Unsolicited Twitter Advice for MN Opera

15 Apr

Dear MN Opera,

We don’t know eachother all that well. It’s not anyone’s fault, we’re all busy people, going about living our lives. If you got to know us, I’m sure we’re the kind of people you would want to have coming around. We’re young professionals, culturally connected and inquisitive with large peer networks and a desire to see the arts thrive. But you know what? We read your tweets of Madame Butterfly tonight (congrats on opening BTW) and we can’t let it sit there. So, in the vein of previous posts offering advice to the Southern Theater and what the music scene (contemporary, popular was who it was written for, but definitely applicable across disciplines) can do for itself, here are some thoughts for you, MN Opera, in the aftermath of an unmitigated Twitter tragedy.

1. Define your character. “Yo what up hipster?” What? Twitter takeovers or characters can work, and can be funny and engaging –Rainn Wilson took over the LACMA Twitter feed a while back and it was fine because it was clear who Rainn Wilson is (please tell me you know) and what he was doing. It works if people are in on the joke. That includes you. But it’s advanced stuff that requires clear preparation and signposting. You did none of that. You gave us this by way of advance notice.

You’ll notice that it’s on Facebook, not even the same social media platform. So get that in order. Then, the reputation-making question, who is this? Do they actually have “super hip interpretation of what’s really going on! (in hipster nomenclature)”? Keep in mind that you are reaching out to people who may or may not be familiar with the opera and the plot. You have to do some definition for us here. Again, nothing by way of saying who, what, or why.

Were these tweets supposed to be from a character in Madame Butterfly? If so, you made them an utterly shallow, shrill nitwit who thinks it’s appropriate and funny to tweet the word “douschenozzle” – and misspell it at that (lose the “s”). Even worse, was this your idealized “hipster” or whomever it is you see yourself as reaching out to via Twitter? In that case, this stream of non sequiturs is simply insulting and condescending towards your intended audience. Not only have you reduced the plot and performance of your work to the cattiest, most simplistic of sentence fragments, but you’ve repelled the generally intelligent and cultured users of Twitter who might have been primed for further interaction in the future. If you want to engage someone, have a modicum of respect for their intelligence.

2. Tell us something we don’t know. As a bit of encouragement, here is an example of a generally decent tweet from tonight; it’s a little dull, yes, it could use some more specificity, but it’s at least straightforward enough.

Then in the very next offering, you send it all back off-track:

When you tweet out that the opera is “[t]oo deep for words, you wldn’t understand #operaisthebestthingever #youmustseethisopera”, it isn’t actually an invitation to see the opera, nor is it an actual attempt to describe anything. It’s just lazy writing, and it shuts down further communication. Use adjectives, even if they are in character. We wouldn’t understand? Try us.

And then you have a tweet like this:

Not only does this show a fundamental ignorance of how Twitter functions (that you can’t use punctuation in a hashtag) but it also misses an opportunity to actually tell us who Kelly Kaduce is, in favor of some petty snarking about national fame. Kelly Kaduce is a national star? Great. This is the internet, link me to something that proves it. Here you go, here’s the link to the New York Times review of Madame Butterfly at the Santa Fe Opera. Took me three minutes on Google, and I’m just using keywords that are right there in the tweets. Surely you’d find more, or even better, create your own material to prove how big of a star Kaduce is and how lucky you are to have her back.

3. Use the tools correctly. On that note about punctuation above, please UNDERSTAND HOW HASHTAGS WORK. It’s a good first step towards being taken seriously. Find one and use it to a) brand the tweets and b) get people involved in the conversation. Look to Wits on MPR and their ever-so-elegant #wits hashtagging that makes the secondary experience of the live recording such a funny, sprawling conversation. Granted, you may not have it that easy with titles, but even something as simple as #MBopening can get people involved, and creates an easily accessible public record of the event. You can also use it to indicate the sarcastic tone: #FakeOperaTweets. Twitter is communication and communication is participatory. These tweets are from a Pop-rocks-addled tween about to go into cardiac arrest, and there’s just no talking to people like that.

4. Stop trying to be cute. Here a Hall of Shame of tweets with “tw” puns, not to mention stale culture references. Just look at them and think about what you’ve done.

Please, we write these things not so that you will give up on social media, but know that if you are going to use it, you have to use it better. If you view Twitter (and Facebook etc.) simply a place where people type incomprehensible gibberish, then stop using it. If, however, you can find a way to use these platforms to communicate your passion for opera (or, as a cautionary tale to all other arts organizations, or organizations in general, whatever your passion may be) please, do that. Do that as yourself, do that as characters in your performance, do that to get people talking with and to you, not just about you. Because if your takeaway from this debacle is that “Well, at least people are talking about us,” and you count that as a moral victory, then you haven’t learned anything from this terribly painful experience we’ve shared.

