Navigating Social Networks

With social networking now being a significant game changer in the entire world of communication, marching arts organizations must ensure that this medium is being understood properly and being used in a manner that benefits—rather than hurts—them.

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Social media has taken over the globe, revolutionizing the way people interact with each other. The world of pageantry is no exception. Whether it is a small high school band or a worldfamous marching ensemble, everyone is staying connected on the Internet. From Facebook to YouTube, the marching world is being updated in lightning speed reaching out to more people than ever before.

With great power, though, comes great responsibility, as the uncle of a certain arachnid superhero would say. With countless stories of people being careless on the Internet and getting into deep trouble, there are certain rules that are to be followed if you don’t want the world to see you mess up. For marching bands, social media can be a friend and a foe. It just depends on how the beast is tamed.

Expand the Brand

The University of Wisconsin Badger Band has started to make its mark with social media in order to engage an audience that was more reachable through this medium in a variety of platforms.

“We recognize that there is an audience on Facebook, and that’s where they spend their time,” says Justin Stolarik, assistant director of the Badger Band. “If we have an event going on, we put it on our Facebook page along with pictures from it, so people can feel more connected. We also link it to our Twitter account, so that people get updates on their smartphones or iPhone, which is an easy and quick way to get information.”

The one aspect about social media that has exciting possibilities is expanding the brand of a company or organization by reaching out to as many people as possible as well as getting to know people who are influenced by or using the products they are making. One example comes from the Yamaha Corporation of America.

“What social media has done is that it has put a face on our company,” says Troy Wollwage, percussion marketing manager at Yamaha. “We can now speak to the people who are very well using our products, whether they are educators, kids or players. We can seem more like a real person, in that there are real people working at this company who care about music education.”

Yamaha has received positive feedback from its Facebook and Twitter pages, which have more than 10,000 likes and 6,000 followers, respectively, as of May 2012.

Put Effort into Actually Being “Social”

Being social may seem like a no-brainer when anyone starts to use a social media platform, but there are many instances in which official Facebook pages are not being updated in a timely manner or having very few tweets on the official Twitter page. There has to be an effort in having a conversation with the targeted people, so that there is a connection that will last for the long term.

“You’ve got to do it every day,” explains Wollwage. “It’s not just about putting things out there in social media about what you’re doing and, ‘Oh! Look at me, I’m over here! Look at me, there’s a picture of me doing this.’ You must have a conversation and be engaging.”

In retrospect, being too social can also have negative consequences as constantly updating posts can quickly become annoying to users and be considered spam. There has to be a balance as to when a posting will be appropriate and timely.

“Say for example you’re posting every four hours every single day; it can actually turn people off to your program or to your organization,” says Andy Bliss, professor of percussion at the University of Tennessee. “It is something that you have to be careful of when you’re using these outlets. Try to share your thoughts and participate in the conversation that may be going on. You don’t have to necessarily feel like you have to be in the middle of a conversation all the time.”

Capture the Audience’s Interest

With being social comes the idea that social media needs to engage the interest of the target audience group by offering them something to pleasure their curiosity or generate excitement for a big event. New content is needed to remain up-todate with what is going on and continue to expand the audience.

“If you’re a drum corps, for example, why are people interested in you and following you?” asks Wollwage. “There are probably going to be people who have marched in the corps who want to know how the corps is doing right now or what’s the new show going to be this summer, so you would give them a little sneak peek or preview in order to entice their inherent interest. It has to be fun, and it has to be engaging to get people to come back.”

Another way to capture interest is through sharing other people’s information through retweets or posting links to a video or website.

“You’re not just broadcasting all the great things you’re doing,” says Dave Gerhart, professor of percussion at Cal State Long Beach. “You’re also going out and following other blogs that do similar things. If you’re a drum corps, you would be posting content from perhaps a major drum corps blog in order to show that you are contributing to the online community instead of just broadcasting about yourself.”

Be Professional

Another important thing is to avoid posting items that could negatively impact others or your own public image. A 2010 incident in Alabama highlighted the need to watch what is posted as three girls from the Grissom High School color guard were disciplined for making obscene gestures in a photo added on Facebook.

Though the photo did not go on any official guard page, it did show the floor of the school’s gymnasium and was forwarded to the band director. All three students were banned from two performances; two of the girls went unrecognized at senior recognition despite holding leadership positions as co-captains.

“The harsh reality of the 21st Century is that nearly everyone has a small portable device that records still images and/ or video; therefore, any and all behavior is likely to end up on some form of social media outlet,” says Darcie Gudger, color guard instructor at Columbine (Colo.) High School. “This issue is something I discuss at length with my students. Don’t do anything you would not want your parents, peers or potential employers to see because the very people you don’t want to see it will. Once it’s out there, it never goes away.”

Gudger further explains that she would take action if any of her students posted something inappropriate online. “I will not hesitate to remove a student from the team if they are creating a threatening atmosphere online that reflects poorly of their school and teammates,” Gudger says. “We have a simple rule: If you don’t have anything nice to say, keep your mouth shut online. Positive posts about the activity are encouraged, and the kids do post about their successes and even how the blood, sweat and tears are worth it.”

Build Relationships from Within

Educators and students are no longer just communicating with each other via traditional email as teachers are starting to connect in a whole new level. Gerhart mentions the concept of private groups where members can discuss what is going on within the organization in a very accessible but private manner. Students and parents, if desired, can use groups to ask questions, coordinate volunteers and share media. Directors can share dayto- day information as well as educational material—all in real time.

“I think it’s pretty important since the university and my students are using it,” Bliss says. “I try to not necessarily make small talk type of conversations but rather like sharing links with my students, so they don’t have to come to my office to look at my computer. We should be open-minded and use it in a professional manner.”

This professional manner means that while educators and students are becoming closer, separation is still needed, so that conflicts do not arise. “I don’t go out and add any of my students on Facebook,” Gerhart says. “Only the students that add me on Facebook are the students that are my friends on it, and I keep it professional when I interact with them on there.”

The way the world is interacting with each other is forever changed as new mediums bring new possibilities to share information and become involved in conversations. “Get involved, sit back and listen,” Bliss says. “I got involved by observing what other people were doing. Social media is all about sharing ideas. Any great conversationalist has to know how to listen and how to speak. Listen carefully and see what other people are doing and then imagine what you can offer in order to contribute to that conversation.”

About author

Jeremy Chen

Jeremy Chen is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism at the University of Southern California (USC). He marched cymbals for two years at Rancho Cucamonga High School before playing bass drum and snare at Upland High School. He is currently a snare drummer and office staff member for the USC Trojan Marching Band. He aspires to one day become a correspondent for the BBC.

A photo of Killian Weston.

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