Social media and the arts

I am a self-confessed social media addict. The very first thing I do every morning is check my Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram, looking to see what I missed out on in the past few hours, checking to see what’s going on. This routine is also the last thing I do at night, and something I do throughout the day probably more times than I would care to admit.

For all its downsides, (it’s made master procrastinators out of us all), social media has changed the way we communicate, and changed the face of marketing, allowing companies to reach ever greater audiences. It’s where I find out my news, where I find out about events that are going on in London, and where I like or follow the pages of my favourite theatres, museums and galleries to find out about their latest productions and exhibitions. Put simply, social media is where I find the majority of my information about what’s going on around me.

So I was pretty dumbstruck when I read that the ‘2014 Digital Culture survey reported that 51 per cent of arts and culture organisations said that digital technologies were important or essential to their business models’. This meant that 49% of organisations had not thought that digital technologies were important for their business model. In 2014!

I decided to test my assumptions about the importance of such technologies for arts and cultural organisations with data from the Nielsen tracker, a survey of around 2000 people, being conducted twice each year since 2014 and commissioned by King’s College London. The data justified my surprise. It found that 39% of the population say that they use social media several times per day. The young are overall, much more frequent users, with the figure leaping to 60% when we consider just those aged 16-29, which stands in comparison to only 20% of those aged 55 and over accessing social media several times per day. Large numbers of us are using social media an awful lot, and it is an important channel for reaching the younger generation in particular.

There are disparities between what different age groups use social media for, but evidence enough to suggest that social media can act as an important marketing tool for arts and cultural organisations. For example, 21% of those aged 16-29 say they use social media to get information about arts events in particular, but this is compared to just 13% of those aged 55 and over. So, in addition to frequenting social media platforms in high numbers, we are also using it not just to chat, and share content, but to find out what is going on and to find information about arts events.

The data also shows that those who are frequent social media users are more likely to regularly attend live arts and cultural events. Those who are less frequent users of social media are also less frequent attendees at live arts events. This all confirms that social media has the potential to be utilized to help increase engagement and attendance for arts and cultural organisations and specifically for trying to draw in new and younger audiences.

Figure 1 - social meida acess

Source: Nielsen Tracker 2014-15 (n=204 and n=2279)

In light of this, organisations might want to take note of which social media platforms are the most popular, and the Nielsen tracker reveals that overall Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are the most accessed, respectively. Facebook was the most used platform across all age groups, with 84% of 16-29 year olds reporting accessing the social media platform in the last 12 months, whilst 57% of those aged 55 and over said they had also done so. For an organisation specifically in the business of targeting younger groups, it may be worth noting the rise of other social media platforms, particularly more visual ones, which are especially popular with them. Instagram, for example, was used by only 2% of 55s and overs, 6% of those aged 45-54, but by a much higher percentage of young people, with 41% of 16-29yr olds using the platform.

Figure 2 - instagram ages

Source: Nielsen Tracker 2014-15 (n=645)

Many arts organisations have already thrown themselves head-on into attempts to draw new, young audiences and engage with them online. For example, The Royal Opera House, for example, as well as having official Facebook, Twitter and Youtube accounts, manages social media that appeals especially to young people, such as Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest and Tumblr, and has distinct ‘ROH Students’ social media pages.

Here, they urge followers to share selfies from their events – taking selfies, of course, being the favourite pastime of young people. The Royal Opera House has fully understood that the young are their future audiences, essential to their future success, and that courting them is therefore key to their business model. They have understood, as the data suggests, that social media is fast becoming the most effective way to reach this generation, and they have understood exactly how they must do this, mastering the necessarily playful, personal and visual interaction.

This is ultimately what this is all about: realising, or perhaps accepting, that the audiences of tomorrow will overwhelmingly be dedicated social media users, who daily scroll through Twitter and Instagram feeds rather than read the newspaper. More visual forms of social media, like Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and Youtube will be increasingly key to reaching this group, as well as sharing visual content and being interactive on the more traditional social media sites. To refuse to exploit these things will be to waste the opportunity to reach increasingly large numbers of people.

Many have already, like the Royal Opera House, learned these lessons and acknowledged the trends that the Nielsen data confirms. Yet there remains that stubborn 49%, who, for their own sake, must follow in their footsteps.

Words by Georgina Chapman, undergraduate, Department of Liberal Arts, King’s College London. Georgina worked with the Culture teams at King’s to analyse and reflect on the results of the Nielsen public opinions tracker, a survey of 2000 people that is conducted twice each year and has been running since 2014. The tracker survey is commissioned by King’s College London.