Here are some things I’ve learnt about promoting dance or music related businesses online. I’m not a marketing specialist, but I am a media studies specialist who’s been promoting dance events online for about 15 years now.
You need a website.
You need an email newsletter.
- With both of these media, you are the producer broadcasting a message to your readers.
- Audiences tend to regard these as authoritative sources, unfiltered by social opinion.
- If a social media platform collapses or moves out of vogue, your data won’t disappear with it.
They don’t need to be fancy. In fact, the simpler the better. A single page website with clear headers and a simple structure is best. A newsletter can be sent out maybe once a month. So long as it’s sent out _consistently_, at the same time each week or month, it’s all good.
What about social media?
Important, but in a different way. Think of your behaviour on social media as your brand (which is the public version of you and your business) interacting with lots of real people and other brands out in public. It’s a way for you to develop personal and professional networks in your community or industry. And social media get used a lot, by a lot of different types of people, of all ages and demographics. Perhaps the best thing about social media, for marketing and advertising, is that it allows you to know who’s seeing your ad, when, and where. Something that was harder to judge before social media. Before social media, a brand used social media to ‘broadcast’ a message. With social media, a brand can interact with audiences in a much more complex way.
Websites are important.
Of the two, the website is most important. If you do a tiny bit of audience research (eg we used a very simple survey to routinely ask all our dance class attendees how they found us), you can see which media are most important. For our dance classes, a ‘google search’ accounted for 90% of our attendance. Even if they saw a post on facebook first, they still used a search engine to actually get them to class (and make the sale).
This is where we talk about SEO. Search Engine Optimisation. It’s not magic, it just means ‘make it easy for search engines like google to find your website’. We know a lot of things about google. We know that when it indexes your website, it pays attention to the words you use. ie it ‘reads’ your code. And google tells you how to make it easier for their search engine to find your site.
What should your website include?
- Your name. The name you want people to use when they announce you over a microphone or list you on a program.
- Your contact details. A phone number, and an email address. Right at the top. And in the footer too. Make it really easy for busy bookers, festival programmers, and prospective clients to find you. If someone’s prepared to pick up the phone to talk to you, they want information quickly, and they’re close to making a decision.
- Some useful key words. What do you do? Dance teacher? Then you need ‘dance teacher’ right at the top of your page. Are you a lindy hopper? A jazz musician? Do you run weekly balboa classes? Then say so, right there in text on the page. Make it easy for google to find you when your audience does a google search.
Most importantly, don’t hide information away in images. Search engines like google can’t ‘find’ your information if it’s hidden in an image. All google knows about your lovely instagram graphic is that it’s a .jpg file, 1080px x 1080px, created on 2 January 2022. Even more importantly, people who use screen readers can’t find your information if it’s locked inside an image.
Do use photos on your website or newsletter, because they look nice, and it’s easier to sell a product if people know what it looks like.
Don’t hide information in an image.
Each image should have a ‘title’ tag, and ‘alternative’ text (‘alt’ text) to that tag. If you’re writing your own website code, that’s easy to do. You just add alt=”the information from your image” to the image element. Most website building tools (like squarespace) and newsletter tools (like mailchimp) offer you the option to add alt text as well. Yay!
As an example, this little graphic is very effective for instagram. It has all the information we need – there’s a party, when and where it’s on, and bring cake!
But without alt text, all your web browser knows is that this is an image, 812px x 812px, called ‘Screen-Shot-2022-04-06-at-2.30.41-pm.png’. No one will come to your party.
If you add alt text like “party time! Monday 3pm, 11 Streetname St, Bring cake!”, then a google search will be able to find the information and serve it up as a result in a google search.
What about a newsletter?
Don’t underestimate the value of a newsletter. People actively choose to sign up for your newsletter, which is a way of signalling to you ‘I am interested enough in you and your product to give you access to my inbox’.
Newsletters give you lots of useful information about your subscribers as well. How many people click on links? Or open the email at all? How many unsubscribe? How many ‘bounce’? All these analytics can help you improve your newsletter: which subject lines convinced people to open the email? Which calls to action in your newsletter got a response?
If you use a newsletter service like mailchimp (and you really should. For privacy, security, efficacy, and ease), you often have the option of displaying an archive of your past emails. Each of these past emails is another tool for improving your SEO: another hundred or thousand times a search engine will read your name on the internet and add that page to its index.
