It’s tempting to say that if you want to get noticed these days you have to do something truly awesome. But awesome is such an overused word. Every single day, my twitter feed is filled with awesome – holographic projections of dead rappers at live music gigs, Nokia’s 42megapixel camera phones, another new cloud-based, data-driven, social tool that promises to change the way we live and work forever ….. and it probably will. Awesome is now the minimum barrier for entry. The lowest common denominator. Being awesome is commonplace …..it simply isn’t good enough.
And even if you do get noticed, there’s the second issue : how do you create an impact that is meaningful enough to turn attention into action? Engagement is another hugely overused word, and while cultural organisations are getting better at engaging people online, if all we succeed in doing with digital technologies is tying someone to a screen then we have fundamentally failed.
Consider Kony. 89 million views worldwide – phenomenal audience, massively viral. And yet its mission to “cover the night” on 20th April and mobilise those millions to plaster towns and cities with posters fell flat. Did anyone see a single Kony poster on the morning of the 21st April? Now, of course, there are all sorts of reasons for that – and undoubtedly it fulfilled its objective of raising awareness, but for how long and to what end? And awareness of what? Of Kony- the Ugandan Warlord? Or when I wrote those words – “consider Kony” – was the very first thing you thought of the Kony2012 viral video itself? Thought so. The fact is, this was a viral engineered to raise awareness of the viral. (And here’s how).
Kony showed us one great truth, and that truth is this ….. we are living in a post-viral world. And numbers, clicks and likes are meaningless if they don’t translate into real world actions.
So how do you move from slacktivism to activism?
The key challenge for cultural leaders is not just to get noticed, not just to ‘engage’ people, but to do what arts and cultural organisations do best .., to move people. To inspire them to do something, or be something. To engage them on a much deeper level, to use digital tools not just to build an audience and encourage them to buy tickets or merchandise, but to reconnect that audience with the real world. The real problem here is that we are too caught up in playing purely a numbers game, and the post-viralism of Kony – amongst many other examples – tells us that big numbers does not equal high value.
The potential numbers of hits, clicks, shares and likes that a good viral campaign can deliver are so astronimical as to be almost meaningless. And does anyone really think that your Klout score comes anywhere near measuring actual influence? (If so, try this). Does your reach define your value? And yet from digital marketing to audience research and – yes – the cultural sector, impact and value is still weighted heavily in favour of number of clicks, shares, likes etc. Size of reach, not depth of engagement or breadth of real world impact and actions.
To put it another way, because the metrics are wrong, the drivers are wrong …which means the actions and methods we build into our online world are also wrong. We make assumptions that numbers equals actions, equals results, so – like Kony – we’re losing sight of what our objective really is and sacrificing that objective in order to chase clicks, likes and shares, constructing projects and tools that prize them above all else.
We need a whole new set of KPIs for what constitutes a successful cultural project, organisation or campaign and a new way of measuring that success …. this will produce a new set of drivers, a clearer, stonger focus on the actual objective.
And that would be awesome.