Culture24's Blog

Culture24, Arts Council, Google and Creative England in partnership, posted November 19th, 2013

Culture24 was so excited to be partnering up with Arts Council England, Creative England, Google and the European Creative Industries Alliance to curate a conference focusing on ways to stimulate growth for the arts, cultural and creative industries by seizing opportunities online. The conference took place in London on 19-20th November 2013 and was hosted by Google. Read the full programme. 

As part of the conference Culture24 organised a fascinating session exploring what cultural businesses can learn from young YouTubers, focusing on reaching audiences via the right channels and with the right content. More than 2.5m people subscribe to Danisnotonfire, the YouTube channel of 22 year old Dan Howell. In the session we heard from Dan and various young people who comprise his audience on why they tune in.


Chair Rohan Silva with vlogger Dan Howell,  YouTube exec Rich Waterworth and the Culture24 panel of teenagers – Mattie Simpson, Ava Finnis-Brown and Charlie Hulejczuk

Culture24 also participated in a session unpacking what great digital curation looks like and how collaboration can work for the cultural sector online? Alongside case studies from the Google Cultural Institute, the Imperial War Museum and the British Postal Museum, we talked about our Connecting Collections project, which aims to create a new digital service enabling children, young people and teachers to discover and use digital collections content in interactive, exciting ways. We discussed our unique approach that will curate and publish digital collection objects from a range of museums in child-friendly, fun and flexible online environments.

And we were pleased to bring in a range of experts to provide invaluable input throughout the conference including one of our trustees Matt Locke,  who chaired the final session exploring what insights from the conference mean for the future shape of the cultural and creative sectors? In addition Lana Gibson from the Government Digital Service, who recently spoke at our Let’s Get Real conference focusing on digital change, explored how using data analytics can help build audiences online. Other experts and attendees included those from many of the cultural organisations we have collaborated with as part of our Let’s Get Real action research projects.


Culture24 trustee Matt Locke from Storything, was MC for the day and opened the conference. 


Museumcamp 2013 review: the unconference experience, posted October 18th, 2013

On Monday I went to my second Museumcamp unconference in Birmingham.  The idea of unconferences developed from barcamps, the overnight intense workshops for developers where everybody has to speak and the aim is to put together a prototype by the end of the event. An unconference brings together a group of people with a shared interest – in this case, people who work with or in museums, or simply like them.

Nobody had to lead a session, but everyone was welcome to suggest an idea. They could even say “I have a question about this and I’d like to talk about it – if anyone has any thoughts or ideas that could help, please come to my session and share them!”

Birmingham has already hosted a librarycamp and a gallerycamp, and the  unconference model where everyone can learn, teach and ask questions could be useful in any industry.

A cupcake laden with icing and the words Rosie MuseumCamp

Everyone at Museumcamp decorated a conversation-starting cupcake

I led a session about taking part in the Museums at Night festival and how to enter the Connect10 competition to win a top artist and £2000 towards your Museums at Night event, which a wide range of people came along to. People who had run after-hours events and Museums at Night events in the past chipped in to answer questions and share what worked well for them, which was really inspiring for me as well as – hopefully – for the others in the group.

I also took part in sessions about engaging new audiences and communities, fundraising, online publishing, getting PR, serendipity and creativity and social enterprises.

The most unexpected session sprang up over lunch: I was talking with one person about how we used Twitter, who then said she thought our conclusions would be useful to at least one another person – so we found ourselves offering a session for people to share how their institutions tweeted, the challenges they faced around social media, and the types of content that attracted the most clicks and comments.

It was great to get out and meet lots of the people I normally only communicate with via email newsletters, and to hear about what they look for from Culture24 and Museums at Night. There’s no substitute for spending time with the people who use our services and hearing about the specific issues and challenges they’re facing struggle with, as well as the creative ways they work around resource and time limitations.

Of course, I also have to mention the delicious cake which was on offer throughout the day: as we arrived, everyone decorated a cupcake which functioned as a conversation-starting “social object”. Congratulations to Mar Dixon and Linda Spurdle for organizing such a friendly and useful day!

