By Ron Evans, Principal, Group of Minds Arts Marketing Consultants
Mobile devices have become a part of the arts experience, and have enormous potential to enhance the relationship between patron and arts organization. Inventive arts organizations are finding engaging ways to link the art to the patron via mobile devices.
For example, it is not abnormal to see patrons using their phones in museums to scan exhibit information, at the symphony watching explanatory text while listening to a concerto, or at the theater, communicating via Twitter with others watching the show (usually from the back row). Experimentation with mobile devices and arts experiences is just at the beginning stage of adoption.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, mobile devices are also frequently the cause of negative arts experiences. Mobiles ring during performances (and patrons answer them), are used to shoot video and photos during the performance, and distract other patrons due to the bright screen. Because of this, a ban on mobile devices is strictly enforced at some organizations.
Although the use of mobile devices at arts experiences is a polarizing topic, we should continue to try to better understand the mobile preferences of arts patrons, examine the best ways of utilizing mobile devices in the arts, and explore how mobile trends are changing in our audiences.
In 2009, Arts Council Silicon Valley commissioned Group of Minds to research the mobile preferences of arts patrons. The data gained from this research were rich, and it was decided that the research would be repeated in 2012 to explore changes in patron responses as mobile devices continued to flood the market. Now, in 2015, Group of Minds has completed a third round of the research, finding that changes in attitudes — and interest in mobile devices by arts patrons — are profound.
The goal of the research has always been to discover how arts patrons use mobile devices in relation to arts activities, to measure how they think they may use their mobile devices in the future, and to understand the expectations that arts patrons have of arts organizations around mobile devices.
In the recent 2015 update, Group of Minds partnered with five U.S. cities — San Jose, CA (LiveSV.com), Austin,TX (NowPlayingAustin.com), Nashville, TN (NowPlayingNashville.com), Philadelphia, PA (PhillyFunGuide.com), and Boston, MA (ArtsBoston.org) — to distribute a 12-question online survey consisting of a combination of multiple-choice, rating scale, and open-ended response questions.
In general, questions from previous years were kept the same, so that results could be compared. In some cases, additional answer options were included to more accurately reflect current technology and usage options. Each city distributed the survey to its discount-ticketing email lists, and more than 1,000 responses were received. The survey ran for one week, offering an incentive for a drawing of a $25 Amazon gift certificate to motivate patron response.
While a wide range of age groups responded to the survey, the largest cohort of respondents was aged 58-67, with 75% of respondents being female.
Models of mobile devices
The Apple iPhone and iPad were the favored mobile devices; 54% of respondents said they had some version of these. Android-based phones were in use by 29% of respondents, a 4% increase from the 2012 survey. The mobile-device question was updated this year to include the usage of wearable devices (such as the Apple Watch, Samsung Gear, or Google Glass). However, these devices accounted for just 1% of responses. All other types of mobile devices (Windows-based phones, RIM Blackberrys, etc.) also scored less than 1%.
Interest in owning a smartphone
Although the split between iPhone and Android phone use did not significantly increase in 2015, there was a huge increase in interest in using a smartphone in general over previous years.
In 2009, 50% of respondents said, “I don’t have a smart phone, and I’m not interested in getting one.” By 2012, this number had dropped to just 21%. In 2015, this number has more than halved again, with now just 8.5% of respondents reporting that they “don’t have a smartphone, and don’t want one.” This represents a notable increase in the usage of mobile devices over the past six years.
This change is likely driven by social validation, continued opportunity for the public to become familiar with the benefits of a smartphone, and the availability of lower-cost and hand-me-down devices. With the largest age group of respondents being 58-67 (an age range of patrons not traditionally thought of as heavy tech users), we must reexamine our assumptions about age and interest in technology use.
Results show that there is great interest in the ability to look up arts and cultural events near a user’s location. 81% of respondents now report that they would use their mobile device to look up events near them, wherever they are, if given the opportunity. This is up dramatically from 45% in 2009.
Getting info from an arts organization’s mobile website (45%), visiting an arts organization’s social media channels (26%) and using an organization’s mobile app (12%) to find events all show increases over previous findings.
Usage: social networks
Social media use on mobile devices has exploded. 70% of respondents now report that they use Facebook either “all the time” or “sometimes” (up from 54% in 2012), YouTube 58% (up from 45% in 2012), and, new to this survey, Instagram at 28%. These numbers point to the trend for increasingly visual social media content in the form of images and video.
