve had nothing but positive feedback. Eventually, we hope to turn single-ticket sales into season subscriptions, or even, at some point, donors.
RC: What other kinds of things are you doing?
LC: We have done Fashion Night at the Opera: I go around taking photos of people dressed up to go to the opera and upload them to our Flickr account. I started out focusing on the younger attendees, but now I just take photos of everyone who dresses up.
We have an initiative called Opera Ninja. We invite bloggers to come to the dress rehearsal and they get to sit in the orchestra and live-tweet the performance. Mostly they tweet about their reactions to what’s going on onstage.
We have also used SmartPics Photobooth–people can stand in front of the photobooth, take a photo and email it to themselves as a memento.
We did a treasure hunt for Nixon in China at the beginning of this year. We had people go to famous landmarks in Chinatown and take photos of themselves there. They got entered into a draw for a Nixon in China prize package.
RC: How are you using Video?
LC: We have a YouTube channel. We have, in the past, given a principle singer or assistant director a Flip cam for a week and just let them run with it–whatever they want to talk about or show, and we posted it. We also do rehearsal footage, trailers, cast interviews. With our current production, Lucia di Lammermoor, we’ve crowd-sourced questions from people via our blog, and we’re going to have three of the cast answer them on video and post them.
RC: What do you see is the future of Social Media Marketing?
LC: I would love to make use of Foursquare but unfortunately we don’t own our own theatre and we perform at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre only four times a year. But we might come up with something.
We are starting to use QR codes. We have QR codes on our posters and bus shelter posters. They scan the code and get exclusive behind-the-scenes footage. The response hasn’t been huge so far, but we are committed to trying it for this season to see what happens.
RC: What advice would you have to give to small theatre companies who don’t have as large of a staff as you have at the VO?
LC: Well, we’re lucky, because our management recognizes that it’s important to have someone dedicated to doing this job in our organization. Not all opera companies may have that. Suss out the people in the company who are familiar with these tools already, and see if they can take some of this on. It’s important, because of the immediacy of social media, to have someone in the office that can react to something on the fly. Also, I’ve known a couple of companies getting interns to do this–it means turning it over to a new intern each time, but it can be a way of making it work.
RC: Final words?
LC: As arts organizations, it’s easier for us to get involved with Social media rather than a solid, corporate institution like a bank. Non-profit organizations have to be creative and think outside the box when it comes to raising money and awareness. Social media has helped us to do that.
RC: Thanks, Ling!