Art UK - Increasing Young and BAME Audiences
Art UK is a cultural education charity that (among other things) runs a website showcasing more than 200,000 artworks from public collections. They collaborate with over 3,200 British institutions to encourage public enjoyment and learning from art.
Their website was launched in 2016, and they worked in in close partnership with The Audience Agency to conduct an audience survey shortly after the launch. There were encouraging findings around socio-economic reach and engagement with people over 65. However, their findings also showed significant under-representation of 16-24 old users and BAME users.
They decided to focus on targeting these two specific audiences and, thanks to funding from Arts Council England, started to test some new ways to increase visits from these groups.
Before any activity started, Art UK thought carefully about how they would measure the impact of their various projects. They first identified audience baselines and targets using desk research and then designed a research plan that included a mix of quantitative and qualitative approaches. Research methods included Google Analytics, pop-up survey results, social media analytics, and focus groups.
Measuring diversity was a particular challenge, as it is much harder to get information on online visitor ethnicity than it is to get information on visitor age. The ART UK team spent time developing short pop-up surveys of 5/6 questions that would appear on their website.
By keeping the surveys short, explaining the reasons behind the survey, and offering an incentive, they managed to get a good response rate. The surveys appeared on different pieces of content too, so they could track which kinds of content were attracting which demographics.
Alongside surveys, focus groups allowed them to get a more in-depth insights into the project impact on their target audience.
Involving the Audience
Key to the project’s success was involving the target audiences in planning from a ery early stage. They held three focus groups during the project, one at an early stage to test ideas and concepts, one during the project activity, and a final focus group near the end of the project.
This helped them to refine their ideas, which resulted in a large number of test projects in four main areas:
- Creating long-form written content for diverse audiences.
- Collaboration and Partnership – working with the BBC, National Poetry Day, and Museum Detox.
- Multi-platform activity – going beyond their own website to place content.
- Education activities – reaching students and teachers.
Creating Diverse Content
One of the key parts of the whole initiative was creating long-form written content for diverse audiences. In the last nine months of the project 50% of the content they produced was BAME-authored or BAME-related.
Looking at the data from their pop-up surveys, they found that the targeted stories attracted a greater proportion of BAME audiences to Art UK than non- targeted stories (9.8% compared to 2.2%).
Using Different Channels
One thing this project really highlights is the importance of working across many channels – it’s not always about driving people to your own website. Some of the best audience development happens when organisations realise that it is sometimes much more effective to simply go where your audiences are, rather than struggling to encourage them to visit your website or travel to your venue.
Art UK commissioned four spoken word poets (all identifying as BAME) to create their series of Art Speaks films on YouTube. 83.9% of viewers were in the 18-24 years age bracket. The films cost around £3,000 each to produce, but are essentially evergreen content that can provide a long-term return.
This open-minded approach to new platforms was reflected in their research methodology too. When looking at their final results, they included audience data from both social and their website, as they knew that younger audiences in particular are more likely to engage with an organisation via a third-party platform, rather than on their website.
The educational strand of the project was borne out of the initial research findings. The results of the pop-up survey revealed that 60% of 16-24 year olds were visiting for academic reasons. This contrasted to a figure of just 12% of older visitors. 13% of the BAME users were visiting as pupils compared to just 8% of non-BAME audiences”
In response, they created video resources for teachers, and also produced a video aimed directly at students - ‘Study Art & Design Using Art UK’.
The overall project set ambitious targets, and, in the end, it didn’t achieve them. However, they did achieve significant growth in website visits from their two target audiences:
- 16-24 year olds increased from a baseline of 3.5% to 6.1%
- BAME audiences increased from 3.4% to 5.9%
Looking at their social media audiences, there were a definite increase in younger audiences, but it was not possible for them to track ethnicity of their social media users.
Involving the target audience
By using focus groups in both the initial planning and refinement phases, Art UK ended up with project ideas and delivery that were directly informed by audience experience, needs, and wants.
A Desire to Test
They took an iterative approach, trying out lots of different approaches, seeing what worked, and constantly re-assessing what would deliver the best results. Reading through the project report, you'll see lots of examples of ideas that didn't deliver the results they hoped for. By being open to failture, they were able to identify new activities that have true positive impact.
A long-term view
Some of the initiatives took time to bear fruit. The BAME-focused content on their website had little initial impact, but target audiences steadily increased over the nine month period.
It’s important that audience development initiatives are not a one-off. It’s rare for someone to go from 0-100 in terms of their interest in any cultural art-form. It takes time and a real sense of authenticity and commitment to build audiences – particularly those who have been underserved and ignored by much of the cultural sector for so many years.
The results from this project will now be folded in to their future plans to make sure the new audiences are kept engaged.