What is Your Cultural Organization Doing on its Summer Vacation?

By Katie Walsh-Edwards

For many South Florida cultural organizations, summer means an end of the programming season as snowbirds head north. This easy, breezy slowdown might seem like a welcome break; but arts marketers be warned, you could be heading for a HUGE mistake:

Silence.

Think about it. You have worked hard adding interesting content to your Tumblr, and discovering what kind of media your Facebook audience responds to. Reporters and critics know your Twitter handle as well as they know your name. You have cultivated an audience who has gladly accepted you into their daily social stream. Do. Not. Mess. This. Up.

So what do you talk about when you don’t have very many events to promote?  Well if you are following the 80/20 formula (80% engagement/20% broadcasting) then a slowdown in programming shouldn’t be a dramatic change. Nevertheless you still want to keep your organization‘s name out there. So let’s look at three ideas that will help you answer the question:  “What is my organization doing on its summer vacation?”

1. Advocate.
Politics and religion are almost always no-no’s, but arts advocacy is unquestionably important. Highlight people or groups who support the arts in your community, such as organizations collecting instruments for school kids, or a congressional representative speaking on the importance of arts funding.  Show your patrons that you aren’t just there to sell tickets, you truly believe in the product.

2. Treat your audience to a private tour.
Behind-the-scenes tours and artist meet-and-greets don’t have to be limited to VIP donors anymore. If you have in-house musicians or performers, capture a jam session or a rehearsal. Take pictures of the stage crew working on scenery or art handlers de-installing an exhibit. We take for granted all of the interesting things we get to see when we work for a cultural organization. Giving your audience a peak of what goes on behind the curtain will help people feel engaged and supportive of your organization.

3. But remember, it doesn’t always have to be about you.
Art touches all areas of our lives, and that includes holidays and milestones. For the Fourth of July, if you don’t have  relevant footage from your own organization, it’s OK to share someone else’s great performance. (My personal favorite is the Boston Pops “1812 Overture” set to fireworks.) August 18 is National Bad Poetry day, which sounds like a great opportunity for a Facebook contest.  You could even take a moment to spotlight another arts organization’s program. Playing well with others is a skill that has helped many arts marketers develop successful and innovative partnerships. Who knows, maybe the favor will be returned when you have an event in the future.

With a little creativity and planning, nonprofit arts marketers can maintain or even strengthen relationships with their social media audiences during the off-season. Rather than looking at this as downtime, use the quiet as a chance to stand out, and showcase your organization as the dynamic, nonstop cultural force it really is.

In addition to being a super cool gal, Katie Walsh-Edwards is the Marketing & Development Director at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach, Florida.  She is also on the board of the Palm Beach Chapter of the PRSA.

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