The Digital Dilemma

This blog was posted by Laraine Penson on February 27, 2015 as part of the CultureHive Digital Marketing Academy. You can find out more about the project here.

Over the past few years Northern Ballet has been doing quite a lot of digital communications activity and it has become an integral part of our campaigns. We’ve found it really effective in finding new audiences, developing a more direct relationship with our current audiences, which as a touring company can be problematic; and in placing in action our brand communications ethos to ‘show, don’t tell’. It’s been useful in developing an evidence base to apply to our practice, collecting data and statistics such as likes, follows, e-sign ups, opportunities to see/impressions, click-through rates – statistics I can use to report on our work. However in the past 12 months I’ve been asking the question what does it all mean? What is the impact of this activity and how is it helping us achieve our key objective to increase ticket sales to more than £3.2million annually?

Having just completed a Mosaic profile of the past 3 years of our theatre-going audience we have a very good understanding of our audiences for our full-length narrative ballets. We know that on the whole our audiences are over-represented in the age category 55+, predominantly female and prefer to hear from us by direct mail or email, aren’t particularly active on social media and are not early adopters of digital activity. So if our ‘core’ ticket buying audience isn’t particularly digitally active how does digital communication fit within our remit to sell tickets?

Another key consideration has been managing the workload of, and demands on, the communications team. Increased touring and new strands of work plus increased sales targets at the box office mixed with the challenging sales environment we’re experiencing has led me to take a long hard look at what we do and why we do it. Prioritising is key. We had done quite a lot of digital experimentation over the past few years and so I also needed to take what we had learnt and develop it into a digital ‘strategy’. Or rather, what place does digital have within our integrated communications activity in order for us to reach our objective?

The DMA has allowed me to take the time to look more deeply at our current digital activity and to ask more questions. I’ve spent time looking at our most engaged on-line audience – the people who follow us on Facebook and Twitter and visitors to our website.

Almost half our website audience is aged 25-44 and are 70-73% female. The lowest represented groups are 18-24 year olds (about 13%), which surprised me, and 65+ (about 13%).

We have chosen to start using Facebook as an extension of our mailing list and place more resources into growing our Facebook followers and also the content for the page.

Comparing the statistics of our theatre-going audiences, our website audiences and our Facebook audiences is fascinating. On Facebook, 18-24 year olds are best represented at 22%, 25-34 year olds at 18% and 13-17 and 35-44 year olds at 14%.

Our ‘traditional’ theatre-going audience is well under-represented on our website and also comprises less than 5% of our Facebook profile. Startlingly 82% of our Facebook followers are female.

Knowing this, what possibility does the website hold to shift the demographic of our on-line versus our in-theatre audiences? Do we start segmenting our communications much more to service needs and interests of these specific groups through digital channels? Can we build specifically on-line audiences for our work and what can we do better to convince more of these audiences to join us in the theatre? What impact might a growing on-line only audience have on our in-theatre audience and therefore on the sustainability of the Company as a whole?

Working with my DMA mentor has helped to provide focus and helped shape what our digital strategy might be. He has also verified the work we have been doing to date and has made me feel reassured that keeping up with digital innovation isn’t necessarily the right choice for us right now. So we’re going back to basics. As email is the digital communications method our core audience responds to best, if we can make our emails more effective then this will most likely help contribute to increased ticket sales. So we’re carrying out AB testing of emails, testing the content of these emails and using the digital material we create for them to populate social media and our website meaning that we can also service the growing digital audience we have. And this is, I think, the basis of our future digital strategy.

It’s not ground breaking but it feels right and makes us focus on our audiences and their needs which we hope will help us achieve our objectives – whilst keeping workloads realistic.

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