By Tom Lady
If an organization is to stay relevant in this wireless, hyperlinked, hashtagged world, social media is key. Thankfully, LA Opera nipped the relevancy problem in the bud last summer when it “Liked” Karen Bacellar and Amisha Patankar.
"I manage LA Opera’s content," Karen says. "That includes the blog [blog.laopera.org]. I would say I write and edit the vast majority of the articles for the blog, and that nine times out of ten, they are determined by upcoming operas. After articles are published, I work with Amisha to promote the content through social media."
"We use multiple social media channels," Amisha says. As she ticks them off, my head spins: "Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and, new to the table, SnapChat.”
Before I can recover, Karen adds, "Social media lets us reach a wide range of people who may not necessarily be LA Opera followers, or even opera fans…The ultimate goal is to grow our audience."
At the time of our interview, Madame Butterfly rehearsals are underway. Amisha uses Twitter to broadcast the rehearsal process in real time. She tweets photos and brief descriptions. "I try to make the captions light and fun," she says.
Karen, meanwhile, compliments Amisha's social reporting with an interview of Butterfly director Lee Blakeley that she publishes to the blog. Amisha then shares the link to that interview on Facebook.
The nature of social media all but begs the audience to get involved in content creation.
From the start of the season last September, people have been encouraged to #LAOpera their photos. This sends the photos to a queue where Amisha curates the comments onto LA Opera's Twitter page. It’s a great way for her to harness the fans to produce a veritable real-time photo stream.
For The Magic Flute, Amisha launched a Twitter campaign called #FluteYourself, which invited LAOers to snap fun and goofy pics of themselves and their friends in front of the LA Opera video signage that used some of the projections from the show on the Music Center Plaza and then tag them with #FluteYourself. This fed the images to LA Opera's Twitter page and further generated excitement for the show.
Amisha also has a recurring Twitter program called Tweet Seats, whereby a handful of LA Opera's most "socially" adept fans are invited to live-tweet the final dress rehearsal.
As brave and new as this world may seem, it also contains a core aspect that's same old same old.
"Karen and Amisha are reporters," says their boss Fran Rizzi, Director of Public Relations for LA Opera. "They're telling a story. So, yes, while things have changed, it's also the same as it's always been. Instead of using the phone, they're using digital technology, which allows for instant feedback. Like versus Love versus Wow. Friends get their news from other friends in addition to, and often instead of, the traditional news outlets."
Another parallel to the old world is a news calendar. "We update our content calendar very far in advance, like any news organization," Karen says. "We look at the upcoming season and consider each opera in terms of the kinds of content we'll create …Of course, with how fast things move on social media, new content ideas also pop up later."
"Feedback from social media can drive content creation,” Fran says. “The audience's voice can be in the content as they engage with it. This ensures there's something in it for them because it's also from them. We watch the numbers for every piece of content published.”
How about those numbers? It wouldn’t be a stretch to say Karen and Amisha have moved social mountains. From the time they came aboard in July 2015 to the time of our interview in March of this year, LAO has seen #socialnumbersexplosion:
• Over 3,000 new Twitter followers (with over 31,000 total followers)
• Over 8,000 new Instagram followers (with over 13,000 total followers)
• Over 4,000 new Facebook followers (with over 32,000 total followers)
“We use social media to build on the story, add to the story, and engage the audience,” Fran says. “Every time users engage with a story, it should give them a reason to take a look at something else or dig a little deeper. Ultimately, social media should form bread crumbs that lead you to getting to know opera a little better and invite you to experience it live.”