What social networking media outlets can do for you
By Christina H. Davis
It’s never been easier to get the word out about your studio. School owners now have a plethora of online marketing opportunities to choose from to reach students and parents, including popular social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Learning how to put online marketing to use may seem daunting, but dance studio owners can harness the power of social media to help build their businesses. All it takes is a little research, experimentation, and effort.
Stepping out with Facebook
The hottest social media site continues to be Facebook, which boasts more than 400 million active users around the globe. While the site was originally launched by and for college students, it has attracted people of all ages looking to connect virtually, and it’s also become a great place for businesses to connect with customers—including dance studios.
While individuals can create pages to communicate with friends and family, businesses can create “fan pages” at no cost. Users of Facebook can then become a “fan” of the business and leave messages, post photos, and upload videos.
One studio that has begun experimenting with a Facebook fan page is California Dance Academy. Robbin Shahani, the studio’s executive director, and his wife bought what was then known as the Rozann-Zimmerman Ballet Center in Chatsworth, a suburb of Los Angeles, in July 2008. Less than a year later, they launched a Facebook page under the school’s current name.
Initially, Shahani had hoped to develop a portion of his school’s website as a place for current students to connect and post comments and pictures. But he soon realized that Facebook offered an existing platform to do that—and that many of his students and their parents were already on the fast-growing social networking site.
So far, it’s still slow going, according to Shahani. As of May 24, the school, which has 110 students and 10 teachers, had 149 fans on its Facebook page. “There’s been some interaction between the students, which is what I really want to foster and encourage more of,” Shahani says. “If we were better at regular posts, I suspect people would make it part of a routine” to check the page for updates.
Shahani’s measure of success is mostly anecdotal. “When students or parents take the initiative in posting what’s important to them, that’s obviously great insight for us as directors,” he says.
School owners use social media sites like Facebook for a variety of reasons, according to Stacey Marolf. She owns StudioOfDance.com, a Portland, Oregon-based business that focuses on websites for dance studios. She says some of her clients simply want to boost loyalty with existing customers by providing them with an online way to connect with the studio, much like California Dance Academy’s strategy. Other schools are focused on driving traffic from Facebook to their websites, while still others hope to generate new business.
At a minimum, Marolf says, owners should track how new students hear about their studios. “Asking new students and/or their parents whether they know about your Facebook presence, and whether it played a role in their decision, will allow you to measure your success,” she says.
One school that’s been more aggressive about tracking its Facebook page’s success is The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia and West Chester, Pennsylvania. The school, which has a very strong ballet program for teens, launched its Facebook page in July 2009. As of May 24, it had an impressive 8,887 fans.
Alexander Spassoff, communications director for The Rock, says he uses Facebook primarily as a broadcast platform and is hoping to move it toward being “a help center” for teens interested in dance to ask questions. He pays particular attention to Facebook Insights, a free program that provides demographic information at no cost for any Facebook page. He can see clearly that the school’s Facebook audience is within its target market—females ages 13 to 17.
Facebook has attracted people of all ages looking to connect virtually, and it’s also become a great place for businesses to connect with customers—including dance studios.
Spassoff also delves into the analytics for the school’s website (therockschool.org) and says Facebook is consistently in the top three for referring traffic. As a one-man marketing operation for the 1,500-student school (1,000 in the regular program and 500 in the summer program), Spassoff’s time is stretched thin, but he’s convinced that Facebook is an important alternative to traditional newspapers for getting the word out about the school. “Maybe Facebook is not where it’s going to be,” he says. “Maybe it’s YouTube or maybe it’s something no one’s heard of. But everyone agrees that media’s changing.”
Of course, the resources available to The Rock School far outpace the average dance studio. So Marolf offers some words of advice to her clients who feel overwhelmed by the demands of keeping pace. “I think that a lot of social media can be great, if you are ready to commit to them and be consistent” by keeping online information current, she says. An out-of-date Facebook page or blog can send a bad message to prospective students.
Rather than setting up a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and a blog all at once, Marolf advises her clients to start with one outlet. She says studio owners should talk to their students and parents about how they would like to connect and go with the most popular method.
While Shahani and others are happy to jump onto the Web 2.0 bandwagon, some still keep their feet on the curb. One of them is Nancy Solomon Rothenberg, owner of Studio B Dance Center in Eastchester, New York. She loves using Facebook in her personal life but has no plans to create a page for her studio. “I believe in word of mouth,” she says. “If parents love you and talk about you, that’s the best form of advertising.”
Solomon Rothenberg says that other studio owners have reported problems or fears with sites like Facebook. A parent who posts a negative comment can scare off potential customers, she says. And the need to police constantly changing privacy policies worries many people.
