Do you ever get the feeling that nobody is listening to you? You've probably been to a dinner party or two where you get that horrible sinking sensation as you realise nobody is listening to a single word you are saying no matter how hard you try or how interesting you think you are.
Welcome to the world of social media.
We've written before on Article19 about how networks like Facebook and Twitter are turning into nothing more than noise machines. Everybody's talking, but nobody's listening.
No matter how many followers or "likes" you may have, getting your message out, especially when you have something important to say, is really hard. It's always been like that mind you but social media and the internet were supposed to make that stuff easy, right?
An added twist to the problem is that Facebook has recently been criticised for deliberately choking the reach of messages you post via your Facebook Pages. A charge they have denied.
The accusations have some legs though since Facebook encourages the "promoting" of posts, whereby you pay money to get your messages in front of as many eyes as possible. The more you pay, the more people who "might" see your message. Why would Facebook put your message in front of all of your "likers" if they can squeeze you for a few pounds to actually make that happen?
Twitter has a different problem in that most people sign up for it, follow a few people, then almost immediately stop using the service or tune out completely.
Getting your message out, if you're the only one trying to do it, is hard. What we need, in the wide world of dance, is some critical mass, so how about a little coordination? How about a little cooperation?The Ground Game
Barack Obama's recent victory in the US presidential election was credited, for the most part, on the campaigns unmatched "ground game".
Essentially the campaign works on multiple levels. The national level, the state level, the county level, the "precinct" level and the individual level.
Registering people to vote and then getting them to the polls is the fundamental principal of any political campaign, at least in the United States.
Add into the mix fundraising, activism, blogging, door knocking and encouraging people to attend campaign events and you have a yourself a campaign. Albeit in a very simplistic nutshell.
The thinking behind this is very simple. National campaign offices have mailing lists and Twitter accounts and Facebook pages but they have no real connection to the actual people.
Only at the county, precinct and individual level do people actually start to know each other and people who know each other are more likely to actually listen to one another. What these campaigns create is a very complex networking system.
Even though they all use technology, at some level, to communicate with one another the "message" doesn't just come from one source, it comes from multiple sources all talking to slightly disparate groups so it has more chance of actually getting through.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about a US presidential election, apart from the amount of money spent on TV ads, is that the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of people involved in this ground game are volunteers.
And Now The Arts
Here in TheLab™ we recently published a short form documentary (above) about an education project run by the Coda Dance Festival in Norway. The film contains lots of important points about why education work matters.
Let's use that as an example of a single piece of information we want to share with the good folk in the wide world of dance using our new and completely theoretical ground game?
The film itself is relevant to dancers, choreographers, dance companies, teachers, education authorities, youth group leaders and lots of other people we can't think of titles for. Because it's not specific to one geographic group then it's suitable for sharing throughout the profession and beyond.
Starting at the Top
Information distribution is a "top down" game. That means the information has to start somewhere so it can feed down through the network.
For this we need a central body, perhaps some kind of national dance advocacy group (looking at you DanceUK), to act as a coordinator for distributing the important stuff and filtering out the noise.
At the regional level we are very lucky, sort of, in that we have a network of dance agencies fairly evenly spread throughout the country.
These agencies are connected to local dance companies, theatres, professional dancers and dance teachers and if they aren't then they should be. Agencies also have connections to all the people who actually use their facilitates and come to their classes and performances.
At the individual level we have professional dancers who are connected to dance teachers, schools, youth groups and other professional dancers.
What we have are networks within networks within networks.
Hooking all these groups together is easy, that's what the internet is for after all. You could use simple mailing lists or get a bit more sophisticated and coordinated with something like 37 Signal's "Basecamp" system.
To begin with the national coordinator prepares their first message bulletin. For this example it's got one piece of information in it, the information about the video. So all you need is a short piece of text and a link.
The national coordinator shares the information to there own social networks and mailing lists of course but they also push the information to the regional hubs (the national dance agencies).
Again, the regional hubs hit their own mailing lists and social networks with the info but they also use a "Basecamp" like system to communicate directly with their "precinct captains" (dancers, theatres, teachers, etc).
These groups then distribute the information to their lists, their social networks, even using text messages, right down to the point where it almost becomes one individual telling another individual face to face about the information.
All of this happens on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday respectively. You spread the distribution out over time so that any crossover doesn't come across as spam like noise.
Now, why is this different from just using Twitter and Facebook? It's different because this is coordinated, it's not just a group of people randomly re-distributing information because they feel like it or hoping that the right people see a particular message. Which is what we have right now.
When the information comes from the central coordinator there is a sense of trust that this information is useful so it can and will be shared with others through their networks all the way down to the individual.
At the very least, the message should reach the people who actually work in the profession.
There is also a sense of re-gaining some control over the distribution of information instead of relying on third party networks to deliver the messages which they may or may not do depending on how their policies have changed for that particular week.
Oh the Issues
Of course, this is the arts so there will be problems. First of all the amount of information flowing through this network has to be limited. You can't just flood the system because people will start tuning you out. How many email bulletins do you get that are so full of info you just don't bother?
The central coordinators have to be smart enough to distribute information that is useful on a national level. The regional parts of the network can "tag on" more locally orientated stuff for their particular locations but the whole thing has to be kept very mean and very lean.
The regional hubs have to keep a close eye on their local contacts and encourage them to get involved. What we're talking about here is distributing information, which in and of itself is not difficult, but they have to be actively involved in the process, they have to do what they say they are going to do.
If there are problems then the individuals need to feedback. Again, systems like "Basecamp" are very good for this. This feedback can be used to improve the type of information that is getting shared.
There is also a problem with too many people in the dance profession not being all that engaged with what's going on in the profession as a whole. This is something that needs to change.
What we have outlined here is a very simple sketch of how to coordinate the distribution and sharing of information that works to help and support the entire dance profession.
The current "free for all" isn't really working for anybody. Too much information is getting lost in the noise and too many organisations are all about "me, me, me".
It would also be refreshing to move away from the constant "sell, sell, sell" theme of Twitter and Facebook feeds.
If a political campaign across a country as large and diverse as the United States can coordinate hundreds of thousands of people then there is no reason a small profession like dance cannot do the same in the UK.
The tools are there, the information is there we just need some cooperation and a little coherence and maybe we can get something done.