A few months ago I was asked to take part in a panel discussion about marketing the Alexander Technique at the 2018 Congress in Chicago. I agreed to join the panel and make a few remarks about the Technique’s internet presence before we would respond to questions from the audience. What follows is a fuller – and probably better organized! – version of what I plan to say. This blog will be posted a week and a half before the panel discussion takes place.
The web is the most important marketing opportunity we have ever had, and yet for the most part we have done a poor job of taking advantage of it. There are success stories of course, but the vast majority of teachers and Alexander organizations have failed to use many of the opportunities now available with this new technology. Today there is a huge, and growing, “digital divide” between those teachers who are using the web effectively, and the majority of teachers, who are not.
To understand why this divide came about, and how it can be narrowed, let’s start by traveling 25 years back in time, to 1993. There was essentially no internet beyond a few interconnected academic and military sites and only the very beginnings of email. Few members of the public were involved but there was talk about the forthcoming “information highway”, and debates about who would control the “on-ramps” to that highway, and in the US there was something called “AOL” (America On Line), that was just starting up.
If you wanted to learn about the Alexander Technique, your options were books, printed flyers, word of mouth, and lists of teachers from professional societies.
Fast forward a mere 7 years to 2000 and the web was everywhere. There was Amazon and Google and just under a billion people worldwide who were using the web. And that number was growing at a rapid pace. In a few years, there would be Facebook (2004) and You Tube (2005) and Twitter (2006).
What was going on in Alexander land at that time? There was an active email discussion group and a few hundred individual web sites, a very small fraction of the 4 thousand or so teachers worldwide.
Although the web was not yet at its fully mature phase, it was already obvious that it was the perfect vehicle for members of a small, diffuse and relatively coherent community like ours to promote our work at very low cost to a huge audience. It was also a perfect platform to exchange ideas about how to do this, and for exchanging new ideas about the work of F. Matthias Alexander.
Move ahead another 8 years to 2008 and we are now clearly in the mature version of the web. A great many people have a high-speed connection and the total number of people using it has more than doubled, to just under 2 billion.
There are of course a lot more Alexander Technique websites, but still the majority of teachers do not have a web presence, and many of those that do have sites that are hard to find, poorly designed and lack basic information about where the teacher is located! (This remains true to a shocking extent today.)
Today, ten years later, a lot more teachers have websites, but a great many still do not. Over 4 billion people are using the web and not having a website has become a clear message to prospective clients that you’re not a professional. For an Alexander teacher today, having a website is more important than having a phone number.
These days I receive on average 8-10 calls and emails each week from potential students asking if there is an Alexander Technique teacher in their area. They’ve checked my teachers’ listing and can’t find one. Often it turns out there is a teacher, but usually he or she doesn’t have a site. Upon hearing that information, most of these inquirers say they aren’t interested in pursuing the matter further. A few opt to try distance learning sessions.
Why so many missed opportunities? Why this failure to take advantage of the web?
In the early days, two key factors were lack of technical expertise and in many cases actual fear of the web – worries about pornography for example. But today pretty much everybody is using the web and there are lots of inexpensive options for getting a website with little or no technical expertise needed.
Sadly, there has not been much leadership from Alexander organizations – professional societies and teacher training courses. I think a large part of the problem here is that the internet is, as its name implies, a network and organizations are, well, organizations. Nobody is in charge of a network, traditional hierarchies are not recognized, and so organizations of all kinds have found that even though they understood the importance of the web, as organizations they were often ill-equipped to interact with it successfully.
This is clearly the case in the Alexander world. Leaders of Alexander Technique organizations know that the web is important for the success of their members and ultimately for their own survival. A teacher who does not succeed is not likely to remain a member of a society, or have many opportunities to refer students who want to train to become a teacher to the training course they graduated from.
And so in the Alexander world, with the very best of intentions, a fair amount time and money has been spent on large web-related projects. Unfortunately those projects have often not helped individual teachers to any great extent.
Of course Alexander organizations need to have an effective web presence of their own, but in my view, they would be far more effective if they acknowledged that their individual members are potentially far better suited than they are to take advantage of the web.* An individual can try something and quickly modify it if it doesn’t work. A committee is more structured and less nimble, and it’s projects are less likely to be effective, given the nature of the web.
For this reason, I believe our organizations would do far better to direct their efforts into encouraging and empowering individual projects, and ultimately creating a talent pool of members who have learned how to make use of the web.
For example, training courses could (and I believe should) require that every trainee has a website up and running by at least the end of their first year. Then, when they qualify, a quick wording change and they have a teacher site with 2 years’ buildup of Google ranking ready to go. And perhaps an interest in blogging, or creating an email marketing list.
Professional societies could (and again I think should) stress the importance of having a web presence in every newsletter, and at every meeting. They could also provide modest support for their members’ web-related projects – the production of a short video introduction to the Technique posted on You Tube for example.
It’s my opinion that if they hope to survive, this has to be their number one priority.
*A striking example of this can be seen on Facebook. There are several very active Facebook Alexander Technique groups, some with thousands of members including teachers, students, and others who are interested in the Technique. These pages were created by individuals, not organizations.
Imogen Ragone and I did a podcast that covers many of these questions – you can listen to it here:
More podcast information can be found here: Using the Web to Promote your Alexander Technique Teaching Practice
Copyright: stori / 123RF Stock Photo