Twitter use increased only slightly to 25% (up from 23% in 2012). Other “all the time” or “sometimes” uses include Pinterest (26%), LinkedIn (34%), Snapchat (7%), and Tumblr (6%).
It is important to point out that these numbers are based on all 1000+ responses to the survey. Many arts organizations consider mobile devices to be a channel to younger audiences, and when the data are explored by age, younger respondents do report increased use of mobile devices in every category. For example, 93% of respondents aged 13-32 reported Facebook use, with YouTube (69%), Instagram (64%), Pinterest (46%), Twitter (42%), LinkedIn (36%) and Snapchat (31%).
New to the 2015 research, we asked all respondents about use of personal video streaming sites Meerkat and Periscope, which allow instant-on streaming from a person’s camera to friends elsewhere in the world. This capability has been a concern for some in the arts, as patrons might stream artistic experiences to those who haven’t paid for admission. Respondents reported only light use of these services (2%). This is likely due to the newness of these platforms. We expect to see large gains in usage of personal live-streaming services in the next three years.
Social network abandonment
Several social media platforms also show a decline in use, with patrons answering “I used to use, but now I do not.” Location-based check-in services Foursquare and Gowalla top the list at 8% of respondents saying they have left the service. This trend has grown since the 2012 survey (abandonment up from 4%) and indicates a continued disinterest.
Twitter, Snapchat, and Tumblr all showed 5% abandonment rates. It is important to realize that users of social media channels are not necessarily “lifetime users” — people often leave their networks due to boredom with a specific social network, or excitement over the launch of a new network. One needs only to consider the downfall of the old version of MySpace, when the majority of its users left to join Facebook.
As of this writing, many arts organizations continue to struggle with Facebook. The service has continued to reduce the percentage of people who see an arts organization’s post “for free,” which has resigned many arts organizations to paying money to Facebook to get posts seen by audiences.
When asked about their mobile use before, during, and after arts experiences, respondents indicated a wide range of activities. Usage of mobile devices during arts events continues to be a hot-button issue, especially seen in the open-ended comments. Responses such as “I don’t want people to use their phones when they are at an arts event! It disturbs others!” and “NEVER NEVER NEVER DURING an event!!” capture the majority of sentiment.
However, others shared positive actions they have taken, such as “Took photos of jazz musicians to share with others,” and “I take photos of art for my personal image files.”
Meanwhile, there was much interest in mobile-device use before and after performances. “Find a nearby restaurant” topped the list at 55%, followed by “check traffic/get directions (52%), sending texts (51%), looking up info about the arts event (on Wikipedia, for example) (43%), using Facebook (33%), sharing photos (via Instagram, etc.) (34%), “checking in” at the location (26%), shooting video (17%), and writing online reviews (10%).
Ticketing and Check-In
Interest in buying tickets via mobile device has jumped significantly, with 37% of respondents saying they have bought tickets this way (up from 21% in 2012).
In a new question in 2015, we asked respondents if they have “displayed your ticket on your phone at the event to gain access,” and 48% of respondents say they have. This is likely influenced by the trend of “mobile check-in” that has transformed boarding procedures for major airlines. It should be of particular interest to arts managers who want to optimize the customer experience and get patrons seated quickly without forcing them to wait in a will-call line.
Another question asked patrons about how they prefer to purchase tickets: online, by phone, in person, or by mail. 81% of respondents report that their preference in purchasing tickets is to buy online.
What do patrons want via mobile?
When asked about a potential “perfect” mobile functionality that would help them experience arts and cultural events, respondents had clear preferences.
New in topping the list this year, the highest-scoring response was “find events near my location” at 74%. When paired with the earlier answer option involving location-based events, this may indicate an opportunity for new experiments in event visibility mixed with geographic proximity.
As in 2012, logistics information also scored highly: “Show me parking info” (70%), “Show me directions on how to get to the event” (62%) and “show me event specifics (run time, synopsis, etc.)” (56%).
Donating to the organization (17%), providing the user with event media to post to social media (22%), and allowing the user to write reviews (24%) all showed minimal increases from the 2012 survey.
Respondents also chose to submit many open-ended answers for this question. Some of the most enlightening comments included: “Show me handicapped parking,” “Please tell me about public transit info, and where I can park my bike,” “A map of the venue — for example, where restrooms are located,” “Please list age appropriateness and selected attire,” “I would love to use my phone to connect with others at the event, to discuss the play before, during, and after the show,” “allow me to message the performances/production staff directly,” and “tell me what is coming NEXT at the venue.”