Rosie Clarke

Museums at Night 2013 topline results, posted October 9th, 2013

Culture24 co-ordinates Museums at Night, the annual festival encouraging new audiences to discover culture and heritage venues on their doorstep in a different light.

This year was the festival’s fifth birthday and we are thrilled with just how many people – more than 145,000 – helped us celebrate all things great in the Arts and Heritage world back in May.  It was quite a birthday party.

The campaign has grown rapidly since Culture24 took it over in 2009, largely because of our many partnerships with the likes of Future Shorts, the Faber Archive, Sky Arts, Love Art London, Time Out, National Trust and many many more.  Success is made possible by the ongoing support and love of the Arts Council through the Renaissance Strategic Support Fund and Grants for the Arts.

The results from the 2013 festival have now been evaluated and here is a summary of the highlights.

Key achievements in 2013

  • 411 arts and heritage venues opened their doors at night
  • 583 events took place
  • 200 UK towns hosted events
  • 145,841 visits were made to events
  • 30,000 public votes were cast in the Connect10 competition for venues to win artists
  • 4,375 visits (3% of all visits) were made by people who had never been to an arts or heritage venue prior to Museums at Night
  • 42,294 visits (29% of all visits) were made by people new to the venue they visited
  • 97% of visitors rated their experience as 7, 8, 9 or 10 out of 10
  • 97% of visitors were inspired to visit other heritage and arts venues
  • 908 pieces of media coverage (excluding TV & radio) with an audited value of £1.7 million
  • £1.65m spent by visitors on secondary items such as food, drink and travel
  • 94% of venues say they will take part again in 2013

Artists participating in the Connect10 competition in 2013

The Connect10  competition is an exciting new development within the fesival. It offers UK arts and heritage venues the chance to ‘win’ one of ten adventurous contemporary artists and a share of £7,000 for their Museums at Night event.

C10 2013 artists

Top left to bottom left: Chapman Brothers, Martin Creed, Cullinan & Richards, Gavin Turk, Julia Vogl, Julian Wild, Mat Collishaw, rAndom International, Richard Wentworth, Susan Forsyth










What can culture learn from Penguin’s new Insight Hub?, posted September 26th, 2013

Charlotte RichardsCharlotte Richards heads up the Insight team at Penguin, looking for innovative ways to support faster, better business decisions and drive performance through the power of insight. She is responsible for developing and executing Penguin’s data strategy, to ensure that the needs and behaviours of the consumer are at the heart of business decision making. She’s a passionate advocate for the “democratisation” of data and has had experience delivering insight-driven solutions.

This is the text of her keynote talk at Culture24′s Let’s Get Real conference in Brighton on the 16th September 2013.


A very modern bird: Bringing new insight into a heritage business

A bit about Penguin

I’m sure that many people in this room have heard of, read, probably even loved a Penguin book at some point in their lives. Penguin is one of the world’s most loved and recognised brands, synonymous with heritage and publishing excellence, and for nearly 80 years we have published everything from classics to children’s to cookery.

But this isn’t the only side of Penguin worth knowing. In 1935 Allen Lane wanted a mascot that was ‘dignified but flippant’.  And for us that means that innovation is core to what we do. We were the inventors of the paperback; we introduced the Penguincubator, a vending machine for books on train platforms; we were even the first publisher to have a website. And today I wanted to talk to you about another journey into innovation that is in progress as we speak – the launch of the Penguin Insight Hub, and what we have learnt and are continuing to learn about bringing together the worlds of data, analysis, creativity and heritage.

Where did the Insight Hub come from?

As I’m sure you’re all aware, the world of data has done nothing short of explode – 90% of the data in the world today was created in the last two years. Digital retailers, social media, smart device ownership: all these things and more have contributed to the profusion and abundance of so called ‘Big data’. And it’s only going to get bigger.

Not only that, but consumers have become much more data savvy; and they have been trained by retailers such as Amazon to expect relevant, mutually beneficial relationships with brands. Their options are broad, their attention spans are short, their standards are high – so you only have one shot at proving to them that you are worth their time.

