It may not seem like not that long ago I was announcing I was leaving Creative Commons Australia to start at the Australia Council for the Arts. That’s because it wasn’t. Not even two years in fact. But today I am announcing that I will be leaving the Australia Council (I finish up in three weeks). My decision to move on is not a reflection on Council or the important work it does for the arts and cultural sectors, it’s just time for me to get out and do other things.
In my time as Council’s Digital Content Officer, the Marketing and Audience Development team (yes, the MAD team!) have achieved a lot of rad things. Probably most significantly, we repositioning the Australia Council as a leading voice on the arts in Australia in the social space. We took carriage of Council’s presence and messaging on the social platforms it was on, and started treating social media seriously. It has paid off in spades.
When I arrived Council had an reasonable cumulative network size (1302 followers on Twitter, 3598 likes on Facebook). This morning we have 13,961 followers on Twitter and 12,636 likes on Facebook (if you aren’t already following Council on Twitter or like them on Facebook or +1 them on Google+ or get their monthly newsletter then do it right now! I want to get Twitter over 14,000 before I leave!). But above and beyond the number of connections we now have, the people who follow us are more engaged with our accounts than ever. And that is what really counts. People care about what we are posting, and that’s what being social is all about.
There’s no magic to how we got there. In fact, there’s no budget spend that got us there either (other than part of the wage that pays Naomi Gall and I). Just a few simple activities: implementing a release schedule, posting consistently, celebrating the awesome shit that funded artists and organisations are doing, not just talking about ourselves and our programs, tagging other users correctly, being responsive to the technology and community practices of the platforms and replying back to users who talk to us. Add to this a relaxed approach to the agency’s social media policy—shifting from a reactionary policy that discouraged staff talking about the Council, to one that recognises staff are the core of our network—and Council is well placed to continue to be an active and valuable part of the network. The change of social media policy was important. It recognises that our staff are a smart, well-connected and well-respected group of arts leaders in their own right, and they have a lot of sway. Why wouldn’t we want them talking up what Council does? Now the majority of our most viral posts include shares by two or more of our staff.
In conjunction with numerous other teams around the building we rolled out a number of impressive campaigns. Not least of which was the two Arts Facts campaigns: Art Facts: Music and Art Facts: Visual Arts. A hat tip to Tandi Williams is in order. It was her brilliant idea to take the key facts and present them as a set of digital ‘baseball cards’. Anyone who says research isn’t shareable should take a good look at those campaigns, they have been by far our most successful.
We also diversified who was creating and publishing content on Council’s sites. In particular we have shifted to a storytelling approach, focusing on telling the great stories about the arts. One part of this was Artery, which is edited by Naomi. Another big part of this was the creation of a new video production role which has been filled by Alex Parker, who’s endless filmmaking talent and quirky humour is well known in the arts.
We did a bunch of techie stuff too. We consolidated hosting of Council’s numerous subdomains, as well as harmonising their design and their content management systems. Lisa Cuthbertson and I coordinated a process of reviewing the usability of the grants information and presenting the information in a more useful way. And Council is about to release a new site-wide and grants search which will help you find what you are looking for across all of Council’s sites.
And I got out of the office a bit too. I’ve given a bunch of talks, spoken on a few panels and delivered a couple of workshops, but the Marketing Summits (in Perth in 2011, Melbourne last year) were some of the most dynamic events I’ve been too (and not just because they were run by my team!), pulling together an impressive speakers list and an equally impressive delegation! Both of the Summits I have attended were a blast! I’m really looking forward to my final Summit in two weeks in Canberra. You should totally register if you haven’t already!
Another biggie in the events was the National Crowdfunding Roadshow which saw the amazing Caroline Vu and I embarked on a 9-city roadshow to help the arts sector get across this new funding opportunity. All credit goes to Caroline for that rad project, I was just along for the ride! Not only was it very satisfying sharing this exciting new online trend with a willing audience, but it meant that I could legitimately get a photo of Amanda Palmer‘s boobs in an Australia Council presentation! I doubt anyone else can make that claim!
There was so much more happening, and there is much more to happen yet. More than anything else, I have to thank and acknowledge Alistair Graham and Rose Hiscock. Alistair is the Manager of MAD and Rose is the Executive Director of the Arts Development Division that MAD is a part of (MAD in ADD! I know!). In lots of ways they both took a risk letting a loose cannon like me take pot-shots at Council’s bureaucratic processes and systems. I thank them both for taking that punt and for their support, ideas and commitment to all the crazy things I wanted to do at Council. In particular, thank you to Alistair for knowing when to get involved and when to just let me get on with it and for knowing when to say, ‘Do it’, ‘No’ and ‘No way!’. Together, Alistair and I and the MAD team have put Council on the map in the digital and social spaces. Thank you to all the MAD and Comms staff and I wish you every success with the new crazy ideas you come up with. I look forward to trolling Council on Twitter in the future!
To the big question: where am I going and what am I doing? The answer is simple: anywhere! I have decided to go freelance. My blend of legal, technical and social is a weird combo. Let’s see what it is good for.
Straight up I am working on social for ISEA2013 and I will be taking a part-time role with the crazy and brilliant Fee Plumley. I am very much looking forward to working with her on reallybigroadtrip and getting about Australia for awhile on that big red bus, homeJames. And of course in my new life as a freelancer I will be on the look out for interesting things to keep me busy, so get in touch if you’ve got something!