BLOG 11th December 2017

How can I find out about my audiences?

If you want to maintain and grow your audiences, you'll need to know about who your current audiences are and who your potential audiences could be. Understanding what each of those groups want and need from you will help you to increase your audience numbers.


If you can't measure it, you can't manage it.

But sometimes it can be hard to know where to start especially when you're short on time or budget. And if you’re a non-ticketed organisation, there’s sometimes a misconception that without data, there’s nothing you can do.

So here we've outlined a variety of ways to find, collect and analyse information about audiences. These range from simple and no-cost resources that any organisation can use, to more sophisticated solutions like box office systems.

Best of all, once you find the data sources that suit you, learning about your audiences becomes really accessible and exciting. You can start to develop your audiences in a strategic way, and see the effects your efforts are having.

Before you start...

The end-goal here is to understand your customers and how they engage with you, so your organisation can grow and improve. So think about what you want to find out about your current and potential audiences. Remember to schedule in time to analyse and piece together what you find out, and come up with practical actions from your new knowledge.

Audience research is all about building up a picture, so choose the right sources of information to build the most accurate and comprehensive insights you can and your decisions will be all the stronger for it. 

Not sure where to start? Desk Research

Looking at published research on your sector or your target audiences is the logical place to start. Looking at what is already available is a great way to frame what’s important in your head, bust your assumptions (we all have them, right and wrong!) and learn more about audiences generally.

Reports specifically on the arts in Northern Ireland come from the usual suspects, including the Department for Communities, the Arts Council and the various sector bodies like Arts & Business. We do our best to collate the useful things we find here at thrive. You can find research reports and factsheets on Northern Irish trends and audience demographics on our Audience Insights webpages.

Reports from other places can be just as useful though, so have a look online at what’s happening in Scotland via Culture Republic, in England via The Audience Agency or more generally at sites like Culture Hive (or via a Google search). These can often give you useful insight into particular areas, whether it’s craft, ballet, comedy or even science these days.

Looking beyond the arts, there’s a wealth of information on Northern Ireland generally which you might find useful (e.g. the most recent Census). Check out the NINIS website for the latest research from the government’s statistics specialists.

If you’re still not sure if there’s anything out there that could be of help, let us know and we’ll see if we can help.

Staff Knowledge

Not all insight is written down – you may have colleagues with useful observations, particularly if they’ve been on the ground dealing directly with your customers for a good period of time (e.g.a front of house team, volunteers, or café staff). Sit down with colleagues and take on board their personal insight. It may pinpoint things you hadn’t thought about, or at the very least confirm that your own thinking is on the right track.  

This kind of insight is unlikely to definitively answer any of your questions, but can be really useful for setting the scene and giving you ideas for what needs further exploration. Bear in mind, your colleague’s opinions could be skewed by their own experience, so you need to question their assumptions as much as you should really be questioning your own.


Ticketing Data

You might be in the lucky position that you sell tickets to your events or exhibitions. This means you’re already gathering data that can give you insight into your customers with no extra effort. Increasingly, even free events and exhibitions are being ticketed to help plug the gap in our knowledge about these audiences.

You do need to have a system which is up to the task if you want useful insight though. Many small organisations currently opt for cheaper and simpler online systems that issue a ticket but struggle to provide the kind of insight required. So, if you want to understand your audiences, choose your system wisely.

To get the most out of your own ticketed data, you need to have someone in your organisation who knows how to harness the system to extract and use the data (these employees are worth their weight in gold!). Alternatively, we’re familiar with the main systems in use in Northern Ireland currently and are pretty good at figuring out new ones!

As most systems collect similar data in similar ways, ticketed data can often provide vital context for your own performance by benchmarking against other similar organisations. If you are interested in benchmarking your own ticketed data, we're currently recruiting venues and festivals for our upcoming Foundations project.


Original Research

Once you’ve reviewed what you have already, you may decide you need some original research of your own. It’s tempting to start emailing and posting surveys right away, but take the time to step back and think about why you’re carrying out research. Our guide to creating a research brief can help. 

Our research team are always happy to offer free advice and guidance. Or we can do the hard work for you and run and analyse surveys, focus groups and mystery shops- check out our market research products.


Questionnaires and surveys are particularly good at counting things, but can also be used to gather people’s opinions and feedback in a structured way. When you already know what it is you want to find out, a survey is likely to be your best option.

For ticketed and non-ticketed organisations alike, they are a great way to find out customer demographics along with your visitors' attitudes to your content, venue, and customer experience . If they’re designed and managed correctly, they should give you a good picture of your audience generally.

Just like with ticketed data, if organisations are willing to collaborate and ask the same questions in the same way, this kind of information can also be used to benchmark and compare between different organisations. In recent years, we've run survey benchmarks for both the Visual Arts and Museums sectors in Northern Ireland.

Focus Groups

Focus groups are less about counting things or getting an overview of your audience. They’re designed to be more intensive with a smaller number of people, drilling down to find deeper insight or explore the things you don’t already know. Normally that involves everyone sitting in a room together, but walk-and-talk focus groups have been used to good effect recently by galleries and museums to get people's viewpoints as they experience an exhibition on the move.

Groups could focus on audience attitudes to your organisation and the quality of their experiences with you. You might want to talk to school teachers about how you can make your next show more suitable for kids. Maybe you want to road-test your new brand with your current audience?  A relaxed focus group could give you some real insight.


Data from Digital 

If you have no hard data about your audiences from ticket sales or research projects, checking out your online audience can be a great first step to understanding who is interested in your organisation.

With a Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram account, you’ll have free access to audience insights that are built-in to these platforms. It’s just a case of accessing them. 

You might have a google analytics account linked to your website too. If you’re using e-marketing to drive bookings and there is online-booking available via your website, you can learn even more about how customers are engaging with you.

Comments and reviews on TripAdvisor and Facebook can give you a great idea about people’s attitude to your organisation and their experiences with you, but be always with the caveat that your strongest advocates and harshest critics are most likely to leave a review.

And of course, analysing your online audience will always be integral to planning any of your digital marketing campaigns too. So you can do two jobs at once.

access-facebook-audience-insights.jpg?mtime=20171211135347#asset:719Example of insights available through Facebook

Where to Go Next

Hopefully, this has given you some inspiration to uncover some audience facts. Your audiences are constantly changing, along with the other cultural offers available to them, so it's a good idea to update your research at least annually.

We often hear that the one thing that stops people from collecting and analysing data is a lack of time. So if you would like someone else to do any of the above research for you, please visit our Products and Services page or get in touch with any queries. If you'd simply like a helping hand or some questions answered, our free Audience Appointments are open to all.

Chris Palmer

Strategic Insights Director

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