“A Night Less Ordinary” – thoughts about social media, evalution and campaiging

The ACE scheme, Night Less Ordinary (ANLO), which has given away almost five hundred thousand theatre tickets to under 26-year-olds, is winding down. At RIBA this week, many of those who took part, were brought together by ACE and external consultant Pam Jarvis from sam who have been evaluating the campaign.

The aim of the event was to look at ‘What did we learn?’ I was there as part of a session called ‘Re-imagining A Night Less Ordinary’ and was asked to talk about the opportunities arising from social media to attract audiences.

The event was dominated by theatres and organisations working with young people and theatre. Not my usual crowd but there are, perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of cross overs with the GLAM sectors work – both in terms of using social media but also in developing audiences for young people.

I shared some learning from two projects Culture24 is leading on, as well as some personal thoughts about the initiative. Here are some of my speaker notes:

1. Action Research ‘How to evaluate online success’
Through this project we have been looking at differences between popularity and engagement within social media channels and also the relationship between:
– the organisations’ investment in social media and their return (either as increased popularity of demonstrable engagement)
– their level of investment and their popularity
– their levels of investment and their popularity
– those who ‘like’ their brand and those who engage with a subject

The project has found some perhaps unexpected findings that suggest that engagement is driven by brand rather than content. In other words, people engage with content about subjects they care about more than content about organisations – even if they ‘like’ these places.

There is clear evidence that, as with all traditional marketing, the more money and resources you throw at something, the more popular you can make it. But engagement – the more elusive cultural sector goal – is not just about scale of your resources but the nature of your message.

The key to all this is segmentation of your audience – targeting what you are offering to specific groups of people. The more precise you can be the better.

The project is working on a framework for measuring social media success that:
– sets objectives
– defines what success is
– looks at action planning
– defines what you need to count
– feedback loop

2. Museums at Night
Coordinated by Culture24, this is a low budget, high content value campaign of late night openings that take place each year in May.

Our approach to the campaign is to push the content of the individual events rather than the brand. We use our central digital infrastructure to collect all the information about individual events into one database. We then interrogate and cut this data to fit different Press and PR needs.

Social Media activities have focused on Twitter (sharing event details) and a ‘behind the scenes’ blog that is written for the sector (those venues putting on events) and feeds new ideas for cross sector collaboration, both of which have been successful in their different goals.

This year we have developed a strategy for Facebook that is all about pushing event listings and ticket offers into existing networks that already have a subject- related interest.

All of these approaches are editorially driven, using examples of stories, experiences and events to engage people and hopefully inspire them to share with their own networks.

We have tried to learn from how other sectors successful use Facebook and other social media networks, such as the Digital Street Teams that are often created from fan bases for bands.
An interesting point here is that this kind of approach crosses over between online and offline and there are interesting parallels with how you could take this approach in Museums or Galleries.

3. Thoughts
Whilst the successful buzz generated online around ANLO is great, it is possibly missing the point about what social media can really do. This is more about creating ‘conversations’. The question is how to create and nurture spaces for conversations to take place – especially when so often they are niche, unequal and opinionated?

There is a scale of participation which begins with those channels that are simply promotion and ends with channels that illicit curation, participation and ongoing relationships.

‘Liking’ is an easy commodity but how meaningful is it?

It does not require any dialogue, participation or exchange – ie: real engagement.
If you go further than just broadcasting your messages, you have to be ready to:
– have something to say
– be genuinely willing to listen/act
– have your whole organisation on board (vertically)
– link your backstage, front of house, management, education, marketing – all of it.
– have the capacity to keep the conversations going
– be specific about what your offer to different groups (under 26 is not one audience)

Finally, there are a lot of clichés about the scale of change around digital opportunities but the real revolution is social not technical. The best way to think about it all is not as ‘online’ or ‘offline’ but as a blended experience with a specific strategic aim.

The big opportunities lie at a deeper level around how your audiences can curate a program or lead your services. Projects like the Taking Part festival and A Younger Audience are testimony of this.

The video of me and the other speakers (Jake Orr, James Mackenzie-Blackman and Susan Whiddington) is available here.

Building digital capacity for the arts

I attended and spoke at the Arts Council and BBC event to promote their building digital capacity for the arts programme to “support the development of the arts sector’s media production skills by bringing together the BBC Academy’s media and digital experience with the Arts Council’s extensive knowledge of the arts sector.”

It is unequivocally a good thing and it was genuinely encouraging to see both organisations in listening mode.