Most of all, a newsletter lets you speak directly to a group of people who are even just a little bit interested in you and what you do. Gold!
Take this seriously
If you’re going to stand up on stage and play, or run a class for people to learn to dance, you have to let people know. Even if your business runs mostly via word of mouth, having a solid website can work just like a nice business card. Something that means a lot more in a world where most people have a smartphone in their pocket (or hand!)
If you need a hand with this stuff, drop me a line I can give you some tips. For a very reasonable rate :D
Aletta linked up this great article on fb yesterday: Cut From The Same Cloth by Myfanwy Tristram.
I was a teen 1987-1993, and fully into a punk/‘alternative’ aesthetic. Docs, shaved head, op shop clothes, etcetera. I started making my own clothes when I was about 22, because I couldn’t find what I wanted in shops. These days I make almost all my own clothes.
It’s been interesting to learn about pattern drafting and fitting techniques and applying them to my own aesthetic. Much of which is informed by the practical requirements of lindy hop.
As a seamstress, I’m really inspired by independent designers, but I really pine for the skills of high end fashion. Most of which are about making things by hand. It’s DIY (very 90s), but with the power and budget of high end fashion industry. And I’m always struggling to avoid bullshit gender norms.
I’m very inspired by Kenneth King’s approach to fit and mechanical skills (he’s all about comfort, and fitting/cutting to flatter all bodies), and the Black American women sewers on instagram, who are all about COLOUR and confidence, and a non-m/s body shape.
Of course I’m excited by contemporary African fashion design (Thebe Magugu from South Africa, Tufafifi from Nigeria, etc). Inspired by tradition, but with modern sensibilities and politics.
And I’m a serious fan of contemporary Aboriginal Australian fabric design and printing (Australian Indigenous Fashion is a great source for this stuff).
I like artists like Peggy Noland, who makes huge, saturated colour models. Her work with Wacky Wacko is right up my alley: bold colours, confronting images (tampons! Body hair! Condoms! Gay!), men in frocks, fat chicks in tight mini skirts.
The irony is that by the time I have leet sewing and construction skills, I’ll be way old.
I have wondered a couple of times lately, ‘Should I worry about bring ‘ridiculous’ for dressing like this at my age?’ I usually tell myself not to be silly.
Something I’m really interested in at the moment is how to dress/dance on stage as an older, fatter woman. I’m experimenting with things like creating discomfort in the audience: revealing cellulite thighs, getting a skirt caught in my knickers, a too-tight bodice, an exposed bountiful bosom
I can feel the audience wriggling in their seat, and i really enjoy the way it fucks up the gender norms of the lindy hop world: skinny young white women with long limbs and long hair and no boobs. If you’re in a comp, people _have_ to watch you. They’re not allowed to look away. Cellulite or no.
This idea of discomforting the viewer is part of a punk aesthetic: piercings, torn clothes, spikes, and acidic colours. It’s also part of my feminist praxis: discomfort a male gaze. Disrupt a gendered norm. Enjoy it. I like using this as a tool in my sewing as well. I love power clashing, bold colour palettes, and mixing full, flowing sleeves with fierce colours and silhouettes. And as an older woman, who society is busy telling should be invisible, I’m beginning to really enjoy wearing clothes that demand attention. The difference now, is that my practical construction skills have increased. I know how to cut a woven fabric so that it fits as comfortably as a knit. I’m also a fan of complex construction techniques, using traditional techniques to make weirdarse garments.
As part of my 3-part response to sexual harassment in the lindy scene, I’ve started getting keen on the idea of visual assets. ie paper postcards, a useful website, etc.
My 3-part response:
1. Develop a code of conduct.
This is basically a set of ‘rules’, but also a clear statement of intent.
– the in-progress code of conduct and sexual harassment policy I’m developing
2. Working towards cultural change through:
Teaching in a way which explicitly helps women feel confident and strong, and provides tools for men looking to redefine how they do masculinity.
– using tools like the ones I outline in Remind yourself that you are a jazz dancer and Uses of history: Frankie as teaching tool
Teaching in a way which implicitly discourages sexual harassment, by encouraging good communication between leads and follows.
