COVID-19 has affected nearly every aspect of cultural organization engagement in 2020. Here’s a data round-up of six key areas impacted by the pandemic.
Gratitude has the spotlight this week. And I don’t know about you, but I am glad that it does, even though Thanksgiving and Native American Heritage Day look rather different this year. We’re all trying to find creative ways to connect with loved ones in the midst of a global pandemic that has infected over 12.5 million people worldwide and caused over 258,000 deaths in the United States alone.
Needless to say, it’s a year we’ll remember…
On that note, we’d like to take this opportunity to reflect upon six key areas in cultural organization engagement impacted by the pandemic. We are conducting ongoing research on these trends, and share much of the analysis for free on this site in order to arm the passionate, thoughtful, and dedicated leaders shaping the sector with high-confidence information. This article is a chance to reflect on some things we’ve learned thus far and to highlight select items are watching as we close out 2020.
There’s a lot more data where this comes from. Put on those special slippers and pour yourself a cup of coffee in your favorite mug. Let’s nerd out!
1) Market potential and redistribution of demand
Let’s start with the bad news: Attendance is – and is projected to remain – notably depressed in 2020. (Just call me Captain Obvious for that one, folks.) But the more deflating news is that attendance is not currently projected to recover to 2019 levels in 2021. Building market potential back up is likely to take at least another year. At IMPACTS Experience, we are monitoring market potential for different organization types in different regions, and we plan to publish updated national market potential in early 2020.
Though national market potential, on the whole, is lower than previous years, we saw demand was also redistributed among organization types this year as people were (and still are) more likely to attend entities that more easily allow for social distancing and freedom of movement. For instance, we saw demand increase for zoos, parks, and gardens (outdoors) at the expense of theaters and science centers (indoors and associated with touching objects).
2) Safety precautions (including masks)
That’s a relevant segue to exploring what does make people feel safe. We tracked this throughout the year as well. After all, the coronavirus concerns are the top reason why people with interest are not visiting cultural right now (that are open).
The data reflects the story of our national reaction to the virus. At first, mandatory mask requirements did not make the list at all. Over time, mandatory mask requirements became the most important safety factor for cultural organization attendees – and this was found to be the case across the United States. We even tracked how safety precautions may differ for members and subscribers.
3) Digital engagement
All that hullabaloo you hear about seemingly everyone watching “The Queen’s Gambit”? You’re not making it up. People are spending more time at home, and are thus spending more time on digital devices and watching television in all its myriad of live broadcast, on-demand, and streaming forms. Potential visitors to cultural organizations spend even more time online than the average American, to boot!
Web and social media engagement were already critical to success before the pandemic. The organizations that had already invested in this strategy seem to be faring better than those that are having an “oh shoot” moment as they run to the table now. They may have already understood the important role social media plays in motivating attendance, elevating reputation, and even heightening the onsite experience.
4) Being even more credible sources of information
Cultural entities generally rose to the digital-engagement occasion, so to speak. The belief that cultural entities are credible sources of information increased even while many entities were closed, and that heightened belief continued to rise through the third quarter of 2020. The belief that museums should recommend behaviors to support their missions has increased as well. In this way, cultural organizations may be redefining themselves as more than walls, and as servants for the communities outside of them.
The task before many organizations – and particularly performing arts organizations – may be how to survive financially or evolve offerings in order to secure revenue.
5) Members and subscribers
Many smart cultural organizations are paying extra attention to their members right now.
Members were already growing in importance prior to the pandemic in terms of their contribution to sustainable strategies for cultural entities. Why? Because they are a group of self-identified fans who tend to have better onsite experiences, care about our missions, come back more often, and because we know who they are and can efficiently target and survey them. They are our superfans, in a sense, and most organizations literally know where they live.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve been tracking these audiences during the pandemic and there are exciting trends emerging that we’ve been sharing during keynotes and workshops. Spoiler alert: Members are an important audience right now.
Wallets are tighter than ever for most organizations, and members are a low-hanging-fruit audience with a payoff. As is the case with digital engagement, it is those organizations that put effort into cultivating a strong membership base prior to the pandemic that may particularly reap those rewards right now.
6) Welcoming perceptions and engaging new audiences
Welcome to the forefront, topics related to diversity, equity, and inclusion! We’re glad you’re here. Particularly because cultural organization attendance is not fully representative of our communities and there’s work to be done.
We’re paying special attention to who is visiting cultural organizations during the pandemic and the reasons some people do not have an interest in visiting at all. If you’ve seen one of my keynotes or taken part in a workshop with us since October, then you know the conditions surrounding the coronavirus are changing up who is coming in cultural organizations’ doors. Generally, the current preference for day trips over longer trips is activating more local and regional audiences, and that data is exciting!
This year has brought about more open conversations surrounding these topics, and we’re grateful for that. Even before the pandemic and the uprising against racial injustice that we are experiencing, cultural entities were not engaging new audiences fast enough to maintain attendance over time.
To staff members and leaders of cultural organizations that are facing another round of closures – and those entities that have been unable to open their doors at all: We see you and we feel you.
We are grateful for you. (Yes, you.) Whether you’re a volunteer greeter welcoming people with a smile or the chair of the Board of Directors, you are leaders who educate and inspire our communities, who facilitate our meaningful memories with loved ones, and whose work makes our lives richer and our cities and nation stronger.
Thank you for your work, your dedication, and your passion.
You make all of us better.
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