Mid Atlantic Folk Arts Forum

How to Folk with Web 2.0

Posted by midatlanticfolkarts on August 11, 2009

To bridge the gap between the previous e-Forum and this new blog, we’ve invited guest blogger David Dombrosky to share his expertise bringing together folklorists and Web 2.0.  David spent a good deal of time this spring talking to folklorists about Web 2.0, social media and web-based interactivity.  At both the New York State Folk Arts Roundtable and the Middle Atlantic Folklife Association‘s annual meeting, he conducted intensive seminars on the ways that folklorists can take advantage of online tools to enhance their work, attract audiences, and work more easily with their colleagues.  Here he shares an overview of these lessons, practical advice and links for further information.


When I first started working in the arts, I must admit that I knew nothing about public sector folklore or traditional art.  During my eight-year tenure at the Southern Arts Federation, I grew to learn a great deal about public sector folklorists and their work with traditional arts and culture, thanks to my colleague Teresa Hollingsworth.  On the surface, technology may seem antithetical to traditional culture; but after many conversations with folklorists over the years, I firmly believe that Web 2.0 tools can be of great benefit to the field of public sector folklore.

The Culture of Sharing

So what is Web 2.0?  Web 2.0 is a theoretical shift in both the role of the Internet and our usage of it from a predominantly unidirectional flow of information to a multi-directional one.  This shift in the flow of information has expanded the role of the Internet from a publication platform to an engagement platform.

At the advent of public Internet usage, we worked with a mostly “read-only” Web.  Organizations hired webmasters to replicate their printed promotional materials online as “brochure” sites, Web sites with informational content that rarely changed.  Additionally, the primary ways in which visitors could communicate with the organizations were by email and telephone.  Information flowed from the organization to the site visitor with very little reciprocal engagement.

With the rise of Web 2.0, everything has changed.  Today, we work with a “read-write” Web.  Online applications allow us to continue publishing content to Web sites, but visitors can now respond to us through a number of tools including comments, forums, chat rooms, instant messages, social networking sites, email, or even through their own online media.  This reciprocal engagement allows for a multi-directional conversation among cultural organizations and their constituents.  As the general population increasingly utilizes these tools to communicate with one another, we have seen a culture of sharing permeate the Internet.

Of course, folklorists are intimately familiar with our society’s culture of sharing as it contributes greatly to the passing of traditions and knowledge within a community and between generations.  Over the past decade, the impetus to share has spread like wildfire throughout the online community.  According to the Web monitoring site Alexa.com, the following content sharing sites are currently among the top 20 Web sites in the world:

  • # 3 – YouTube
  • # 4 – Facebook
  • # 7 – Wikipedia
  • # 8 – Blogger
  • #11 – MySpace
  • #15 – Twitter
  • #16 – RapidShare

This growing predominance of sharing on the Web has shaped the expectations of Internet users.  They expect to be able to engage organizations in a dialogue via social media, social networks, and interactive Web components.  Internet users expect to see fresh, regularly updated content wherever you have a Web presence; and they expect to be able to easily share that content with their friends and colleagues.  With these mounting expectations, it is important for us to consider which tools may be of most benefit for folklorists and how to formulate a strategy for using these tools.

Tools and Strategies

With such a multitude of tools out there to assist you with connecting and sharing content online, how do you determine which tools are right for you?  Early adopters, or people who are among the first to try new technologies and services, often experiment with many tools in an effort to find ways to make those tools work for them and their goals.  This approach can require a great deal of time in order to learn how to use the tool, pay attention to how others make use of it, identify ways in which the tool can help you achieve your goals, and roll out your strategy for usage.  If you find yourself with a more limited amount of time for utilizing online technologies, then I recommend holding back on adopting new tools until they have developed enough of a user-base to generate some best practices and recommended uses.  Of course, sometimes we are forced to identify and adopt new tools based on changes in our work environment such as budget cuts, staff working from home, changing expectations of supervisors, etc.

Whether you seek online tools voluntarily or by necessity, always begin with what you wish to achieve.  Identifying and articulating your goals for online engagement will direct you toward the types of tools that may assist you.  While many Web 2.0 tools are free to use, some of them are not – so cost may narrow your list at this point.  For further guidance on choosing the right tool, embrace the culture of sharing, and search the Internet.  Not sure if your organization should be using Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter?  Search on Google for “Facebook MySpace Twitter comparison.”  You will find numerous online articles and blog posts charting the pros, the cons, and why you might use one rather than another.  Additionally, you will find comments and responses to these articles and posts from the larger online community, which provides you with even more information to assist you in making your decision.

Let’s consider a couple of possible scenarios wherein folklorists might utilize Web 2.0 tools.  In each scenario, we will articulate the intended goal, identify potential tools, and begin crafting a strategy to use those tools to meet the identified goal.

Scenario One:  Collaborating with Colleagues

Over coffee at the American Folklore Society’s annual conference, Teresa and Joey decide to write a book documenting pottery traditions in the Southeastern United States.  Teresa lives in Bowling Green, Kentucky while Joey resides in Lilburn, Georgia.  Back in the days of Web 1.0, Teresa and Joey would have had to email back and forth numerous times just to work together on the outline of the book.  This back and forth would escalate in the draft and revision stages.

Today, Teresa and Joey can work together simultaneously on the same documents even though they are hundreds of miles from each other.  Document collaboration tools allow multiple, geographically dispersed users to:

  • Edit, format, and merge documents
  • Track revisions with the capability of restoring previous versions
  • Track and control user access

Free collaborative document tools include Writeboard, Writewith, and Google Docs.

