Clues for increased satisfaction and visitation are often right under the noses of cultural organizations.
I frequently hear executive leaders lament the difficulty of knowing what is going on with their audiences absent ready access to robust market data. And perhaps they aren’t too far off in their concerns – market research is an incredible asset for identifying trends and informing operations.
Market data can also provide indicators into an audience’s perceptions and behaviors. However, it’s not necessarily the most economically efficient way to start the process. Whether your organization knows it or not, some of the most important audience insights are already sitting under the noses of cultural leaders. It may simply be that we’re not noticing them or assigning them their appropriate power.
Social media listening and customer service feedback are among an organization’s most valuable clues for elevating operations.
Let’s talk about being super sleuths within cultural organizations and key sources of critical clues for an organization’s long-term success.
Why cultural organizations need audience insight
1) People do not always know what they want – so organizations need to look for clues that may indicate belief and actual behavior.
“People do not know what they want” sounds like some glib, overarching statement, but it’s actually an important tenant of behavioral economics. Behavioral economics is a method of economic analysis that applies psychological insights into human behavior to explain economic decision-making. We humans have a lot going on in our brains, we are profoundly influenced by context, and we are often only aware of the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what motivates us and drives our decisions. In short, we’re not so great at judging what we are likely to do in certain situations. (This is a big reason why it’s important not to ask folks what they will do, but rather what they did do.) Emotions influence our real-time decisions in ways that we don’t anticipate when we aren’t in the context of making that decision.
I’m not going to go too far into behavioral economics as I risk leading you to the brink of “TL;DR” and closing your browser. But here’s why I bring it up:
In order to get to the bottom of visitor and supporter motivations, we need to ask audiences what they do, think, and believe – but we also need to understand the reality that sometimes they do not always know. As cultural organization super sleuths trying to get to the bottom of motivating visitation, it’s our jobs to be the scientists. It’s our job to find the holes, whether we want to be in the hole-finding business or not.
Simply, it comes with the “long-term solvency” territory.
2) Beneficial insight has little to do with scale
It seems that organizations sometimes write off feedback that comes from customer service issues or peer review sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor because, “It was only one person” or “It was only a few people.” However, when it comes to insight, the best clues can come from looking for things that are interesting, and not limited solely to things that are said frequently.
We know a whole bunch about what visitors report make up a positive experience. We know much less about the things that they are less aware of themselves that influence their decisions. It’s insight that matters in informing organizations where the holes may be, not the number of people who are aware of the hole.
When you identify an area of insight, it provides an opportunity for testing to better understand scale. Tallying TripAdvisor complaints about something is not collecting data on the influence of its effects on the overall visitor experience. It is an indicator that that thing is a problem that may be contributing to a negative experience!
Without even one interesting insight, an organization risks perpetuating ineffective best practices and stalling growth. You don’t need frequent repetition of the same insight to merit its investigation – you just need a moment to consider the power that the insight may have. Without an interesting insight, there’s nothing new to learn or test.
In order to collect helpful data, you need to know what you’re organization is seeking to understand. If you don’t have your eyes peeled for things that you don’t understand (or, worse, if you are relying on data or audience feedback solely to affirm past decisions), then you may be collecting data for data’s sake. What’s the point of that?
Our world gives us clues. It’s our job to look into those clues if cultural organizations aim to be data-informed entities.
3) Audience insight provides clues about what to test using audience and market research.
In order to uncover data to include on this website and share with clients, I need to put in data queries with IMPACTS. In other words, I need to let our data people know what I want to know – and then see what the data says. Sometimes the data outcomes are somewhat surprising and they bust popular myths – like last week’s article on how long the attendance bump lasts after a building expansion opens. Other times, the data is not surprising at all, but the analysis afforded by the data lends important insight – such as my recent article about why it is important that over 60% of people who visit cultural organizations visited as children. Sometimes, I put in data queries and neither the data nor the analyses are all that interesting. This can be a bummer. It’s also an important part of the process of working with data and partnering with an evolving sector adjusting to a changing world.
In order to know what is going on inside of cultural organizations, you – as I do – need to know what to query. You need to know what to look for that can make your organization more efficient and effective. You need to say, “That’s interesting. Could something be there that we don’t yet know about?!”
Once you find something interesting, then you can test it for it at an appropriate scale to see how relevant and prominent the sentiment or behavior may be. This is how one of our client organizations uncovered that millennials want different things from membership than the generations that came before them – and then we found that the trend extended far beyond that client organization! It started with an idea: “We think millennials want something different than what we are offering in our membership program. What do they want from a membership to our organization?” They had a tip off that millennials were interested in something else – and they asked us to help them look into it. They picked up on audience insight and asked us to dig into data that ultimately also helped other organizations stop guessing.
