Building and Engaging your Audience for Small Orchestras

The topic for Orchestras Canada’s recent Greater Toronto Area Orchestras Workshop was Building Audiences and Profile in a Crowded Market. Thirty board members and arts managers at orchestras and arts organizations from Kingston to Kitchener and Owen Sound gathered in North York on June 9 to share the issues they face, and to discuss what they have been working on to build their audiences. We brought in three panelists to present what their organizations have been working on with regards to engaging audiences with limited time and funds. They were Margaret Chasins (Director of Operations, Sinfonia Toronto), Tim Crouch (Senior Manager of Marketing and Audience Engagement, Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra), and Michael Morreale (Director of Digital Content, Toronto Symphony Orchestra).

Each of the panelists discussed a different aspect of how to find and connect with new audiences. Margaret spoke on Sinfonia Toronto’s use of social media, Tim spoke on ways in which Tafelmusik has adapted their live concert experience, and Michael told us about the digital strategies that he has used to improve the concert experience with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. We’ve compiled the top ten tips (out of the many) that they shared with us.

Participants at OC's Greater Toronto Area Workshop in discussion1. You can’t count on people to look for you on Social Media. Your followers are busy, and often don’t have time to search for you on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. And of course you want new people to notice you and start following. You need to be present and post regularly, whatever that might mean for your organization. Join groups likely to be interested in your programs and post there too where relevant.

2. Make sure that all of your content is in line with your organization’s image. It’s important that everything you share has some kind of connection to your organization, but don’t just advertise! Share content that is relevant to your followers and supports your message.

3. Social media should be a conversation. Engage with people who engage with you by replying personally to everyone who comments; always send a thank-you tweet to anyone who retweets you.

4. Reach out to your audience. Meet your new audiences where they are by going to them. Tafelmusik has run outreach events in long-term care facilities (with the Health Arts Society of Ontario), chats in libraries, free concerts as part of community days and movie nights for this purpose.

5. Engage your audience at your events. Allow your audience somewhere to prepare for, or to reflect on the concert that you’re giving. This could be anything from pre-concert chats to parties at intermission to simply giving people a chance to talk to the musicians after the concert.

6. Remember, you’re competing with Netflix. As smaller orchestras, we aren’t competing for audiences with each other. Rather we are competing with the ever-tempting idea of staying home and binge watching hours of television. What does your audience experience live that they can’t by sitting at home?

7. Create a Spotify playlist. Audiences want to be informed before getting to the concert hall, or even before purchasing tickets. An easy way to help in this respect is to create Spotify playlists for audience members who are curious to see what they’re signing up for.

8. Prepare your audience for the concert experience by educating them. Less than half of elementary schools in Ontario have a dedicated music teacher, and this means that orchestras need to step in and inform their audiences. Interviews, ‘sneak peeks’ and helping people find recordings of the works you’ll be performing are great ways to prepare your audience.

9. Investigate Google Ad GrantsGoogle Ad Grants is a program that offers certain non-profit organizations the opportunity to advertise for free, which can help move you to the top of Google Search results.

10. Digital content takes up time, but it takes less of a budget. Many of the digital tools that orchestras use are free and cost only the time it takes to use them. Livestreaming through Facebook Live and YouTube’s video hosting service are two examples of low-cost ways orchestras can put their content on the web. (That said, permission from participating musicians and, where relevant, approval from the Canadian Federation of Musicians is required.)

MargaretTim and Michael can also be found on their Twitter accounts, or attending one of the many wonderful concerts given by Sinfonia Toronto, Tafelmusik or the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.