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An ArtsProfessional feature in partnership with AMACultureHive

With all the reliance on digital technology over the past decade, are arts organisations as digitally mature as they should be, asks Hannah Mason.

Photo of woman wearing headset
AMA Digital Marketing Day 2017

Eleanor Howarth

Digital technology has changed not only how we consume the arts but how arts organisations engage with audiences. In the near future the term ‘digital’ may seem outdated as we integrate technology into our everyday working lives. When we have matured digitally we will no longer need to separate our organisations into those that do digital and those that don’t do it.

Being digitally mature is not about the numbers of visitors your website has or the likes and retweets from your social media

According to the recent DCMS publication Culture is Digital, 80% of adults use the internet daily and within the next 20 years 90% of jobs will require digital literacy. The journey towards that future raises many exciting opportunities to reimagine how we communicate and share our creativity. Equally, it raises questions around where to start.

The report highlights the potential for UK arts to reach further and challenges us to keep up with technological innovation, a challenge that can leave some arts organisations feeling left behind.

Back to basics

So, let’s start with the basics. What is digital? Digital is a process by which something takes place or happens. It is a way of doing things. It is not simply attributed to a specific thing such as social media or a website. Digital processes enhance the way you do business, enable you to build relationships with your audiences and use data to understand behaviour and expectations. This can all improve your communication methods.

“The UK’s future will be built at the nexus of our artistic and cultural creativity and our technical brilliance,” says Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

No one is suggesting that arts organisations need to suddenly become technically brilliant, but we do need to have a better understanding of the field to gauge how it impacts our day-to-day work. There are the challenges around funding, resources and a lack of skills, which make some organisations shy away from creating forward-thinking digital strategies. Competing priorities make finding the time and space to devote to digital research and development even more challenging. Allocating resources to R&D mitigates the struggle to manage skills development and finding new people with the skillsets you need.

Collective intelligence

In 2013, AMA created CultureHive with support from Arts Council England (ACE). The cultural sector holds phenomenal marketing expertise and audience development knowledge, so with ACE we wanted to unlock and share this resource of collective intelligence. We saw CultureHive as the catalyst for this work, stimulating new mindsets and supporting arts marketers to break out from the established ways of doing things and trial new ways of working.

Five years ago, CultureHive responded to ACE and Sir Peter Bazalgette’s call-out to create space for experimental ways of working by developing the Digital Marketing Academy (now called Digital Lab). The programme provided the opportunity for people to have access to affordable knowledge and was designed as a platform for a test-and-learn mindset. It features a process of experiment, reflection and adaptation and fellows share their successes and failures to build on each other’s learning.

As a result of this and other learning and development initiatives, the report shows that our digital marketing skills are at the highest level at 69%, but that our skills in analysis, data management and innovation still need improvement. To quote the report: “Research and our consultation has shown that organisations are more likely to experience benefits from digital technologies if they are digitally mature.”

Digital maturity

Digital maturity happens when digital is embedded across an organisation and runs through every part of the business. The whole organisation must have a good level of digital literacy. Maturity levels are measured by examining attitudes to technology, fundraising, training, recruitment, data capture and management, through to innovation and insight.

Being digitally mature is not about the numbers of visitors your website has or the likes and retweets from your social media. It is an insight into who is signing up to your services, what information is downloaded or how many visitors convert to attending your events. Which ones will go on to become your advocates? The capacity for analysing audience behaviour transforms your ability to respond to need. Developing your customer relationship management (CRM) is an essential element in these analytical processes.

The use of digital technology helps organisations expand their marketing from being static information about an event or selling a ticket to creating reciprocal long-lasting relationships with their audiences. For example, user-generated content and the sharing of collections can start a dialogue with those audiences that you find harder to reach.

Change management

As with any change management project, embedding digital throughout your organisation will take time and resources. The questions are how long and how much.

A good place to start is to look at what is already there. Using a digital maturity matrix tool can help you assess where you are and where you want to be in your ideal digital future. There are some excellent tools such as the Art Fund: Culture sector Digital Maturity Model or the Breast Cancer Care: Digital Maturity Matrix.

The next step is peer-to-peer support – sharing our trials and triumphs with each other while we develop best practice strategies across the sector.

AMA CultureHive remains committed to providing a platform for people to have access to develop the skills they need to enhance and transform their organisations. The key to our digital evolution is sharing knowledge. The site holds over 1,600 resources, comprising toolkits, guides and case studies, generated from over 950 contributors across the sector.

It is a free resource designed to encourage innovation and creative thinking. This is backed up with a constantly evolving training programme, which further supports the learning and development in leadership, fundraising and digital marketing. Most importantly, it provides a network of people who can support each other in the evolution of the cultural sector.

Hannah Mason is Associate Editor of CultureHive.

AMACultureHive is a free online resource library for the cultural sector managed by the Arts Marketing Association (AMA) — a community supporting professionals by driving practice forward and sharing knowledge. AMA CultureHive is supported using public funding by Arts Council England.

The Digital Lab transforms your digital practice through intensive mentoring, workshops and peer support – all taking place online. 

This article, sponsored and contributed by AMACultureHive, is the first in a series sharing resources and learning from the online library for the sector.

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Photo of Hannah Mason