BLOG 22nd September 2022

No one thinks about us

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to chat to some older people from across Derry and Donegal about their experiences with arts and culture and the sort of things that stop them from doing more.

(This is part of the programme of work flowing out of the North West Audience Development Plan which seeks to raise engagement levels with both older people and families. If you are interested in how we came up with those targets, or the research that backs them up, give me a shout!)

There were lots of interesting things which came up as part of the conversation – some of them are not surprising or new, for example the difficulty in keeping up to date with everything that might be on and the frustration of missing events or activities that sounded right up their street.

But there was one topic that did surprise me – not so much the issue, but the strength of feeling it provoked. And that was online booking, and a feeling that, for this group, they were being left behind and excluded by the move to make everything digital.

What are the reasons for that?

Concern about making financial transactions online

These were not a group of people who want to live their lives offline. The majority all used various social channels, communicated by email and browsed regularly. However, when it came to entering card details or paying online, they were extremely cautious. Many related stories about scams or worries about “doing something wrong” that would cost them money (which is even more of an issue now with the cost of living crisis).

None of them used online banking or had stored card details in apps to make payments easy.

So, the barrier was not that they can't go online. But instead, they don’t want to pay online.

Poor Wifi or broadband coverage

Hard to believe that this is still an issue in 2022, but in rural areas, connectivity is still a massive problem. For those of us who are used to instant access and consistent coverage, we might forget how frustrating and unempowering it is to not be able to immediately complete tasks or jobs online. But that is the reality for a chunk of the population. And this gap adds even more to the feeling of being left behind or left out and as the rest of the world moves on to the next new thing, this gap becomes even wider.

No one thinks about us….

That phrase strikes at the heart of anyone who champions audience development. We always talk about how important it is to think about the needs of your audiences, and this is a classic example.

Let me give some context around that statement. As usual, I was talking about the need to collect audience data – and that can be done much more easily through online booking. It helps organisations understand more about their audiences which in turn helps to improve the overall experience.

And the response was – but that’s about making your lives easier – no one thinks about us.

Is that fair?

There are lots of very good reasons why there is a move to everything being online – it is more efficient, it is better for data capture, and some people much prefer to do everything online.

But that isn’t everyone. And if we want to work towards equity of access, don’t we have a responsibility to do what we can to cater to everyone’s needs?

What can we do?

The answer is simple – continue to offer a choice.

For this group of people, they wanted to book and were happy to pay. But they wanted to be able to call in and do that in person, or over the phone.

Make sure you highlight these options in your information to audiences. And always explain your context to them if you can't provide choice or alternatives because that shows that you have thought about them and that you do care.

And that is what helps you to develop your audiences.

Fiona Bell

Chief Executive

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