Philly arts organizations take on social media fads: A short history
Our city has done its part in the development of viral social media trends over the past few years: the voice of 2012’s “Harlem Shake” theme song is a former Philadelphian, and a Philadelphia-based pioneer in the planking craze of 2011 tried her best to offer an explanation of its popularity to an Inquirer reporter. While International Planking Day, coming up on May 25, will remain in obscurity thanks to the relentless cycle of internet memes, the original flash mob of endlessly circulated 2010 YouTube videos appears to persist.
With pop-up flash mob performances already oriented to song, dance and the public sphere, it’s a natural fit for arts and culture organizations to take on. It’s the 2010 flash mob of the “Hallelujah Chorus” at downtown Macy’s during holiday season that has remained iconic for Philadelphia, going viralwith over 8 million views. Local arts organizations have only picked up from there: flash mobs surprised commuters at 30th Street Station as part of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts in 2011 and brought attention to senior citizens’ participation in the arts at Independence Mall in 2012.
Pop-up performances can be associated with arts and culture organizations both by serving as presenters, like Opera Philadelphia breaking into song at the Reading Terminal Market, and as a presenting location, like a 2013 Star Wars “May the fourth” flash mob on the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps. The Knight Foundation’s “Library Acts of Culture” (programmed by Canary Promotion) was both, as arts organizations from BalletX to Kulu Mele African Dance and Drum Ensemble performed at 50 Philadelphia Free Library locations in the city in early 2014. Earning grassroots attention for an arts group is only a part of the story; for “Library Acts of Culture,” the series of surprise performances was organized to help reinforce the perception about how local libraries serve a lively and resourceful role for community residents.
It may be calculated to look spontaneous, but getting your artists or staff out there for flash mob choreography or opening your space for an incoming pop-up performance is anything but. Follow best practices as you would for any marketing tactic: compare your ideas to what has helped other organizations achieve success with Internet memes, make sure it connects to your mission and have a plan for the key messaging any follow-up media or viral attention will promote.
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