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Experiments in surveying arts audiences via tablets

Ron Evans, Principal of Group of Minds, talks about his experiments with surveying arts audiences via tablets and puts the call out for arts organizations interested in partnering on additional experimentation in unique spaces.

Finally! A screen the executive director wants to see in the audience! With prices for tablets declining and acceptance of their use increasing, I wondered how they would hold up as survey tools for arts organizations. I’m liking the results! Tablets are not a good fit for all situations, but are a great fit for some.

To get rolling, I knew I would be going with Android-based tablets, as iPads are too expensive for this situation. One of my awesome clients who is always up for a good experiment is The Western Stage, and they were game to try tablets, so I purchased a small fleet and got to outfitting. After a lot of trial and error with survey software, connectivity, and tablet functionalities, I was able to get a system running that I thought would be pretty easy for patrons to use. Here is a shot of one of the tablets in action.

[Image: surveying arts audiences via tablets]

surveying arts audiences via tablets

Traditionally, I’ve run in-venue surveys via paper and pencil, left on randomly selected seats. That’s how I was taught, and it is still a fantastic method. It is low-tech (so, easy to use for everyone), approachable, holds a lot of questions, and can be implemented with as little as one person per performance. Also, you can put a ton of them out, and patrons can be working on a hundred of them at the same time.

However, paper surveys require a human to translate the markings into survey software (I can’t seem to get the ScanTron survey rocking) and this takes time, so there is a delay in getting actionable data. Also, they have a high materials cost — paper, pencils, printing, etc. — as well as an environmental cost.

Tablet-based surveys fix some challenges, and introduce a few of their own.

Opening night of “West Side Story” at The Western Stage found an assistant and me positioned at either side of the theatre space as the house doors were opened. It was a crowded house, and we got to work approaching people and asking them if they would take an audience survey on our new tablets. The response was very positive. People were attracted to the use of technology to do what is normally a pretty boring thing. A couple of older patrons thought they wouldn’t be able to do the survey, but once I showed them how it worked, they completed it easily.

Interestingly, I also saw that the tablet was sometimes passed to the youngest person in the group, who was fascinated to answer the questions. While this certainly affects the data gathered, perhaps tablets would be a way to get younger audiences interested in answering questions about their experience. (I don’t see a lot of young people interested in paper surveys.) Additionally, the data from the tablets were available instantly, so we were able to use the survey data from opening night to make ad-buy decisions for the rest of the run. This is a very useful benefit.

Where the tablets fell short is in the number we could have out at any one time. We had 10 in circulation in an audience of 250 that night, but I could only easily mentally track which patron had which of 5 of the tablets. Tracking 4 tablets would be safer (forget who has one when you’re running around in a packed audience, and it may go in someone’s coat). The tablets allowed great face-to-face interactions, but the number of surveys we got back was limited by: the number of tablets, the amount of time it took to do the survey (6 minutes on average), and the amount of time available from when the patron entered the hall to the start of the show. Ten tablets x 6 minutes per survey x 30 minutes preshow = 50 surveys possible in 30 minutes.

More tablets could get more responses, but would require more bodies to manage them. So, small venues might be the best fit for tablet surveying, unless you have an army of volunteers available at each performance who can manage the tablet-patron interaction.

Things that make tablets potentially awesome for surveying

–No need to digitize email addresses

–Results ready instantly (good for marketing decisions)

–“Fun factor” is added to survey completion

–Younger audiences may be more interested to complete a survey

–Easy to change the survey based on new data or needs

–Patrons without a tablet can be given the survey URL so they can complete on their own tablet or mobile phone

Things that make tablets potentially not awesome for surveying

–Hard to manage a lot of tablets without a lot of people

–Screens may be difficult to see if your event is in the outdoor sun

–Need to remember to keep batteries charged

–Chance for tablet to be stolen (unlikely, but possible)

–Some patrons may think they don’t have the skills and will require handholding — this also may bias your results to more tech-savvy people

–You may unintentionally create your own bias in whom you select to answer the survey

So, I am continuing to experiment, this time with a small-venue theater. I think tablets can shine on their own in a small venue, so the sample size stays large. They could work in a large venue, if you have many tablets and multiple staff people to manage them. We would also like to experiment with a hybrid method: tablets and extra staff to run them for opening performances to get actionable marketing data, and then switch to paper surveys for the rest of the run. Could be the best of both worlds.

I’ve got a fleet of tablets, and am interested in talking to other arts venues with different setups in which to experiment. If you and your venue would like to participate in these experiments, get in touch. We can match up schedules, see if we can come up with some best practices, and publish back to the field.


