Some thoughts in response to Nesta’s Digital Culture Report 2017

Nesta’s report on how digital is supporting culture and arts in the UK is worth a read.

It gives a useful steer on how digital endeavours by the UK’s cultural organisations are having a positive impact on audiences, and what support it needs in the mid-long term.

Some notes from a first read.

  1. There’s been a decline in digital activities since the last survey in 2015
  2. Email marketing, social ,digitising, SEO, and owned content down
  3. Live-streaming up, paid online advertising up, selling tickets up, donations up
  4. Yet, those digital endeavours have seen increased business-focus
  5. Nesta is clear: organisations need to exploit customer database more effectively
  6. Organisations continue to report a major positive impact on audience and business
  7. Most organisations use Facebook – it’s ‘ubiquitous’,
  8. Disruptive platforms like Snapchat/What’s App and Instagram aren’t yielding returns
  9. Publishing content onto free platforms is down on 2015
  10. Perceived lack of digital skills amongst some organisations
  11. Surprising number of orgs who lack a digital manager

The executive summary points to skills and money as a perceived problem, concluding …

“… many areas have either remained static – such as the use of data or how well-served organisations feel they are for digital skills – or have fallen back – such as the perceived importance of digital for creation and the number of organisations engaging in some more complex digital activity, such as search engine optimisation.”

Is that it? Search Engine Optimisation?

Put simply, it’s about labelling up your assets so they’re more easily findable across multiple platforms and devices. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) isn’t a big mountain to climb.

The sector will need some expertise – people who understand the value of information architecture in organising data and its impact increasing revenue streams, for example. But that talent isn’t difficult to find.

More importantly – and I think more of a challenge for the classical music sector and perhaps the wider arts world – is the need for leaders not only to recognise why investing in digital needs to continue. Specifically, giving individuals within an organisation the confidence to develop digital strategies. In particular, there’s a need to develop digital leaders.

From there, a greater confidence in digital will permeate throughout the organisation.

What surprises me most

Social Media Activity

The panel on social media activity really caught my attention.

Particularly the surprisingly high number of respondents who said that they ‘never tried’ using social media to target children or young people.

Elsewhere in the report, a quote from one organisation pointed to the belief that the likes of WhatsApp and Snapchat were having a disruptive effect on more ‘traditional’ social media channels.

This suggests to me that some organisations have at least tried using social media to reach out to young people. But still, nearly 60% or organisations had never tried it. That surprises me. Experimenting with just one campaign isn’t going to demand that many resources, is it? Or is it here too that people perceive they lack confidence?

Live Streaming

What also surprised me was how high the number of organisations who hadn’t tried live-streaming of events – presumably not even via Periscope or Facebook Live. Money is a barrier here, presumably.

Speaking as a consumer, I really hope more organisations (especially in the classical music sector) commit to live-streaming.

In 2016 just over 60% of TVs in the UK had video-on-demand services meaning the audience is there, although at the time of the BARB survey, only 54% of users correctly understood that their TV was internet-connected. That means there’s some work to be done to educate TV owners that they can connect to the internet using their TV.

And if that’s the case there is, surely, an audience that hasn’t been reached yet for cultural organisation.

Apps like YouTube have a clickable icon on a TV homepage – only one or two clicks to a on-demand live-streamed cultural event. Or, for the more digitally savvy members of the family, its merely a case of loading up the YouTube video on their mobile phone and casting it to their TV.

Senior management need to think smarter about digital and recognise that it’s going to take a little longer than perhaps they’d like before audiences to make the link. That content has got to be there – even if viewing figures are comparatively low in the short term.

Questions arising for me

  1. Where is there a line between what we perceive to be a lack of skills, and advanced skills?
  2. What specifically would advanced skills look like for a mid-size organisation?
  3. Do staff need support learning how to use software, or is it to develop their creative thinking?
  4. Is there a perception that digital is difficult?
  5. Is digital expected to return more tangible results than other areas of the business?

The 2017 Digital Culture Report is available for download on the Nesta website

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