Monday, September 24, 2012

Tweet Seats: to tweet or not to tweet

Hey there,

So I'm in this group for social media managers of LGBT choruses, and I posted a link about the Nashville Symphony Orchestra's recent audience engagement efforts, Nashville Symphony 'Tweet Seats' reach broader audience. There were several reactions, one in favor, one willing to explore, and one adamantly against it, going so far as to say it was an idea they hated, that the audience's focus belonged on stage, and that the concept of Tweet Seats was discouraging. Here's my response:

Tom, as an artist & producer, I completely agree with you. But as an arts administrator & a social media coordinator, I think it would be ignorant (pardon my bluntness) for us not explore the pros and cons of tweet seats, and to do so objectively, and maybe not even objectively, but from the audience members' point of view, not the artist. 
Don't get me wrong, I struggle with this because as an artist, the theatre is a sacred space for me. It's a place where experiences happen in, and ONLY in, that moment, and it sends chills down my artistic spine to think about encouraging an activity that takes an audience member out of that moment. Especially as people increasingly seem to struggle with disconnecting in general, live performance is one of the few remaining places that offers respite from that. 
But with tweet seats, the only person who loses out when tweeting is that audience member. And there are all sorts of reasons audience members might lose focus on the art: it's not their cup of tea, they're bored, whatever. 
On some level, I actually find it relieving that someone might be so moved by something they just saw and/or heard, that they were compelled to share their reaction with the Twittersphere. Yes, they might be losing focus of what's happening in the moment, but it's because of what JUST happened, not in spite of. And it's probably the only reason which makes me stop that visceral knee-jerk reaction to the image of someone on their mobile device at a live performance. 
So...I can't help but wonder if that might just be worth the sacrifice. There's something powerful and I would argue even valuable in that immediate response that you don't get from tweets at intermission or after the performance.  
And if you empower a handful of audience members to be your real-time virtual ambassadors during a performance, sharing a digital window into something that is still an exclusive experience to those who are present, then I personally believe it is our duty to see if the benefits might not outweigh the losses.
So...there. I'm obviously conflicted, but also playing serious Devil's Advocate. I will say, I have yet to hear an argument against tweet seats that actually talks about the benefits. To those who argue against them, there are none. Which to me is a red flag that any kind of objectivity is not present.

And, I hate to compare art to entertainment, as well as the fact that they exist on a spectrum and it's rarely either or, but I have a bunch of friends who saw the Madonna concert last night, and updated their status (apparently she was over 2 hours late) and took photos, some very, VERY close to the stage.

While I don't advocate taking photos, that example just reinforces the power of sharing the moment with one's virtual community, IN that moment.

But I digress. What are the Pro's and what are the Con's? What are they, in particular, as an artist, as an arts administrator, as an audience member? I believe that second question is particularly crucial because it provides much needed context to what might be our subjective responses and reactions.

So, what do you think?

JR

P.S. I started a new blog, Hashtag the Arts, specifically dedicated to Social Media and the Arts. And when I set up its Pinterest account, I created a board specifically dedicated to Tweet Seats; check it out.
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