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Twitter and the Tate – I would have tweeted, but 140 was just too short.

At the Amb:IT:ion roadshow in Edinburgh -I stayed silent on this issue in question time, but thought I’d raise them here in case it is of interest.

The context was Katie Beale’s presentation (the video will be elsewhere on this site) about the work she did with the Tate and Twitter. Katie’s main focus was on a chart that showed a nice straight line taking the followers number from 20,000 to 100,000. This was presented as a success, and on the face of it that’s precisely what it is, until you ask a few questions – like the one’s I didn’t at the event but would like to now: In no particular order.

1. Types of followers and the quality of the follow. What does it mean to follow the Tate? I’m not asking that from the point of view of the Tate as Katie did, but rather from the point of view of the follower. My guess is that following the Tate might be because you want to read tweets from the Tate. But it could also mean that the follower gets to make a small but effective comment about their cultural perspective, like wearing a badge – whether they’ve ever been to the Tate or not, whether they read the Tate’s tweets or not. What does this mean from the Tate’s perspective? What does having 100,000 followers actually mean.

2. What was the Tate’s policy on following: Why does the Tate only follow 697 people? Part of the fun of Twitter is reciprocating follows, or reaching out to people. The only driver Katie mentioned for increasing followers was the actual tweets. But it’s common knowledge that following people increases your number of followers – often more than the content of your tweets.

3. What do you do if you’re not a national or international brand. The audience for the day were generally arts or arts related companies who could only look with envy at the scale of the Tate brand. It seemed to the people I spoke to that 100,000 followers was not really that many for such a big brand. But what do you do if you are a small theatre company in Scotland and don’t have a continuous flow of high profile exhibition news to boast about?

4. Return on investment – this was a phrase that Katie used once…and then moved on without discussing what it might mean. What was good was that clearly the Tate integrated its marketing and press approaches with its social media, but how is an organisatin to evaluate the return on investment on Twitter. In the Tate, they seemed to have a full time person (equivalent) so maybe throwing in all the related fixed costs that’s £40-60k, what is the return you get from 100,000 followers? And how do you measure it – so that due credit is given to other marketing/press intiatives? Katie did not explore these issues preferring to present the incredible growth in followers she has generated as sufficient justification for the investment. Is that going to work in leaner, smaller arts organisations across Scotland?

5. How do you read the Tweets of 100,000 followers – that’s always the question that’s bothered me. And of course the answer is that you don’t. But the corollary is you have to question how many of your 100,000 followers are actually reading you.

These are the issues, I’d be delighted to hear your response by way of having a practical discussion.