Likely visitors to cultural entities are spending more time online during the pandemic. Here’s how much more time – and why it matters.
Needless to say, the pandemic has changed up a lot of things in our personal and professional lives. Many are still working from home as the US hits an all-time high in coronavirus case counts, and trying to figure out how to navigate the upcoming holidays while keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe. Not only is the coronavirus gripping our nation, but we just had a major presidential election that further revealed the ideological divisions in our country. We’re facing fires and hurricanes and – just as I am typing this from my home in downtown Chicago – I am receiving notifications of a tornado watch.
In cultural organizations, fewer people are coming in the doors in 2020 than visited us in 2019 as coronavirus and safety concerns take center stage. In fact, attendance to cultural institutions is currently not likely to recover until at least 2022.
As we’ve all been saying for months now: There’s a new normal. And in many ways, we’re all still trying to figure out what that looks like as conditions continue to evolve. Many cultural institutions have recognized the urgent need to step up their digital engagement game during this time. Though these institutions may be unable to educate and inspire audiences within their doors, they are nonetheless determined to carry out their missions on the web. This effort is likely a primary reason why the belief that museums are highly credible sources of information increased during the pandemic.
People are spending more time on digital platforms than they did prior to the pandemic. You may have suspected this simply based upon your own experiences! But how much more time are people spending online across the United States? And, in particular, how much more time are people who profile as likely visitors to cultural organizations spending online?
The preference to stay home has increased.
Let’s start here. Perhaps the biggest reason we’ve seen an increase in time spent on digital platforms is that more people are staying home. There’s a global pandemic, and there is widespread messaging that the safest place for people to be is in their homes.
This isn’t entirely new: this preference has been growing for the last decade, though we’ve observed a recent uptick in the preference to stay home over the weekend during the pandemic. Even before the pandemic, one of the fastest-growing competitors for cultural experiences was the couch and the remote control. You weren’t imaging it in 2019: People really were more frequently preferring to stay in to binge-watch “Stranger Things.”
The data above is from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study. The preference to stay home increased by 41.6% for the US composite market. More alarming, however, is that it has increased by 56.3% among high-propensity visitors. A high-propensity visitor is a person who has the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral characteristics that tend to indicate an increased likelihood of attending a cultural organization. These are the kinds of people who actually go – or who actually want to go – to cultural entities.
Not only have people in the United States on the whole increasingly preferred to stay home over the last ten years, but our target audiences have as well. With the pandemic upon us, these numbers have increased.
People in the United States are spending more time online during the pandemic.
And what are these people doing at home? Well, with in-person gatherings at a low, research reveals that they are spending more time online and watching television. A lot more time.
The data below quantifies the share of media consumption for nearly 8,100 US adults as measured at the end of the year 2019, and March 15th (two days after the emergency declaration around the pandemic), May, July, and October 1, 2020 (the end of the third quarter of 2020 and the start of the fourth).
For those unfamiliar with media consumption studies, it helps to think of these categories as physical devices. “Digital” includes time spent on a computer or mobile device, and “TV” includes time spent watching an actual television. If Netflix is watched on a TV, it’s in the TV category. If it’s watched on a computer, it’s in the “digital” category. Social media, web, and mobile web all fall into that “digital” category. Also, media engagement is non-exclusive. These types of studies recognize that people often do two things at once, like scrolling through a smartphone while watching TV. In these instances, both activities count equally in terms of the analysis. For example, if someone spends ten minutes checking Instagram while “Tiger King” is playing on the television, those minutes count in both the digital and TV categories.
As of October 1, people in the United States were spending nearly eight hours each day online on average. That is a big increase from the 6.45 hours people spent online prior to the pandemic. But consider that perhaps 6.45 hours online is a lot of time online as well! It’s no wonder that digital engagement is so important right now – and also that it was so important prior to the pandemic as well.
You may be wondering what’s up with the numbers moving around a bit. Most notably, digital and TV increased during the beginning of the pandemic when people were encouraged to stay home and many businesses were shut down. However, the dip observed in July 2020 takes place every year, pandemic or not. It’s due to seasonality. During the summertime, people are simply more likely to be outside and away from their televisions and computers. And indeed, these numbers may increase even more in the winter months ahead of us. The spike in October for television is due to the return of popular sports such as football and new seasonal programming.
Likely visitors spend even more time on digital platforms than average Americans.
What happens when we cut this data for high-propensity visitors – those folks who have a general interest in attending cultural organizations?
The chart below is from the same media consumption study, but the research is cut for likely visitors. It contemplates 3,763 US adults who profile as high-propensity visitors in the United States, including 979 persons during the Q3 2020 assessment period.
Likely visitors to cultural organizations spend even more time online during the pandemic! While the average American spends 7.8 hours engaging with digital platforms each day, likely visitors spend 8.1 hours. (They also spend notably less time watching TV, on average.)
While digital engagement is important on the whole given the amount of time that people are spending online nowadays, it is especially important for reaching likely visitors to cultural organizations.
Digital engagement strategies are critical now – and likely long into the future.
In reality, digital engagement strategies have been critical for the success of cultural entities for several years now. The importance of digital engagement among likely visitors to cultural organizations has been increasing since long before the arrival of the coronavirus. The web, mobile web, and social media are primary sources of information for likely visitors. And inactive visitors – people with interest in attending cultural entities but who do not attend – are even more connected to the web than current visitors.
From here, it looks as though the power of these tools may only continue to grow. They are critical for increasing reputation and motivating attendance, to say the least. Working from home is the new norm for some for the foreseeable future, and people are finding new ways to connect and engage with not only other people but also with causes and organizations that matter to them. Parents are tasked with educating from the kitchen table or seeking ways to keep kids entertained. And as the weather changes across the US and many are forced inside, we may see the need for digital programs and digital connections continue to increase.
At IMPACTS Experience, we encourage organizations to “meet people where they are.” Today, they are online. While we may wish more of them were coming in our doors right now, consider that connecting with us online isn’t a terrible place for them to be!
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