LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
The Detroit Symphony Orchestra is one of America's best, but for five months it's been silenced by a musicians strike. And after formal negotiations broke down, the fight continued on Facebook. Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra has this report.
JENNIFER GUERRA: Before the strike, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Facebook fan page used to look like a typical fan page: posts about visiting conductors, upcoming concerts, the orchestra's Tiny Tots series.
But once the strike began, it essentially hijacked the fan page. While the orchestra 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. Management started doing the same thing on the official fan page. Here's the orchestra's executive director, Anne Parsons, talking about the vibe on the Facebook page.
Ms. ANNE PARSONS (President and Executive Director, Detroit Symphony Orchestra): There's a lot of engagement, I can tell you that. There's a lot of chatter, a lot of opinions being expressed. So I would say it's a pretty active place to be.
GUERRA: Active is one way to describe it. 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 was back in January, when management called into question how many people in a fan group called Save Our Symphony actually contributed money to the orchestra. One hundred sixty-nine people left comments. They were overwhelmingly negative. Here's a small sample.
Unidentified Man: I'm shocked, saddened and disgusted by this post. If you're trying to prove how unprofessional you can be, bravo.
Unidentified Woman #1: In the time it took to type this posting, a phone call could've been made to a potential donor.
Unidentified Woman #2: 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.
Ms. CORNELIA POKRYZWA: In my mind, I felt that that was not effective at all. You had fans that you were insulting.
GUERRA: That's Cornelia Pokryzwa. She's a longtime fan and patron of the orchestra, and she reads and posts comments to the DSO fan page almost every day.
Ms. POKRYZWA: 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.
GUERRA: Her biggest complaint is that management doesn't interact enough with the people who post to the Facebook fan page.
Ms. POKRYZWA: 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 that they need to do something to build that bridge with the musicians and get their fans back. I'm sure there's a lesson to be learned from it. And you can be sure that, you know, other arts and cultural organizations are paying close attention right now.
GUERRA: Christie Nordhielm is a marketing professor at the University of Michigan, where she teaches a class about social media. She says if there is a lesson to be learned from the orchestra Facebook page, it's that social media is an open and public discussion. And she says there are some things you can't discuss that openly - at least, not constructively.
Dr. CHRISTIE NORDHIELM (Marketing, University of Michigan): You cannot negotiate a labor agreement on the social media. That doesn't work. And it's just a poor execution, and a poor use of social media as a tool.
GUERRA: Labor negotiations are intense; emotions are running high. And Nordhielm says by trying to open up that discussion to the public, you just end up alienating your 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:
Dr. NORDHIELM: First, shut up. You know, just stop. And then second, wait quietly until people forget.
GUERRA: She says lucky for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the public has a short attention span. The question is, will the musicians?
For NPR News, I'm Jennifer Guerra.
(Soundbite of music)
WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.