The programme is still in development and will initially focus on five specific ‘tactics’ sessions on:

· creating system-ready content for IPTV, mobile platforms and applications
· commissioning A/V content
· rights
· digital approaches to raising revenue
· archive material

These will then be followed by further sessions, the focus of which is yet to be agreed.

I was part of the panel looking at “What are the challenges and opportunities in using digital technologies” and talked about this from the perspective of Culture24’s work in doing just that.

The panel was chaired by Will Gompertz with his usual (slightly acerbic) charm and he did it very well. I loved his question to me: ‘What is Culture24, as it seems to keep changing?’ – of course!

Ten years is a long time to have lived online and you have to evolve in order to grow and thrive. This has meant for us a radical journey from being a ‘portal’ (one website), to a publisher (many sites) to a platform for content aggregation and distribution. Where next, I wonder ….

Anyway, the end result I think was a good overview of the issues and questions and you can see it all on the videos here.

I came away with a few key thoughts:

– Everyone is talking about how to use different platforms to reach audiences. Everyone wants to get better at connecting with audiences via online channels. But to do this we must work together more and we need central data sets (in the model of Culture24) to do it properly. It’s not about who gets the credit here for a service, it’s about getting the data to the audiences that want it, in the platforms that they are already using.

– There is now hard evidence of how some institutions have used online tactics to revolutionize their audience attendance, participation and engagement. BUT, there are a lot more venues who are seriously challenged by how to engage with this stuff. They may lack the knowledge to understand how to integrate it strategically, and as a result are lost when deciding which tactical solutions to pursue.

– How we evaluate success and how we define the different forms it takes is a big challenge that needs serious work. Check out the Culture24 led action research project in this area and contact me to if you want to be kept up to date as it progresses.

– One size does not fit all. To actually build capacity in the arts you need to consider the needs of artists, performing arts venues, collection-based organisations, festivals and campaigns separately. The strategy and tactics will be different for each.


Below are my speaker’s notes, most of which I ‘actually’ said:

I was at an event yesterday called “mobile for the cultural sector” (see previous post) and I was struck by the clarity with which the commercial organisations there were able to articulate clearly what they are doing, who (specifically) it is designed for, and what their measure of success is.

I don’t see this kind of clarity when it comes to the core digital offerings of most cultural organisations. There is not the same degree of focus, perhaps because the nature of ‘public funding’ is inherently ‘public’ and for everyone. But this is nonsense! If you try and make one thing for everyone, it usually ends up not really meeting the needs of anyone.

I don’t see the current digital output from the cultural sector as being strategic as it really needs to be in its approach to audience segmentation. The lessons they know so well from the physical spaces (galleries, exhibitions, museums etc), the skills of curation, outreach, education, engagement, don’t seem to be carried over to the online world.

Since October 2010 Culture24 has been leading an action research project called ‘How to evaluate online success’ with a group of 17 big cultural organisations to begin to consider these kind of issues. To look in details at what we are all currently doing on our websites and social media channels and to try and define success and failures. To get real about what is not working – which in honesty is only ever a problem if you are ignoring the things that are not working well and not doing anything about them!

An example of being more specific could be if one of your organisation’s strategic aims is to increase your visitor numbers from the surrounding local community, you could analyse your web output by segmenting your audience in Google Analytics by location.

The project has raised a lot of questions about the differences between making decisions that are based on strategy as opposed to tactics. This means that the questions are not about how to build something mobile, but who are my users and what do they want to do on the move? Quite a different starting point.

So, the big challenge for all institutions (and you could say the Arts Council as well) is “what is their strategy behind digital?” . Specifically who are they trying to reach, what is it they are trying to achieve, what would success look like (so they can tell if it’s working) and then finally, how will it best be delivered (platform, technology, channel, brand, partner etc).

So where I work at Culture24 we have been publishing a mix of editorial, venue info, events and resources into our various channels for nearly ten years. We have a network of over 4,500 venues around the UK who contribute content into our system about their venue, events, exhibitions and resources.

This has created a big database of stuff that can be sliced, packed and shared in a multitude of ways either:
– into our own channels, or
– packaged and shared with others for reuse.

The epiphany came several years ago when we realized the potential for many different reuses and the economy of scale of the kind of centralised infrastructure we have built.

The most significant example of this packaging comes by way of a three year agreement with the BBC to be their ‘official cultural data provider’ of cultural activities in order to support their new ‘Things To Do’ project which will go live in April 2011. We are very excited about this and believe that it will slowly have a big impact on developing reach to audiences for cultural activities once it is live.

