An interesting situation has arisen between the Royal Opera House and the blog Intermezzo. The opera house has instructed the blogger to remove all references to them and has threatened to ban her from attending future performances. The issue revolves around the use of copyrighted photos but has much greater implications concerning companies’ relationships with independent commentators.
Even if it weren’t nigh-on impossible to ban Intermezzo from the opera house (the writer’s identity is not generally known), it looks rather heavy-handed and the company haven’t helped their cause by getting a semi-literate legal person to head up the campaign.
It does raise a number of interesting questions. Do they have a right to protect their intellectual property? Even if they’re “in the right,” is this a sensible way of tackling the issue? How is it best to deal with a situation where an influential member of the public doesn’t adhere to the letter of the law concerning use of copyrighted images? Most of all, referring back to my earlier blog about how difficult it is for companies to control or influence social interaction, is this a case of social media getting way beyond the institution’s control?
I’m not going to deal with the questions about copyright here (they undoubtedly have a point and can fall back on the legal system if they choose to) but what most interests me is the implications for their relationship with customers through social media.Intermezzo is an established blog with an impressive following of avid operagoers and a well-communicated style that appeals also to people new to the art form. I’ve known about the blog for some years now and have always been impressed with the writer’s knowledge and the ability to make the message accessible to non-specialists, not least through humour (not true of all the blogs out there). Intermezzo is, therefore, an asset to the opera world and the opera audience but their recent action indicates that the Royal Opera House doesn’t appreciate that.
Of course, not everything is positive on Intermezzo but that is true of any media outlet and companies like the ROH do understand that not every bit of PR coverage goes their way. This blog is, at the least, an important outlet for opinion and gets an enviable public response. Most companies would love to have such an environment for social interaction within their own media but things like discussion forums are notoriously difficult to get off the ground.
Whether my recent ponderings on whether social media, in all its forms, is destined to take over from traditional PR prove true or not, as producers I don’t think we should be treating bloggers in the heavy handed way Intermezzo has been over this issue.
Given its very nature as a minority interest but highly public-funded body, The Royal Opera House has to weather plenty of adverse publicity. Tweets fly around regularly about how difficult it is for members to book (an online booking facility that seems to constantly cause problems for its most avid customers), so bad PR on the internet (let alone in the reactionary press) is not new to them.
On the one hand, a bit of bad PR isn’t going to bring the company down. On the other, if they are serious about their image on social media and about “bringing in new audiences” (their oft-repeated war-cry), they have to address the questions raised by this incident. Their use of social media (and there’s no reason that external blogs shouldn’t be included in this) needs to start becoming more social. At the moment, they seem to see it just as a means of broadcasting information and they are ignoring the ambassadorial power of independent outlets. By going to war with Intermezzo, they are denying themselves an opportunity to really connect with (at least a section of) their audience. The question of use of photos is crucial here because they have such an important role in publicity (evidenced in some of the comments on Intermezzo’s blog).
I deal with the ROH all the time when it comes to traditional press activity and they are very good at it. This may be a wake-up call for them that social media is different and they have to start addressing how they deal with it effectively and appropriately (and realise that they can’t control every aspect of it).
I’m sure that all of us who support this institution will join together in hoping that they will re-assess their policy on these issues.
UPDATE: The Royal Opera House has apologised to Intermezzo and say “We support social media to interact with our audiences and regret what has happened” Statement