Here’s how engagement with cultural organizations has changed since 2019.
It’s safe to say that life was a lot different for most of us before the pandemic. Many of us left our homes to work in an office, travel to client engagements, meet up with friends, or attend concerts. Now, we’ve moved these things online to stay safe.
As it turns out, we may have moved “visiting a museum or performing arts organization” online as well.
At least in some respects.
Nearly all cultural entities have closed their doors at some point since the start of the pandemic – and some have been forced to remain closed for over a year. To adjust for the extra time spent at home and online in 2020, many institutions made an active effort to up their digital engagement game. Museums adjusted by not only paying extra attention to social media posts but also by offering virtual tours, curator talks, and digital resources for parents during in-person school closures. Some even ventured into the realm of paid digital programming to diversify revenues and start building more sustainable long-term futures in a pandemic-impacted world.
It was a smart move. People are spending more time online. According to an ongoing Media Consumption Study of US adults by IMPACTS Experience (sample size 5,116), people spent 81 more minutes per day on digital platforms alone in 2020 than they did in 2019. (The number of total minutes per day spent on television – including streaming services like Hulu and Netflix – increased by an impressive 177 minutes.)
The scene was set for theoretical success: People were spending more time online and many cultural entities were spending more energy engaging them in that realm.
Did a higher percentage of people actually spend time engaging with cultural organizations online in 2020 than in 2019?
The research below comes from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study by IMPACTS Experience and collectively contemplates 9,884 adult respondents. The selection set supported multiple choices – respondents could select multiple activities. The research indicates the percentage of people who carried out these behaviors specifically in regard to a cultural organization. The blue bar contemplates responses in 2019 and the orange bar contemplates responses in 2020, when the pandemic struck and institutions began to experience closures and attendance limitations.
The key finding is an interesting one! More people engaged with cultural organizations online during the pandemic than they did the year before, when organizations were actively welcoming guests without a deadly health interruption.
Consider some of the findings as they relate to digital engagement:
- There was a 15% increase in the percentage of people who visited a cultural organization’s website.
- There was a 33% increase in people following an organization on social media.
- There was a 24% increase in people liking an organization’s social media post.
- There was a 58% increase in the percentage of people opening an email from a cultural organization.
On the whole, it seems the increased digital presence of many cultural institutions may have succeeded in meeting audiences where they are. During the pandemic especially, they are online.
The areas in which there were notable decreases in percent US participation may be unsurprising. Namely, there was a 39% decline in the percentage of people in the US who report having visited a cultural institution. After all, many entities experienced closures or were operating with limited capacity restraints in the midst of a global pandemic. We’re also unsurprised that the percentage of people who noticed an online ad for a cultural entity decreased in 2020, as many entities struggled with how to approach marketing investments and ad spending during times of closure.
These increased percentages represent good news for organizations making the appropriate investments in digital engagement today.
Remember: Museums, zoos, aquariums, and other cultural institutions don’t get to decide if someone visiting their website has a positive experience during the process – the online visitor does. Just because somebody visits an organization’s website (to check on a reopening date or safety protocols, for instance) doesn’t mean that they necessarily found the information or engaging content they were seeking. The organizations driving the percent increase in post likes and social media followers during this time are likely to be those which were especially thoughtful in regard to their digital communication strategies and interactions.
People are spending more time online – and more people are spending time engaging with cultural organizations online as well.
Much of the museum market research that we’re tracking and sharing with our partners suggests the pandemic has altered expectations surrounding cultural institutions. Many entities have proven – perhaps as a result of increased digital efforts – that they are assets to their communities well beyond their physical walls. On the other side of things, we’re also seeing an increase in questions from entities wondering if they “can finally scale it back now” in regard to their digital efforts…particularly in light of expanding vaccination rollouts.
Our word of advice is to consider that some entities may have elevated their perceived ongoing relevance through digital engagement during the pandemic. They may have contributed to a “new normal” in which museums are perceived as even more trusted, accessible, educational, and welcoming. To “finally scale it back now” to the conditions of a pre-pandemic world that no longer exists may miss the opportunity afforded to us by this unfortunate global crisis: To learn and evolve alongside our audiences.
Museums have also been given a hint as to how to prepare for the future. The increase in digital activity has sparked important conversations about online revenue sources and new programs, how entities solidify the visitation decision, ideas for sustainable business practices, and the location-(in)dependency of mission execution and philanthropic opportunities.
People are online during the pandemic.
And they are engaging with cultural entities online during the pandemic, too.
IMPACTS Experience provides data specific to organizations or markets through workshops, keynote presentations, webinars, and data services such as pricing recommendations, market potential analyses, concept testing, and Awareness, Attitude, and Usage studies. Learn more.
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