Let’s Get Real conference 2011: How to evaluate success online?

Culture24 Conference: Let’s Get Real at Bristol’s Watershed on September 20 and 21 2011.

Do we really know what we are doing online? Does counting the visitors to our websites really tell us anything? Do we need all the social media channels we start? Is there evidence of real engagement happening online? Do we really know what we are trying to achieve and who it is for?

These are difficult questions that everyone developing online services needs to ask themselves. It has almost become a cliché to say that online technologies have touched our lives, changed our behaviour and altered our expectations. The cultural sector is not immune to these changes, but how do we know if we are actually doing well?

Come and join Culture24 for some honesty, plain-speaking and troubleshooting. You can listen to great presentations, find out about our latest action research and most importantly join in the workshops, Crit Room, helpdesks and breakout sessions. You will leave with a better understanding of not just what success online might look like, but what it can mean for your organisation.

When: Evening of Tuesday September 20, 5pm to 9pm. Then all day on Wednesday September 21, 9am to 6pm.

Find out more here: http://bit.ly/mUMBEb

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“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.

Take homes from the National Digital Forum (NDF2009) in New Zealand

It was long way to New Zealand from Brighton, three planes, 28 hours and a lot of movies, but it was worth it. The people are friendly, the landscape breathtaking and the coffee is fantastic. Add to this the National Digital Forum itself and you have a recipe for a really fun, thought provoking and stimulating week.


above: Penny Carnaby (National Library) and John Garraway (NDF Chair)

Thanks to the British Council, I was sponsored to come over and invited to do a keynote on the afternoon of the NDF’s first day. The conference venue was in the truly wonderful Te Papa museum and I was one of three international speakers, the others being Daniel Incandela (Director of New Media, Indianapolis Museum of Art) and Nina Simon (Museum 2.0 blog).


above: Te Papa wall outside conference “Embrace the past. Prepare now to shape the future”

Daniel opened with a very witty account of the transformation he has overseen of the IMA’s online presence and production. In particular the great use of personalities, narratives and stories told using low cost video but with high production values). He comes from a background like myself of video production and I totally related to his insistence on voice, opinion, humour trumping over the technology.

Nina (a woman after my own heart) talked about audience, mostly from the point of view of the physical exhibition but the issues translate to the online world very easily. The spoke of the importance of framing the ‘right’ question as a way to draw people in to an idea. She also got the whole conference on its feet, sharing skills and seeking advise in the one-to-one, with the reward for a a successful skill swap of banging a huge gong hanging on the stage. See the visual evidence of my successful sharing here!


above: me and my big slides!

For my slot, I told the story of Culture24 over the last ten years, what we set out to do, what we actually did, what worked, what didn’t and what next. I also looked back on the duplication, lack of strategy, leadership and sustainability in UK digital cultural online. Ending with what I see as possibly the start of some real change in 2009 thanks to the following:

MLA digital principles published
Arts Council state digital opportunity as a key priority
National Museum directors speak out to say future for museums lies with Internet
MA conference, first year they have had a strand on ‘digital change’

You can see the slides of my talk, which are in two parts here: Part One / Part Two.

It seems from the Twitter back channel and the face to face chat that the stories were appreciated, which coming from such a highly skilled and digital literate group of people was a real compliment.

Also enjoyed hearing about the excellent stuff they are doing at the DigitalNZ (part of the National Digital Library). Their work with API’s, data aggregation and date sharing is really innovative for the cultrual sector and I for one an watching their space with interest.

Same applies to the stuff that Liam Wyatt from Wikimedia Australia is talking about concerning how to engage the GLAM sector more effectivly with Wikimedia. His recent blog posts on the low hanging fruit in this area are really interesting.


above: Liam Wyatt (Wittylama) and Phillipa Tocker

Finally, this has got to be the best badge ever ….

Thanks to the British Council, Te Ara, NZlive and the NDF committee for their support and for making the trip both possible and worth it.

New Zealand: National Digital Forum and 5th Culturemondo Roundtable

Heading off the 11,000+ miles to New Zealand to give the keynote for what looks set to be a fantastic National Digital Forum. Really looking forward to meeting the other speakers and to meeting some of the people who are behind New Zealand’s great digital offer.

The conference runs for two days and then I am chairing the 5th Culturemondo roundtable at which we will publish the latest Culturemondo report “5 years on – where are we headed?”, the recent international survey and ask “What are the trends, issues and future directions suggested by the survey?”

The roundtbable will also include a workshop by Seb Chan on web metrics and evalaution asking “How do we measure the economic and social value of cultural websites? This will raise issues of metrics, evaluation etc.

Thanks to TELDAP, NZLive.com and Te Ara for their continued support.

Overview of my keynote:
From Portal to Publisher: A case study of online cultural publishing
It was May 1999 when the 24 Hour Museum went live, one of the first generation of publicly funded cultural „portals‟.
Since then, the digital world has seen many big changes. The online world is radically different, the economic and political climate has fundamentally shifted and online user behaviour is unrecognisable from ten years ago.
Renamed „Culture24‟ in 2008 to reflect a developing remit and reach, the UK-based organisation behind 24 Hour Museum now publishes a family of sites targeted at different audiences. They are also developing a range of strategic data services that reach out beyond their own web pages to other platforms and publishers.

In this session, Director Jane Finnis will tell the story of their journey – the successes, failures and ongoing challenges. She will talk about the wider digital cultural climate in the UK and her thoughts on the challenges of working across different government departments and sectors. She will explain how Culture24 seek to connect users to online culture, how they support search and browse and how they are trying to build audience trust in their brand and share a behind-the-scenes look at their technical infrastructure and data sharing work.
Jane‟s presentation will reference the newly launched Culture24 site http://www.culture24.org.uk, their award winning children‟s zone http://www.show.me.uk and Caboodle – a playground for kids to share and explore collecting http://www.caboodle.org.uk