Scenario Two:  Promoting an Event

Sally is coordinating a regional folklife festival in the Baltimore, Maryland area.  As the coordinator, she is responsible for marketing and promoting the festival in order to increase attendance from last year’s count of 10,500 to this year’s goal of 12,000.  Considering that the marketing budget for this year has only increased by $1,000, Sally has decided to try adding free and low-cost Web 2.0 tactics to her overall marketing strategy.

Where should she start?  If her goal for using Web 2.0 tools is to increase attendance by 12.5% while spending no more than $1,000, then let’s focus on a tool with a large user base – Facebook.com.  According to Alexa.com, Facebook receives visits from approximately 20% of all global Internet users every day.  Almost 1/3 of this traffic comes from Web users in the United States.  If you are responsible for promoting cultural events in the U.S., there are three strong ways to build awareness and encourage increased attendance.

  1. Create a Page:  Pages are Facebook’s version of profiles for organizations and celebrities.  Once Sally creates a page for her festival, then she can begin to gain “fans” of her page.  Fans are individuals on Facebook who are interested in the page’s content.  Page owners often begin attracting fans by sending a suggestion to their Facebook friends that they become a fan of the page.  The next step is for Sally to add a link on the festival’s Web site instructing visitors to become a fan of the festival’s Facebook page.  Another method is to add a similar link to her e-mail signature.Page owners can communicate with their fans by posting festival updates to the page; chatting with fans about the festival’s content in the page’s “Discussion” area; and sending update messages directly to their fans.  In return, fans may post messages to the page, engage in the conversations found within the page’s “Discussion” area, and send messages directly to the page owner.  Many organizations have found that cultivating their fan base on Facebook leads to a more engaged audience.  Some even offer specials for their Facebook fans.  Not only do engaged Facebook fans often become invested audience members, they also tend to share information and invite friends to join them at events.  As we all know, word of mouth has always been the most powerful form of marketing.  Social networks like Facebook simply provide a new channel for word of mouth promotion.
  2. Create an Event:  One useful way in which organizations notify their fans of what’s coming up and gauge how many of their fans will be attending is to use the Events application to create an event affiliated with your page and a notice sent to your friends and your page’s fans.  In addition to notifying them that you have an upcoming event, this application allows your fans, friends and page visitors to indicate if they will be attending.  Additionally, it provides them with a link for sharing the event information with their friends.
  3. Create an Ad:  Over the past six months, there has been an exponential increase in the number of cultural organizations promoting their Facebook pages, Web sites, products, and events with Facebook Ads, which appear on the right-hand side of the user’s screen.  The typical ad contains an image, a title of no more than 25 characters, a brief description or call-to-action of no more than 135 characters, and a link to wherever the advertiser wants the user to take action.  Click here for best practices on creating Facebook ads.What makes Facebook ads so potentially powerful is the advertiser’s ability to target the ad recipients.  As you craft your ad, you have the opportunity to target your ad recipients by numerous criteria, including:  location (country, state, city); age range; sex; education level; workplace affiliations; relationship status; languages; connection (or lack of connection) to Facebook pages, groups, events, or applications; and keywords.  Ad keywords are based on information users list in their Facebook profiles, such as activities, favorite books, TV shows, movies, etc.  Use these tips on making the most of your targeting options.Ads may be purchased on a cost-per-thousand (impressions) or a cost-per-click basis.  If the purpose of your ad is to raise awareness or visibility, then you will probably want to use the cost-per-thousand basis.  If you are trying to get the ad recipient to DO something (e.g. become a fan, purchase tickets, learn more about…), then you probably want to use the cost-per-click basis because then you will be able to evaluate how many people clicked on the link where they will engage in this desired behavior.  On average, advertisers pay around $0.50 per click.  Advertisers are able to place a cap on how much they wish to spend on each ad per daySally will likely want to create a number of ads prior to the festival:  become a fan of the festival’s page, promote the event within Facebook, check out the festival’s lineup, purchase tickets to the festival, etc.  By highly targeting her ads (e.g. people over 18 living within 25 miles of Baltimore who have the phrase “folk music” in their profiles) and placing daily budget caps on them, Sally can leverage her $1,000 marketing budget increase to focus on people likely to be interested in attending the festival rather than paying for additional print advertising that may go to thousands of uninterested people.

These are just two examples of ways in which folklorists might utilize Web 2.0 tools.  There are many scenarios in which these tools may prove useful for your work.  Remember to start with what you wish to achieve, then begin searching for tools to help you reach your goals.  Harness the power of the social Web to learn the pros and cons and best practices for these tools.  By using this simple approach, you can begin to craft your strategy for maximizing your online resources.

David Dombrosky

July 2009

David Dombrosky is the Executive Director of the Center for Arts Management and Technology, an applied research center at Carnegie Mellon University investigating ways in which technology can improve and enhance the practice of arts management.  David contributes to the Technology in the Arts blog and has presented technology workshops and panels for a number of arts convenings – most recently for Chorus America, Opera America, College Art Association, Grantmakers in the Arts, and the Performing Arts Exchange.  Additionally, he teaches seminars on conflict management as well as a course on U.S. cultural policy and advocacy for Carnegie Mellon’s Master of Arts Management program.  Prior to joining the CAMT team, David spent eight years at the Southern Arts Federation, where he designed and managed both regional and national programs in the visual, performing, media, and literary arts.  In 2007, David received the Emerging Leader Award from Americans for the Arts.

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