Symphony Discord Plays Out In Facebook Fracas

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Members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra play French horns while serenading their picketing colleagues outside the Max M. Fisher Music Center in Detroit, on Oct. 4, 2010. The musicians  called a strike after refusing to accept pay cuts of more than 30 percent demanded by the financially struggling Detroit Symphony Orchestra. i i

Members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra play French horns while serenading their picketing colleagues outside the Max M. Fisher Music Center in Detroit, on Oct. 4, 2010. The musicians called a strike after refusing to accept pay cuts of more than 30 percent demanded by the financially struggling Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Paul Sancya/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Paul Sancya/AP
Members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra play French horns while serenading their picketing colleagues outside the Max M. Fisher Music Center in Detroit, on Oct. 4, 2010. The musicians  called a strike after refusing to accept pay cuts of more than 30 percent demanded by the financially struggling Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra play French horns while serenading their picketing colleagues outside the Max M. Fisher Music Center in Detroit, on Oct. 4, 2010. The musicians called a strike after refusing to accept pay cuts of more than 30 percent demanded by the financially struggling Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Paul Sancya/AP

Before the musicians strike began in late 2010, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Facebook fan page used to look like a typical fan page with posts about visiting conductors, upcoming concerts and the orchestra's Tiny Tots series.

But once the strike began it essentially hijacked the fan page. While the DSO may have wanted to talk about Tiny Tots concerts, the audience wanted to talk about the orchestra's problems.

The musicians used their own Facebook fan page to post updates there.

So, management started doing the same thing on the official fan page.

But this Facebook fight could affect what happens once the fight is all over.

Opinions Vs. Outlet

"There's a lot of engagement, I can tell you that. A lot of chatter, a lot of opinions being expressed," says Anne Parson, the orchestra's executive director. "So I would say it's a pretty active place to be."

Like many discussions online, some of these became heated, prompting DSO conductor Leonard Slatkin to call the fan page vitriolic at one point.

One particularly incendiary post happened in January when management called into question how many people in a fan group called Save Our Symphony actually contributed money to the DSO. As many as 169 people left comments, and they were overwhelmingly negative.

I am shocked, saddened and disgusted by this post. If you're trying to prove how unprofessional you can be, bravo.

In the time it took to type this posting, a phone call could have been made to a potential donor.

I've been on the fence during this whole strike thing, trying to learn the whole story, and this post finally teeters me over to the side of the musicians.

"In my mind I felt that that wasn't effective at all. You had fans that they were insulting," says Cornelia Pokryzwa, a longtime fan and patron of the orchestra who reads and posts comments on the DSO fan page almost every day.

"I'm not sure anybody's changing their mind based on what they read, but it is an outlet for people to raise these points."

Pokryzwa's biggest complaint is that management doesn't interact enough with the people who post to the Facebook fan page.

"It seems that the strategy should be to engage them and not just host a discussion board. There are a lot of angry people on there and I think they need to do something to get their fans back," she says. "I'm sure there's a lesson to be learned from it, and you can be sure that other arts and cultural organizations are paying close attention right now."

Shut Up And Wait

Christie Nordhelm, a marketing professor at the University of Michigan, where she teaches a class about social media, says if there is a lesson to be learned from the DSO Facebook page it's that social media constitute an open and public discussion. There are some things, however, that you can't discuss that openly — at least, not constructively.

"You cannot negotiate a labor agreement on the social media. It doesn't work. It's just a poor execution and a poor use of social media as a tool," Nordhelm says.

Labor negotiations are intense; emotions run high, and Nordhelm says that trying to open up that discussion to the public could end up alienating the audience.

She says the orchestra's image will be hurt by the fight on Facebook. The question is for how long.

Her advice for the DSO?

"First: Shut up, just stop," Nordhelm says. "And then second: Wait quietly until people forget."

Luckily for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, she says, the public has a short attention span. The question is: Do the musicians?

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