But if the risk of losing consumers is growing, so is the opportunity to bring them closer to your business than ever before. And using and understanding data is the key to making this happen. At Penguin this opportunity was recognised at the highest level, and at the beginning of 2012 it was decided it was time to create a central analytics ‘hub’ to bring data to life in a publishing context.

I joined the business last year, with no experience in Publishing, but lots of experience in helping businesses such as Visa, B&Q, Waitrose and JustGiving to use their data to understand their customers. And so the journey began.

How did we do this?

sherlockBefore we could get anywhere near doing any clever analysis or targeting, we had to find some data to work with. I have often found that people believe their business to be very data ‘poor’; that they have no data, or that the data they have is useless. And Penguin was no exception. But it’s amazing what you can find when you lift the lid, have a good root around and discover plenty of dusty old spreadsheets or hidden files that nobody ever thought was useful. Once we started to pull this data out into the open it was remarkable how ‘rich’ we were – to the point of drowning in the volume of information that was available.

So our next step was to bring all these different sorts of data together: a marriage of many types and forms of data, to create a single source of the truth. This was fiddly work – making sure we understood what the different bits of data meant and how they all fitted together. But, with a bit of focused time and effort we were able to create ‘The Engine’ – our database and the foundation for everything that we do.

Once the data was in place, we brought in new tools to make our data beautiful to look at and easy to understand. We have been using a brilliant data visualisation tool called Tableau. We’ve replaced manually created excel charts with automated dashboards; allowing the business to ‘self serve’ and get the data that they need faster and in a more visually appealing way. The key principle throughout has been ‘data democratisation’ – putting data in the hands of the business, rather than keeping it locked away out of sight.

Finally, we’ve established a small team of specialists to enable us to provide expert advice in an area that was entirely new for Penguin. During the recruitment process we looked for technical analytical skills – using tools such as SAS, R or SQL – and practical experience in things like pricing analysis, model building and marketing performance measurement. We’ve recruited outside of Publishing from analytical teams in sectors such as Supermarkets and Charity. Partly because the sorts of skills we were looking for are more common in these sectors, but also because a core part of the Insight Hub’s role is to bring new approaches into the business and to challenge the status quo. It can be tough to take this approach – there is so much that the team and I are learning about publishing every single day – but having fresh eyes on long standing challenges can be really powerful.

This wasn’t enough – however – as you can have all the fancy data and shiny tools in the world, but it won’t help your business if people don’t see the value in it! So we had to prove the approach, one case at a time, working with people across the business to use data to solve their specific business questions. We looked at marketing performance, trying to quantify the value of posters in train stations; the impact of local events, proving to authors such as Clare Balding or Alain De Botton that their efforts in attending book fairs and signings were worth it; and the trends in online search, tracking what was ‘hot’ each week and how Penguin compared against competitors. Even just from the initial case studies, we started to pull out some useful stats and facts about our consumers. It may seem trivial that we identified that readers of erotica and romance were more likely to live in Middlesborough than Tunbridge Wells, but as a starting point for understanding who our consumers were, it was an easy first step for the business to make. The great thing about this approach was that with each case study delivered, we started to make it really clear to the business how we could help them in their day to day jobs. And that is the first step in winning hearts and minds.

What have we learnt?

I was once told by an ex-boss that one of my strongest skills was that I wasn’t afraid to ask the ‘stupid’ question – I tried to take that as a compliment (!). I think what it means in practice is that there is real value in questioning long-held assumptions, in trying to get to the bottom of why and how things are being done, and being open minded in finding alternative solutions. It’s also about being disruptive, in a positive way – being willing to make a change, even if that change isn’t always ultimately successful. Facebook’s philosophy isn’t ‘Move fast, break things’ for nothing; the fear of failure can be far more damaging than the actual impact of failure, but changing people’s perception of this is a real challenge.

