The social element of social media is all about your audiences. An “audiences first” orientation reminds you who your work is for and keeps you centered as technologies and trends change. “Audiences first” also means shifting the focus from yourself (what you want to share) to what your audiences are looking for and need.
In the digital arena, audiences are in the driver’s seat. They might stumble on your work through search, skim or linger over what they choose, create their own playlists and mashups, and access your content on demand via an array of devices. That said, their experiences are informed by the avenues and opportunities you create:
- Do you treat audiences as customers? Users? Participants?
- Where are you online? How does this influence who you can reach (and who you are missing)?
- Are you empowering your audiences to teach you, be creative, or share your work?
|15 minutes to skim
1 hour exercise
2 hours cultural plunge (min)
30 minutes to explore links
15 minutes to read again
4 hours total over several days
Practitioners on Building a Community Interviews
We learn what our audiences need and want by asking them.
Monica O. Montgomery shared how, as co-founder and strategic director of Museum Hue, she used digital platforms to foster community and change online and in the museum sector.
We cull our content directly from the community versus curating content that we decide is meaningful.
We reached out to P. Carl, director and co-founder, and Vijay Mathew, cultural strategist and co-founder, to learn how HowlRound has cultivated an online commons.
Create an Audience Roadmap Exercise
Discover who you want to connect with, empower, celebrate, or learn from.
For this exercise you will need:
- Sticky notes of different colors
- Mapping space: large desk, wall space, or large paper
- Materials for writing
Step 1: Brainstorm Broadly
Think broadly about your connections: participants, advocates, partners, donors, staff, volunteers, ticket buyers, neighbors, vendors, etc.
Write one constituent per sticky note and plot them on your mapping space (your desk, table, wall space, or paper). Position those you are closest to in the inner circle, moving outwards as your connections become less strong or more aspirational.
Step 2: Write for 7 Minutes
Give yourself the space and time to write in stream of consciousness style.
Write nonstop for seven minutes using the following prompts:
At this point, what am I seeing? Who am I reaching now? What relationships are at the center of the circle? Who is on the outskirts?
Take an inclusive point of view, paying special attention to seeing cultural differences and absences, as well as new opportunities for connections.
Step 3: Narrow Your Focus
Looking at your map of sticky notes, select a relationship to consider for social media experimentation. Write the constituent group in the middle of a new sheet of paper. Think about why that group or person would want to follow you. Then create spokes listing “what’s in it for them.”
Optional: Repeat with another group and highlight or note any obvious overlaps between relationships.
Step 4: Write for 7 Minutes
Considering both the sticky-note map and your relationship sheet, write using the following prompts:
At this point, what am I not seeing? Who is missing from my map? What relationships could be closer? How could I make connections among constituents and not only binary with my work or organization?
Step 5: Discover New Relationships
Using a new sticky note color, add any constituents you may not have thought of previously. Who could you serve who you aren’t currently reaching?
Step 6: Write for 7 Minutes
Write reflectively and inclusively on the question:
What possibilities do I see?
Step 7: Reflection
Reflect upon your work. Has this exercise shifted how you think about current, core constituents? How? Do you have a strong understanding (or consensus if you are part of a team) about who your primary audiences are? Is more analysis or discussion needed? Who could you share your map with to gather more insights?
A Diverse World Reflection
To better understand your audiences, and to build more meaningful relationships, it is important to consider how biases and privilege play a role in your work. The digital world is just as diverse as the real world—and can be just as segregated. Cultural biases and privilege in areas such as race, social class, gender expression, age, and physical ability both influence us as individuals and inform how our organizations function and communicate.
Bennett’s Model of Intercultural Sensitivity
The Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS) categorizes how people experience and interact with cultural differences across a spectrum of six stages:
- Denial: Believes own culture to be the “real” culture and is unaware or disinterested in other cultures
- Defense: Believes own culture is the only viable one
- Minimization: Expects own culture to be the universal experience of others
- Acceptance: Understands that own culture is one of many
- Adaptation: Expands worldview to accept and empathize with other cultures
- Integration: Sees own culture as one of many in the world with none being central
Take a moment to self-assess for yourself or your organization. Note that you may fall into different categories depending on the aspect of your work or life you are considering. Understanding your stage will help you be more aware of how you engage digitally.
Expose Hidden Bias
To get a deeper understanding of your own implicit bias, take the Implicit Association Test. Created by psychologists at Harvard, the University of Virginia, and the University of Washington, the assessment measures hidden biases in areas ranging from gender to race, religion, and age.
Reflect on your own or discuss with your team: Were you surprised by the results? How accurately could you gauge your own biases? What could you learn from these results to improve your digital engagement?
Learning how bias and privilege inform one’s work is a long-term process. How could you make continued learning and periodic self-assessment part of your on-going digital engagement development?
Links On Relevance with Nina Simon Go Further
Nina Simon has been described as a “museum visionary” by Smithsonian Magazine for her audience-centered approach to design. As the Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, she led an institutional turnaround based on grassroots community participation. Nina is the best-selling author of The Participatory Museum (2010), The Art of Relevance (2016) and the popular Museum 2.0 blog.
What does it look like when an organization listens to its community, creates audience profiles, and shifts programming accordingly?
# 2 — All the Lights On
An excerpt from a powerful and practical book by Michelle Hensley about Ten Thousand Things Theater–a company that presents old plays for nontraditional audiences in prisons, homeless shelters, and women’s crisis centers.
# 3 — What Gets Remembered
A 16-min NPR interview with Betty Reid Soskin, the oldest park ranger in the National Park Service, who fought for her African-American community to be represented in the planning of a new park in Richmond, CA.
An excellent article about libraries in Illinois and Colorado building relationships with Latinx communities in new ways to strengthen engagement.
# 5 — Visitors of Color
A tumblr site featuring the voices of people of color who feel unwelcome in museums.
# 6 — The Art of Relevance
This 2016 book by Nina Simon uses case studies, research-based frameworks, and practical advice to explore how mission-driven organizations can matter more to more people.
+ 1 — Culture Track ’17
Following Wandeway’s initial launch, LaPlaca Cohen released this 2017 report on the opinions, motivators, and barriers that impact cultural participation.
Seeing from an Audience Perspective Think Deeper
What assumptions are you making?
Many arts and culture workers are engaged in labors of love with an implied “of course—I love this project, of course new audiences will, too!” But how might you apply a critical lens to your own work? What assumptions are you making about your audiences? What barriers to participation affect them? How could you make your work or organization more welcoming, inclusive, and accessible?
How can you create a relationship of reciprocity with your community?
Many organizations only reach out to audiences when they want something—to sell tickets, encourage event attendance, increase clicks, etc. But meaningful relationships go both ways. Rather than approaching audiences from a transactional perspective, how can you relate to audiences as individuals with whom you want to foster a long-term connection? How might digital engagement help you get there?