Posted by & filed under MA Online Journalism, Production Labs.

For my MA Online Journalism I’m conducting a Production Lab placement with Village Underground, London. Following the last group Skype meeting, I thought it would be useful to do a case study on a venue that already has its online presence sorted. I managed to arrange a face to face meeting with Maryam Ashgari from the Barbican, a 28 minute edit of the meeting can be listened to below.


But if you don’t have half an hour to spare here are my conclusions.

The Barbican website in its current state has been running for 9 months so it is a relatively new introduction. Maryam is still monitoring the success of her online experiments – the social media and content production process is still evolving. The main website now highlights and flags up a range of things that come up under the broad Barbican umbrella and it is also Maryam’s job (in conjunction with an intern) to maintain other social media and keep a unified presence – their approach isn’t too rigid or dictatorial in tone or structure.

Conclusions: Village Underground is not such a large arts centre but a unified presence still needs to be maintained across all third party sites. I also discussed tone on these different sites, Maryam said (around 16 minutes) there is not really a discernable difference in register anymore. However, the main website draws from press releases so there’s slight difference in style. The Barbican’s tone across other social media is fairly “rough and ready”. In Village Underground’s case I don’t think there needs to be a register change.

Myspace is no longer really used by The Barbican and now their Facebook site is their social media hub. Maryam talked about the importance of reacting to the community and answering any questions they had claiming “If you don’t react you lose your audience.” She also mentioned posing questions or running small competition helped people interact with the site and gave them a reason for visiting. She also talked about the importance of not bombarding the audience via the Facebook mailing list.

Conclusions: Although Village underground has a Facebook group site it’s not very well maintained, comparing it to Barbican’s Facebook in conjunction with these tips will really help keep an audience on the Facebook site interested and engaged.

Barbican have only had a presence here for the last 6 months or so but already it has proved successful. According to their analytics they rank in the top 30 arts organisations in the world (6:30 minutes in). The tone on Twitter is even more informal and the conversational currency is fun. They have also played around with the form, recently conducting a successful Q&A with a renowned violinist Sara Chang. They capitalised on this event by taking photos and putting it on the Flickr site..

Conclusions: Twitter needs to be set up and taken seriously, we chatted about it being a potential drain on resources. Maryam keeps this in check and only really responds to Tweets for an hour in the morning and afternoon. This is encouraging as there were concerns raised at the Skype meeting that Twitter would take up too much time.

Last FM
Interestingly someone outside of the Barbican staff started a Last FM presence and still maintains the site, updating the playlists, radio and events. According to their Google Analytics Last FM is one of their most successful sites for converting into ticket sales.

Conclusions: I hadn’t even thought of using Last FM. It makes even more sense to compile a playlist and presence for Village Underground as it stages quite a lot of music events. It might also be good to get favourite tracks they think represent Village Underground, or even ones that they play whilst working in the office and studio.

TheirBarbican Channel has gained an incredible amount of recognition due to video footage of their most recent installation by Celeste Boursier featuring bullfinches roosting on a guitar and amp. Although the footage was shot somewhere else and had previously had 2,000 hits, it was re-editted by Barbican staff and succeeded on their channel, receiving over 600,000 views.

Also interestingly the PR team put YouTube links in their press releases and this also created the buzz around this video. They have also just started a Vimeo account, the content is the same as YouTube but Vimeo is preferred by designers. This preference was also expressed by the Village Underground designer at the last Skype meeting. Maryam is currently looking at Tube Mogul, a service that automatically puts the same content across different third party video sites. At the moment this is a paid for service.

Conclusions: Village Underground needs a Channel, there is plenty of material floating around YouTube but if it is brought into a channel it makes it easier to use and monitor. Video needs also needs to be be promoted creatively, once you point the public or press to the site the video speaks for itself. Maryam also mentioned she wanted to encourage more of a “rough and ready” approach to video. It’s all very well having polished bits of video but the public want to also see exclusives, voxpops and behind the scenes action. These can all be readily done with Village Underground.

Barbican have a broad array of press shots, amateur snaps and even flip footage on their Flickr site. Much of Maryam’s work is concerned with encouraging people to tag them up properly. Correctly tagged, the images will also show up on the Barbican site’s Flickr gallery, the Facebook Flickr widget and Twitpics. Maryam talked about how Flickr is helping to bring all three main sites together.

Conclusions: Pretty much the same as YouTube conclusions, there are pics out there they just need pulling together.

There was some talk about encouraging blogs for certain projects but it very much depends on personality. I raised the point about what I’d noticed with the Liverpool Philharmonic blog, successful because the Chief Conductor Vasily Petrenko is charismatic with devoted fans. Maryam mentioned that person who blogs must be used to doing it, you can’t force people to blog.

Conclusions: no progression from the notes I made under ‘Text’ in my first stage research.

Only a few podcasts have been produced so far but they have already gained recognition. The Barbican team have been told by iTunes that they might be mentioned in next month’s Store Picks section. Obviously, the focus is mainly on music but Maryam would like to start producing podcasts for other departments, particularly theatre and maybe even visual arts (discussion!)

Conclusions: Podcasts might be too time consuming for the limited time that I am able to help Village Underground. However, given the right training they are fairly easy to produce, maybe this is an element that can be introduced if an internship were to happen. I could quite easily train someone to produce decent audio.

All In The Analysis
Maryam has many success stories to tell about her approach to online. Most importantly though, Google Analytics are key to measuring and proving that success to others. I need to chat to Jowan the web designer about what analytics are in place and to strengthen and consolidate them. What is clear is that there are quite a few social media bits already started by both the Village Underground and members of the public. Plenty of archive material already exists. For my project I need to organise these parts and create a strategy for going forward.