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Social media gives the arts an edge

  • Date: 2 September 2010
  • Area: National


Arts organisations and artists are increasingly recognising the opportunities presented by social media and social networking - Web 2.0.

However, while Facebook and Twitter are becoming the norm, for some social media can still feel like a bit of a burden.

'The way people are searching for and receiving information has changed in the last few years,' explains Jon Pratty, Digital and Creative Economy Relationship Manager for Arts Council England.

'More people are using Facebook than Google because using social media is often more efficient. Social media space is sorted into groups and sets. It clusters likeminded people who may not know each other, people that are like you or use language that is familiar to you.

'The old web was like a library of shelves that you had to search through yourself. But now, with the social web, you rely on recommendations and tags and similarities and seeing what other people, like you, like.

'So instead of spending hours using Google and sending out mail shots to hundreds of people and only reaching a few, now by using social media you can get right to the people that matter because they're already part of your network.'

One example of social media bringing people together with common interests is a ning site called Arts Funding in the UK. With 727 members, it aims to bring the sector together to create a cohesive voice about the potential arts funding cuts.

'Social media can help us talk to audiences too,' Jon continues. 'It offers an opportunity to tell them who you are, give them the story behind the art you create and present and sometimes even add to it in a participative way.'

Laurence Hill, Development Manager at Arts Council England regularly funded organisation Fabrica, thinks engaging with social media is the best way to communicate with the gallery's audiences: 'The world has changed, and it's not going back. People are having conversations about you. You can ignore them or you can join in.

'What's become apparent to me is that people are interested in the process more than the outcome,' Laurence adds. 'They want to know how long it took to make and how much it cost. Social media is an easy way of showing people behind the scenes. And if you do that, you can't help but deepen their engagement.'

The Brighton-based contemporary art gallery recently used Twitter to promote Brian Eno's 77 Million Paintings, exhibited at the gallery as part of this year's Brighton Festival. 'Every day I made sure to talk about the exhibition,' Laurence says. 'Places it had been. The installation once it started. Sometimes I posted a photo. I was trying to build up a picture of how 77 Million Paintings came together - 30 days, 30 tweets.'

Here at the Arts Council, we've also stepped up our use of social media. We have both national and regional Twitter accounts - in the south east we're @arts_se. We have also recently launched a new Facebook fan page. You can share our pages through Delicious , DiggIt and Facebook and you can sign up to our RSS feed

Easy wins for artists and arts organisations include Facebook, Twitter and blogs. Among Arts Council England regularly funded organisations in the south east, Facebook (65%) and Twitter (54%) have had the biggest take up, followed by blogs (19%), Youtube (17%), online forums (15%), RSS feeds (13%), and Flickr (13%).

Social bookmarks, on the other hand, are not quite as popular: Delicious (6%), DiggIt (2%), stumbleupon (2%), and addthis toolbar (2%). Social bookmarks are an easy way to allow the public to share interesting information or content with their friends - and they also help you keep track of any trends, spotting potential audiences and knowing what's popular.   

Some Arts Council England regularly funded music organisations use myspace, Spotify and podcasts to promote their artists' work. Glyndebourne is offering podcasts of this year's opera highlights, and Turner Sims Concert Hall is engaging audiences through its own Spotify playlists, Jazz with Attitude and Global Voyages.

That's not to say that other arts organisations shouldn't take advantage. Thanks to iPod, iTunes and multi-functional phones, more people are looking for free content online and spoken word podcasts are a popular commodity. South East Dance recently created a podcast of Lucy Cash's talk at Dance for Camera Nights at moves09 Festival in Manchester.

'Organisations using social media need to let people know how to find them online,' says Jon Pratty.  'The best way is to feature icons and content on your website's homepage. Share your Twitter and Flickr streams. Post your Youtube or Vimeo video. People will feel immediately involved and engaged with your website without having to make a single click.'

Lastly, social media should not be seen as merely a marketing tool - it can encourage new ways of curation and participation.

'This is an interesting, dynamic and fertile situation for artists, galleries and participants,' Jon continues. 'In the past, curators and artists were used to a one-way cultural experience. The flow of the experience was from the artist to the gallery to the audience. So you basically took what they gave you.

'But now the web gives us opportunities to collaborate in real time, across vast distances and through language barriers and age barriers and barriers to do with intellectual and physical disability. It seems natural to use the web as a way to generate ideas and creativity together - democratically and collectively.'

Says Laurence from Fabrica: 'It's important to break down the idea the gallery is an elite space for certain kinds of people. Social media and social networking can help as it's less formal, it's more engaging and it allows other voices in. If we can present other people talking about what we do, we can chip away at that perceived elitism.'

If you're interested in digital media and the creative industries, the Arts Council is hosting Media Festival Arts, a three-day conference in partnership with Emap and the UK Film Council on 8 to 10 September in London.

To find out more visit

Further reading on social media and the arts