A Review of Arts Organizations and Digital Technologies

At the start of 2013, Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project released the report Arts Organizations and Digital Technologies. The introduction of the report describes the survey:

The Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project (PIP) designed this survey to understand how arts organizations are using the internet, social media, and other digital technologies to connect with the public.
...Individuals from 3,644 arts organizations who had received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in the past five years were invited to take the survey; 1,244 completed at least part of the survey...
...Some 1,244 arts organizations that have received funds from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) between 2006 and 2011 participated in an online survey by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project. The online survey was conducted from May 30 to July 20, 2012 among a diverse sample including respondents from visual arts, music, theater, dance, literature, photography, and media arts. The largest representations of organizations in the survey are performing arts group and arts service organizations.

The survey respondents span a wide variety of arts and cultural organizations. It should be obvious that organizations with different areas of emphasis will differ in how they integrate use of the Internet with their organization's mission.

The report is divided into the following sections:

  • Introduction: Evaluating the Arts in America
  • Organizational Technology Use
  • Website Use
  • Social Media Use
  • Technology and Organizational Function
  • Overall Impact of Technology on the Arts

Much of the survey is largely irrelevant to artists who are working to market themselves and their art to galleries, museums, and collectors. But while there is a world of difference between an art museum and an artist, there are insights that an artist can acquire by going through this study. The two sections that caught my eye were those on websites and social media - I wanted to see how arts organizations use the internet and if there was information that could be useful to me in terms of a) how I use the Internet to promote my art, and b) to data mine the report for information that I could incorporate into my presentation/class on Building an Online Presence: The Internet for Artists and Photographers. (My next two scheduled offerings of this class are at Musecon (August 2-4 2013 at Westin Chicago Northwest, Itasca IL, and as a class for the Barrington Area Arts Council on September 21 2013.)

On the positive side, 81% of the organizations in this survey say the internet and digital technologies are “very important” for promoting the arts. Similarly, 78% say these technologies are “very important” for increasing audience engagement.

Section 3: WebSite Use

Artists, like everyone, face the challenge of how to allocate our time. Time spent working on our website is time not spent creating art. For 68% of the organizations in this survey, paid staff members are responsible for maintaining their website. Another 23% rely on paid contractors and 9% depend on volunteers. help. Of the organizations using paid staff, only 36% use a staff member whose primary responsibility is website management. The report points out the obvious when it says that organizational budgets affect this number: 44% of arts organizations with annual budgets of $1 million or more have staff dedicated to website management. Quoting the report "only among the largest organizations — those with budgets of $10 million or more — do a majority report devoting a specific staff member to these tasks."

Following is how the organizations responded to the section on What arts organizations do with their websites

94Post photosFor artists, it's a given that we are posting photos of our art on our website, right?
90Allow visitors to share contentThere are a number of services that allow you to add social media icons to your web pages in order to make it easy for visitors to share (ie market) your content. For example, at the bottom of this page is a selection of social media sharing icons provided by addthis.com.
86Accept online donationsNot really relevant for artists.
81Allow users to post public commentsFor a website this is only feasible if you are using a content management system, like Wordpress, to host your website. This is becoming an increasingly popular option.
81Post or stream videoAn excellent way to add another dimension to the way you interact with your collectors and site visitors.
74Maintain an events calendarVery useful if you are consistently and regularly having public events.
72Sell event tickets onlineNot really relevant for artists.
57Post or stream audioPodcasts are a low-bandwidth alternative to video. They are also easier to produce.
50Maintain a blogThis is really a disappointing number. There is absolutely no reason for an organization with a website to not have an integrated blog. I am a one-man operation and yet I have integrated a blog with my website.
47Sell products or merchandise online.One important benefit of being online is the ability it provides to greatly increase the visibility of your art and consequently your ability to sell your artistic creations.
38Administer online grant applicationsNot relevant for artists.
35Use location-based servicesExamples of this are Yelp or Foursquare. Only useful if you have a physical location that is open to the public.
34Make information available through RSS feedsI am somewhat surprised at this. Perhaps the person answering the survey was non-technical and did not know what RSS is. Blogging software automatically produces an RSS feed (50% said they have blogs). While Wordpress takes care of the RSS feed for my blog, I have to manually create the RSS feed for my website - which is really just an XML file. You can examine my RSS file for yourself: Artsnova Web Site RSS XML file
31Offer discounts through online servicesAn example of this is using a service such as Groupon.
28Host discussion groupsThink forums. Consider DeviantART. I would describe that website's two principle content features as hosting artist and photographer portfolios and hosting discussion groups. Groups are a great way to build a community. While I am active in a number of groups/forums, I have never considered hosting one on my own site. Instead I take advantage of the services offered by Facebook, Google, and Linkedin to create groups there.
27Post podcastsThis question seems redundant as it is covered by the previous audio question
22Host webinarsThe technological barriers to hosting webinars have been dramatically lowered over the years. For the artist, the challenge is in identifying an appropriate topic for a webinar.
20Present online exhibitsI'm surprised that so few arts organizations answered 'yes' to this question. As an artist, my website is one big online exhibit of my art.

Section 4: Social Media Use

The use of social media is the principle means by which artists are able to market and promote their websites online. It's no surprise that 97% of the organizations responding to this survey said that they have a profile or page on a social media site. In fact a majority of arts organizations that use social media — 56% — have a presence on between four and nine social media sites with 10% saying that they have a presence on 10 or more platforms! In addition to the organization's accounts, 69% of these organizations said that individual employees have professional social media profiles that they use in their capacity as a representative of their employer.