For example, an area where you often see this challenge is measuring marketing success or failure – in an industry where you are selling toilet roll or celery, a ‘bad’ campaign might not seem so bad in the long run, as you can always have a go at selling toilet roll again next month or next year. But in an industry where books get one shot at being launched, and the teams involved have a genuine emotional connection with the content and the author, talking about marketing hits or misses can feel very threatening.  We’ve tried to tackle this by finding advocates in each area of the business – people who have a natural affinity with data and who are happy to be guinea pigs in trying new things. These advocates are absolutely invaluable, as working with them provides the credibility needed to persuade those who are more resistant to trying a new approach.

Myth busting has also been core to what we have been trying to do: taking the things that everyone ‘knows’, or assumes, or has inherited, and trying to find the facts beneath them. And these myths aren’t unique to one business – you find them again and again across many different industries.

One common myth is that there is a single, right answer to everything: unfortunately, analysis is all about interpretation, and so there may not be a ‘right’ answer. You need to be willing to try different things, experiment, and see what works – the reality of analytics is that it is much closer to a jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing than a mathematical formula with one, pre-determined outcome. ‘Success’ can and should mean different things in different circumstances –  it might be an increase in sales or profit, or an increase in the number of people who have liked you on facebook, or an improvement in the quality of the data that you send out to partners about your products or how ‘hot’ your brand is on google. The full picture of who your customers are and what they want from you can only be understood when you look at it from 360°.

To be a force for positive change in a business, insight has to be approachable, not impenetrable; useful, not just interesting; and about people, not about data. I think that a common misconception is that the purpose of analytics and insight is to replace human decision making, or to stifle creativity. There is no replacement for the brilliance and ingenuity of the human mind – insight should support innovation, not stifle it, by providing a foundation for making brilliant ideas even more brilliant.

What next?

So, our journey so far has led us to a point where we have launched an analytics service to the business and are starting to make a real difference in how we understand our consumers. But we are nowhere near our final destination. The biggest change is not a systems or data one; it’s not about building the perfect analytical model or finding the ‘killer’ data source; it’s a long term cultural shift in how people view the role of data in their day to day jobs, and building confidence and knowledge in using and talking about this data across the business. However, if I’ve learnt anything from my year at Penguin, it’s that you shouldn’t be afraid to start, just because the journey is a long one; the benefits from taking just the first few steps are enormous. And just because your business is associated with words such as heritage, or culture, data can and should still be a core part of your future relationship with your consumers.


Time to Think: Jane Finnis’ keynote from the Let’s Get Real Conference 2013, posted September 17th, 2013

The second Let’s Get Real report was launched on September 16th at Brighton Museum in the third and final session of our ‘Let’s Get Real: an honest look at digital change’ conference.

Below is the keynote Culture24 director Jane Finnis gave at the conference, presenting the key findings and observations.


So what does the second Let’s Get Real report (download) mean for the cultural sector, and why have Culture24 and a group of 22 very different cultural organisations around the UK done this crazy collaborative action research thing twice already?

Why does Culture24 want to do it again? (We are already well into planning the third phase of action research). The answer is because we really want to get better at digital.  In fact, I think we want to get better at *everything* as digital is not something separate. It is simply an aspect of everything that we do.  No one under the age of 20 even talks about ‘digital’ anything anymore. It is simply a part of everything – communications, transport, retail, entertainment, education, medicine etc.

We think about the Let’s Get Real projects as a journey. We are all on a shared journey to get better, each of us at a different point, a different place along the road.  The second report was actually a collective journey – ‘a journey towards understanding and measuring digital engagement’ which is actually the name of the report.

When looking at digital engagement, behaviour is a key factor, as the very nature of many digital platforms, channels and devices fundamentally changes users’ behaviour.

Think how many things you do differently as a result of having something in your pocket that has more processing power than the Curiosity Rover currently hanging about on the surface of Mars.  Think about the disparate systems that you can link up, the vast oceans of information you can access. Think about the way you use it and the behaviours you have that you didn’t have five years ago, three years ago, one year ago.  Not just talking, but finding, buying, selling, checking in, publishing looking through the camera, into the camera, through a layer, on top of a map, as part of a conversation, as a contributor.

