Trudel | MacPherson Arts Consulting releases findings from landmark national survey of digital and social media usage and perceptions

Louisville, KY- As part of the 2011 NAMP Conference that will be held November 12-15 at the Marriott Louisville Downtown in Louisville, Kentucky, Trudel | MacPherson Arts Consulting will release the results of the firm’s groundbreaking 2011 survey, How Strong is Your Social Net? in a 9:00 AM session on Monday, November 14th. The study is the first comprehensive national effort to measure arts organizations’ usage and perceptions of digital and social media. With digital communications and social media changing the experience of the arts and redefining what it means to engage audiences, NAMP is highlighting the How Strong Is Your Social Net? session as part of its Winning Audiences conference theme. 

The team that developed and fielded the survey, Mary Trudel, Rory MacPherson, and digital media strategist Jai Sen of Sen Associates, will present findings and insights from data collected from over 1,600 respondents in nearly 850 towns, cities, and parts of major metro areas around the country over a ten-month period.



Responses to the survey have revealed a number of surprises, showing heightened levels of confidence around digital and social media on the part of the respondents, as well as a clear picture of areas in which organizations around the country area still struggling. Analysis of the data makes clear how digital media is evolving the experience of the arts and the definition of the audience. The researchers report seeing interesting practices from all across the country. Arts groups of all sizes are using digital media as an on-ramp to engagement, turning audiences into fans who are sometimes enlisted as co-creators of the artistic experience.

Most respondents are reporting positive results and there are some major successes. The researchers noted that nearly 10% of respondents said that digital communications and social media have become “mission critical” to their organizations’ success. Budgets and geography don’t seem to be constraints — social media has democratized communications and enabled experimentation at even relatively small arts organizations in non-metropolitan areas.

The researchers report the biggest missed opportunities are when groups use social media for one-way communication, blanketing audiences without targeting or responding to interaction with audiences. Over half of survey respondents have not changed anything based on audience feedback, but those who have done so report deepening relationships with a growing circle of committed fans who express a desire to help promote the organizations they endorse.

An overwhelming majority of groups report positive results in each of three main categories of impact: ticket sales, development of fan networks and cultivation of participation at live events. Fundraising, however, continues to be a challenge, with more than half of respondents noting only some or no results from using digital and social media for this purpose.

Channels used most often and with greatest frequency are, in descending order: email; Facebook; social components on websites (such as social shares); YouTube; and Twitter. Most respondents report using Email “constantly” to target all age groups and demographics.

The study also showed that internal attitudes toward experimentation with digital media are increasingly positive. The researchers report that more than 65% of respondents indicated that the management of their organizations are “excited” about using social media, and fewer than 7% report resistance by organizations’ leaders. Lack of available staff time and expertise is a more significant constraint.

Assessment efforts lag behind social media innovation. Most respondents report that they measure only basic statistics and are not consistently measuring interaction or influence. The most successful organizations are tracking responses to coded offers, last minute ticket deals and email campaigns to measure engagement. Many organizations also continue to treat social media as an outlier. The researchers believe the next big advance will happen when arts groups fully integrate their digital communications into a holistic policy and align them with their overall marketing/communications/education goals.

In order to capture a national baseline of data, Trudel | MacPherson worked with 47 convening organizations around the country, including membership associations and regional, state and local arts agencies. The researchers have presented previews of national findings to participating organizations, conducted webinars comparing and contrasting cohort results with national trends, and have offered workshops geared toward increasing participants’ awareness of best practices and positive trends in digital and social media usage and measurement.

Describing a recent preview of the research findings, Ben Cameron, Program Director, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation said, “We were pleased to host a preview presentation of the Trudel | MacPherson survey findings at our annual national conversations meeting of the CEOs of arts service organizations we support and we all found the information extremely valuable to our future planning. It’s essential for arts leaders to understand the current state of field practice and arts organizations’ perceptions of the effectiveness of their digital and social media initiatives, insights that this breakthrough analysis provides.”

In their NAMP presentation, the researchers will provide examples of successful practices, describe the state of measurement solutions and social media policy adoption, and examine arts organizations’ perceptions and concerns regarding messaging alignment, resource allocation, and drawbacks of adopting online and social communications. The data will be organized according to the budget size of the organizations, geographic region, arts discipline and usage of communications channels and platforms.

Sara Billmann, Director of Marketing & Communications at the University Musical Society at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, will join the researchers on the panel to provide insights from her organization’s experience and respond to the research findings from a practitioner’s point of view. Describing the study, Billmann said: “This is very timely research on a topic of great interest to arts professionals. Understanding how other arts groups manage their time, deploy their resources and measure the results of their online efforts helps all of us be more effective in creating and evaluating the effectiveness of our communications efforts.”

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