Arts marketing micro-experiments: testing response to an “audio actor bio”

I often tell arts groups that “every marketing thing you do should be some sort of experiment.” If you’re sending out an email, do an A/B test of subject lines to find out what works better. Study what time of day your Twitter posts get the most response. Test if patrons who are given details about your yummy concession items during a curtain speech end up buying more concession items at intermission than patrons who do not hear the description. These are not giant experiments with far-reaching implications. They are not big enough to cause red tape at your organization. But they can yield results that can allow you to improve your tactics.

I call these small tests “micro-experiments.”

Micro-experiments allow you to learn from your actions. Even a small statistically significant result will allow you to adapt your marketing, fundraising or “whatevering” behavior to use the new knowledge. And not only are micro-experiments useful to your marketing efforts, they are just plain fun. Research doesn’t have to be difficult — you can do it as part of your everyday activities.

I recently facilitated a micro-experiment for The Tabard Theatre Company in San Jose, CA. Tabard has received a grant from the city of San Jose’s Office of Cultural Affairs to experiment with new audience engagement techniques, and specifically to explore new ways of communicating the information found in the paper program.

You have all held a paper program and know what information it contains — information on the scenes in the play, an explanation from the director about the show, descriptions of the time period, ads from local sponsors, actor and tech bios, etc. There are pluses and minuses to paper programs. Some people like to take the program home as a keepsake. Others throw it on the floor and waste the paper. Our main question during this process is “In what additional ways can the information that is contained in the paper program be communicated to the patron?”

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What arts and cultural groups can learn from Five Guys

I’m a strong believer that arts and cultural organizations should explore the practices of for-profit companies, and assimilate what works. Take the popular burger chain Five Guys. I heard about Five Guys launching in my city from my friends. “You have to try the burger… awesome…” they said. I have tried it, and it is a great burger experience. I also noticed interesting consumer psychology at play, and began to think about how these ideas could be adapted to arts and cultural organizations.

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Arts Patrons: Mobile Preferences | 2012 update to ongoing longitudinal study

What are arts patrons doing with their mobile devices? What are their feelings about mobile devices at arts and cultural events? What devices are they using, and what information do they want?

[Image: 2012 arts patrons: mobile preferences report cover image]

Download the 6-page report (PDF)

      In 2009, Arts Council Silicon Valley commissioned Group of Minds Arts Marketing + Technology Consultants to research the mobile preferences of arts patrons. A sample of 45,000 patrons were contacted via email selected from the half-price ticket email lists of six regional online arts calendars in six U.S. cities. The goal of the research was to:

  • Discover current usage of mobile phones in relation to arts activities
  • Measure potential near-future usage
  • Explore expectations to prepare successful arts-related mobile channels

In September 2012, Group of Minds independently commissioned an update of the research, with a goal of measuring changes in mobile preferences over the previous three years, and will continue to update the research every three years moving forward. All six original cities and their respective half-price email lists participated in the 2012 update to the research. The same questions were used in the 2012 survey, although several answer options were updated for relevancy. The sample size and method of distribution were repeated. The analysis shows that arts patrons have made large gains of interest in and acceptance of mobile devices as preparatory, participatory, and logistical companions to the arts experience.

One recommendation is that arts organizations need to program different experiences based on different patron technology preferences. So, we’ve made the mobile preferences report available in two formats:

Special thanks to our partner researchers on this project: Arts Council Silicon Valley, Jeff Trabucco, Josh Russell (San Jose); Matt Lehrman (Phoenix); Ann-Marie McKaskle, Marcy Hoen (Austin); Jennifer Schwartzenberg, Erin Hornsby (Nashville); John Mcinerney (Philadelphia); John Beck, Jennifer Falk (Boston).


Thoughts on the psychology of social media

Institutions don’t talk, passionate people who work there do.


By Ron Evans

There is a lot of content on the web on “how to create stronger social media connections.” A simple Google or Bing search will show a ton of articles (when I checked for that search term, Google actually had 129 million results it thought relevant — even if it is only 1% correct, that’s a lot of articles!). I know that a lot of arts organizations struggle with best practices for social media. In preparation for my upcoming webinar with the National Arts marketing Project on July 10 on the psychology of social media, I thought it might be useful to get away from all of the technical aspects of using social media, and talk about the human side. The interaction side. The “what happens in the brain” side.

Why do people “like” you on Facebook or follow you on Twitter?

Do you know the answer? They like you or follow you for a variety of very human reasons:

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