Social media and technology has become essential to the communication and connectivity of performing arts organizations. Used effectively, social media can help the arts establish personality, authenticity, transparency, and encourage greater audience interactivity and participation. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra uses a variety of social networking and multimedia tools to help promote their work and engage constituents. The BSO is active on several major social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Links to the BSO’s social media pages can be found on the “BSO 2.0 Connect With Us” page on the organization’s website, inviting people can connect to the symphony and to fellow BSO fans and providing access to a collection of BSO recordings on iTunes. The Baltimore Symphony maintains a regular presence online, posting frequent updates, multimedia files, and expressing a variety of information. When it comes to expanding outreach and awareness through technology, the BSO seems to be doing rather well.
- The BSO on Facebook shares videos, recordings, images, concert/event updates, symphony news, opportunities to connect with the conductor, interesting posts related to classical music and composers, audience reactions, and fan comments. The BSO has also enabled the Spotify app, providing listening access to Baltimore Symphony Orchestra radio free of charge. Overall, their Facebook page certainly seems to be effective in terms of increasing visibility; it has been “liked” by more than 6,800 users.
- @BaltSymphony posts regular #tweets about concerts and events, fan comments, audience reactions, promos, and interesting, music-related articles, reaching over 7,000 followers on Twitter. An image of the symphony’s esteemed Maestra, Marin Alsop, is used for the background, reinforcing the connection between the conductor and BSO fans.
- BSOmusic on YouTube is especially critical to establishing this technological connection between the conductor and audience, featuring videos of backstage interviews with musicians, performances/events, season previews, conductor talks, musician conversations, and all of Maestra Alsop’s Webumentaries about the works performed by the BSO. BSOmusic videos have accumulated nearly 140,000 views and more than 220 YouTube subscribers.
The BSO has achieved success in other technological outlets through their recordings and radio broadcasts of their performances. The Baltimore Symphony has an acclaimed recording history, receiving its first Grammy award in 1990, followed by two more in 1994, and Grammy nominations in 1997, 2000, and 2009. The orchestra’s modern technological outreach and development has been propelled by the esteemed BSO Maestra, Marin Alsop. Under her leadership, the BSO ventured into online distribution on iTunes beginning in 2007, featuring a series recordings and free podcasts geared towards classical music newcomers. The orchestra also entered into a partnership with XM Satellite Radio, reaching a subscriber base of more than eight million nationwide, and with the Naxos record label. Additionally, Marin Alsop has become a regular feature on National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition,” with her radio segment, “Marin Alsop on Music.” The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has also been featured on American Public Media’s highly regarded music programs, “Performance Today” and “SymphonyCast.”
The use and importance of technology is made apparent in their programming and professionally designed website as well. Although the BSO’s 2011-2012 concert season recently came to a close, there is already a buzz in the air about the future programs scheduled for 2012-2013. The coming season will feature multimedia productions inviting audiences to “explore the energy of the film score and the art of cinema” (e.g. Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, West Side Story, Hair Spray, James Bond, and Star Wars). All of this is explained, of course, in a video preview on the BSO website.
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is unique, however, because they perform at two “home” locations – the Meyerhoff in Baltimore, Maryland, and Strathmore in North Bethesda. As the Strathmore Development intern for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, my experience with BSO technology has primarily revolved around the Tessitura Network and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. The BSO recently switched to the Cloud, which prompted the decision to upgrade security to a higher level to prevent hackers from accessing sensitive patron information. This shows responsibility and greater accountability towards BSO constituents.
The BSO development team at Strathmore maintains open lines of communication via email, telephone, and direct mail. Electronic invitations are sent to donors for special events, allowing for RSVP tracking online. Email invitations are sent out to Symphony Society and Governing Society Members for pre-concert and intermission receptions held in the exclusive Comcast Donor Lounge. As they respond, it is my job to update their individual activity histories in Tessitura. Having a record of attendance allows us to track participation, identify potential prospects for greater giving, and to know whom to expect at the Donor Lounge on the night of the performance.
At the season finale and donor reception, photos were taken of board members (including the Board Chair), donors, guests, and the featured soloist, Nadja Salerno Sonnenburg, with Marin Alsop. These pictures become special memento for the people who attended the event, as well as a visual reminder for potential donors to see how much fun they could be having at the BSO at Strathmore events! Subscribing members receive additional benefits throughout the season, such as a free subscription to the Naxos online music library and special discounts. For anyone who is curious about future performances, the BSO at Strathmore’s season brochure has been made available online, which can be accessed at any time.
The BSO has integrated the use of technology, social media, and electronic and multimedia outreach tools into the company culture, but I think the BSO at Strathmore could do more to enhance their presence online to grow the donor base and tell their story. It is clear that the current donors are greatly appreciated, but what if they received regular “thank you” videos from the Donor Relations Manager (my primary supervisor) and the VP of Development at Strathmore? Not only would they feel acknowledged for their contributions, the video could also be used to provide evidence of the impact of their support. To encourage patrons to become or continue as donors, why not send them video previews of the special donor events planned for the season? Having these videos would make it even easier for patrons to share these experiences with family and friends, which could potentially result in increased contributions and participation in future concerts and events. To improve outreach and audience awareness, the BSO at Strathmore could even create their own Facebook page to connect with fans and further promote BSO events at the Bethesda location.
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Overall, I think the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s Twitter profile says it best, reinforcing the organization’s reputation as a high quality, innovative, and engaging orchestra – “The BSO is a world-class orchestra that performs regularly in two venues and has established itself as a leader in programming, technology & outreach.”