Summer is about sharpening the saw, that and watching all six seasons of Lost. I am not content being an underemployed, washed-up arts reporter. I want to be all that, plus have social media savvy.
I've wholeheartedly joined the "follow, friend, like" me club.
My mother always said, "Just hang around smart people honey," which is exactly what I did to overcome my impending irrelevancy. Meet my social media brain trust:
Katie Laird, Communications Director at Schipul-The Web Marketing Company and Happy Katie blogger, makes social media doable, easy and no big deal fun. There's isn't an intimidating bone in her body and I think Obama ought to hire her to teach net skills to the easily scared in a new outreach program. Laird co-hosts the Business Makers Overtime Show. She knows a lot about food too, and is in charge of Dr. Sketchy in Houston. She is usually found smiling.
Fayza Elmostehi, CultureMap's social media editor, could convince a Norwegian bachelor farmer that Twitter is right for them. Fayza is charged with getting the CultureMap crew up to speed. She's spunky, positive and full of hard facts on the value of social media. No matter what silly question I have for her, she responds in a nanosecond. In another life, she went to law school.
Monica Danna of CoLab seems to be the press person for most of everything in Houston. She's been holding court at Bright Sky Press with her Bright New Media series, where she teaches newbies and experienced alike to manage their Internet life. She's run social media for Bill White and other high profile candidates, along with smaller arts groups like Ars Lyrica and Opera in the Heights.
Her blog CosmoPolitician should be turned into a TV show. She's a modern day That Girl, minus the boyfriend named Donald.
Sydney Skybetter is a partner at Design Brooklyn and artistic director of Skybetter & Associates, a New York-based dance company. The net wonk/choreographer reminds me of a young Clay Shirky, but with way more hair. I predict he will be giving a TEDx talk within a year and a big TED talk within the decade. He speaks with a quiet authority about the subject, not full of rules and regs.
Skybetter's more of an Internet naturalist, observing its operation center and tracking sound results.
Now for the saw sharpening. My Twitter life was a an uncontrollable hot mess. Skybetter suggests finding out if your constituency is on Twitter before jumping on. Oops. There were approximately two Houston dance people on Twitter when I joined. I mostly tweeted about what beer I was drinking, the trials of nursing home shopping and my then-obsession with backyard chicken farming.
Laird generously offered me a little Twitter guidance while in Marfa. (The combined Twitter followers of my Marfa sisters stands at upwards of 65,000.) Laird's smile disappeared when she looked at my Twitter profile. I was following way too many people. No wonder my head hurt. She held my hand while I vowed to trim my Twitter tree.
Gone are the chicken farmers, the annoying Meghan McCain, the amusing Kirstie Alley, and all the people who tweeted once in 2008. I kept the beer people though. Laird's lessons have stayed with me. I have the brain band width to follow 400 people. More and I go @wall. (I can endlessly amuse myself using twitterese.)
"Half of your tweets should be about something other than yourself," Fayza tells us CultureMappers. Now might be a nice time to apologize for my first 600 "read this" tweets.
Cool. Finally, I know who I am annoying and exactly how.
Where are the drinks?
Twitter now feels like the just-noisy-enough cocktail party I was promised. Fayza takes me inside the CultureMap operation, where she's the sassy voice of their social media campaign. Big on metrics, she tracks trends, topics, mentions and more. It's way more complicated than just coming up with a killer tweet.
Next, she looks me straight in the eye, and tells me I need a Facebook page. Damn, how am I ever going to find out if that bald-headed guy ever gets off that island.
Danna defines social media as anything that is viral and can be shared. I whined to Danna about not having enough twitter followers during her "Who Cares what you ate for lunch?" workshop.
"Can't I just call China and pick up an extra few thousand?
This feels like high school," I tell Danna, who likes to drive home the point that it's not how many but who is following you.
"Think beyond getting your stuff out; it's not a one-way street. On social media you go from monologue to dialogue."
For Danna, best practices involve arts organizations and artists realizing they can do more than push their own shows. "I like the way DiverseWorks and Aurora Picture Show retweet other events," she says. "They know that their audience is interested in a whole gamut of activities."
Later, she tries to convince me to switch from Blogger to WordPress, a far better content management system. It feels great just throwing words around like that.
There's a lot of talk about pushing content in social media, a fancy way of saying to include links of interest to your followers. All this value add takes a toll on girl. Can't we goof off a little bit?
"Of course you can. You develop a community around you. Communities emerge and die around shared interests," Skybetter says. "There's a lot of froth coming from social media experts on rules and regs. Something will either work for you or not. You can't ignore the volatile nature of the community.
"Ad copy won't fly here either; you need a little punch and sass, a notion of authenticity. Why does your organization exist? What's your point? If you can't answer for your own existence in 140 characters you should not be on Twitter. The issue of identity and transparency comes into play the moment you get on."
Skybetter is also sold on metrics — and knowing the impact of your social media campaign. He recommends finding someone with some a strong personality as the voice of your organization. I like that he experiments with his own dance company.
"When I first joined Facebook, I basically just impersonated (dance icon) Larry Keigwin," he says.
Skybetter urges us to think beyond Facebook and Twitter. That's what we have for now, who knows what the next generation of social medial will bring.
"The bottom line is that all our feedback loops are accelerating at a rate that is unprecedented," he says."The Internet is not static. We don't know what the next iteration will be."
And he's right, consider the now ancient LiveJournal and the fading MySpace. At this moment Google is working on its own social media site. It's like the Wild West out there.
While I was in the thick of smartening up, the NEA released Audience 2.0: How Technology Influences Arts Participation. I could trudge through the whole thing, but I have way too much TV to catch up on. Marc Kirschner gets to key points, as does Jennifer Edwards (with Skybetter) in their Huffington Post blog, Dancing in a Vacuum: The NEA Says Get Online and Joe Frandoni of Technology in the Arts. Frandoni even speculates on the future.
Suddenly, the conversation is not just about me. Crazy, I know
I'd like to think that Houston artists adapt quickly to social media. A big shout out to Houston Arts Alliance and Grace Rodriquez for those early workshops, which helped artists craft their Internet presence, making it much easier for me to keep up.
Numerous stories in this very space came from a curious Facebook status. If you see a good show or read a strong piece of arts writing, share or tweet it. Artists, keep posting your images, videos and status hints. With Facebook reaching 500 million users last week, now seems like a good time to capitalize, harness and put these tools to use to grow engaged audiences. The Internet could be the great equalizer, a place where creativity and cleverness reign.
Now if you don't mind, I have some flash sideways time travel to get to.
Skybetter live-streamed opening night of his sold out show, The Laws of Falling Bodies, at the Joyce SoHo last March, allowing some 1,000 people to watch for free: