It’s more important than ever for businesses to embrace social technology — even businesses that are as traditional as opera companies.

We were curious as to how such an old school medium was adapting to the social space, so we spoke with Adam Holisky, Technology & Interactive Media Manager for the Minnesota Opera about just how the non-profit has taken their message social.

“Our strength as an organization lies in our ability to recognize that the future of art is in its growth,” explains Holisky. “We constantly move towards that ideal and challenge ourselves. What makes us unique is that we understand how important this explosive growth in the social sphere already is for us, and are positioning ourselves to take advantage of it even more in the future.”

With an expanding list of social networks the opera is active on, live rehearsals streamed to YouTube, and in-house events like social media nights, this is one old-school business that’s made the transition to modern media with flying colors.

Taking the Opera Social

The Minnesota Opera has been active on Facebook (where it has nearly 5,000 Likes) and Twitter (where it has nearly 10,000 followers) for about five years and has been expanding their social reach on visual mediums like YouTube and Instagram — over the summer, the Opera is looking to do more on LinkedIn and Pinterest.

“We’ve found that each network has its niche that works for us,” says Holisky. “On Twitter we have a very active and engaged audience that gets excited about events and likes to connect with us in a more one-on-one fashion. With Facebook our audience is more apt to share longer-form content and dive into the content we post more — clickthrough rates are ridiculously high for us on Facebook. Photo albums are a particular win for us.”

The ability for social to make one-on-one connections with the opera’s audience is also a boon, “We love the ability to break out of the typical corporate marketing speak and get to know our patrons on an individual level. When we’re able to do this, our messaging soars.”

“One of my favorite sayings around the office is ‘there’s no secrets in opera,'” says Holisky — even though traditionally, that’s not true. The behind-the-scenes process for big productions like the Minnesota Opera is typically a mystery to the average person, who doesn’t know the theatrical tricks or behind-the-scenes work that goes into making a show work on stage.

But with social, it’s easy to post behind the scenes photos or videos for anyone to view — and the opera’s social presence is full of insider info and peeks behind the scene. “This level of transparency not only attracts new audience members, but also strengthens the relationship with existing ones and deepens connections to our donors. For a modern arts organization, this is critical for our future survival.”

The Whole Business Is on Board for Social Success

minnesota opera - magic flute

The Minnesota Opera’s social staff is relatively small. It includes Holisky who focuses on technology and digital communications, and a Communications Manager who focuses on producing content that’s on-target with the organization’s message. Holisky has big plans to grow the opera’s social activity by getting more of the opera’s creative staff involved on social channels — with the ambitious goal of increasing followers by 5% and engagement metrics by 20% next year.

“One of the biggest areas to strengthen is communicating just how much our organization does,” says Holisky. In addition to the Minnesota Opera’s performances, which are its most visible activities, it has an opera education program, a resident artist program, and lots of behind the scenes work on writing, scoring, scene construction, and more.”We do a lot — and we need to find a way to communicate this more.”

To make this happen, the Minnesota Opera has created a new Digital Media Working Group comprised of members from every department. The group will be meeting every two weeks to talk about what’s happening in the company that ought to get social attention. “Getting all these creative minds focused on social media a couple times every month is going to do wonders,” says Holisky, who hopes to significantly increase the amount of digital content the opera produces.

Another big part of the opera’s social picture is its leadership. “Leadership for a large non-profit like Minnesota Opera starts at the top and works its way down, and we’re lucky to have people in leadership that are interested in advancing the art-from and embracing new technology and mediums,” says Holisky. Kevin Ramach, the president of the company, is active on Twitter and socially-savvy, regularly reaching out to the social team with ideas on content to share with the opera’s audience.

Taking Social Activity Offline

minnesota opera - arabella behind the scenes

In an effort to bridge the gap between the opera’s online and offline presences, social interaction is integrated into the opera’s experience whenever possible. You’ll find social media handles on every page of the opera’s programs as well as spotlights on social activity and reminders to engage on social even after opera attendees have headed home.

Each show — the Minnesota Opera produces five large main-stage operas every year, each with between five and nine shows — has a free social media preview night on the final dress rehearsal before the official opening, typically with an audience of 50 to 100 people. Before these performances, there’s a reception beforehand where the Maestro or other artistic staffers mingle with the crowd.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for everyone to get to talk to one another and learn about the opera – all in exchange for a few tweets.” Though handing out free tickets might seem like a counter-intuitive way to boost sales, these events is all about increasing buzz and getting their audience talking about the upcoming performance — and that promotion has proven well worth the cost.

When attendees are talking about the opera and sharing their own messages and photos on social channels without being prompted, social media night has done its job. “Lately on social media preview nights we’ve only tweeted a welcome message – everything else is just retweeting what people in the hall are saying about the opera,” says Holisky.

Next year, Holisky hopes the preview nights — which have been growing steadily — will get even bigger. “For our big blockbuster at the end of the 2014-15 season, Carmen, I’m hoping that we can get 250 people to attend.”

[Images copyright: Michal Daniel for Minnesota Opera]