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December 8, 2011

Strategy discovery: use Apple’s Siri to help patrons find your arts organization via mobile voice search

I recently got the new iPhone 4S. One of the most interesting features of the new iPhone 4S is “Siri,” the phone’s digital assistant. Siri is pretty amazing, and I feel that she represents the “next big thing” in how people soon will find information about your arts and cultural organization. 

If you’re not familiar with the concept of Siri, watch the short demo video from Apple:

So, it’s clear that Siri is already pretty darn good at scheduling your appointments, texting people via voice, reminding you of tasks you need to do, and pulling up generic web information. On top of that, she’s just plain fun to talk to. The fact that I refer to her as “she” should say a lot about how much personality she has. Just ask her a knock knock joke.

All of this got me thinking: although Siri is very new (and officially still in “beta” by Apple), what capabilities does she already have for helping a patron connect with arts and culture?

What can Apple’s Siri do for patrons and arts organizations?

Based on this, I scratched out a number of questions to ask Siri related to finding arts organizations and attending arts events. I also sent an email out to my Groupofminds mailing list, asking my subscribers to become fellow researchers and supply questions for me to ask Siri. I thought crowdsourcing the research would be a fun way to increase engagement, and also a great way to supply me with questions from specialists in many different cultural genres. In this 12-minute video, you can see me asking these questions to Siri, and can see her responses.

Don’t want to watch the whole video? I’ve summarized the findings below.

Summary of Siri arts & culture features

  • Siri is great at using aspects of the iPhone to do things such as set reminders, change appointments, and message (multiple) people via voice. These can be quite complex, such as “set an appointment (now) for lunch with Dave tomorrow at 5pm.”
  • Siri is very good at finding directions to a venue from your current location, but she cannot yet give directions from somewhere you are not, to somewhere else you are not.
  • Siri does voice searches like “Siri, show me orchestras in San Francisco,” if you want “symphonies” you’ll need to ask.
  • Siri defaults to doing a web search for many answers she doesn’t know (and this is a key opportunity for you.. see below).
  • Siri currently uses Yelp to look up venue and business information.
  • Siri is currently unable to look for specific events, such as “tell me when The Secret Garden at Theatreworks closes?”
  • Siri cannot yet pull up reviews for events or organizations (even though Yelp lists a ton of reviews).
  • Siri cannot yet tell us any fine details about specific venue, such as handicapped seating availability.
  • Siri can tell you about parking near a venue, if you are currently near the venue, such as “show me parking nearby.”
  • Siri says she “can’t search near businesses” even though she can if you’re near the business.
  • Siri currently doesn’t know anything about any ticket prices, but knows about “ticket agencies,” though she specifically says “I can’t look specifically for price range… my apologies” — she calls out pricing, so I think this feature is being developed.
  • Siri is very good at getting rid of the parts of sentences that aren’t important; for example, in a separate test, I asked her “Siri, bee boo bop bop fee foe fum show me nearby theaters” — she ignored the first part, and just showed me local theaters.
  • Siri knows the venue “playhouse” as it relates to seeing local plays.
  • Siri correctly showed me comedy clubs when I asked her “Siri, I need to laugh tonight… can you show me where I can see comedy?” and showed me musical theatre groups nearby when I asked her “where can I see musical theatre?” (wow, nice).
  • Siri automatically started sorting venue results by Yelp rating, which was cool.
  • Siri is very good about showing you restaurant options before an event by just asking her to tell you about restaurants near the venue you’ll be near (you don’t actually have to be at the venue for this to work).

Is Siri the answer to every arts patron’s dreams? Not quite yet — she has a long way to go for that. But when she can do now is already amazing, and her abilities are getting stronger each day, due to all the people asking her questions each day. This article on mentions that results from a small study show that “people who use Apple’s Siri don’t really need Google.” That is a major potential shift in how we search for information.

New discovery: How to help Siri users find your cultural information via Google, until she can find it on her own

Many organizations have spent time on SEO (Search Engine Optimization, or making sure your web pages score high on search results) on Google and Bing. And this is still an incredibly good use of your time that gives back real ROI. (Disclaimer: Groupofminds, and I personally, have done a lot of this type of work).

Consider that people on Google are searching via keywords such as “San Jose Theatre” or “Palo Alto Events.” But Siri uses whole phrases in her searches. As an example, I asked her “Siri, what is playing at the San Francisco Symphony tonight,” — she couldn’t answer that, and did a web search. The top result was a blog post that wasn’t even about the symphony. If I were a real user, I’d be frustrated.

Then I got to thinking, posts from blogs and websites with high Google ranking often get listed on Google incredibly quickly. What if I made a blog post on the groupofminds blog, with Siri phrase searching in mind for the same question? I think you’ll be excited by the results in this short video:


Holy freakin’ cow. On publishing my post, my sample San Francisco Symphony page called “Siri, show me what’s playing at the San Francisco Symphony tonight” is the #1 result on Google, and at the time of writing this post is the first thing you see when you do a Siri search with this query. Have an iPhone 4S? Try it yourself.

Not only does it work for the San Francisco Symphony, but there is so little competition for this phrase that even asking her “Siri, show me what’s playing at the symphony tonight” STILL brings back my page as the highest search result. That’s for any symphony in the world.

This represents a huge opportunity for arts marketers who want their users to find relevant Google results via a Siri voice search until Siri can answer on her own (like I currently am for this search for the San Francisco Symphony). It’s actually pretty simple — arts organizations just need to build a series of pages that are optimized for voice phrases people would ask Siri.

Yes, this means trying to figure out what phrases people will be saying to Siri to find you  like I have above, along with different variations, such as “tomorrow,” “this weekend,” “over the holidays,” etc. Your Google analytics will be able to tell you if those pages get traffic. What you put on this pages should be generic enough so you don’t need to update it often, but should at least link to the correct information on whatever page it is on in your site. Considering that virtually nobody is optimizing pages in this way yet gives you an opportunity to be number one in a new search category; something that companies pay millions of dollars to reach.

The future of Siri and mobile voice search for cultural organizations

I see Siri continuing to grow in both popularity and capabilities. User adoption will continue to grow: think about it — isn’t it odd that we still type letters out to say things on a computer, instead of using words? That’s like someone who is hearing-impaired just using finger spelling to communicate, instead of gestures that represent whole words. In the not-to-distant future, I’m sure Siri will speak her response back to questions on our arts and cultural events, and help patrons find their way to our box offices to purchase tickets. If we start considering the possibilities now, we can be ready for this day. Got an additional question about these experiments that I didn’t cover? Drop me a note and I’ll get back to you.

I’d like to recognize my fellow researchers for their contribution of questions to ask Siri: Kevin Kirby, Kateri McRae, Fran Spector Atkins, Doug Smith, Irene Sherr, Chelsea Maricle, Richard Hine, Paulette Lynch, Roland Valliere,  Jennifer Easton, Jerry Yoshitomi, Amelia Northrup, Joe Winter, Sanford Dole, Dale Albright, Bob Cable, Mary Arnold, Laura Paisley, Matt Campbell, John Martin, Rebecca Wallace, and Joanne Bernstein.

Like this post? Please share it with others who you think might benefit from it, via the links below, and subscribe via email orRSS to receive future updates. Ron Evans is an arts marketing and consumer psychology researcher, and principal consultant at Arts Marketing Consultants in Sunnyvale, CA, USA. He helps arts audiences increase their understanding, appreciation, and frequency of attendance through innovative uses of technology.

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