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.