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Contagious Kontomo – Social Currency

Blog abstract: Performing art, by nature, is out-of-the-ordinary. However, the remarkableness of an art or culture sometimes needs to be emphasized so that the eventgoer is both ‘prepped’ to experience something remarkable, and has the means afterward to share ‘what is remarkable’ with some fidelity and context. Kontomo can help make this happen. As a point of reference for discussion, we explore the idea of ‘social currency’ as expounded in Jonah Berger’s book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On.

Reading time: approximately 5 minutes

The other day, I went to a concert given by the Silkroad Ensemble where they presented a work-in-progress for one of five pieces comprising their new “Heroes Take Their Stands” project. And it happened to take place at my alma mater, Juilliard, for an invitation-only audience of faculty, staff, and supporters.

The presented segment was music combined with solo dance and the polish and quality was extraordinary (even though it was supposed to be a ‘work-in-progress’). The East-meets-West music combining Western and Eastern instruments was entrancing, the Indian dancing was riveting, and it was just magnetic as a show. There was discussion with the artists and creators afterward that gave insight into the inspiration and work behind “Heroes.” And, as an encore, there was a repeat of the final portion of the music and dance, giving the audience a chance to re-experience some of the performance in the context of the discussion.

“Heroes Take Their Stands” is a show I’m now looking forward to seeing when it is complete. It’s also something I’m likely to bring up in conversation to a friend or colleague who might be interested in going to something like this.

The Silkroad concert definitely has “Social Currency,” as defined in Jonah Berger’s best-selling book about why things ‘go viral’ – Contagious: Why Things Catch On.

Social Currency

Regarding social currency, Berger states that, “People share things that make them look good to others.” And the content of what’s being shared counts too. He advises, “Emphasize what’s remarkable about a product or idea and people will talk.” (Berger, Contagious, 33, 44)

In this perspective, I believe the Silkroad concert and its method of presentation really hit the right marks. They presented the art to a select audience that would be knowledgeable and likely to support it. The physical and psychological distance between artist and eventgoer was close, which made it all the more an ‘insider’ event. And the discussion, targeted to this audience of people with in-the-know familiarity of classical music and contemporary dance, was entertainingly informative.

As evidence of its social currency, here I am, electing to rave about this Silkroad “Heroes” project and concert, and to tell you about it. And I’m happy to do it because I was excited about its remarkableness, and I believe it also makes me look good as someone who was privy to the experience.

But now in the second half of this blog article, I want to think beyond what’s possible ‘today.’

The question is: Would it be possible to further empower the social currency of a remarkable concert or event?

To explore this, I’d like to again refer to Berger, who poses the questions underpinning social currency as: “Does talking about your product or idea make people look good? Can you find the inner remarkability? Leverage game mechanics? Make people feel like insiders?” (Berger, 209)

So, talking about Silkroad makes me ‘look good.’ Check. I was invited to discover its ‘inner remarkability.’ Check. It made me ‘feel like an insider.’ Check.

However, game mechanics? Game mechanics at its core usually hinges on enabling participants to earn a sense of pride tied to a visible status of privilege or success.

How is a concert of serious art, for example, supposed to leverage game mechanics without resorting to gimmicky promotions that might negatively affect its intrinsic poetry and profundity? (Note, for the moment, we will not be talking about game mechanics implemented within a concert or event presentation itself. There are popular shows that do this brilliantly without alienating or embarrassing anyone in the audience – Blue Man Group for example, comes to mind.)

“Social media,” is probably the obvious answer relating game mechanics to events, particularly in terms of the online world. Event promoters use social media in hopes to have an event shared. And social media ‘influencers’ share and associate themselves with an event, looking to maintain or raise their own ‘personal brand.’ Many mobile ticketing platforms also make it easy for people to share their event experiences. Plus, there are apps like Foursquare Swarm that gamify the activity of just being out and about. But we also realize now that it’s a double-edged sword. Chaotic game mechanics on social media have led to a world today that is also a mad frenzy of misinformation. One recent article looked into aspiring influencers who create fake ad posts to appear as if they are sponsored.  (And someone please let me know if that is fake news!)

The prize in the social media ‘game,’ is not quality of information or popularity – it is perceived social status in the eyes of a target audience. (My writing this blog, is no different, however relatively tiny my audience might happen to be.)

Taking a step back, there’s an additional fundamental challenge to applying game mechanics to the promotion of serious concerts and events. For one thing, there is the disadvantage, by nature of copyrights, image rights, civility, and etiquette, of not being able to video record for the sake of sharing. It probably goes unread most of the time (though clearly printed and sometimes announced), but the rule for most concerts is:

Taking photographs and using recording equipment are not permitted.

This makes sense, just out of respect to the artists and presenters who put their lives into preparing and then risk doing something ‘live’ on stage. And, personally, I think that any amount of time fiddling with a phone camera not only disturbs others but sabotages yourself from experiencing what might possibly be a mind-blowing artistic moment that cannot be felt other than in that very moment.

This means that for serious concerts to maximize social currency, there needs to be another medium, along with a channel to make interacting with content in that medium, a positive thing for the individual. Since interacting directly with a concert is not possible (at least not in the way one can interact with a product or service), one solution is to create a proxy for that concert experience that is portable, immutable, and personal.

Kontomo is precisely the tool to create that proxy – an interactive digital playbill.

A digital playbill would enable the presenter and artist to provide information-with-context. It can be interactive to help ‘prep’ the eventgoer be receptive to what is special about the event. It would allow the eventgoer to show the playbill – and thus, accurate and detailed information – on-demand to anyone they happen to talk to in real life. It would enable the eventgoer to revisit an official souvenir of the event. A digital playbill could serve as a symbol of social proof – that an eventgoer actually went to the event. And when that happens, meaningful personalization becomes possible. Then, game mechanics become possible – both within and outside of Kontomo.

Thank you for reading this far. I kindly ask you:

What if you could easily share a concert playbill, with official proof of attendance, and have easy and visible ways to show your level of positive involvement with the concert?

As an eventgoer, would you like this?

As an artist, would you like this?

As a presenter, would you like this?

Please let me know what you think!

2 Replies to “Contagious Kontomo – Social Currency”

  1. Hi Ray, is this connected to the Silk Road workshop back in September? I wanted to attend, but couldn’t make it. Glad you wrote about this! I agree very much that concert etiquette works against virality — no photos, very limited posting.

    Last Fall, I heard Elina Garancia at Carnegie Hall. CDs were sold at intermission in view of a post-concert artist signing. I dutifully bought a CD and waited in line. When Garancia finally arrived, her “handler” (I don’t know how else to describe the person keeping order and limiting our access) barked out: “one at a time, no personalization!” i.e. we couldn’t ask Garancia to write our names on the CD, she was simply going to sign her name. What should have been an exciting and happy encounter with a great singer became an uptight, unfriendly, and frustrating affair. And how, in this day and age of mass-personalization, can one announce “no personalization” with a straight face? We barely had time for a photo op as we were funneled through the line (and frankly, there weren’t that many people — maybe 50 or so). The whole affair felt hopelessly out of step with the times.

    Anyway, yes, much has to change to achieve virality in classical music — first of all, attitudes! And then we need new tools to go viral. I hope Kontomo continues to provide the means to do this.

    1. Hi J.Y., thanks for the comment!
      The Silkroad concert I went to was from just this past December. It was great!
      Sorry to hear that a CD signing you went to went sour. It’s something that could definitely be made much smoother and more enjoyable with the right tools and protocol. And of course, nothing replaces a heartfelt human approach. To begin, it will help to listen to the fans, and actually help them be enthusiastic! I know we’ll get there!

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