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Lessons from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Posted by Amanda Gustin on March 23, 2011 in forum not temple |

I don’t know how many museums are unionized (I’d love to hear about any, if anyone has some leads), so the specific problem that the Detroit Symphony Orchestra is facing might not have a direct correlation to museums – but other aspects certainly do.

Essentially, the orchestra’s private employment difficulties have spilled out into the public arena via that ever-popular venue for over-sharing, Facebook. Fans of the orchestra are up in arms; the management of the orchestra has made some bad public relations blunders (for example, demanding to know how many of the complaining Facebook fans had ever donated money…), and the striking musicians have set up their own Facebook fan page.

You can listen to the NPR story here.

What can museums learn from this?

Well, there’s the constant lesson that people keep learning about the internet: it’s public. It’s very, very public. That website you made back in 1995 as a stunt for your friends? Yeah, it’s still there somewhere.

Inherent in that broad publicity is a responsibility in two parts. First, be careful what you say out there. Just because the internet makes it easier to be anonymous doesn’t mean it makes it easier to escape repercussions. It also doesn’t remove the necessity of being thoughtful, sincere, and polite – a lesson the majority of anonymous commenters have yet to internalize. The responsibility for civil discourse in the internet age belongs to both sides, moreover – to a museum and its fans.

Second, be honest. Be transparent. Share with courage and emotion. If we’re moving into this brave new world of anonymity and computer screens, it’s incumbent on us to establish human connections to the people behind the usernames. This goes double for museums, I think, which are traditionally regarded as secretive organizations. I’m not saying over-share. I’m saying be honest and sincere about what you do share. Commit with emotion, and people will respond.

(Maybe a third lesson is don’t piss off your donors. For these purposes, donors also includes “potential donors” which is everyone from your elderly grandmother to the three year old who came to the family concert last week. Make bold artistic choices, not boneheaded managerial ones.)

Anyone else take anything else from this? Any other observations on online conduct in the information age for nonprofit organizations?

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