There are ways to keep tabs on some of the online social media chatter, according to Chad Michael Lawson, a Phoenix-based website developer and marketer who owns RealDealDanceWebSites.com and RealDealDanceMarketing.com. He recommends setting up email alerts on Facebook, which notify you every time someone posts on your studio’s fan page. For other sites, you can set up custom email alerts through search engines such as Google or Yahoo with your studio’s name as a filter. You’ll automatically be notified every time your studio’s name is mentioned on the Internet.
Another potential problem with sites like Facebook is the blurring of the line that separates teachers from students and even parents. Solomon Rothenberg says she has banned her teachers from friending students on Facebook. At first, her teachers were “a little put off about the rules,” she says, but soon they came to understand that the policy was about maintaining the studio’s professional image.
While Solomon Rothenberg is cautious about social media, she isn’t ignoring the Internet. She has a studio website with a dynamic video introduction and a full page of testimonials from students about why they love dance. To her, that page of testimonials is worth more than any Facebook page. “Those are real kids,” she says. “You can just feel their enthusiasm coming through.”
Facebook and Twitter may be getting the most attention from marketers at the moment, but video-hosting sites can be equally useful for studio owners. What better way to show what a studio is about than through a video clip?
Cathy Patterson, owner of Point B Dance in Lawrence, Kansas, has been an early adopter of online video. Her studio focuses solely on adult students, most of whom attend the University of Kansas. After attending a marketing class that reviewed the power of video to draw people into a website, she knew she had to give it a try. Over the past year she’s uploaded numerous clips from rehearsals and classes at her studio, and she now features a video clip prominently on her site’s home page. “My enrollment has jumped up since I added the video on the home page,” she says.
But part of the reason why YouTube has worked for Patterson is that the majority of her students are college age, meaning that they can legally give their consent to appear in a promotional video. She says that if she owned a traditional studio with younger students, she’d be more hesitant to use the videos so prominently.
The novelty of starring on a short video clip has not worn off on the students at Point B.
“I have people texting me, asking me when that one [video clip] is going up on YouTube,” Patterson says. “I didn’t think it would be that big a deal, but it is.”
Patterson uses a Flip camera (which retails for as little as $149) to shoot simple footage at the end of class. She announces that she’ll be recording and gives the students the choice to sit out. Then she uploads the video and it’s on her site within minutes.
Patterson hasn’t done much on Facebook or Twitter, and she shares some of Solomon Rothenberg’s misgivings about them. In fact, when she uploads videos, she blocks the ability for people to comment on them. “I want people to make their own opinions,” she says.
While Patterson is concerned about comments, she’s not worried about people stealing her or her staff’s choreography when they watch it online. “We would feel like it was a compliment,” she says.
Lawson is a big proponent of the power of leveraging social media. “You can’t put a website online and just think, ‘Oh, this is enough,’ ” he says. “It has to be alive. You have to be tied into [social media] in order for it to work.”
So when Lawson builds a website for a client, he’s sure to establish a presence for the business with Twitter, Blip (a video hosting site similar to YouTube), and Flickr (a photo hosting site), along with Facebook. He builds a simple interface with the various social media sites right into each client’s website content management system.
Establishing a presence on a variety of sites is important, Lawson says, because studio owners will find a different audience at each. The people found on Flickr, which is popular with photo buffs, are quite different from those who hang out on Twitter. And the users of Twitter are likely to only overlap slightly with those on Facebook.
Keeping each social site’s audience in mind is key, according to Lawson. For example, he says the best way to connect on Twitter is for dance studio owners to follow members of the local community and share news that would be of interest to potential customers. “If you want to use Twitter for business, post stuff going on around your town,” he says. “It’s like being a member of the chamber of commerce without having to leave your studio.”
Establishing a presence doesn’t mean giving prospective clients the hard-sell; that doesn’t work on social media, says Lawson. “If you come across too strong,” he says, “it’s like walking into a party and immediately saying, ‘Here’s my card.’ No one wants to talk to that guy. You have to mimic how you would act at a party.”
Lawson acknowledges the challenge in managing a business along with multiple fan pages, Twitter accounts, and YouTube channels. To cope with their competing time demands, he recommends something that dance people are very familiar with: discipline. “If you can carve out a half an hour in the morning, that’s all you need,” he says.
Social Media Basics
What is it? A website where people can connect with others to share photos, videos, and information.
How many people use it? More than 400 million active users.
The pros? Its popularity is skyrocketing, with a broad cross-section of age groups.
The cons? The potential for negative feedback and privacy issues.
What is it? A “micro-blog” where users share status updates (limited to 140 characters) with their “followers.”
How many people use it? Nearly 75 million (industry estimate).
The pros? It can create a lot of buzz around a dance studio if used properly.
The cons? The audience may not match with the demographic of the average dance studio.
What is it? A video hosting site.
How many people use it? The site receives 1 billion views per day.
The pros? Studio owners can upload videos for free and embed them on their websites or Facebook fan pages.
The cons? Some parents may not feel comfortable with their children’s images being posted on the site.