We found these answers most interesting, as they are requests for information that is readily available to art presenters. However, it seems that this type of information is rarely presented to audience members. This creates the potential for patron dissatisfaction.
When a patron brings a child to an arts event that is not for children, when traffic is a problem getting to an event, or when parking is difficult to find, patrons often become stressed. Upon entering the artistic space, patrons may find it difficult to engage with the art.
This logistical information is simple to provide and should be frequently communicated through the organization’s website, email marketing, and social media. The results of this question should remind us that planning to attend an artistic event involves many choices far in advance of the artistic exchange, and far after it is over.
The more we can assist patrons with planning their experience, such as suggesting restaurants to eat beforehand and places to reflect afterward, the more patrons should find it of benefit. Additionally, this will help to further the economic impact of the arts in the local economy.
Based on the research data, several action steps are recommended for arts and cultural organizations. First, all marketing channels should be optimized for mobile. Most importantly, the organization’s website should render well on popular mobile browsers. This is usually not very difficult to accomplish, especially on sites based on open-source technology, such as WordPress and Joomla.
Email marketing newsletters should be designed for easy readability on mobile first, and on desktop second. In our experience, the email marketing service MailChimp has great mobile templates, and Constant Contact is now developing its own mobile templates.
Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, etc., are already optimized for mobile. However, organizations should learn the sizes of images for these networks, and include images in each post, so that posts will be given the maximum opportunity for exposure.
Testing a “mobile first” organizational plan is easy to do, if you test all marketing campaigns on mobile before they launch.
Second, it is vital that organizations consider the total experience of the patron, and provide detailed information about the event. Run times, parking info, after-event activities, age appropriateness, directions, etc. are easy to provide, and should be incorporated into all communications. Although arts organizations should always be experimenting with new marketing activities that communicate the positives, organizations must also “remove the negatives” by filling the gap of information that patrons need in order to have a good experience.
Third, arts organizations should work with their ticketing and CRM vendors to consider allowing mobile check-in at events. With 48% of respondents saying they want to show their tickets on their phone, this is an opportunity to increase the speed and efficiency of getting people into the venue, as well as a chance to reduce the environmental impact of printing, mailing, and receiving printed tickets.
Arts organizations should practice purchasing tickets to events on their mobile device, and if problems are identified, work with their vendors to smooth the mobile ticket purchase experience as much as possible.
Fourth, arts organizations need to provide clear guidance on mobile-device use at events. Many organizations either totally ban mobile devices, or worse, say nothing about their use at all. People seldom like to have their actions censored, so rather than banning mobile devices, create opportunities for patrons to use them when it is most beneficial. Logistics information such as directions, parking info, etc., is a clear benefit, but there is a lot of room for experimentation.
Concerned about people taking photos during a performance? Explain to patrons that if they wait until after the event, performers will pose for photos in the lobby. Another option might be to create a photo wall, where patrons can shoot and share something that looks more professional than what they could shoot on their own from their seat.
Steer patrons towards good usage by providing curated mobile opportunities, and communicate that you also wish to respect those who prefer that mobile devices not be in use.
Mobile-device use has skyrocketed since the initial round of this research in 2009. There continues to be a debate about the use of devices during arts events not specifically designed for mobile access, and this will undoubtedly continue. However, mobile devices have found their place as indispensable aids to the everyday activities of arts and cultural patrons.
Arts organizations that are able to maximize the benefits of using a mobile device for marketing, logistics, feedback, and outside-the-event planning will be met by appreciative arts patrons.
Partners in research
Special thanks go to partner researchers who made this project possible: Julia Canavese (San Jose); Aaron Sanders, (Austin); Erin Hornsby (Nashville); John McInerney (Philadelphia); and Jennifer Falk (Boston).
About the researcher
Ron Evans is a researcher and principal consultant at Group of Minds Arts Marketing Consultants. His primary area of interest is in exploring emerging technology trends and their impacts on consumer decision-making. He works with arts organizations to optimize the ways patrons make decisions about attendance and enjoyment. He is a frequent speaker on marketing and technology at international conferences, and is an affiliate member of both the American Psychological Association and the Society for Consumer Psychology. He can be reached via email@example.com.