Laura Kakolewski

This month, Diablo Ballet in Walnut Creek, California marked its 19th season with its holiday performance, “Swinging Holiday.” The San Francisco Chronicle wrote that the performance had a “lack of self-consciousness in re-creating a vital era of social dance history.” I recently sat down with Dan Meagher, director of marketing at Diablo Ballet to discuss his ideas on using social media not only to connect with your audience, but the payoffs of letting your audience become your critics.

What is the collective principle behind the marketing of Diablo Ballet?

Be creative. Be real. Be loud. By loud, I mean let people know what you are doing!  Too many marketing efforts fail because they’re not promoted 100%. Why are you going to do something and not tell anyone?

How has Diablo Ballet engaged audiences in new and unique ways?

Diablo Ballet is run by folks who embrace thinking “outside the box.” One of our most successful campaigns began when I tweeted out in search of “text-perts” (audience members who would be willing to tweet during a show).

I was interested in how people would describe ballet in 140 characters. It also attracted a younger audience, most who had never attended a dance performance before. We were the first professional dance company on the West Coast to do this.

The results were amazing. Our “text-perts” brought up so many ideas and thoughts on dance that our staff had never thought of. The best thing is we got people talking about dance. We also had people come to the following performance just because of what they read on Twitter!

Unfortunately, this also showed resistance from the classical arts to embrace new, non-traditional ideas. The idea of creating “citizen critics” was seen as an intrusion on the arts. But here at Diablo, we feel that anyone’s opinion is just as valid as a critic.

How has Diablo Ballet succeeded in saving costs for an arts organization with a small staff and a tight budget?

Diablo doesn’t have a $100,000 marketing budget, so we create events that gets the organization the maximum exposure for the lowest cost possible. Never underestimate the power of low/no-cost events!

For example, in June 2011, Diablo Ballet came up with the idea of a “Food & Wine Walk.” I went out to our local restaurants and asked if they would serve samples of their food to 200 people. In a couple of weeks, we had nine restaurants and wineries set up for the walk. This became “The Gourmet Gallop.”  To market the event, I created a small run of postcards and posters. I brought our local magazine (Diablo Magazine) in as the event sponsor to get the word out. By the night of the event, we had sold a little over 300 tickets. We made a very nice profit.

The 2012 Gourmet Gallop was an even bigger success, with 13 restaurant locations and over 450 tickets sold. We made an even better profit this year! As a result, we attracted the non-dance audience to Diablo Ballet. Most of those who attended didn’t know Swan Lake from Black Swan. But they were exposed to Diablo Ballet through all our communications, our signage, plus the dancers “galloping” along with them. We gained many new supporters, some of whom became subscribers.

What steps do you take in your daily routine to ensure that you engage with your online audience, and that each “fan” receives the personal and customized service that they deserve?

  • I’m very big on social media and devote about four hours a day on its upkeep. Diablo Ballet has a presence on Facebook,  Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and maintains a blog.
  • I reply to ever comment in Facebook. You’d be surprised at the number of organizations who don’t! It is as if someone is talking to you and you just walk away. 
  • I try to send a “thanks” to those on Twitter who re-tweet us. Everyone likes to be recognized and thanked! But you have to be careful not to fill your follower’s timelines with just “thanks” tweets.

What specific challenges in the field did you come across that led you to develop the type of model that you follow?

Challenges come from "old guard" thinking. By not allowing new, fresh ideas, the arts will suffer. Some arts organizations are afraid to use social media because it's "not the norm."  I worked for one arts organization that did not want to do a Twitter Night because they were afraid of what their subscribers would say. What they failed to realize is that there was a whole new (potential) subscriber base out there ON social media that they were ignoring! 

How has Diablo Ballet served your region and the field successfully in such a short period of time?

I feel Diablo Ballet’s marketing has made dance accessible. We often think of ballet in grand opera houses with marble columns, red velvet seats, and champagne sippers. It’s an alienating thought that makes people scared of going. By integrating social media into our events, I want to show folks that dance is for everyone.

On Twitter, we’ve made dance accessible to both the ballet expert as well as the interested fan with all kinds of informative postings. We started on Twitter in January 2012 and, 10 month later, have over 2,000 followers all over the world. They see us as an expert in the dance field and we don’t let them down. We show our followers that we value their support and their time by doing the work.  That’s why we get tweets like:

Omg! @Diabloballet has started following me!!! :D

@DiabloBallet you're welcome! I just love all your tweets! :)

@Bead_109 (about us opening all our Pinterest boards to the public to pin on – the 1st professional dance company to do this!)

@DiabloBallet Thanks for opening it up! Such a great idea! Social media brilliance!!! #Pinterest pinning extravaganza!

@DiabloBallet next time I make it to the west coast I'll definitely be stopping by! Hopefully my travels will coincide with ur performance.

@DiabloBallet one more thing- wish there was a ballet company in Pittsburgh as interactive as you guys! The difference it would have made!

What is your advice to other small arts organizations who have not integrated social media into their events?

  • Evaluate what you can successfully do on social media. You don’t have to be on everything!  If you have to, choose one social media outlet and do it well.
  • Your administration must realize the power of social media. They have to understand that it takes hours a day to establish relationships. Some organizations see this as a waste of time. Show them what an interaction can do!
  • Don’t let social media become your life. It can easily take over. Set aside a certain amount of time each day and stick to it.
  • If you are using more than one social media outlet, make sure you “cross pollinate.” I will post a picture on Facebook or a video on YouTube and then tweet about it. You have different audiences on each channel. Introduce them to all your outlets.
  • Social media is there to share. Share everything…what happen in rehearsals, costume fittings, a new art piece being hung, a staff member’s birthday.  People want to see what’s inside your organization. Let them in.
  • My biggest piece of advice come from an old Nike ad campaign: "Just Do It."  Try things..experiment...fail. It's not about having months of meetings and graphs and charts. It's about be daring..be adventurous...taking a risk. 


Great article. I attended Dan's roundtable on social media at the NAMPC. The best session at the conference. Amazing guy who knows his stuff.

I also attended Dan's roundtable at NAMPC! I got so much out of his discussion and have started implementing strategies at my organization. I hope to share what I have learned with other arts organization in the community.

Thanks for this article. I sat in on Dan's roundtable and, when it came time to switch, didn't leave! I really love the no-nonsense approach he takes to marketing the classical arts. Love to see him be a presenter in the future cause we all can use this approach. Thanks for a wonderful conference.

Kudos for broadening the classical arts conversation.
It's called access, critical thinking, and cultural education_ just to name a few of the opportunities for human contact and interaction!
I too, am developing a technology-centered access tool focused on a portion of the local arts world!
Power to accessing the arts for more people who do. Not even know how much they will both love & contribute to this part of the world!
May this revolution, likewise bring greater exposure perhaps to a non-technology oriented segment of the population.
Afterall, culture is at least a two-way flow experience!

I just read this article and the interview Dan did with the California Literary Review and both are excellent. I love his approach to using social media in the world of ballet, which many feel excluded from. I would hire this guy in a second.

He proves that we can all use social media for broaden our audiences and develop connections. It also sends home the message that any organization can do this - you just need to make a commitment.

Accessibility is a great word he uses. Very true. Is your organization accessible?

We need more thinking like this!


That is exactly true most of the products are not 100% marketed. if we are not a brand already in the market, then we can never miss at least a 100 percentage marketing. Diablo ballet is an effective way, I guess. Thank you for sharing.

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