I Probably Don’t Really Know What My Audience Values Even Though I Am In The Lobby Before, After, And At Intermission

I bookmarked a guest post on Museum 2.0 a month ago. Now I feel guilty for not circling back to it sooner. Nina Simon invited Martin Brandt Djupdræt, a manager at Danish museum,  to write about how his organization has all the decision makers interact with visitors as part of their audience research effort.

Their approach is super simple, though a little time consuming. A member of management approaches a random visitor and asks if they can follow the visitor around to observe where they go in the museum and what they interact with. Three weeks later they give the visitor a call and ask:

• why they chose this museum,
• what they noticed especially during the visit,
• whether they interacted with anyone, and
• whether they had talked to anyone about the museum after the visit, and what about

Every decision maker in the organization seems to be required to participate, from management to curators. Djupdræt says the goal is to get managers up and away from their desks interacting with people with whom they wouldn’t normally come in contact.

As you might imagine, what the managers and curators were sure people valued about the museum wasn’t quite accurate. Even those with more direct contact with visitors were surprised by what they learned.

The curators were surprised by how important other parts of the museum besides the historical content were for the visitor. The F&B manager and the head of HR were surprised by how many objects and stories the visitors were absorbed in. This has also given us insights into the work of our colleagues and made us appreciate their work to a larger extent. Now we all have useful and inspiring stories about visitors’ choices and the impact the museum had on them.

Another observation was the importance of food and drink. In our trackings we could see how much time the visitors spent on the museum’s eating places and the great social importance these breaks had. Something we learned about food through the interviews was that the guests consider the food at the museum as part of the museum’s storytelling. This insight has encouraged us to focus on food and food history as a priority topic at the museum, and a colleague is going to work particularly with that subject.

[…]

Visitors have always been a focus for the management, but the research have personalized our audience and they are discussed differently now. As the head of finance described it: “I normally look at whether a task is well done, financially possible and efficient, but now I also consider more seriously how a visitor would feel and react to the changes we plan.”

I especially wanted to include that last section as a reminder that measuring success by efficiency and expense doesn’t necessarily equate to providing a fulfilling experience.

One thing Djupdræt didn’t cover that I was curious about was why they waited three weeks to follow up. I didn’t know if that was a social practice in Denmark where it was rude to immediately survey people about their experience or if it was calculated to see how much of the visitor experience still made an impression three week later.

The whole article is a reminder not to depend entirely on surveys as an evaluation tool. Yes, it is an important practice to have people in the back office interacting directly in a focused manner with the people the organization serves, but there is also the shift of perspective this practice brings. You would assume a food and beverage manager would have fairly extensive interactions with visitors and would be paying close attention to trends.  That person at the Djupdræt’s museum still found themselves surprised by some of the insights they gained.

Take It From The Folks Who Have Done It 7000 Times –Short And To The Point

A piece from Artsy regarding what they had learned writing 7000 bios for visual artists came across my radar a few weeks ago and I quickly tagged it as something I to which wanted to circle back. Now that I have done so, I realize it was written about 3 years ago.

The basic observations they make about artists’ bios are worth the attention of anyone in any arts discipline to when it comes to writing promotional copy for websites, brochures, etc.

They found that the sweet spot is between 80 and 140 words with the ideal being 120.  Any more than 150 and people’s attention starts to waver. While they have observed this in relation to gallery labels, it is probably all the more true for websites. They go further to say that a tightly written 80 word bio is better than a 120 word one with repetitive or filler content.

Some of the points to consider when writing an artist’s bio are specific to visual arts but are relatively simple to transfer to any arts discipline. As I mentioned earlier, these rules are just as applicable to describing a performance involving 40 people as it is for one person.

As with most things, the most important element is a strong opening:

The bio should open with a first line that encapsulates, as far as possible, what is most significant about the artist and his or her work, rather than opening with biographical tidbits, such as where the artist went to school, grew up, etc. For example: John Chamberlain is best known for his twisting sculptures made from scrap metal and banged up, discarded automobile parts and other industrial detritus.

Though in the case of promoting a performance or other event, I would start with a sense of why people will enjoy themselves rather than any sort of biographical information. Even if they know the show, no one is going to get excited about seeing Phantom of the Opera if it opens with “Written by the man who revolutionized the musical theatre form with shows like Jesus Christ Superstar, Cats, Evita, Starlight Express….”

Among the mistakes they say are the biggest people make when writing bios are some familiar faces: hyperbole, laundry list of accomplishments and “artspeak”:

It can be tempting to sing your artists’ praises. We’ve noticed, however, that readers do not respond positively to unsubstantiated claims about an artist’s import (e.g. “Artist X is considered one of the most important artists of the post-war period,” or, “Artist Y is widely regarded for her beautiful work”). Most readers will see right through trumped-up language …The best way to maximize the power of a good bio is to try to educate, not “hard-sell,” your reader. Numerous studies have shown that the hard sell doesn’t work, especially for younger audiences (read: tech-savvy collectors), who respond most positively to simple and authentic messages.

[…]

Impressive as these may be, these laundry lists are tedious to read in prose format. They also take up precious real estate, which you could otherwise devote to a real discussion of your artist’s practice.

There are certainly instances where it makes sense to include one particularly outstanding prize or exhibition, for example, an artist’s inclusion in the Venice Biennale. In this case, try to find a way to naturally include mention of the distinction in the normal flow of the text.

