Scott Monty - Strategic Communications & Leadership Advisor

Scott Monty - Strategic Communications & Leadership Advisor

Last week at Symphony Hall in Boston, there was an unusual occurrence that disrupted opening night of the Boston Pops. Screams emanated from the balcony. Conductor Keith Lockhart stopped the orchestra. All eyes turned back toward the noise.

What caused such a furor at the Pops – an American institution that has been around for more than 125 years and is the mainstay of the Fourth of July celebrations on the Esplanade – to disrupt a typically fun and genteel concert?

A fistfight.

Apparently, one concertgoer (I’ll refrain from calling him a patron, as that’s a term reserved for the Boston Symphony Orchestra) was talking during the performance and someone behind him asked him to quiet down. He continued yapping during the second piece and was asked again. When he was asked yet again - third time’s a charm – he turned around and smacked the guy who was requesting a little silence. It quickly got out of hand, security was summoned and the two were ejected, torn clothing and all.

While this is a rare occurrence - the managing director of the BSO says there’s been only one similar such happening in his 10 years at the helm – my first thought was: “If this had to happen at Symphony Hall, you’d expect it with the Pops and not with the BSO.”

You see, the difference between the Boston Pops and the Boston Symphony Orchestra is a fairly well-defined one in the city. The BSO is the traditional, staid juggernaut whose September through April season ticket holders include third and fourth generation Brahmins, the well-heeled families from the Social Register. The Pops is more of the “peoples’ orchestra” that plays a combination of light classical, show tunes and contemporary music from May to July. But even though the Pops’ audience is less polished, it was still shocking to hear that a fight broke out.

And here’s what you’ve been waiting for: the connection with social media.

It got me to thinking about how online communities and social networks are self-policing, to the point where you hardly ever hear of something untoward happening. Occasionally, there are scathing comments and even personal threats made (viz. the Kathy Sierra incident), but by and large, it’s pretty calm. But if you’re part of a discussion group, forum, online community, blog, virtual world or any other social network, if you stick around long enough, you’ll see the uglier side of human nature.

When marketers consider joining a social network – particularly on behalf of their company or product – they need to fully understand what they’re getting into. Are they entering a Symphony Hall, with its hallowed history and unspoken rules? They should be well aware of the etiquette before entering. The nuance here is that they need to understand if the space has a Pops season and a Symphony season. As you can see from above, it makes a huge difference.

And while it may be tempting for marketers to research a social network by quizzing others or making a quick observance, it’s my belief that the only way to truly understand the quirks, secret handshakes, courtesies and taboos of each community is to be a part of it as an individual first. Live it. Breathe it. Experiment in it.

I recommend that you spend a minimum of 6-8 weeks as part of a group before taking any action. Just observe and research and see how others act. Then try commenting and interacting.

Then and only then, if you’re still convinced that it’s the right place for your brand, will you be ready to launch a well-informed initiative in a social network.

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