By John Lucas
Unlike commercial businesses that rely on sales to exist and succeed, non-profit cultural organizations such as zoos and museums do so by attracting patrons and philanthropic donations, recruiting new members and maintaining the goodwill of existing ones.
Yet these cultural organizations are not making the most of their data, especially when it comes to determining how to best serve and market to individual visitors, patrons and members. Membership data, sales merchandise data, financial data and visitor data piles up, building a wave of new opportunities to create personalized experiences.
In addition to this standard organizational data, there is new data generated from the exploding use of social channels, the Web and mobile devices. The strategic information that looms behind this overwhelming volume of data is often a mystery to cultural organizations.
Cultural venues deal with large, often crushing numbers of visitors to new blockbuster exhibitions. As a result, taking a strategic approach to target the individual visitor is often overshadowed by the demands of the sales cycle. How to serve so many people while still giving each visitor a personal experience is one the great challenges of the cultural organization.
But Big Data is helping uncover new ways of measuring the impact of arts and cultural exhibitions and programs to not only enhance the individual experience, but to create more targeted attractions.
For example, the Millennial generation, which has grown up on social media, has a good grasp on what is likely to be spread, shared, and well-received by peers in the varying virtual public squares, such as Twitter and Facebook. And as social media is the main touchpoint for Millennials, they typically generate – and are attracted by – word-of-mouth experiences that are shared on the social web, much more so than other generations.
Millennials also pay keen attention to new trends. If a group of young people decide to visit an attraction or exhibit and enjoy it, the subsequent number of young people that visit is likely to increase tenfold.
Cultural institutions that can cull and capitalize on this social media intelligence to supplement or complement traditional marketing methods will be much more able to tap into the collective curiosity of its target membership and patrons. For instance, many zoos and museums use social media to engage Millennials can better understand which kinds of exhibits and events draw the most interest and the effectiveness of specific programs.
Increasingly sophisticated approaches to the measurement of the structure of and activity on social channels, including sentiment analysis, are giving glimpses of a future in which it will be increasingly possible to track, measure and influence the spread of ideas and the coming together of groups of people to build momentum on an upcoming exhibit.
But what if Big Data analytics were employed throughout an organization?
Analytic insight could identify how members like to receive information, what type of programming is generating the most interest, and what time of year is best to start a fundraising campaign. It could also help executives justify decisions to the board, donors and philanthropists by presenting statistical evidence to explain that a decision was made thoughtfully, not just instinctively – thus giving those board members a reason to support more innovative and engaging work environments for curators, zookeepers, conservators, volunteers, administrative and visitor staff, and artists.
Senior cultural decision-makers need to understand the importance and the urgency to think differently about the potential of Big Data throughout an organization. It’s this analytic insight that is opening new doors for cultural venues to deliver an exceptional experience for the individual visitor.