I must disagree with the Detroit Free Press’ Jon Stryker over his recent piece “ArtPrize project has its roots in social networking and the Internet.” In it he notes:
“[…] ArtPrize is saturated with the ethos of the Internet Age. No single jury selected the artists. Instead, artists and venues met on the competition’s Web site, hooking up like couples on an online dating service. The voting will take place via text messages, mobile browser and the Web site; Facebook, Twitter and blogs have already began to nurture an ArtPrize community and conversation.”
While it’s undeniable that Rick DeVos’ venture has been successful and it does use social networking, it’s hard to argue that the success comes from its use of social media or that the effort is “saturated with the ethos of the Internet Age.”
The first problem is the lack of a one-to-one relationship. In spite of the fact that Rick DeVos is the face of ArtPrize, he’s fairly inaccessible to the public and doesn’t appear very plugged in to social media; he’s only tweeted half-dozen or so times about ArtPrize, his Facebook profile is locked down, and he doesn’t appear to blog/vlog. Even this comment (a response to a post on an art blog critical of ArtPrize) appears to have been posted by a third party. That’s not bad, per se, but it’s definitely not in keeping with the “ethos of the Internet Age” where people expect real-time access to public figures.
Second, the lion’s share of the promotion of ArtPrize has gone on through the traditional media (and continues in the traditional media context). The “official” ArtPrize content isn’t really driving much conversation; for example:
- The ArtPrize channel on YouTube features ten videos, with the exception of the first (which has just over 3,300) all of which have been viewed less than 1,000 times each. It has 70 subscribers, and only a handful of people have commented on either the videos or the channel.
- The rank of the term “ArtPrize” on Surchur is a 1. Technorati’s figures show only about 109 blog posts linking back to the ArtPrize.org website. Here’s the data from Google Trends. Though the traffic to the ArtPrize.org website is increasing, right now the peak is just over 10,000 unique visitors.
Third, as anyone who participated in the process of matching an artist with a venue knows, social media was something of an ancillary component – the process still involved a considerable degree of old-fashioned legwork and phone calls. If it were truly saturated in the ethos of social media, the ArtPrize website would have incorporated some sort of “eHarmony-esque” engine that created customized venue recommendations for artists based on profile data they entered (perhaps something to shoot for next year).
The reality is that ArtPrize is being talked about for three reasons;
- It’s got a relentless and well-run public relations effort behind it that relied on a lot of “analog” social networking and good old-fashioned media relations (which included positioning high profile/international artists as the first handful to throw their hats in the ring – which I don’t think was an accident).
- It’s got a virtual publicity engine is built into the format of the event. By that I mean the event is designed to self-propagate exponentially: every artist/venue jostles for attention and flexes its personal network of friends/associates.
- Separating the ArtPrize organization from the artists means that the news media are forced to provide proportionately more coverage: if they cover a single artist or venue, fairness dictates that they are obliged to cover all of them (or as many as can reasonably be accommodated).
Social media aren’t a panacea; one still needs a good idea and solid strategy behind one’s promotional efforts in order for them to take off. In ArtPrize exists a model that every event planner/promoter should study: how can you design your events to turn your stakeholders into an army of PR people?