– I am keen on the rhythm centred approach as a practical strategy. Less hippy talk, more dancing funs.
– I like simple things like talking to both men and women about being ok with people saying no to you.
3. Developing strategies for actually confronting men about their behaviour.
– I talked about how I do this in class in Dealing with problem guys in dance classes
– I’m working up to addressing the more nebulous issue of sexual harassment by practicing on more concrete stuff like telling men to stop pulling aerials on the social floor
– Talking to and about men confronting other men. Because it’s men who are doing the dodgy stuff in most of these cases, and we need to ask men to take responsibility for their own actions. Whether those actions are harassment, or condoning/enabling harassment by not using their power to speak up.
Working on this, I’ve discovered that a bunch of words is next to useless. We need simple graphics, pictures and posters. Using a range of resources (the AFL’s response to sexual assault is particularly powerful and useful), I’m thinking that we need to add a few things to the prevention/response strategies. I’m considering making up a simple, powerful website and postcard outlining what’s ok, and what’s not. They have to have a light-hearted, fun vibe (because lindy hop), but they also have to be very useful and not too twee. The tone of these texts should suit the vibe of my business, but also give an idea of national and international lindy hop culture (as if there was such an homogenous thing!)
These two assets could work in concert with a poster or sign, and with a practical training program for teachers, door staff, and ‘safety officers’ (ie the people you go to when you need help).
Luckily, lindy hoppers have already gotten on to this. We actually have a discourse of ‘etiquette’, which is the way we manage and control social interactions in our scene. We also talk a lot about ‘floor craft’, which is another way of managing how we take care of ourselves and others on the dance floor. The basic message of both is ‘Look out for others or you won’t get any dances.” Lindy hop has a powerful shaming tool at its disposal, and we should make greater use of it.
I think we can just tweak these two sets of ‘rules’ a little to make them a bit more powerful and directly address sexual harassment and assault. A lot of dancers don’t want to address rape and sexual harassment explicitly because it’s a downer (and lindy hop is supposed to be all happy clappy all the time), and it’s a bit of a social taboo to talk about sex and sexual violence in an explicit way. And it’s really difficult to talk about sexual assault and violence without actually talking about breasts, vulvas, vaginas, penises, bottoms, and how we touch and use them.
Added to this are the broader social myths about women’s bodies, women’s sexuality, and men’s sexuality. The bottom line in responding to sexual harassment and assault is that you have to accept that it’s about power and violence more than it’s about sex and sexuality, and you have to accept that patriarchy exists. A tall order for people who ‘just want to dance’.
But I don’t want to reinvent the wheel when there’s fab stuff like this around:
This is an etiquette guide produced by Holy Lindy Land, the Israeli lindy hop community. Which of course you should know about, because they sent an open letter of peace and friendship to the lindy hoppers of Palestine, which makes me cry like a little baby with the love. (You can read more about the two scenes’ work in this lovely piece).
I like this poster because it does simple things like replace my awkward description
Avoid ‘boob swipes’, touching a partner’s bottom, groin, upper legs – you know the deal. If you accidentally do so, apologise immediately. If you do this repeatedly, you will be warned, if not ejected from the event.
I think that lindy hop could also do with some of the sharper edged humour that would help us get real about sexual harassment.
There was a most excellent swing memes thread on yehoodi years ago, where most of the images are sadly missing now :( I’m especially fond of Good Guy Greg.
And of course tumblr brings the gif with people like lindy hop problems.
But these are, of course, not ‘official’ responses to sexual harassment. They are very important, because they give us a way to comment on issues, and also to ‘talk back to power’ if we don’t think organisations are stepping up.
I’m thinking something by an artist like Tomeito would be pretty useful:
At any rate, I’m working on it. Slowly but surely…. :D
- Mobtown ballroom code of conduct (casual, human tone to the talk)
- the SES (State Emergency Services) position sexual harassment as an occupational health and safety issue rather than a ‘women’s issue’ or ‘sexual issue’, and have some EXCELLENT training material available
- AFL (Australian Football League) have Respect and Responsibility, a hardcore response to s.h. and assault which targets men (because it is a male-dominated sport), and uses the Australian discourses of ‘mateship’, ‘team’ and community responsibility (or club-loyalty) through the language of the sport (‘taking the tackle’ etc) in a powerful way. Their posters are great. I admit it, my Uses of History: Frankie as Teaching Tool in-class strategies are an attempt to do the same thing. To use the language and model of our most important and powerful cultural imagery as a strategy for dealing with sexual harassment.
