Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Evolution of the Bulletin Board, ListServs and Blogging

At work, I am preparing a couple of sessions on viral marketing and the use of new technologies. As part of this process, I started a discussion with my colleagues at Americans for the Arts about the pros and cons of using blogs, based upon an entry in Andrew Taylor's The Artful Manager blog about how blogs are now being used as PR tools.

I am lucky to have as colleagues at Americans for the Arts some of the nation's foremost experts on arts marketing, including Gary Steuer (V.P. Arts & Business Council), Will Maitland Weiss (Executive Director of the Arts & Business Council of New York), Julie Peeler (Vice President of Arts & Business Programs) and Suzanne Ruley (Coordinator of the National Arts Marketing Project). I threw a couple of questions out to this group concerning blogging and started a great conversation.

I wanted to share with you an e-mail that I got from Gary Steuer yesterday. Gary not only provides some great insights on blogging, but gives a very good description of the evolution of bulletin boards, ListServs and now blogs.

From Gary's e-mail:

OK – time for me to weigh in – very interesting conversation! Opening up cans of worms not a bad thing – can’t fish without worms. While I have not entirely jumped on the RSS/Blog bandwagon yet, I suspect you are right Chad [on predicting that new technologies such as blogs will replace ListServs]. In many ways it reminds me of the way ListServs have replaced bulletin boards. In the early days of the internet (I am dating myself, but I go back to the early 80s when it was not even “The World Wide Web” yet and there was no GUI…), bulletin boards were all the rage, allowing users to post ideas that others then responded, creating an ongoing dialogue. One of the problems with bulletin boards was that they required users to visit them frequently, and actively participate, otherwise they sat there dead. In the beginning this was not hard to do, but over time, interest in bulletin boards waned, because it was too much work to remember to regularly visit them. They continued (and continue) to work only in certain very specific instances – when there was an issue people were truly passionate about, like medical and health issues, sports, or technology tech support. Once ListServs began growing in popularity, people found that means of communication much easier than bulletin boards because they had the dialogue “pushed” into their inbox, rather than having to visit a web site to participate. We had to respond to this even with the ArtsMarketing.Org Web site – in the early years it featured a bulletin board, with occasional guest experts to facilitate topical conversations. We could never get enough people to regularly visit to make it work. We had to switch to ListServ and e-newsletter communications which allowed us to push information into people’s in-boxes, making it easier for very busy people to stay informed.

However, as ListServs and e-mail volume in general have proliferated, I think there is something of a backlash against ListServs, and with ListServs you also lose the ability to follow a thread of conversation, since each contribution tends to exist as an individual nugget not easily connected to the larger conversation. As with bulletin boards, they still work, and I suspect will continue to play a communications and community-building role. But the advent of blogs, with the combination of RSS technology, multi-media, and now blog widgets, has created a new more dynamic communications medium that retains that same “push” feature – delivering the conversations you want right to your desktop.

The challenge will be that as more and more groups adopt blogs and RSS feeds, how much time and screen-space will people be able to devote to the thousands/millions of choices available to them, and how long will it take before we overload Blogs and move onto something new? Can direct feeds into our brains not be far behind? (Anyone ever see the movie “eXistenZ”? If so, you will understand what I am talking about…)

I do think it is important for us (and the arts as a whole) to stay at the leading edge of these trends, especially as we try to engage younger audiences – and field members – who will not respond to or even tolerate what they view as outmoded means of communication.

2 comments:

Alan Hume said...

Very good information. You should share it on Dot Email
http://www.dotemail.com

Alan H.

Doug Fox said...

Chad,

I was glad to come across your blog via a link on ArtsMarketing.org.

I finally had the chance to meet Andrew Taylor at APAP last week after reading his blog for quite awhile. Here's my write-up about the education session he conducted with his students.

Getting to your post about the pros and cons of blogging for arts organizations. While I'm a strong advocate for blogging and have been blogging for awhile, there are definitely some important challenges to address. Among them is the point that Andrew Taylor brought up about transitioning away from a single generic voice via traditional public relations to multiple, sometimes conflicting, voices that result from having numerous people within an organization talking via blogs. Is this more fluid, open and personal form of marketing, overall, a better approach for arts organizations?

Gary Steuer asks in the email he sent to you if we will suffer from blog overload. Yes, there are already too many blogs. But I do find the process of managing and categorizing relevant RSS feeds pretty bearable. I follow about 200 blogs every day using Rojo. I follow 40+ dance-related blogs. I can scan the most recent posts very quickly and decide which ones I want to read and, possibly, comment on. I've heard good things about Google Reader - so I might try out this tool as well.

Getting to Gary's point about staying on the cutting-edge to engage younger audiences: no question about it. Video content, mobile devices, blogs and social networking are all important to experiment with to figure out how to reach out to the next generations of arts patrons.