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A new chapter of audience development

This blog was posted by Sara Lock on February 26, 2015 as part of the CultureHive Digital Marketing Academy. You can find out more about the project here.

I’ve long been in search of that holy grail of audience members: the frequent group booker that will attend adventurous new works. We have a loyal core of them but if only there were more!

After the launch of our digital magazine a couple of years ago I got chatting to a customer about her struggle to persuade her husband to attend events. She repeatedly missed out because she didn’t want to go alone but said the magazine interviews really helped convince her husband to attend.

That conversation has been on my mind ever since:

  • What else could we do to give audiences more insight into new work?
  • How could we better equip our adventurous audiences to persuade others to attend?
  • Do venues have a role to play in matchmaking audiences who don’t want to attend alone?

I entered the digital marketing academy with those questions in mind and chatted to mentor Dominic Tinley about how we could address those issues through our digital platforms. Was it time for us to put ‘social’ back into social media?

Having surveyed audiences through a quick web poll and established interest for socialising and creating work together online, I storyboarded a few ideas.

Storyboard

The clear winner was the idea of an Online Book Group. It offered the opportunity to

  • connect audience members through an interest in books
  • provide new routes into our programme by featuring books connected with performances and arranging pre-event meet-ups at the venue so people could meet in person too
  • continue with new books each season so we could develop audiences over time
  • in the long term, maybe even build an adventurous group of frequent attenders who were highly engaged with the themes and ideas of our programme.

Having discussed the pros and cons of various platforms with Dominic we settled on using a free Facebook App, Forum for Pages.

Through the storyboard process that Dominic had suggested, my team and I identified sticking points in the user experience and tried to eliminate as many issues as possible.

We developed a full marketing campaign to promote it. We created the registration deadline as a bookable event through our Box Office system to make it a familiar process for our audiences. That also means it’s easy for us to track conversions to attendance at related performances and see whether we’re engaging new or existing audiences.

Our local Waterstones offered a 25% discount for anyone buying the book through them. We found a chapter of our first book freely available online so people could get a taste before signing up. We’ve also lined up the theatre company who’ll be performing an adaptation of the first novel to join the discussion in a specific time slot to encourage people to be online at the same time so we can build momentum.

Finally, we’ve been open with our audience about the fact that it’s a trial and invited them to make suggestions about how to improve the group.

With participants already signing up we’ve cleared the first hurdle. Now it’s time to see how the logistics of running flexible and timed discussions actually works!

Sara Lock

Salisbury Arts Centre

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