Content Management Helps Symphony Keep In Tune With Audience

By Michael Fitzgerald , CIO |  Software, content management

San Francisco Symphony has a proud-and largely inaccessible-history. Its legacy rests mostly in boxes in climate-controlled storage. But under the leadership of CIO Michael Skaff, the symphony is deploying content management and collaboration technology to bring its story to light. Skaff also wants to use this project to engage the symphony's current audience more deeply and to connect with new patrons.

"Nothing can match sitting in front of the orchestra and listening to that experience live," Skaff says, "but we have a whole lot of content that can enhance and enrich our experience with our customers." The symphony will celebrate its centennial during its 2011-2012 season, presenting an opportunity to reach out to audiences-whether elementary school students coming to a concert as part of a class field trip or season-ticket holders.

The initial purpose of the project, however, is to provide better access to archival materials for internal users. The Symphony's archivists, Joseph Evans and Kelly Chatain, wanted a tool they could use to manage and categorize old programs, photos and other items, including recordings. Doing so would help to support the symphony's marketing and public relations people as they develop materials to celebrate the centennial. "The whole project was begun to tell the story of the symphony," says Evans.

A Spark for Conversation Last fall, Skaff deployed InMagic's Presto software, a social knowledge management tool often used in libraries. It offers users the ability to rate documents, see what documents others have viewed, and share content with specific people or groups. Evans and Chatain began scanning key materials and developing the metadata they need to make it easy for symphony staff to find what they're looking for. The project is in its early stages-about 1,000 images and a similar number of documents have been scanned into the Presto system, out of 3,000 boxes worth of documents. That's not counting decades worth of recordings.

The digital catalog will be used for internal projects related to the centennial, including a book on the symphony's history, an interactive online time line and a historical exhibition for visitors to Davies Hall, the symphony's home base.

Skaff envisions the materials being used to enhance the symphony's social networking site, community.sfsymphony.org. The public site features videos, photos and discussions posted by members, who include concertgoers, musicians and symphony staff. Skaff thinks adding vintage content will spark online conversations, lead to deeper connections among users and even increase concert attendance. "The more people talk about us and think about us, the better," he says. "Content is really key to that."

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