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Musical tweets: an interview with @londonsymphony

Posted by dannyw on 25th November 2009

As with most emerging technologies, Twitter began life as the plaything of geeks and technophiles. But the last year has seen increasing mainstream adoption.

I’m always coming across interesting new tweeters and last week, found an account for the London Symphony Orchestra – one of the world’s leading musical ensembles.

As someone who was a pro musician in a former life, I was particularly intrigued, also because one of the account’s tweeters was advertised as one of the Orchestra’s flute players.

So I got in touch and spoke with the LSO’s Digital Marketing Manager to find out more. I also managed to speak with Principal Flautist and Tweeter, Gareth Davies – his thoughts are also below…

DW: Tell me about the LSO and your role?

Jo Johnson, Digital Marketing Manager, LSO: My job encompasses running the LSO website, email marketing, text messaging, social networks, film-making etc.

The LSO is a huge and very busy organisation and there’s always a lot of different things going on at once. My job is to make sure the right information about all these activities is in the right places online, where people might find them (and spend their cash on tickets – if you want to get down to the nitty-gritty of the purpose of my existence!).

DW: Why did you start tweeting at the LSO and what were the initial aims?

JJ: We [that’s me and my colleague Gavin Bayliss, LSO Live Product Manager] started tweeting really as an experiment.We had been using Facebook since 2007 (and MySpace for a little while before that) and saw the rise in importance of the status update. Twitter started really as an extension of that.

We happened to join at the time when there was a big surge in people joining up, and it became clear that Twitter was really about conversations. We started out with the aim that we would NOT use Twitter for marketing, and that aim is still there.

DW: How do you use Twitter and what do you tweet about?

JJ: We try to use it to inform people about what the Orchestra is doing daily and respond to any replies . We put up photos, particularly when on tour, and share interesting links and thoughts. If we have a bit of new video, or a new CD release, we’ll announce itt.

Occasionally we run what we call Artist Conversations, which are basically interviews and Q&As with soloists and conductors, and we’ll tweet those as a complete event.

DW: Do you measure the effectiveness of Twitter and/or social media?

JJ: We try, although it can be difficult to see hard results in terms of visitor numbers to the main website or sales of tickets or CDs.

We can track visitors coming to from Facebook etc. (Twitter is harder to track because of the wide variety of 3rd party apps that people use) and we can see ticket and CD sales as a result of those visits.

In terms of income, Facebook is our 5th biggest referring website – definitely not insignificant!

We also use the service to shorten URLs that we post, which gives us stats like number and times of clicks, geographical location and type of application they have used.

But personally, I think that measuring like this is only half the story. Any organisations looking to justify their use of social networks this way are missing the point.

Surely the most effective way to measure its success is by the amount of user activity within the sites! The more interesting and relevant you are within them, the more people interact with you, and the more fans you gather.

If you’re doing it right, all these people are getting a taste of your brand, just within the environment that they choose and are comfortable with.

The things people say about you and to you in these networks are things they might not say to you anywhere else – for example we get loads of people tweeting mini-reviews after a concert, or telling us how much they enjoy Star Wars, or how they wish we could tour to their city. I suppose one could call it buzz-monitoring.

DW: Was it difficult getting buy-in internally?

JJ: Um… we didn’t ask! Sometimes you’ve just got to go for it and see what happens.

We had already managed to prove that Facebook was a success and worth doing – and that we could be trusted to communicate in these places without sign-off every time! Just as well, since Twitter et al are not the sorts of activities that thrive under those sorts of restrictions. And we are lucky to work in an organisation that encourages and trusts its employees to do something they believe in and to give things a go!

We’d be lying if we said it was all easy – we’ve had to fight our battles and convince people it’s the right thing to do, that we are doing the LSO’s reputation good and not wasting our time. But they are generally supportive right up to the top of the organisation.

DW: Do you have any future plans for using Twitter/social media at the LSO?

JJ: More, more, more! Conversations are really important to us – we want to encourage people to get to know us through social networks. I don’t think this phenomenon is going away. The names may change, but this way of conducting our lives online will stay.

DW: What would be your top tips for companies looking to start using Twitter?


– Be original. Be funny. Allow your personality through, don’t just be corporate.

– Don’t just tweet mini-press releases, there’s nothing more boring. But on the other hand, don’t just tweet about what you had for lunch, how bad your commute was or how awful the weather is!

– Do respond to criticism in a positive way.

Gareth Davies is Princial Flute Player with the LSO. he has a blog and also contributes to the @londonsymphony Twitter account

DW: How and why did you start using Twitter?

Gareth Davies: I didn’t use Twitter before I started using it with the LSO.

I started writing a blog for the Orchestra nearly two years ago and it became apparent that a lot of people enjoyed finding out about what went on behind the scenes and also having a more personal relationship with the players.

DW: What do you tweet about?

GD: All sorts of things. Sometimes it’s just information like what we are doing, where we are, who we are working with.

Or it might be telling people about an upcoming concert or CD. But my favourite stuff is when things happen backstage that we tell people about, which they wouldn’t find out about otherwise!

DW: What’s the best thing about tweeting for the LSO?

GD: I hated it at first, and managed to get into a few arguments with some people on it, so I had a break.

It really got going when we went on a tour of the US. We got into tweeting all sorts of stuff.

My favourite one was when our principal cellist forgot his black socks for a concert and so was backstage with a pair of black and white striped socks, filling in the white lines with a black marker pen. I got a picture of that up in about 30 seconds!

People also seem to like pictures of the rehearsal from a different angle than they are used to seeing.

The thing I like best is that it really breaks down a few perceived barriers between the orchestra and the audience which can only be a good thing. Its also is really nice when I’m on the train home after a concert and people are already tweeting how much they loved it.

You can follow the LSO on Twitter at @londonsymphonyorchestra and find out more about forthcoming concerts at Don’t forget to check out Gareth’s either!