The Importance of Social Media to Arts Organizations

What does your local library have in common with such seemingly disparate arts and cultural institutions as the Minnesota Opera, Walker Art Center, and state Historical Society? If you sat down with a pen and paper, you could probably draw up a fairly long list: funding challenges and donation solicitation strategies, attendance concerns, and an underlying mission to enhance Minnesota for Minnesotans in some meaningful way.

According to fresh data from the Pew Research Center's ongoing "Internet & American Life Project," organizations like these also share something that, at least at first blush, might be a little less obvious to employees and patrons unfamiliar with the marketing and community engagement side of their work. The vast majority rely heavily on the internet and social media to achieve their many and diverse goals. Without these channels, many goals could not be met.

The PEW study focused on ‘arts organizations,’ defined as “cultural organizations like [but not exclusive to] theater companies, orchestras, and art museums.”

This, of course, represents too many organizations and nonprofit groups to count, let alone survey. Researchers therefore restricted their sample to past and present grant recipients of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Between May 30 and July 20, 2012, 1,244 of 3,644 eligible entities took the survey; seven of these were libraries.

The complete, 65-page study is available to the public for viewing, but there are a few findings particularly salient to library work and Friends of the Library groups that we want to point out, to whet your appetite.

In short, technology is tremendously important to the arts organization of today.

  • 97% have a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr or other platform
  • 45% of the organizations with a social media presence say they post updates daily, including 25% who post updates several times a day
  • 86% accept donations online, 72% sell tickets online, and 47% sell merchandise online
  • 50% maintain a blog

Social media, in particular, can pay huge dividends in relation to the time you put into it. According to the experience of the survey takers, social media:

  • Helps organizations clarify what they do, and better describe how audiences can engage with their mission-driven work
  • Helps organizations communicate with alumni, patrons and audiences
  • Makes it possible for patrons to engage with each other, and for messages to spread virally
  • If used purposefully and properly, Facebook and Twitter also have the potential to increase ticket sales and event attendance, increase public awareness, and augment fundraising

While many Friends groups will not have the personnel, expertise, time or money to build a YouTube channel from scratch, creating and updating a Facebook page and Twitter feed is feasible for just about any group. And as the numbers show, it is well worth your while!


For more information:

  • Click here to read the new study’s abstract, research methodology, and findings.
  • If you are not already, follow MALF on Facebook and Twitter.