11/07/2011 at 4:02 pm 1 comment

There’s a lot to be said for the Australia Council giving arts organisations a leg-up into understanding how their audiences are using the realms of digital and social media. The recent research, currently touring under the banner Connected in a roadshow & public forum offers a broad snapshot of audience behaviour in the realm of digital and social media – the twitters and facewebs and that (but if you had to ask, you probably aren’t reading this). Buried in the ninety-odd page report there are all manner of fascinating tidbits of data to whet one’s appetite, detailing the ways in which audiences engage with arts events before, during and after their attendance – but cutting to the chase (from p14)

there is an important opportunity to use the internet not only to facilitate and encourage engagement with the event just attended, but also to move audiences seamlessly into their next arts ‘attendance journey’.

For them that don’t speak marketing, this means getting people to engage online after attending your play/show/festival/exhibit/reading will enhance the experience and encourage them to go again. Seamlessly.

There’s something here for everyone, the report breaks the research down into every possible demographic and their particular use of the digiwebs with respect to art. Facebook is a winner (no surprises there), twitter is under-utilised, and Tumblr is something akin to the magic faraway tree – only a few have ever been all the way up it, and you never know what you might find. While the data is rich and varied, what’s missing is an answer to the most critical question raised in the research objectives (p4)

identify strategies and tactics the arts sector can implement to better use online media to build engagement and drive attendance.

One could almost hear the collective salivation at the mention of an opportunity for building audiences. It is, after all, touchstone of the OzCo charter and a Light On The Hill for arts marketers across the land. While the report looks extensively at how current audiences are using technology – there’s a bit of head scratching around how exactly we can get our box-office mitts on that elusive new audience. Besides setting up the facebooks and tweets pages that is – and with full respect to the Nielsen and Australia Council teams behind the research – they simply cannot provide that level of detail in a project covering the scope of arts organisations of all sizes. It isn’t nearly that simple, and one only needs to glance over the case studies of excellent practice: Adelaide Fringe Festival, Sydney Festival, Griffin – to see what thought-out, brand-specific social media strategies look like in application. But differences in scale, economics and message will demonstrate that a great strategy misapplied to the wrong company can and will backfire badly.

Smaller companies and independents in particular will need a more targeted approach when using these mediums for promotion. As one who is right at the centre of the target of the Connected marketplace; I am well versed in how organisations are using the interwebs to engage me, what works and what doesn’t – and the same principles apply about visibility. I follow dozens of groups, all vying for my attention and presence at their next gig. I can’t possibly go to them all, so merely having a place in my news feed is a stepping stone to the wider audience engagement. Getting in my vision is easy, as I want to know what you’re up to next – and when you’re there- what you do with that place? Not so simple. To me that problem is where the research glosses over the basic principle of why social is not like other medias. And more to the point, why arts audiences are by their very nature capable of a lot more engagement with organisations than the simple ‘likes’ or ‘follows’ characterised by a cursory examination of the dynamics of facebook or twitter.

Arts audiences are consuming more than just an “arts journey”: that is we undertake much more than a set of consumption behaviours before, during and after an event. We bring with that experience a whole set of meanings, interpretations and conversations that go far and beyond a simple ‘thumbsup’ icon on our status update. Thinking otherwise would be like suggesting the artists involved are operating on a purely commercial level – it’s more than a little insulting. Which isn’t to suggest that knowing where and when your audience is engaging online has no value – far from it; but know that information is scratching the surface. To make the most out of a presence in social media we must spend at least as much time listening and responding as we do promoting. And that level of behaviour simply cannot be predicted or quantified.

Not to take away from the quality of the evening’s information and the importance this research is to properly opening up the arts industry’s engagement with the possibilities provided by technology – there’s a lot going on here I haven’t mentioned and I can only recommend people browse the site and the report for their own edification. But there were a couple of ironic moments that sum up where we can do better – first was a bizarre and puzzling exchange around the concept of ‘crowd-funding’, coming in the context of the OzCo foyers for one thing was pretty weird (given the Council is severely underfunded and top-heavy for its mandate – but that’s an issue for another day)… But secondly, as one question raised from the audience wanted to know how to reach these digital audiences who weren’t already on the facebook groups (and so forth); and the answer given (*in summary): ‘there’s a lot of people meeting in social media circles who can help with that, talk to them’.

Well, exactly. And one or two of them even know a bit about the arts. But mostly they don’t. There’s a level of complexity our industry requires that doesn’t shine through when reading the blog posts from social media gurus. We can do better. I recommend more discussions, more panels, more case studies and more dialogue. Starting now.

Connected:// research and panel roadshow is currently touring, read the report and find out more information here

Entry filed under: Funding, Marketing. Tags: , , , .


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