- Australian Human Rights Commission (for identifying and defining s.h., and researching the legal status of s.h.). My federal government’s current push to destabilise and ultimately destroy the AHRC is making me very angry.
AHRC’s ‘know the line’ campaign, which feels a bit naff to me, but uses a strong poster campaign and website/poster tie-in.
Looking into ideas for promoting events, I began with historical texts, for obvious reasons. I was caught by two examples: tourism posters for Australian cities and playbills/flyers for the Savoy Ballroom.
But I found the tourism posters just didn’t work for my project. I was designing a flyer for a local dance, targeting a local market. Tourism posters for Sydney were targeting a national, even international audience. The images of Sydney they offered were too simple: a sun-drenched beach. An art deco drawing of the Harbour Bridge. People who live in Sydney have a much deeper, more nuanced understanding of the city. Their idea of Sydney is far more than the Harbour Bridge or beaches. It’s street corners, shops, the view from a particular hill, the colour of the water near a park, the smell of the alley behind their house, the height of the steps from the train station platform. The tourism posters simply don’t capture that complexity of experience.
(from the npr site)
In contrast, the Savoy’s flyers perfectly capture a truly local idea. They’re hyper-local. Designed to be handed out, passed hand-to-hand, they’re designed not just for residents of a city, but for residents of Harlem. Of this part of Harlem. There’s no explanation of ‘Savoy’, or ‘lindy hop’, or of who band leaders are. There’s a great deal of assumed knowledge built into the creation of this text. Readers are positioned in a particular way.
Tourism, posters, in contrast, are introducing an idea of place to the reader. The Savoy’s flyers are using an idea of a place – a community – and expanding it with suggestions about how residents might enrich that understanding. You live in Harlem? Of course you care about dancing!
And an important part of this sense of hyper-local is the up-closeness, the immediacy of the physical object itself. This is a hand bill. A flyer. To be picked up from a table, accepted from a proffered hand. And then it’s folded and put in a pocket or bag. Slid into a newspaper. Tucked into a magazine or book. Scribbled on. Shown to, and passed from, friend to friend. And there are many copies of them.
Tourist posters are posters, displayed on walls. To be looked at, not used and possessed. In a similar way, the Savoy in these flyers is owned and belongs to local Harlem residents, and the Sydney of these posters is inaccessible – to be visited just for a day or week.
Flyers are cheap, one or two colours on cheap, small pieces of paper, mass-produced and replaced by next week’s – tomorrow’s – version.
This is fascinating when you think about how these local texts work in a modern context. While modern lindy hoppers rely on the internet – Faceplant, websites, email – paper flyers are still important promotional tools.
The thought is that you show an audience the image three times – in three different media – and then you have that image stuck in their minds. And paper flyers are found in dance spaces. These are powerful places for dancers, associated with the physicality of dance itself. But paper flyers only really work with the digital repetition. The winning trifecta is a paper flyer and a personal recommendation and a reliable website or email.
Looking at these two different media, I’m struck by how the Savoy’s flyers are perfect for promoting local dances to dancers. Because that is their purpose. A tourism poster, though, combining (for example), the Harbour Bridge with a dancer would be perfect for advertising a Sydney lindy exchange to interstaters or internationals.
(This photo from the RTA’s Sydney Harbour Bridge 80th birthday event gives us an idea of how this could work)
Most interesting of all, though, is that the flyer is cheap.
Printed cheaply, or by hand on machines like mimeographs then, they’re now photocopied. Cheap, ubiquitous, disposable, ephemeral, powerful in their reliably everydayness.
The tourism poster – with its large format, colour, and less localised content, is more expensive. Better for an infrequent event, publicised to a less-local market.
Fascinating, in combination, for the way they illustrate the global/local nature of lindy hop communities. But more interesting for the way lindy hop communities then and now are necessarily highly local. Hyper-local. Delineated by an hour on public transport or in a car. Depicting intensely familiar spaces, names, people, places. The Savoy might be a glorious, nostalgia-laden phantasm from a by-gone age for us now, but then, for the people holding its flyer, it was local community. Everyday. Ordinary. Essential. And anything but ephemeral.