Mobile technology has accelerated the changes in user behaviour but there are many more to come. New possibilities for interaction and behaviour will come from the new interfaces that are coming to market. Things like using your fingerprint to biologically interact with your iPhone5, Google Glass and gesture interfaces.

We are increasingly in a continuous online and offline dance, that sometimes feels almost fluid as we dip in and out, moving between our phones, the street, a train, a cafe, an office, an exhibition, a kiosk, a TV, a tablet, a walk.  Our experience of these intermittent digital touchpoints varies depending upon our motivation at any one time or the serendipity of our curiosity.

Understanding how we, as consumers, experience things as a whole, the off and the online, is crucial to how we in the cultural sector curate our content for our audiences.  This is really important, particularly if your core business is a building or a physical space that you want people to visit. Our audiences’ experience of us is no longer just about that space physically, it is about all of the other places where we put ourselves – or where others put us online without our permission, like Google place pages, TripAdvisor, Wikipedia, Foursquare, Twitter etc.













So in our shared desire to do better, what is it we really want to know? What is the problem we are trying to fix? How do we define success and how do we know when we have got there? How do we know what to measure and what to count? We are all looking for answers but where are they?

Well, try these answers for size:

- The ideal number of Facebook fans is 37,000

- The optimum average time on site is 5.3 minutes

- The number of unique visits to your website should be 4,000 per day

Convincing? Do these answers help you? Are they true? Of course not. Is it even useful to try and set these kinds of figures? And if these are the answers, then what exactly were the questions?

Everyone wants to know what key performance indications they should use to measure their digital output or how they should resource their digital activities.

- How many Facebook fans should they have?

- What’s the right ratio of tweets to RT?

- Should you share your content openly via an API?

- Should you have a member of staff to do social media full time, part time?

- Should you build an app, a blog, a Tumblr, Pinterest page …? I could go on….

There are so many new things out there all the time and it is hard to keep up. Stuff like RebelMouse, Flipboard and Stackla all do very similar jobs of aggregating social media content or news together and allowing varying degrees of curation –  but which is better?

Top level digital metrics,  like the kind of thing that many funders ask for, are almost totally useless without applying some relevant audience segmentation, or benchmarking of your statistics over time and, most importantly, a contextual framework for defining success against your specific mission. And you need to choose which tool or platform is right for you specifically by exploring that mission, and a specific priority.

The trouble with trying to define this shared journey, is that it is different for everyone. We are in different places at different stages on the journey. There is no one-size-fits-all with analytics.

Google Analytics will allow me to measure the degrees of engagement but not the ‘kinds’ of engagement. The truth about what that ‘right’ kind of engagement is, is the one that meets your own business outcomes and so will be slightly different for everyone.

So, what should we do? Well the Let’s Get Real 2 report is pretty clear in its insights and recommendations on pages 5 and 6, but as well as those, we need to get rid of some of the false expectations about digital.  We need to ban the word innovation, stop fetishizing technology as a solution and stop thinking that online developments will:

- Put you in touch with new audiences, especially younger ones

- Increase participation with your stuff

- Earn you a lot of money

-  Make you look cool, or stop you looking left behind

They might. They can. But only because you find ways to engage the right people with content in a way that they are interested in, on a platform that they are probably already using.  Perhaps like YouTuber Charlieissocoollike and his fun-science videos with over 2 million subscribers who seems to have done a pretty good job of getting this mix right.













Am I painting a grim picture? Maybe, but this is hard. The key, the secret, is to work out for yourself what it is that you value, what it is that you want to do, and how, specifically you want to do it. And this really should not be too hard.

Measure what you value, don’t value what you measure. I can’t say this enough. I’ve said it before, it was part of the first report, it’s part of this one and I suspect it will still be part of phase 3.

To begin to measure specifics you need to learn to love audience segmentation.  You need to do the maths on your analytics and go deep into what is happening for your audience.  This is actually not as hard as it sounds but it does take time.

So why is there a giant smiley on the stage? Well, happiness is good isn’t it?

