Monday, July 20, 2009

Attention Economy for the Arts

Douglas McLennan's recent post on ArtJournal is an excellent question to pose to any arts organization today.
How to sustain an audience in the new "Attention Economy" where everyone assumes a robust Experience for any choice they make. Given infinite choice and a rising complexity in figuring out what one wants, getting people to pay attention to what you have to offer is increasingly problematic.

So how do you implement an Attention Economy strategy? Here are five ideas:

1. Set up a ladder of involvement that rewards increased participation. Come to every performance and maybe you get a free ticket to give to a friend. Bring in a dozen friends and you get your name in the program. Organize a club around our programming and maybe you get an insider pass to see how next season's lineup is put together. We reward people who donate money; how about rewarding those who go out and bring in new recruits? Maybe membership on your board is one of those upper rungs of participation. The participation incentive ladder doesn't have to be formally structured like affiliate programs, but you get the idea...

2. Community isn't free. Every time someone decides to interact with you, you have to reward them in some way. Even clicking a mouse (believe it or not) requires a reward. Ninety-nine percent of web visitors are lurkers. That is, they come, they read, they say "Gee, that's interesting," and they move on. Same with those who come to performances. Why should I come to a post-concert chat? You have to do something to provoke me into a response. That response is worth something. That response must be rewarded in some way. Especially if it's a complaint.

3. These kinds of communities are extremely hierarchical. They don't want to be paid in money. They want status. Recognition. Validation. It can be as simple as identifying somebody as a friend of the organization. Reward them for answering other community members' questions. Cruise lines, for example, give repeat cruisers different color cabin key cards based on how many times they've come aboard. Those cards are status markers, and the community pays attention to them. Tech support in big online communities has largely become a community function. The community is better at solving its own problems, and people who log in with answers are accorded higher status by others in the community. This is a powerful driver of participation.

4. Twenty percent of your seats are unsold? What a waste. Create a club that gives members access to cheap surplus tickets with which they can bring others. Those companies (airlines, are you listening?) that throw up barriers to upgrades make members feel like the company doesn't want you to have a good experience. Be over-generous. Your community will feel like they owe you for it. And that generosity doesn't necessarily have to cost you anything.

5. Find ways to give people in your community opportunities to support you. I might not have enough money to give you a donation. But if you ask, I might bring a group of friends to the next concert. I might not have time to serve on your board, but I might know a good printer who could give you a break on programs. Public radio is available for free, but enough listeners value it so much that they're willing to give money to support it. We're not very creative about the ways we ask for support.

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