[…]

Instead of trying to impress other curators, academics, and galleries, focus on your audience of new collectors who may be completely unfamiliar with your artists. Readers want to glean information from your writing, and the best way to do that is to use simple language. A good rule of thumb is to impart one idea per sentence.

Obviously that last point should be applied to new attendees rather than new collectors. I would doubly apply the caution about artspeak to the injunction about laundry lists. As insiders, there are a lot of prizes, associations, and accomplishments we might deem particularly outstanding that means nothing to a newer attendee.

Trevor O’Donnell often invokes the “person in Starbucks test” where you recite your promotional copy conversationally to someone in a Starbucks. (or any other random casual encounter.) If they look back at your uncomfortably, he says your text needs a rewrite. Before you even get to that point, you might want to ask a person in Starbucks if a particular accolade means anything to them and leave it out of the description if they look at you cross-eyed or clearly as pretending it sounds familiar.

A Good Community Is An Asset To An Arts Organization

I frequently urge people not to focus on the value of the arts in terms of economic impact on the community. Not only do the arts bring other forms of value to the community, but what is frequently un(der)mentioned is that the community provides reciprocal value to the arts organization.

We had the tour of a Broadway show come through a couple weeks ago. I was speaking with a local store owner who I know is a big fan of Broadway musicals and had attended the show. He mentioned that a number of cast members had come into his store and he had been thrilled to engage in some pretty lengthy conversations with them.

In fact, on the return visit of one person, the shop owner almost inadvertently revealed the purchase of a Valentine’s Day gift in front of the customer’s wife who was accompanying him at the time. The shop owner reveled in the experience of quickly changing what he was saying mid-sentence and sharing a knowing look with the husband.

The shop owner had mentioned local attractions, including a national monument, which the visitors were excited to learn about.

Based on this anecdote, I figured there must have been numerous other interactions with individuals and businesses throughout town and posted a general thank you on social media to everyone in the community who had shown the cast and crew kindness and hospitality during their visit. I mentioned the shop owner had directed some people to the national monument and tagged both the shop and the monument. At the very least, I thought it was good PR to employ outwardly focused messaging.

I didn’t necessarily think that the cast members had visited the monument.  They apparently did and identified themselves (or were recognized) because the folks at the national monument replied about how nice the cast and crew members were and their interest in information about the monument. The shop owner also posted his delight upon learning they had taken him up on his suggestion.

I have had similar experiences in other places I have worked. Local residents have been thrilled to have conversations in passing on the streets and coffee shops. I have had visiting artists express how friendly and helpful local residents were to them without knowing who they were.

One of my most favorite stories is from when a flamenco group and the guest services manager of a hotel struck up such a strong friendship, the guest services manager went to visit them in Spain a few months later. I never had any problems with getting performers early check in for years after that so it was a big win for everyone.

Bottom line though. As much as great events can bolster the reputation and appeal of your organization in the community, a good community can bolster the reputation and appeal of your organization among performers. A pleasant neighborhood with a wide choice of shops and restaurants isn’t just an asset to promote to attendees who want to grab something to eat before the show, visiting performers value those amenities as much, if not more.

Don’t think word and personnel don’t circulated among artists. I was trying to describe our wardrobe facilities and green room to a company we had never worked with before in an email and one of the guys responded that he had been here before and sent pictures he had on file of our wardrobe facilities and green room.

Every little thing counts.

Your Site Has 4 3 Seconds To Load Or I Am Leaving

Big hat tip to Thomas Cott for linking to an article about how quickly people will abandon a webpage if it is loading slowly.  The title tells pretty much everything you need to know about the problem – Slow pages hurt conversions, but marketers aren’t in a hurry to fix them.  (my emphasis below)

[Unbounce] then conducted two parallel surveys of consumers and marketers to understand their respective attitudes toward page speed. Nearly 75 percent of consumers surveyed said they’d wait four or more seconds for a mobile site to load. However, Google data show that most people abandon sites after three seconds if content hasn’t loaded.

The majority of survey respondents indicated that slow-loading sites would negatively affect their willingness to buy and even return to the particular site. Surprisingly, women were more impatient than men in this regard.

Interestingly a majority of consumers said they wanted faster-loading sites even it meant giving up animations, video and images. The good news for brands and publishers is that most consumers were more inclined to blame their ISP (50.5 percent) than the site itself (34.2 percent).

Even though people were willing to blame their ISP over the site, that is no reason to think you can get by. Over 1/3 of respondents blamed the site itself. People are experienced enough to have a good sense where the blame lay.

Among the top suggestions for solving this issue are optimizing image and video size; improving caching and hosting and running speed tests.

If you are at a loss for where to even start to learn how to do these things–ArtsHacker has a whole series devoted to this. The impetus for this was anticipated slow downs due to net neutrality rulings by the FCC so there are a number of strategies in that series that you can use. You will definitely find pieces on image compression, speed tests, database optimization and minimizing the impact of page requests.

Granted, some of these procedures should not be undertaken if you are inexperienced working under the hood of your website. By the same token, if you don’t know much about how website traffic works, the articles can give you new information and a better sense of what things contribute to slow downs on your website.

 

Something I am curious about that is tangentially related is how quickly people will abandon a video if an ad they can’t quickly skip starts playing. This doesn’t usually impact videos embedded as performance samples in website that I have seen, but there have been a number of times I decided I wasn’t interested enough in a news piece to wait for an ad to finish.  I suspect I am more patient with those ads than most so it makes me wonder about the long term viability of those ads. Especially as YouTube seems to be getting increasingly insistent in their offers to sign up for their paid service.

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