I’ve been interested in William H Whyte’s ‘The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces for a while, mostly because it provides a nice jumping off place for talking about dancers and DJing, but also because there are some flaws in the work which make it worth revisiting occasionally. But I hadn’t realised there was a film version of William H. Whyte: The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces – The Street Corner.
Oh! Exciting! Last night Alice and I launched our new weekly class in Petersham… I say that as though it was just us two there working the door, making up lead numbers (we only needed one more lead!), buying drinks, laughing and talking and filling the room, bringing our friends along just to see what dancing’s like, offering advice on PR, working the bar and making food. We really couldn’t have pulled it off without lots of help from all of our friends, from our respective kissing-partners (my Squeeze gets mad props for being a gun working the door, Alice’s for filling in lead numbers and both of them for being ridiculously chillaxed and having no doubt of our abilities), from the lovely Petersham Bowling Club staff, from, well, everyone we know. We are so grateful for the work people have put in, even (or most particularly) those people who were patient enough to sit through one of our rambling conversations full of what-ifs and low-number-anxiety.
Basically, we had support and help from pretty much everyone we know. And we’re so grateful. Running a dance event is a social enterprise, from beginning to end, and even though it’s a cliche, we absolutely couldn’t have gotten even this far without everyone’s support and encouragement.
I now have lots of things to write about here about teaching and running classes and volunteer labour and the economics of running weekly classes and the relationship between social and class dancing and… well, lots of things. But it’s not really cool for me to write about what is, essentially, other people’s business here on my blog. I’ll let it all percolate a little more and see if I can come up with something that’s not going to be indiscrete or inpolitic.
I’d love to talk about how we might use various media to promote our event. That’s the sort of thing my academic phd brain loves thinking about most. I spent so long researching and writing about media use in a capitalist, patriarchal culture, I just can’t stop myself then applying that work to the practical public relations strategies for a (highly gendered) dance class in a multimedia cultural environment.
I’m fascinated by the relationships between digital, print, face to face/word of mouth, radio and audio visual texts and media. I’m so interested in the way brands can be developed at a small, seriously local/micro level. I’m all a twitter with ideas about developing a sustainable business model centred on collaborative creative practice.
Every time we put together a Faceplant ad or print a poster or make an announcement at a dance or simply dance in public my brain kind of explodes with the wonderfulness of how humans work together and tailor media for our very particular uses. But I also have to stop and calm myself down: baby steps, yo.
While it’s possible to run on ahead at a million miles a minute when you’re thinking through ideas for a bit of academic writing, the actual practice of all this theory requires a slower pace. As my design subjects and dance practice have taught me, you learn a lot from actually doing something, and thinking about that thing isn’t actually all that helpful for understanding, really knowing how that thing works. I need to put the practice before the theory, but at the same time let the critical and theoretical work inform what I do. Nothing new for a feminist who sees dance itself as a feminist project. But something new for the lecturer/writer/tutor who spent so much time working on advertising and media discourse.
I guess the thing that I’m most struck by now, and will no doubt come to obsess me, is the difference between running a one-off event and a weekly event that goes on and on and on and on and on and on. Running a one-off gig is tiring and anxiety-making, but it’s over after a few months or a year. With a long-term gig like a weekly dance or class, you need stamina, and the work you do must be sustainable. You can’t make yourself ill with overwork; you can’t live in a state of high anxiety/alert or you’ll go nuts. Your work needs to be sustainable. And that means that there are all sorts of different labour politics, issues surrounding professional and personal networking, skill development and PR practices to think about.
It’s fascinating for me, because I’m so used to doing one-off gigs. Big weekend exchanges. One-night dances. One-off classes. Coordinating DJs for our local events is a long-term gig, but it’s a pretty simple one (though do remind me to talk about how we’re going to encourage and foster new DJing talent as a long term project). I have to say, right now I’m really interested in the dynamics of making a weekly gig sustainable – environmentally, culturally, socially, economically.