Consider the smiley as a metaphor for engagement, not a simplistic superficial smile, but a symbolic deep connection with something good.

This is what it’s all about when it comes to culture.  This is what we want, what society needs, what people need and love.

Culture, art, heritage, stuff, stories, beauty, connections, passion. And this is all the stuff we have.


We need to build our own capacity with digital. Bit by bit, from the inside. It is not something that we can be given on a plate. There is not a one-stop-shop. It is hard. We have to commit to it. We need time to think and work it out.

We need to ensure that our content is fit for purpose. That means the words it uses, the style it is written in, its quality, rigour and authority; its tone of voice, humour and humanity; its technical dimensions, scalability, interactivity and portability; its hidden data, formats, optimisation. All of these need to be fit for purpose.

Our content, our data – needs to match the screen size, platform and interface – not just technically but editorially. It needs to be ready to respond to different user behaviours and demands. It needs to respond as much to demand, as to our own ability to supply.

We need to transform our institutions and take digital to our hearts, then forget about it and get on with our jobs.

An excellent example of a museum doing just that: taking digital to heart, is the Cooper Hewitt in New York. They recently acquired their first object that was purely code. It is called Planetary.

This is what the collection record in their database says about it:

“The Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum has acquired the iPad music application Planetary, developed by Bloom Studio Inc., along with the underlying source code, which is being freely released to enable developers to build upon and incorporate it into other software design. Released in 2011, Planetary uses the visual metaphor of celestial bodies to represent the relationship between artists (stars), albums (planets) and tracks/songs (moons).”

How cool is that? It was a real challenge to the museum and took a lot of time internally to acquire an object only to immediately give it away by releasing the code for download & re-use. This fits their mission perfectly as software has become one of the most significant arenas of design.  And that is their thing! They are the National Design Museum, part of the Smithsonian.

I would also like to suggest that we need to stop seeing ourselves as being in competition with each other for audiences. It is other industries and sectors who take our attention share online: BBC, eBay, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, Wikipedia, TripAdvisor. These are our real competitors online, not each other.

Maybe we could do more together? Join our systems, our infrastructure, our data together? Open our content up to prevent silo-ing of information – content – culture – in ways that are not focused on user behaviour and needs? Join up our data on our audiences, our intelligence, our big data? I bet that the Cooper Hewitt is already planning to aggregate content from other places about design for its audiences.

So, let’s start with the Let’s Get Real 2 report. See it as a manifesto or a set of principles to follow.  Read it and share it.  Download the social media framework that is part of it and think about it.  It is not perfect but it is a start.

It will help you ask questions in order to work out the questions you need to ask. Check out the case studies and then devise and plan your own small scale experiments and analyse the data you get carefully with your teams. Make small changes, measure them, check them by talking to your audience, make more changes. Get better.

Alongside the report, we are also looking for people who would like to sign up to phase 3 of the research, which is going to focus on content and is it fit for purpose – technically and editorially.

We are also working with The Audience Agency on the new Audience Finder project. For this we are creating a set of new resources that are practical guides, how-tos on certain specific issues that we know lots of people struggle with, like:

- Carrying out healthchecks on your Google Analytics

- Setting up segments in Google Analytics

- Understanding mobile and tablet use of your website

- Search Engine Optimisation – SEO

- Social Media framework produced as part of the research itself.

These are like pit stops along the journey, where you can get a MOT, an update or simply a bit of help along the way. Use them all. Tell us what you think.  Help us make them better. Make yourself better.

And make sure you give yourself time to think.

Culture24 would like to thank the Guardian Cultural Professionals Network, Mailchimp, ink_d gallery and Brighton Museum & Art Gallery for their support and sponsorship of the Let’s Get Real Conference.

Plus our fabulous MC Matt Locke and all the very talented speakers - Ben Cordle, Charlotte Richards, Stuart Nolan, Anthony Lilley,  Andy Budd, Adam Gee, Lana Gibson, Padma Gillen,  Mia Ridge, Andrew Lewis, Dawn James, John Stack, Elena Villaespesa, Hugh Wallace and David Redfern.