You could say we are becoming a platform and in that role face new challenges that come from curating data for sharing. This is difficult stuff and comes with a seemingly invisible set of skills and requirements that you don’t even know you haven’t thought about until you are in it.

We have found that our partners want the bigger picture so being a central system for certain kinds of data (content) is really valuable.

In fact, Culture24 have built what I believe is a necessary piece of the national central cultural digital infrastructure that the sector needs. There are others too: Culturelabel (buying), Culturegrid (collections), not to mention those outside the public sector such as FlickrCommons and GoogleArt.

My last point is about a project we coordinate called Museums at Night, which is a weekend of late night openings that are about doing something different to appeal to audiences who may think museums and galleries are not for them. The thing is that Museums at Night is not a digital project, but it would not be possible to deliver it without the central digital infrastructure that we have.

This means that:
– We use our network of venues to share ideas and resources to help them plan better events
– They use our database to tell us what they are planning
– We use the database to interrogate their plans and package events by audience or theme and pull them out to relevant press and audiences.

The end result in 2010 was more than 85,000 people doing something different with their evening by attending a Museums at Night event, of which 47% had never been to the venue before. The opportunity here is to consider how the infrastructure supports more than the obvious online outputs.

Read the speech by Mark Thompson from the BBC

Read the speech by Alan Davey from ACE

Mobile for the Culture Sector

Interesting two days hearing from a mix of commercial and cultural players working on mobile services/products.

The event took place in the fab Ravensbourne college next to the O2 and was organized by Culturelabel and Camerjam who managed, I thought, to get just the right feel for the event – not too formal, slightly playful and (mostly) well structured.

There were some good presentations, in particular in the two keynotes from Jonathan MacDonald and Alan Moore.

Alan had the two best takeaway phrases:

1. “No more online or offline, just blended reality”
Indeed and there are big challenges for us as individuals and I personally have mixed emotions about it all. Whilst I love my new ipad-iphone-fourquare-facebook-sms-layer-iplayer-gaming-life, I am often unable to disconnect from the network that is my life to the detriment of my stress levels.

2. “This is a social revolution, not technical”
So obvious, but so true. Thinking about this also helps you to put people first. To consider how technologies genuinely allow us to do things differently – learn, play, communicate, work. You see this everywhere in people’s lives but in particular kids who just accept all the technology without question, expecting it all to link up, be online, be free, be open, all the time.

He talked about the vital relationship between the systems/platforms/data and the communities of interest/personalization/engagement. Plus the need to design for: ecosystems, platforms, participation, value creation, mass customisation, communities of interest, commerce. His slides on these issues were very good and available on his blog.

Jonathan’s talk left me with two profound observations:

1. The need to differentiate between tactics and strategy – between the how and the why.
So if you are not clear what you are doing (specifically) and who it is for (specifically), then how do you know the best way to ‘do’ it. I would like to take this idea and tattoo it on my face and inject in into the brains of everyone who things they have strategy creation as part of their job.

2. Courage
Courage to fail. Courage to admit you are failing, courage to embrace a culture where failing is okay. Yes, yes, yes.

I would also like to add:
– Courage to lead a collaboration
– Courage to agree to collaborate
– Courage to say no (I don’t want to collaborate with you)
– Courage to share your failures
– Courage to get real about your successes and what is really working well and its real impact
– Courage to admit that there is a lack of strategy
– Courage to admit that you don’t know what you are really trying to do with your website/social media channel/app

He also said that “how we suffer depends on how we are structured” which is worth reflecting on as the Director of a small, slightly maverick organisation with its own set of problems, that at least we don’t have the bureaucracies of a large institution

Ed Vaizey also made an appearance with a pre-recorded video. Nice.

BUT …… my personal highlight was the Biggar Augmented Reality art work by artist Sander Weenhof.
This is the biggest AR sculpture in the world and involved wrapping the earth in 7,463,185,678 cubes. Once you have downloaded the layer you can see the cubes everywhere you go. They are always there and always on and if you want to play god, you can even change their colour. A brilliantly beautiful idea, simple and thought-provoking with endless fun. I recommend downloading it and looking at the cubes whenever you are bored in a meeting or event. They will be there to take your mind to another place.

Here are some shots of Sander making his presentaion with the blogs in the room …

… and again, in my office today.

Last but not least, watch out for Culture24 going mobile soon.
: )