Our How Strong is Your Social Net? study started with a simple question:
How are arts organizations using digital and social media, and what sorts of results are they getting?
In our work as communications consultants, we’ve observed that adoption and usage of digital media (as well as ways of measuring results) are all over the map, particularly at arts organizations.
We were surprised that no one had assembled information on how arts organizations across the country are using these new communications tools in this time of tremendous change. Even groups leading the field and achieving outstanding results are not completely sure that they’re communicating with patrons and fans, or how to sustain and improve upon their current results.
We weren’t the only ones wondering about the state of practice and perceptions of effectiveness in the arts field. Response to our survey was phenomenal. We collected 1,601 responses and more than a third of the respondents who took our survey provided contact information so we could include them in further studies or follow up with them for more information. Almost 40% answered our open-ended question asking respondents to describe their best or worst experience with digital media—people were really eager to tell their stories and share knowledge on this topic.
A note about our nomenclature: you’ll notice that, except for a few instances where we were asking about specific platforms, we are calling this set of tools “digital and social media.” In our view, the distinction between websites, social media, and other digital resources (like mobile apps) is becoming increasingly blurred. For example, most websites have social components (such as social shares or feeds from social media), and many mobile apps make use of a website or social back-end. Our primary goal was to analyze the adoption of digital media as a whole, so we deliberately avoided making a distinction between social and other types of digital media in many of our questions.
In the information we collected, which is detailed in the rest of this report, several clear patterns quickly emerged:
- The panic is over! Arts organizations have turned the corner of being daunted by (or resistant to adopting) digital and social media, and have entered a phase of comfortably experimenting and optimizing their practices. More than two thirds of our respondents report that their management is “excited” about digital communications.
- Arts organizations are realizing that using digital media is not ultimately about technology: it’s about using new channels to communicate and share what they already know best. The novelty of digital media and social platforms is fading as they become a fact of everyday life for audiences and arts organizations alike.
- Budgets and geography are not a constraint to innovation. More than half of our respondents are associated with organizations with operating budgets under of $500,000, and we are seeing interesting activity all over the country. We got high response rates to our survey in places like Montana, Missouri, North Carolina, and Michigan, away from some of the more populous urban and coastal centers of arts activity that are traditionally thought of as epicenters of the arts.
- Respondents report meaningful results with digital media in building live participation in events; developing fan networks; fundraising; and ticket sales. We discovered that fundraising is the biggest hurdle, but our respondents nevertheless cited some notable successes in their efforts to raise money online, and we found more than a few stellar examples.
- There is still a ways to go in some areas, particularly in integrating digital media into holistic communications policy; clarity of ownership of responsibility for digital communications within the organization; techniques of measurement; and acceptance of digital and social platforms as two-way communications tools. Still, in all these areas, we’re seeing positive trends, growth, and emerging best practices that organizations are eager to share with the field.
Beyond the larger patterns our data showed us, we spoke with many arts professionals at conferences and presentations and have collected their stories over the course of the last nine months. We encourage you to dive into our findings and read about the experiences our respondents relayed to us.
Finally, through collecting a large body of data on our respondents’ use of (and attitudes toward) digital and social media, we decided to present our findings in a format different from that of the typical annual survey.
How Strong is Your Social Net? will soon be an ongoing data collection effort with up-to-the-minute results available to the field by means of a new online resource we will be launching in the coming year. In a way, this represents our own opportunity to take a new approach to traditional thinking, by presenting our study in an interactive format and, we hope, inspiring discussion and the sharing of experiences and insights.