Paying attention to audience insights helps you determine what to test. What if you’re deciding what to test based on insider expert assumptions? Well, you’re not likely to uncover much that is new because insider experts aren’t great at thinking like visitors. (I’m in this boat with you, cultural professional. I can speak confidently about data-informed visitor behaviors and perceptions, but I am not able to think purely like a visitor.)
Should you test the resonance of every tidbit of audience feedback that your organization receives? Of course not. Test those that you think may be impactful. Think critically. Often times, organizations jump into learning more or solving problems based upon our own, insider assumptions. We’re forgetting the first step: paying attention to audience insight. We don’t have to make assumptions. If fact, we may be better served to do this less. Let’s test the things that come from visitors and may impact operations to help us better achieve our goals.
Organizations already have valuable audience insight
The clues to intelligent evolution are right under our noses. We just call them “social media comments” and “customer service feedback.” The insight can easily get lost in the shuffle and the day-to-day business of running a cultural organization. It doesn’t help that “social media comments” and “customer service feedback” sound like particularly undesirable reading.
“Social media comments? Some of those come from crazy people!” I’m not going to argue with you.
“You’re saying that TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews are basically the seedlings of organization-changing insight?! Did you see that some loon gave the Grand Canyon a one-star review and called it a really big hole in the ground?!” Yes, I saw that. Indeed, it was loony.
I have heard stories from clients that onsite feedback can be every bit as maddening. But some lunacy may be a small price to pay for the valuable insight that can come from listening to audiences and pausing for a moment to think critically about comments that catch your attention. This can also go too far in the other direction: sometimes organizations take one person’s feedback a bit too seriously. After all, a sample size of one person is not a significant sample. The aim here is to put on your own thinking cap and ask, “Should I learn more about this?”
Better understanding to better leverage insights
One reason why it is hard to spot these insights and move them up to strategic leadership is that identifying insights requires some assessment. Assessment takes time to pause and think critically – and this type of feedback is too often delivered to an already-overloaded staff member with several important and time-sensitive things to do. Examples include customer service representatives and social media managers.
Here are some items to keep in mind to encourage the identification of audience insights:
1) Social media is not about technology. It is about the engagement of real and potential supporters.
One of the main reasons why feedback that comes in over the web gets overlooked may be based on a misunderstanding that social media and digital engagement are more about technology than people. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Social media plays a critical role in driving visitation because there are real-life human beings behind the other end of the computer screens (most of the time).
This misunderstanding permeates many departments – and is unfortunate because most departments are touched by digital engagement. For instance, the crazy idea that donations made over the web are somehow less worthy of personal thanks than donations received via a mail solicitation is an important reason why donors stop giving to cultural organizations. Social media and digital engagement are tools for reaching and interacting with people. And cultural organizations are about engaging people.
This misunderstanding may be especially prevalent in those organizations that look to the marketing department when they get a negative review on TripAdvisor. “Increase our Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews,” may be one of the silliest things that someone can say to the marketing department because peer review sites highlight experience issues. They cannot largely be fixed with polite replies from marketing staff. And it’s because peer review sites highlight opportunities relating to the visitor experience that they can be a goldmine for valuable audience insight.
Peer review site ratings and social media comments: Like broccoli florets, it’s not always pleasant to take them in, but they sure can help you grow in the long term.
2) Customer service gripes are not only about operations. They are about experiences.
Similarly, customer service feedback can shine a light on weak spots. This is obvious, probably, but that doesn’t mean that developing a culture that takes the time to assess and discuss feedback is easy to cultivate. Far from it! Like social media managers, customer service representatives are often stretched thin and are too busy putting out fires to notice a particularly unique or interesting fuel source.
3) Assigning appropriate value to noting insights is a decision. But it is not necessarily a time consuming one.
It could be as simple as leaders asking to hear the three comments or reviews that a social media manger or customer service representative found interesting each week. It could mean empowering thoughtful employees to say, “Hey. This happened today. Could there be something here to explore?”
Generally, it means placing trust and value in the thoughtfulness of frontline staff and community managers – those people who make engagement work within cultural organizations. It means making sure that executive leadership remains connected to the things happening “on the floor” that may provide clues as to how to improve an organization’s public perceptions and visitor experience.
Early glimpses of audience insight are important because they are the basis of any next-level pursuit of insight or analysis. In order to collect market data, an organization benefits by understanding what it is trying to uncover with that data. An organization also benefits by understanding that the most effective surveys and data collection tools are not based primarily upon insider or organization assumptions.
Game-changing audience insight can come by way of the feedback that many cultural organizations have right under their noses. Frankly, that’s pretty darn cool. It means that cultural organizations can be audience insight detectives in our super-connected, data-driven world – and it’s easier than they might think.