Mobilise your digital strategy

The arts are notorious for bemoaning dwindling audiences and a lack of younger spectators at shows and exhibitions, yet we make it inherently difficult for those audiences to become part of the story. Digital expert Cat Leaver on being more blue chip in your strategy 

Ten years ago, happily sitting amidst a jungle of precariously tangled wires hailing from a three-piece desktop, many of us would have found hilarity in Mr Olson’s aged statement. Home computers were the present and the future, with a new generation of digital-savvy teenagers raised on cries from disgruntled parents to ‘stop blocking the landline’ with their dial-up internet connection. Four decades after he spoke, however, Mr Olson’s statement perhaps rings more true than he, or we, could ever have imagined.

In 2015 very few of us want a computer in our home. We want one as we walk down the street, when we’re on the train, as we lie on the beach, and as we make our dinner in the evening. In 2015, most of us in the ‘right state of mind’ want a computer in our palm; we want it where we are, when we are there. Home is just one location in an extremely long list.

Blue-chip organisations caught on to this several years ago, arguably slower than even they should have, and it’s only recently that even some of the largest corporations have begun to take their digital strategy seriously, rather than as an extended vanity project. 83 per cent of Fortune 500 companies now have an active Twitter account and the vast majority have a qualified, experienced department at its helm, with the same budgetary and ROI goals as the rest of the organisation.

However, at its heart, digital is an inherently creative industry, making it surprising that a number of artistic organisations somewhat neglect their online efforts or, much like their corporate counterparts once did, view it as a side-dish rather than the main course of a wider growth strategy. To become a leader in digital marketing, you need to pioneer trends and concepts before the general public – something the arts has traditionally prided itself on. Yet a survey in 2013 showed that only 11 per cent of arts and cultural organisations had experienced major impacts on their profitability through digital efforts. Using new media and benefitting from it are two entirely different things and, while there’s no ‘set way’ to achieve success in the digital stratosphere, if you’re not doing it right you may as well not be doing it at all.

Digital marketing efforts, if in existence at all, are often tailored for audiences who know your work well (after all, it’s much easier to engage a fan). A surprising number of websites, for example, still rely upon out-of-date e-commerce or third-party booking systems (raising the price for consumers, and lessening the profit margin for the organisation) while social media strategies rarely consider effective plans for attracting new audiences to work.

Yet taking digital to the heart of your brand has proven successful for those who have embraced it: Shakespeare’s Globe, for example, is famous for its digital network especially its online video library, moreover its constant innovation is practised both on the website and across wider digital networks. In 2014, the Globe expanded their network on a mass scale via online channels – pulling in nearly four million website visits from two-and-a-half million users. That year, they also saw a 42 per cent increase in Facebook fans, a 52 per cent increase in Twitter followers, and netted £21.5m (€29.3m) worth of income – up £2m on 2013. Not bad for an arts organisation whose primary focus is on a writer schoolchildren find notoriously ‘boring’.

It’s naive, of course, to believe that all arts organisations can achieve these figures. In an often not-for-profit environment with physical and financial barriers, the Globe is fortunate enough to be near the top of the pecking order with a much larger budget than most and a pool of resources. However, success is relative and ignoring the need to assess what your audience want from digital drives is not only counterintuitive, but also potentially dangerous to the future of any organisation. The fate of video rental company Blockbuster, for example, was written in the stars as soon as the likes of Netflix and Love Film embraced the modern consumer’s ‘want-it-now’ appetite and they didn’t.

Digital success does not happen overnight, and it’s here where a thorough transformation strategy comes into play. In the case of the blue-chip corporates, taking a step back and revising how they used digital allowed many to break through complex departmental layers and previously archaic, rigid business plans. Digital transformation is all about understanding where your business stands with digital technology now, where it should be, and how it will get there: whether that’s through tools, team members and skill sets, training, outsourcing, or processes. It’s something that not only needs to be done at implementation, but something that needs to continue for the long-term in the same way you assess any other aspect of your business.

Online strategies aren’t just about conversions, they are about creating communities and engaging with a huge audience on a seemingly personal basis. In ignoring thorough digital transformation arts organisations aren’t just affecting profitability, but also neglecting a rare opportunity to reestablish themselves in a completely new, surprisingly creative, format.

If the modern consumer wants a computer in their palm, they want the opportunity for communities at their fingertips. Something blue chips, in my opinion, can never do better than the arts.

Cat Leaver is head of strategy at We Are Ad.

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