If you do want us to come around, to experience the profundity of the music and thrill of virtuoso performance you can start by communicating that in an articulate, open way that invites conversation. That would help break the apathy. For the time being, we’ll assume that the retweet there was ironic.



14 Responses to “Unsolicited Twitter Advice for MN Opera”

  1. michelle April 15, 2012 at 9:30 am #

    I was pretty shocked to see those tweets as well last night. I don’t know what they were thinking.

  2. Erika April 15, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    If you love the arts then provide a safe environment for them to fail in.

    It’s difficult for orgs to take risks and try new things.

    So why the above is a total fail, maybe the calls of “someone needs to be fired” are unhelpful and unnecessary .

  3. cas April 15, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    We’re definitely not endorsing calls to fire people, and the reason we had such a strong reaction is because we love arts orgs and want them to do as well as possible. In that light, some org comm and Twitter best practices need to be seriously reconsidered, especially as this was apparently intended to be a playful satire. Further, we would gladly provide a safe environment for failure, but once it is out on Twitter, that is a public free-for-all.

  4. Erika April 15, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

    Sorry Cas that wasn’t directed at you, more at the debate happening on twitter. Your blog post is excellent. Great advice for them!

  5. cas April 15, 2012 at 12:29 pm #

    Not a worry, Erika, I agree that the “fire someone” reaction is knee-jerk. Apparently they were aiming fire a satire inspired by this: http://thetangential.com/2011/03/06/a-hipster-socialite-live-tweets-the-party-in-act-ii-scene-2-of-la-traviata/ That post was funny if you knew the tweets of the person being satirized.

    I do hope MN Opera responds – point #5 would be to get on top if your story and mitigate the damage. A simple, “This is what we were going for, we understand it didn’t work, we are learning from it,” would be a good first step. Woolly Mammoth Theater Company in DC had a similar experience that they wound up dealing with quite well: http://woollymammothblog.com/2012/02/27/exploring-twittergate-lessons-learned-from-woollys-infamous-tweet-up-experiment/

  6. Todd April 15, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    Nice job gang! You beat me to the punch with your reaction. Here’s mine – http://wp.me/p1qdr1-5S

  7. Lpulver April 15, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

    Wow, I’m no expert when it comes to twitter, but even I felt painfully awkward reading those. Def an interesting subject on the use of social media. Thank you!

  8. Lani Willis April 16, 2012 at 9:23 am #

    Cas, I’m Minnesota Opera’s marketing and communications director, and a rather embarrassed one! As has been supposed, the intent behind our “hipster’s” tweets was to brush the dust off some musty impressions that opera is elitist, stuffy or boring. We fully acknowledge that the execution of this idea was lacking (yep, we made the mistake of hoisting this attempt at satire on an intern), and that when attempts like ours go awry, it is really frustrating to those who do social media really well. We appreciate your very constructive criticism. We don’t like making mistakes, but we love learning from them. This feedback will help us develop better social media programs as we enter more thoughtfully into this realm in the future. It’s our hope that those who engaged in this particular conversation with Minnesota Opera and about opera will continue to do so, and continue to challenge us to put the same thoughtful preparation into our “productions” online as we put into our productions on stage. We’re posting a blog entry to this effect, as well. I’d like to invite you to attend Madame Butterfly this week on us, if you’re able, as a gesture of our gratitude.

  9. Kris April 16, 2012 at 6:03 pm #

    I do not think it is a knee jerk to think that someone should get “fired” from getting behind the Twitter wheel after that total wreck. The intern got his/her keys taken away and the comms team is in remedial training.

    They are sitting on a gold mine from a content standpoint, and have a great forum in social media to make opera tangible and accessible to a wider audience. Here’s hoping they find a better approach to highlighting what they do by adopting a more lyrical cadence.

  10. cas April 17, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    If I called for people to be fired every time something dumb happened online, a lot of folks I know (including myself) would be out of work. It’s frustrating to see mistakes like this made at this level, but MNOpera has publicly acknowledged the mistake and gotten on top of it (unlike, say, the Komen/PP fiasco). Better then, in this situation, to learn and grow than fire and re-start, in my opinion.

  11. Someone April 18, 2012 at 5:15 pm #

    Please fix “eachother” in this post, otherwise your criticism of someone else’s grammar and spelling is pretty silly…

    Each other is two words.

  12. cas April 18, 2012 at 5:21 pm #

    Dear Someone,

    We don’t know each other at all. You still can’t use punctuation in a hashtag on Twitter.



Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Todd Takes On… MN Opera’s Twitter Meltdown | Todd O'Dowd - April 15, 2012

    […] Those smart cookies at Cake in 15 weigh in with their opinion. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  2. The Minnesota Opera and Social Media gone (way) wrong | Nemo Media Group - May 10, 2012

    […] a story you have to read to believe, the Minnesota Opera tried – and failed, miserably – to be hip, cool and relevant using Twitter during a […]