That first one is important because our venue, the Petersham Bowling Club, has a strong commitment to environmental sustainability, having secured some grant money for installing rain tanks, solar power and other lovely things. This is especially important for a venue that is a bowling green. Greens are traditionally environmentally and economically expensive. I’m also interested in the way dances are quite energy wasteful. We use a lot of electricity for cooling, for sound systems, for lighting. Yet we don’t harvest any of the (masses and masses) of energy our bodies expend on the dance floor. We don’t use that piezoelectricity generated by impact on the dancefloor the way some Dutch doods do. We don’t harvest the energy in the heat generated by our bodies. And that’s a lot of heat. Nor do we collect the moisture in the air from all those sweating bodies. The PBC isn’t the only venue in Sydney interested in environmental sustainability. The Red Rattler is also prioritising these things. I tend to spend more time thinking about social justice than environmentalism when I’m doing dance stuff, but I have noticed that the two issues tend to overlap in the priorities of particular venues. And the Petersham/Marrickville/inner west area is kind of keen on this stuff. As the Greens and other lefty political entities have realised.
I also think a weekly event has to be culturally sustainable. You have to offer something that not only suits your market/community in that first launch moment, but is also responsive to the changes in the wider dance community as well as individual students’ and social dancers’ needs. I think it’s important that a weekly event be responsive to the musical, cultural and creative requirements of dancers over the long term, whether they are students in the class or social dancers. That might mean adjusting class content to suit students’ interests and skills, or creating promotional material that correctly targets that preferred demograph, but it also means doing things like making musical choices that reflect broader dance community interests and responding to dance style fads and vintage/contemporary fashion overlaps.
Weekly events have to be socially sustainable as well. That means responding to the social needs and context of the local geographic area (Petersham, and inner-western Sydney) and to the social needs of dancers already in the scene. To put it clumsily (and to suit my own approach, rather than a broader critical or theoretical model), cultural sustainability is about the creative and functional things we do and make, as dancers, while social sustainability is about the interactive, human to human relationships and living. Weekly dance events can’t just be about dancing or dance-related cultural practice. They also have to be about social context and practice. Events have to be socially relevant and positioned carefully for longevity. The fact that some of our students came to their very first class simply because they’d seen a poster at the venue during the week is testament to the fact that matching venue to event is very important in targeting your preferred demograph. Dancers who aren’t coming to class are going to need a space that’s offering more than just a dance floor, if you want your event to be truly socially sustainable. That means thinking about food and drink, transport and safety, opening and closing hours and the shared values and interpersonal relationships at work in dancers’ lives. You can see how environmental sustainability can overlap with social sustainability.
And finally, weekly events have to be economically sustainable. This is perhaps the most important issue. I’m a big fat hippy socialist feminist, and I love nonprofit, community-run and ethically responsible dance events. I won’t have anything to do with an event that exploits workers or punters, or that articulates racist, sexist, homophobic or other hateful sentiments. I’m happy to do things ‘for the love of dance’, ‘for charity’ or ‘for the sake of art’, so long as that thing is a source of pleasure (rather than pain), ethically sound and socially responsible. But at the end of the day, financial responsibility is part of being a socially, culturally and ethically sustainable project.
You need to be able to cover your costs, you need to offer your host venue a sensible profit so they can justify your working relationship. You need to provide facilities that are safe, efficient and effective, and that means spending some money. And at the end of the day, if you’re doing this gig every single week, putting on classes or social dancing with all the preparation that involves (and there’s a lot of it, even if you’re ‘just’ doing a social dance), you need to give your workers – your teachers, DJs and staff – some sort of financial reward. Even if it’s just another way to show that you value their work. Even minimal pay can help relieve rent anxiety or defray the costs of transport and time and resources. Running short of money can be a serious source of anxiety for organisers, and being economically sustainable can help relieve that. Not to mention pay the bills and make the whole thing possible.
So, as you can see, I have lots to say, and lots to think about. But I can’t talk specifically at the moment, because this isn’t just my project. There are other folk involved, and sometimes knowing when to stop talking is just as important as knowing when to speak up.
I’m going to try to sort this site so that:
- you don’t have to look at those boring fitness updates;
- that annoying line/space problem on the entry titles is fixed
- the individual entry pages look better;
- it’s easier to navigate back through entries
Best not hold your breath.
The Asylum Seekers’ Resource Centre’s Food Bank has some amazing design action happening. My favourite is the clock: