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Maintaining and Cultivating New Audiences During COVID-19 and Beyond

Art is an invitation to look, listen, and take inventory of the world that surrounds us. Whether it’s performing or visual arts, these mediums give consumers permission to explore the complexities of rising themes in our society and provide vehicles to process how it all makes sense to our daily lives. To allow these unique interactions with art, we as marketers must encourage engagement with our organizations at every possible level. 

During the July Americans for the Arts Coffee Chat, approximately 30 marketers gathered virtually to discuss maintaining and cultivating new audiences. While the topic is not new, we as industry professionals are being forced to examine engagement in different ways because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

If there is any silver lining during these uncertain times, it’s the realization that the impact of visual and performing arts extends well beyond the constrained walls of our buildings. Our ability to offer virtual resources to people who have never physically been in our spaces opens our organizations up to evolving beyond notions of who can engage with art. The “invitation” to connect with our mission and develop meaningful relationships that are mutually beneficial are now open to all who are willing to take these steps, but what does that really mean? What is our responsibility as arts marketers for fostering meaningful engagement? How do we reach those who still have barriers to our organizations because of the digital divide that exists for some people and communities within our reach? 

Hopefully, we can all agree that engagement is reciprocal. When asked during the conversation how each of the organizations represented thinks about engagement, there were various perspectives. Some viewed engagement as attendance and outreach, while others homed in on social platforms and analytics. No matter your organization’s perspective, it’s clear a conversation must be had by leaders to define all the ways engagement is possible. Once defined, there can be intentionality about how to foster appropriate dialogue with each audience. 

For the High Museum of Art’s communications team, connecting the dots between our owned and paid channels is important. We think of ways to layer in messaging so the invitation to connect is not missed on any channel. Not all channels are created equal, nor are they all necessary to accomplish your goals. Whatever channels you choose, providing content that is well executed and relevant to each audience is key. 

I’m an advocate for creating a feedback loop, some way to hear from your supporters. Understanding their expectations and experiences will help your organization better serve the people engaging with you at every level. When given the opportunity to reflect on the need for a feedback loop, some coffee chat participants stated, “[Feedback] helps improve the customer experience.” Another marketer said, “It’s a way for organizations to really get to know their audience’s needs.”

The invitation to connect is simple but cultivating a true relationship with our audience is a continuous work in progress. Having a meaningful presence in all the communities you wish to serve will help foster a desire for greater engagement. A welcoming environment starts from the very first interaction. 

Develop and review a customer journey map to determine how your audiences are touched at every intersection of your organization. The maps will help guide what creating a welcoming environment looks like. It also will help determine where there may be challenges that need to be addressed.

Breaking down barriers for our audiences to engage with our organization should be a top priority as we navigate today’s ever-changing landscape. Our new and existing audiences will thank us with continuous support, which helps us thrive as arts organizations. 

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