A day before my first mentor meeting and I’m fretting about being able to articulate my ideas in a succinct way that has any legs for digital innovation. I keep reducing this opportunity to a numbers exercise. (More followers / likes / online sales or donations) Surely there’s a better way to count.
mac Birmingham is a contemporary arts centre very much rooted in its sense of community, whether it’s the diverse one that geographically surrounds us or the communities we make with artists spanning across world. Surely mac is the perfect candidate to use digital to develop and extend our reach beyond our physical building?
But my bug-bear is altogether more domestic. Nearing 1 million visits per year, I can tell you lots about those purchasing tickets to performances, films and our extensive learning programme. I can tell you bits about people visiting our free entry exhibition spaces or non-ticketed public space programmes. But it’s the “others” who keep me awake. Being set in one of Birmingham’s most popular parks, I want to know more about a third of our visitors who clearly see us as a meeting point, café and toilets. Who are they? Do they engage with us artistically at all? Paper surveys, (completed by people who like to complete surveys) have told me bits that I want to test. I strongly suspect these people are entirely engaged with our work but don’t understand the terminology or the fact that they are engaging with our work. Are they arts attenders without knowing it?
And isn’t our digital community reflecting this behaviour? Our extensive social media networks (predominantly Facebook and Twitter) are users who, just like our physical visitors, could be segmented by behaviour and/or need: seeking entertainment, enrichment, artistic ambition, career development, social engagement and those who simply like an artist who performed here once and may never visit again.
It’s with all these thoughts, dots waiting to be connected, I prepare for my first early morning Google Hangout with Carolyn, my mentor. I arrive in the office to find chaos. Internet down, shared drive inaccessible, phone lines sporadic, cloud-based ticketing system down, card payments down. We operate our huge bustling arts centre for a whole day using a pen and paper and all the data allowances on our mobile phones. A few days later, during our rescheduled session, Carolyn and I laugh about the irony of our first meeting being scuppered by a digital meltdown. But hasn’t it been a wonderful metaphor in terms of how I approach distilling my buzzing thoughts into my forthcoming experiment? Carolyn, (followed by action learning group colleagues) encouraged me back-to-basics. Cut through the noise, the bells and whistles. What are you doing? Why are you doing it? And who are you doing it for?
So gone are my spy-like plans to install iBeacons around the building, or using volunteers to fit our visitors with tracking devices. Instead, we’re looking at the more populist parts of our programme, and making sure their digital engagement is absolutely rich with content and leading them to discover more about us in their own way. If I don’t talk about art at all, will I eventually make a deeper engagement with those who know mac but who we don’t know at all? And I’ve been challenged to change the way I count, measuring success as small as one click rather than by achieving the final sale. Carolyn was so right about something else. Digital marketing is so often more about organisational change and challenging your own work patterns than digital innovation.