Based on the survey, the top ten social media platforms that arts organizations use are:

  1. Facebook (99%)
  2. Twitter (74%)
  3. YouTube (67%)
  4. Flickr (38%)
  5. Linkedin (31%)
  6. Wikipedia (27%)
  7. Vimeo (23%)
  8. Foursquare (20%)
  9. Yelp (19%)
  10. Google+ (17%)

In my own case, the social media platforms that I most regularly use, in order of frequency, are Linkedin, Google+, Facebook, and Twitter. While Facebook is clearly the most popular platform, my use of Facebook is highly erratic. In fact I may go weeks without logging in. That is simply a consequence of decisions I have made as to how best to allocate my time. My heavy use of Linkedin is driven, in part, by the number of groups that I manage there.

Note that I only started using Google+ at the beginning of 2013. This came as a consequence of two actions. The first was Facebook's decision to go with promoted posts wherein I have to pay if I want my page posts to be sent to everyone who has liked my page. Previously 100% post distribution at no cost was the default — now you must pay for that. The second action was the addition to Google+ of communities (groups) at the end of 2012. I find Google+ communities to be more discussion-friendly than Facebook pages or groups.

Arts organizations that reported using social media were then asked about the frequency of their posts. 45% said they posted to social media sites daily, 28% posted several times a week, 25% posted several times a day, and 16% posted once a week. You can read about my own posting history in the following blog post: My Art Blog Posting History.

How do these arts organizations go about maintaining their social media presences? 76% indicated that they have full-time paid staff maintaining their social media accounts while 29% rely on part-timers, 16% use volunteers, 13% use a combination of full-time and part-time staff, and 8% use paid contractors.

So what are these arts organizations doing with the social media presence? How are they using their social networking accounts? According to the survey:

  • 82% - engage with audience members either prior to, during, or following an event.
  • 77% - monitor what people are saying about their organization
  • 65% - learn more about their audience, patrons, or stakeholders
  • 52% - to get feedback from the public or "crowdsource" and idea.

Given the time and energy these arts organizations expend on their social media presences, how do they rate their effectiveness. One question dealt with the organization's perceived impact of their social media activities on the organization itself: 56% said it had a major impact on boosting their organization's public profile and 53% said its had a major impact on their engagement with the public. In terms of increasing traffic to their website, only 48% said social media had a major impact. For my part, a key objective of my use of social media is to increase traffic to my website.

Many artists focus on using social media as a way to increase their art sales. For those artists who do, there are some discouraging numbers in response to a question regarding income generation. Specifically, only 11% said that social media activities had a major impact on product sales and only 13% said it had a major impact on fund raising activities.

On the positive side, following are some statements made by respondents on how their organization has benefited from the use of social media:

  • Social media has helped us define our brand more clearly.
  • Social media gives us an opportunity to have a more casual interaction with our fans.
  • Social media deepens our relationships.
  • Social media has given us the marketing agility we've long required to communicate with audiences.
  • We find that social media builds community around museum content. It allows the audience to engage one another...
  • Serves as a testing ground for interest in potential content.
  • Social media has also connected us more to businesses and orgs in the local community.
  • Several times our organization has made social media special ticket offers that have resulted in increased attendance at performances.

In a section on the negatives of having a social media presence, the following observations were made.

* Social media taking up too much staff time, when there is more important work to do
This is an aspect of social media that affects everyone who is using it for business purposes. In short there is an opportunity cost for everything. If I am going to spend half an hour promoting myself on social media, that is half an hour not spent working on my art or my website or my ....

* Self-serving posts on Facebook where artists are using the organization's profile to promote their own work or different events
Artists take note. When you are posting on social media sites, make sure that your comments are on-topic and of value to others.

* Spam cluttering up Facebook or Twitter pages
Yes this is a price to be paid for using platforms where people, even spammers, are free to add their own two cents.

* Spam comments on website or blog
Not on my blog as I have comment moderation turned "on". But there is the fact that I do have to spend time to sort through the submitted comments. For more on the topic of spam comments, see my blog posts:

* Accounts being hacked
Fortunately I have never had any of my accounts hacked. Making sure your computer is free of malicious software that could eavesdrop on your sessions and using long, randomly generated passwords definitely helps.

There you have both the positives and negatives. With respect to arts organizations and their use of social media, the bottom line can be seen in their response to the survey question of is social media worth the time spent on it — 58% rated this statement as very true and 33% rated it as somewhat true. Only 2% said it was not true at all.

Closing Thoughts

The art organizations that took part in this Pew survey use social media differently than I but the ways in which websites are used are not all that different - with the principle difference being that of the scope of operations.

I use my Artsnova website for two main reasons. First to promote my art and second to write about subjects in which I have a strong interest. I find writing to be a wonderful way of organizing and focusing my thoughts on a subject. And I do enjoy sharing what I've learned with others. In fact my writings have provided a significant boost to the volume of traffic my website receives.

There are many artists who use the internet differently than I. Ideally every artist has looked at their own unique situation and has tailored their use of the Internet to best serve their needs. So while my approach works for me, there are those for whom my methods are not optimal.

In closing, the Internet is an ever-changing landscape and any artist who is serious about using the Internet as a business tool needs to continually be on the lookout for new ideas, new tools, and evaluations of what works and what doesn't. I hope this review has provided some food for thought and would encourage those seeking more information on this subject to download the full Pew report using the link provided below.

Reference Links