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Tweets of the Trade: Why Twitter is cultural organisations’ new best friend

  • Date: 25 October 2011
  • Area: South East
blue twitter bird

Since its launch in 2007, Twitter’s popularity has grown, with arts and cultural organisations harnessing this social media tool to connect with audiences.

Twitter offers you 140 characters per message, is completely free to use, and boasts 200 million users. However, time poor organisations may be put off by the potential time it takes to maintain and the intrepid may not know how to get started – or what to tweet about.

To help demystify Twitter, we talked to three different organisations about their experiences of using the site– how long they’ve been using it, what works, what doesn’t work and what tips they’d give for new users.

Sara Dewsbery is the Press and Marketing Officer at Arts Council England regularly funded organisation Modern Art Oxford. The gallery (@mao_gallery) started using Twitter in March 2010.

Sara says, ‘I'm still trying to get my head around Twitter. I wish I had spare hours to look properly at what's going on out there and really utilise retweeting, joining in and starting up conversation topics. It could be a full time job for someone!

‘I tend to use Twitter as a marketing tool - to promote our events, raise the profile of the gallery and programme, and circulate press reviews. We've gone from 726 followers (2010) to 2,669 followers (2011) - ok, so not as many as Lady Gaga (@LadyGaga), who has over 14 million followers, but you've got to start somewhere.

‘The most exciting event tweet-wise was last summer when Guardian travel journalist Benji Lanyado (@benjilanyado) was on one of his TwiTrips and sent a request to the Twittersphere for ideas of where to visit in Oxford. I tweeted and persuaded him to come to the gallery and he mentioned us in his article.’

Lisa Wood is the Marketing and Digital Media Officer for Arts Council England regularly funded organisation Oxford Playhouse. The theatre (@OxfordPlayhouse) set up their Twitter account in August 2008 and to date has 5,527 followers.

Lisa says: ‘Twitter is a vital part of our digital marketing strategy at Oxford Playhouse, and it’s a fun part too! It’s a fantastic, and surprisingly personal, way of interacting with audiences. We encourage audiences to send us Twitter reviews of shows they have seen here, as well as talk to them about what’s coming up and how they can get involved. It’s also really useful for answering quick questions people have before they visit us.

‘In my personal experience, it doesn’t pay to be too formal with your Twitter language. I find we get less retweets and replies when we send out the more formal ‘coming up’ tweets. It helps to send out questions or invite comments from followers.

Kevin Bacon is the Digital Development Officer for The Royal Pavilion and Museums in Brighton & Hove, which includes The Royal Pavilion, Brighton Museum, Hove Museum, the Booth Museum and Preston Manor.

The museum (@BrightonMuseums) started using Twitter in November 2010 and has 2079 followers. 

Kevin says: ‘In terms of making us a more responsive organisation, Twitter is great. I've always felt that the physical and intellectual architecture of museums has made two-way conversation difficult with audiences, and Twitter is one way of addressing that.

‘What works best for us is reactive content: where we respond to trending topics, individual comments, or what's going on in the news. A few weeks ago, I noticed a lot of people were commenting on #BHSheep, a hashtag used by Brighton & Hove City Council (@BrightonHoveCC) for those monitoring its conservation grazing programme. Looking at our collections, we had over 420 objects relating to sheep, from toys to photographs to ceramics. It was a good excuse to make people aware of some of these collections. We had some great feedback, including a short piece on our social media activity by a local online magazine. Plus, it was a very good excuse for some 'baad' jokes.

‘Because Twitter presents so much scope for participation, it's easy to assume that everyone wants to get involved. You can sometimes ask users a question or invite them to take part in an activity, and you may find that you get a lot of passive interest but no engagement.’

Tips for new Twitter users

Lisa Wood, Marketing and Digital Media Officer, Oxford Playhouse:

  • ‘Don’t get disheartened with it. Although Twitter is an instant platform, like everything, it takes time to build up a loyal following.'
  • ‘Use the ‘search’ function. Follow people with similar interests or that live nearby and don’t be afraid to follow people who are already following venues, companies or artists similar to you.'
  • ‘Use interesting and relevant hashtags (#) in your tweets, and you will soon find you are gaining new followers every day!'
  • ‘One top tip: ensure you turn off the notification settings that e-mail you every time someone starts following you or replies to you directly – it’ll drive you mad otherwise and fill up your inbox!’

Kevin Bacon, Digital Development Officer, The Royal Pavilion and Museums:

  • ‘Never forget what you do, why you're doing it, and what audiences you wish to engage with it.'
  • 'Remember that Twitter's a giant conversation, and the rules of everyday conversation still apply: be responsive, be respectful, and be interesting.'
  • ‘If people are talking about a subject, what's your take on it? Can you say more about the history, depictions, or issues involved?'
  • ‘Finally, be cautious of advice from social media experts. A lot of it is good stuff, but you need to find your own voice, and what works for you and your audience. There is a tendency for some advice to be handed out like tablets of stone - that applies to me too.’