How Strong Is Your Social Net? Survey Overview

This is the question we asked arts groups across the country in Fall 2013, refreshing our national landmark survey of 2011.  With the digital communications landscape evolving at light speed we wanted to track challenges, leadership attitudes, measurement strategies and 2014 investment plans to update our study of practice and perceptions of the effectiveness of digital communications in the arts field.  For arts organizations social media can be a highly effective, not-so-secret weapon to share content with the public, build audiences, fundraise and create community – especially with younger constituents.  Trudel | MacPherson, in partnership with Neuer Media, devised a comprehensive survey to benchmark current social media investment, attitudes and evaluation by arts organizations of all sizes and across all disciplines. Arts practitioners from all across the country completed our survey. Responses show broad adoption and rising confidence and sophisticated use of online and social tools.  Survey respondents demonstrate heightened appreciation of the value of digital communications and dynamic social media interactions with audiences, followers and fans.  Several interesting patterns emerged:

Arts Organizations Have Become Social Media Native Speakers

Digital outreach is more fully integrated into communications outreach at the majority of organizations surveyed.  Only 7% of respondents see resistance to devoting staff time and communications budgets to social media and most groups plan to spend the same or more on digital communications in 2014. Management excitement remains high at 70% and most groups – 84% — believe their efforts are effective.  This is a solid improvement over our 2011 findings.  Online communities are thriving, live events are successfully connecting in-person and online activities and more than 40% of groups report progress with ticket sales via social media. Mobile technology is becoming mainstream with more than 54% of groups reporting use of mobile options for ticket sales and more than 70% using social check-in tools.  And audiences are responding!!!  More than 95% of groups report positive responses to social media outreach – up from 85% in 2011.

Tried and True Platforms

Our research shows a robust embrace of social media’s classic platforms like Facebook (used regularly by more than 92% of respondents,) Twitter (@55%) and YouTube (@40%).  There’s a great deal of buzz around Instagram and Pinterest but only 19% use Instagram regularly and only 12% use Pinterest.  Tumblr and Google+ remain niche networks.  Email is ubiquitous as are social components on organization’s websites.

Management attitudes

Management attitudes remain positive with 70% of respondents excited about using social media but many report outside pressure with more than 50% noting “our audience expects it of us.” More than 25% remain “daunted by the technical aspects” of managing digital communications across various platforms. Efforts to refocus goals and determine which platforms deliver the best return will be crucial to overcome this challenge. Management comfort levels have been rising and fully 75% of organizations now encourage staff to use digital and social media on their own to promote their organizations.  Trust is trumping control with more than 85% of groups agreeing to relax management control over social media content vs 73% in 2011. Responsibility is centered in marketing/communications at more than 80% of groups, up from just 62% in 2011.  However, internal policies are lagging behind effective social media practice, with only 35% of groups agreeing or strongly agreeing about having consistent policies.

Future Investment Plans

Only 2% of arts groups plan to spend less on social media and digital communications in 2014.  More than 57% plan to spend more and 41% plan to keep spending level. We believe this is strong indication that social media will remain a fixture in the marketing toolkit of arts organization nationwide. To build management appetite for increased investment, we recommend arts organizations follow the advice in the Networked Nonprofit with Do-It-Yourself social media experiments to test new ideas.  Making small “bets” and urging funding for those that work is a winning strategy. 

Greatest Challenges

Time remains a challenge for more than 80% of respondents.  It appears to be an even greater hurdle to adoption than expertise (only 50% reported lack of expertise as a problem) or budget (reported at 52%).  On a positive note, fewer than 10% of arts organizations report issues with management buy-in or trust. Only 6% of groups reported management thinks social media is overpromising and under-delivering. Though marketers are reporting growing management trust in staff digital outreach, we continue to see a tug of war between promotion and engagement played out in social media.  As noted in the Networked Nonprofit, social media should be a conversation – not a sales pitch — groups should focus less on growing themselves and more on cultivating their networks.  Successful arts groups will concentrate on building community, developing followers and fans, and turning them into advocates and patrons.

Social Media is Becoming a Two Way Street and Experimentation is Flourishing

Encouragingly, 60% of groups report making changes based on audience feedback up from less than half in 2011. Outreach targets have narrowed.  Local adults continue to dominate as primary targets of more than 80% of groups.  Donors are primary targets at more than two thirds of groups and tourists are being targeted slighted more than in 2011. Digital communications are up overall by more than 10% across all categories. Previews of upcoming programming are making the most noise with 98% of groups.  Other hot social media topics are social in-person opportunities to engage at 79% — up from only 63% in 2011.  Background on programming is the third most popular communique at 77%, followed by giving opportunities at 71%. Emerging topics and experiments abound with sweepstakes, contests and giveaways being tested by more than 48% of organizations responding.

More Nuanced Measures are Evolving

Qualitative measures—web analytics, fan/follower counts and email tracking —  are ubiquitous and virtually unchanged from 2011.  More groups are probing engagement as well as visitations – with tracking of online surveys, coded offers and viral sharing up slightly. However, tracking of brand mentions is only at 17% and conversion tracking scores are also surprisingly low at 19%.  Groups are missing chances to track which channels convert best to optimize outreach, content and platform choices.

The Bottom Line: Overall Results are Up Across the Board

Groups are reporting improved results across all outreach categories: ticket sales, fundraising, developing online communities and building participation in live events success measures are up 5-10% from 2011 numbers.  And many more groups report social media have delivered major results or have become mission critical to their efforts:

  • Ticket sales – 15%
  • Fundraising – 6%
  • Developing online communities – 20%
  • Building participation at live events –16%

Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding which were outliers in 2011 have developed strong followings.  More than 45% of groups report positive results with crowdsourcing.  And almost 30% say crowdfunding experiments are delivering for them.

We Welcome You Into the Discussion

Our 2013/14 study shows that social media has become essential to effective arts marketing. Please give us your thoughts on any of the findings of our research in the comment section below or contact us by email.

Download our summary presentation.

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