A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.
No one knew this at the time, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars. Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats averaged $100. The whole thing was a social experiment set up by the Washington Post.
You can take many lessons away from this experiment, the most obvious being that you should always take time to stop and smell the roses. In the rush of our everyday life, just how many things do we miss because we’re consumed with our routine? The Post concluded that Bell’s sellout performances are in part due to the marketing, and packaging Josh Bell as one of the premiere violinists in the world in effect makes him one of the best violinists in the world.
After studying this for some time I accepted that our society has bred the double standard, and it is as disturbing as it is interesting. Changing ingrained social norms is seemingly impossible, so philosophizing this experiment is worthless. The first thought that came to me was that sometimes the medium is as important as the message. I’m not talking about Google Plus vs. Twitter; they are pretty much the same when you boil it down. (Comparing Facebook and Twitter is a far stretch from a subway and an Opera House)
Play to Your Audience
The commuters were not the best audience, and the subway was definitely not the best venue for a violin concert. Effective online marketers deal with this every single day, matching optimum conditions to a pre conceived campaign. You want to catch Internet users at a time that is most conducive to getting them to perform a desired action. Getting articles shared on Social Media has become a huge goal for most blogs, but when people are checking their Facebook news feed, they are usually more involved with the Facebook application than they are with articles that were shared by their friends. Recent studies have shown that the often overlooked weekend engagement could be a sweet spot for engagement.
This is one of the reasons that Search Engine Optimization has remained a force in online marketing. Those users are actively searching for content that is at the very least similar to yours. It’s also a good reason to recruit recurring visitors. When someone has devoted a certain amount of time to interacting with your website and its content every day they become much more engaged than a drive by speed read from Twitter.
Is Your Venue the Ritz or the Days Inn?
As a web developer or blogger you want your website to be the theater in Boston, but most web traffic isn’t looking to attend the performance of a concerto. You know who would have done much better on the subway? A newspaper salesman. While the commuters obviously didn’t have time to listen to the violin (and most of them would have probably kept walking even if they knew who Josh Bell was) they had the time to buy a Newspaper and take it with them. Josh Bell may have made 32$ in the time he was playing, but hardly anyone consumed his media. I can’t say that the newsboy would have made a lot more money, but the commuters would have probably consumed his media at a time that was more opportune for them. If Joshua Bell had handed out free CDs, a lot more people would have been able to consume his media that day.
I’m not saying that you send your visitors away immediately with a printout or .PDF file, your website is going to be available to most consumers anywhere and anytime these days. That is one of the great advantages of the Internet. Your online content is the periodical that can be consumed at a more opportune time.
•Consider your audience and venue.
•Target the ratio of drive by visits and in-depth research explicitly with your content.
•Make it possible to consume your content on a wide variety of devices.
•If you give something away, let people know about it.
What I’m saying is to consider your audience and venue. Be thinking about the interaction that takes place during all stages of your marketing. What does the Tweet that is exposed to thousands of commuters look like? For those who buy the newspaper, what kind of impression does your website have on them? Is it effective and well-targeted, or are you Joshua Bell on a subway?