Remote culture: staying relevant in the time of coronavirus

Author: Caspian Turner

Culture provides a means for escapism. Something everyone will be yearning for. It improves wellbeing. It will continue to connect us while we’re physically apart. 

It is not surprising that there have been huge increases in the amount of content people are streaming in their homes. 

On the first day of school closures in the UK, Monday 23 March, internet downstream traffic was up 90%. This includes loading websites and streaming, while upload traffic (such as uploading content or video-calling) was more than double that of recent weeks. This can be explained in part by the transition to home-working by all those who can.

Nielsen are estimating a 60% increase in the amount of content being watched by audiences in the US. Given that those surveyed are already dedicating 12 hours a day to some kind of media-related device, this is a monumental increase.

Stacked bar charts detailing media usage totalling 10.5 hours in Q3 2018 and nearly 12 hours in Q3 2019

Media connected consumers. Source: https://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/article/2020/staying-put-consumers-forced-indoors-during-crisis-spend-more-time-on-media/

Now more than ever there are an infinite number of things competing for our attention. With an estimated 1 in 5 of the world’s population in lockdown, theatre, gallery and museum doors  have been closed for around two weeks both in the UK and North America.

It seems that in an effort to keep audiences engaged a multitude of content has been uploaded, released and streamed online, a stage which is now being shared by all. Some have released back catalogues of performances. Some entire collections. 

How can you differentiate, stand out and compel audiences in a digital landscape?

Organisations may find themselves with time on their hands which could allow them to focus on the myriad of projects that are continually placed on the back-burner. Now is the time to bring those centre stage. 

What is your product?

If you are a receiving house, your building is at the core of your normal offer. However, there is a reason that audiences come to your venue, and the work you do can make this more than just the physical space. 

For some organisations this is the archivist’s time-to-shine. But it’s not, nor should it be, as simple as whacking the whole thing online and granting access to all. One reason for this, which undoubtedly many will have faced in the last fortnight, there are significant considerations around intellectual property and rights management.

Another is that while unrestricted access to entire collections may be useful for researchers and educators, there is a reason that curators exist! Using your archive to tell a story and create a narrative is one way in which you can continue to engage audiences. This should be a planned, considered, cross-departmental effort. 

We operate in the experience economy. People are at the core of everything we do. We will not be able to recreate the same at-the-venue experience during the lockdown. Instead we have been propelled into a situation which forces the need to adapt, respond and mature digitally.

Arts and Cultural Organisations have been dabbling with digital for years but until now efforts have been focussed on getting people to the venue or showing what’s happening at the venue. To stay relevant, and keep reaching your audiences, this must change.

Communications

While the core product of any cultural institution is the work they put on stage, in their galleries and exhibition spaces, organisations have been increasingly needing to find alternative revenue streams to support their artistic mission.

These come in the form of membership schemes, shops, bars and restaurants. The transformative power of the arts is not something that we can lose and these areas of secondary spend offer a way to support the organisations in our industry while in isolation. 

At the start of this post I mentioned escapism offered by cultural events and while confined in our homes there are still ways to ensure the doors reopen once we are the other side of this pandemic. Selling gift vouchers for those who want to give the gift of experiencing a live event.

Memberships and donations are ways that those who are able to, can keep supporting while the doors are closed. And at a time when there is no other way to lay hands on your merchandise, selling items or vouchers from your online shop. With considered marketing these could prove critical revenue opportunities during closure.

Organisations have had differing responses to cancelling performances with some announcing cancellations up until April thru September. If you are still managing the onslaught of cancellations, ensure that you have spoken to your CRM partner.

Tessitura, Spektrix and Ticketsolve have all developed features in attempt to reduce the work involved in cancelling events, make it easier to convert tickets to donations, extend memberships and refund to on-account credits. Each have collated a number of resources to assist during the covid-19 crisis:

Spektrix: covid-19 documentation

Tessitura Network: covid-19 resources for Arts & Culture

Ticketsolve: ticket exchange tool

Next, if you haven’t already addressed your pre and post-show emails, the fastest thing to do would be to pause or cancel the schedule until we have more certainty. However, if you are still working through cancellations you could repurpose those emails. 

For those that were due to attend you can use the reminder email to do the following

  • acknowledge that the ticket holders were due to attend and let them know about other ways that they can engage with your organisation 
  • ask audiences to convert their tickets to a donation  
  • be specific, let audiences know about your organisation’s dependency on ticket income and how many tickets have been cancelled

Above all, be aware and considerate. We are in a pandemic. People are losing their lives. Everyone is experiencing some form of displacement and uncertainty. We will remember how organisations responded during this crisis.

Communications strategy

You will probably have one, but this may be one of the few times your crisis communications plan has been executed. It likely needs updating. 

We don’t know how long this situation will last. Some have been advised to stay inside for 12 weeks and it’s looking increasingly likely that might be extended. As a cultural organisation your communication strategy would normally be focussed around getting people to physically attend an event or to buy tickets. 

Quality, not quantity

The age old. Some organisations have resorted to sending daily emails since closure. Indiscriminately emailing your entire database daily, without fresh content is a quickfire way to disengage your audience. 

Conduct a content audit

How often do you have the opportunity to review your content and evaluate how well it meets your audience’s needs and expectations? If the aftermath of cancellation is starting to calm, this is a prime opportunity to review your content.

When reviewing your content, you can also assess its relevance, accessibility and ensure it is optimised for search. If content lacks purpose, it is meaningless.

A content audit is not a small undertaking so it is important to manage in a structured manner.

Take stock

Establish the scope. Are you reviewing one section of your website or the whole thing? If you are focussing on a small section of your website, you can create a spreadsheet manually. This should include columns such as:

  • URL
  • Page title
  • Owner: who is responsible for this content
  • Page type: blog post, event page, landing page
  • Content type: evergreen, out-of-date
  • Page status: keep, amend, delete

If you are assessing a large number of pages, there are plenty of free and paid web crawlers, such as Screaming Frog or Sitebulb,  that will assist you in gathering this data far more quickly.

They will often include a number of additional page attributes which are useful for evaluating your contents accessibility and structure. 

Evaluate

How do you measure success? There are qualitative and quantitative measures to assess as part of your audit. The purpose and page type will determine how you measure the success of your content and these measures will relate to engagement, conversion or retention. 

Google Analytics is crucial in helping to establish the pages are working well and those that are not. In addition to this tools such as web.dev and Siteimprove will audit and identify accessibility issues with your site and content. 

Updates and content planning

Maintaining the results of your audit within the spreadsheet collated at the start of this process, you can remove outdated content and make informed decisions on rewriting content, prioritising areas that will make the most impact.

When updating content, consider the accessibility, search engine optimisation and frequency at which the content should be reviewed in future.

You may have content that requires rewriting, that can be reused, rejuvenated through updated assets such as videos and links, or optimised through updated metadata.

If you do plan to remove content, be sure to update any links and put redirects in place to avoid ‘page not found’ errors. Finally, once the content has been updated inform Google in search console by submitting those pages to be reindexed.

What next?

We live in uncertain times. We don’t know how long this will last but it will undoubtedly have an irreversible impact on all of our lives.

We must take advantage of the tools available to us to create, distribute, share and interact with arts and culture. While we are in crisis and turbulent times we also have an opportunity to reflect, adapt and improve.

If you have any questions about making better use of digital or improvements that could be made during the times of closure. Get in touch by emailing team@substrakt.com