Digital Lab. Devon Smith. How to begin a new digital experiment.

Digital Lab. Devon Smith. How to begin a new digital experiment.

By Devon Smith


Devon Smith, co-founder of Measure Creative and Mentor at AMA Digital Lab takes us through how to begin a new digital experiment.

The AMA Digital Lab is already off to a bang and all of the Fellows I’m collaborating with have started the initial phase of their digital experiment. Our first session together is often about where to begin when you’re trying to wrap your head around a new potential digital project. I think there are four main areas you should think about exploring when you’re diving into the deep end on a new digital initiative that your organization has yet to explore.  

Gather our own data about that audience/marketing channel/digital product 

First, try to round up any data that your organization already has that might be relevant to the experiment. That data might come from places like: 

  • Google Analytics  
  • Marketing channel analytics (e.g. directly from the native analytics tools in your email, social media, or advertising platforms)
  • Previous audience surveys/interviews/reviews where your audience might have provided qualitative information related to your experiment 

In these various places, you’re trying to capture things like: what have we already been experimenting with, what seems to be working/not working so far, and can I spot any obvious places for new exploration. No need to overdo it on this background research - just spend a few hours, maybe half of a workday. You want to have a good handle on what’s been tried before so you can explore and learn new information on behalf of your organization.  

Ask your audience directly about themselves/a marketing channel/a digital product 

After you have a clear sense about what your organization has already been doing, now it’s time to gather a little bit of insight directly from the most useful data source for any digital professional: the audience. This data might come from places like: 

  • Survey to your email list or social media followers 
  • Interviewing current audiences in your lobby/at your performance (or at least watching what they do and how they interact with each other/the space) 
  • Interviewing audiences in your local community who might be “unaware” of your organization (especially if you’re trying to engage new audience demographics) 

 In this phase of background research, you’re trying to understand more about who the audience is that you’re trying to reach or engage and what they say they want/don’t want (which won’t always actually match up with their behavior), as well as attempting to set some baseline level of measurement for you to use as a comparison once your experiment is finished (particularly if your experiment is around trying to change the demographic makeup of your audience or their perception of your organization). While it’s great when you can do this audience research with academic rigor, the vast majority of digital professionals won’t have the time, budget, or expertise, and that’s okay! If you can spend the equivalent of one full workday interacting with audiences in some way before your experiment begins, you will be ahead of the curve of 99% of your peers. And speaking of peers… 

Research what our peers are doing for this audience/marketing channel/digital product 

With a decent understanding about what our organization is doing and who our audience is, sometimes it can be useful to take a quick peek (just an hour or two) at what our peers are doing to reach or engage that same audience. That data might come from places like: 

  • Visiting a peer’s venue to see how they engage audiences on-site
  • Perusing a peer’s social media channels, websites, or email newsletters to see what content strategy they’re using and how it’s working
  • Identifying public data sources that summarize data about your peers/sector 

 One of the interesting digital public data sets that has become available in the past year is the “political advertising libraries” for all of the major social media ad networks (Facebook/Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Google/YouTube). They only track social media ads that have to do with “social issues, elections, or politics,” so there’s not a ton of information about arts organizations, but if you can identify a politician/NGO who’s trying to reach a similar audience as your arts organization, sometime sleuthing around their social ads can give youinsight into new approaches your organization can take in advertising. Here’s an example to poke around from the UK Government’s spending on Facebook and Instagram ads.

But one word of caution about researching peers: just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean it’s effective!

Immerse yourself in the new marketing channel/digital product that you’re exploring 

If your organization is interested in TikTok or Snapchat, but you’ve never seen a post before, go download the app, follow a few interesting accounts, and start to develop your own opinions about what types of content is engaging to you personally. Same goes if your organization is interested in podcasts, long-form videos, VR, QR codes, or whatever the latest digital trend is. I think digital professionals need to develop aesthetic opinions about the content/platform if we hope to be successful at creating that content for our audiences. Keep this content consumption habit up throughout the length of your digital experiment if you can, and you will hopefully continue to be inspired to try new ideas.  

With this more well-rounded view of your organization, your audience, your peers, and yourself, now you’re ready to dive into creating a strong digital experiment, informed by data.  

Devon Smith, co-founder of Measure Creative and Mentor at AMA Digital Lab

Resource type: Articles | Published: 2020