How powerful is the data that we hold in our hands, once collected directly from people who visit our arts, heritage and cultural spaces? The potential to gather audience data in the U.S.A. does not compare to the metrics that are readily available on this side of the pond. ADA 2.0 mentor, Sara Devine tells us more.
One of my favourite things about the academy is the opportunity to exchange insights and ideas across the pond. One difference I’ve noticed between the US and the UK when it comes to metrics is Audience Finder. In the US, it’s left completely up to each organisation if they gather audience metrics at all, let alone using the same tool across the sector. I’m therefore quite intrigued by the possibilities of a shared tool like Audience Finder. I realise, as I write this, that it sounds like a paid advertisement, but looking in from the outside, it seems like a real opportunity.
Now, I’m aware that there are limitations to the data points collected, and even perhaps some over simplification on the part of Arts Council England in terms of what audience metrics they want in the first place (particularly the age groups: how is 16-30 an age group? Too big a gap in lifestyle and approach there, yikes) and it all might feel too prescribed, but I encourage you to find the usefulness of this shared tool.
Being able to compare metrics across similar (and even different) arts and cultural organisations is a real opportunity. In order for me to find out more about the museum-going audiences of New York, I’d have to reach out to each museum individually to see if: 1.) they gather metrics, and 2.) they are willing to share them. Some institutions are more forth-coming than others, so the idea that I could go to a (free!) dashboard and see metrics from my colleagues and competitors is pretty compelling. Think of all the questions that spill forth with access to that data! Do we share audiences? Who is going there that isn’t coming here? Who comes here that doesn’t go there? With answers to these kinds of questions, you can start to ask yourself the reasons for this behaviour and really get to know your audiences. Perhaps there is room for a mutually beneficial partnership or cross-promotion with other institutions. Perhaps you find a segment that is more dedicated to your organisation, with whom you can really focus on deepening engagement.
This shared data absolutely does not and should not preclude you from gathering your own, more specific data that will help you understand what makes your audience unique. However, it’s a great place to start and by having the opportunity to compare audiences, who knows what insights you might glean? I encourage you to think of these data sets as the beginnings of something useful. There may be more work to do to improve the tool, but from my point of view at least, Audience Finder feels like a friend (or maybe fremeny?), and not a foe.