Executive summary

Art UK context

Artuk.org is the online home for over 200,000 digitised artworks from British public collections. Previous research commissioned by Art UK discovered that the site had little engagement from younger and more ethnically diverse audiences. The research reviewed cultural organisations and projects that have a more diverse audience and identified a set of common themes. These were: a commitment to more diverse content; collaborative working with relevant organisations; a focus on supporting schools, colleges and universities in an educational capacity; and, in relation to digital work, an acknowledgement of the importance of working across multiple platforms, rather than simply seeking to drive the audience to your website.

The Audience Broadening Initiative

Following the initial research, Art UK applied for and was granted funding by Arts Council England for this 18-month project to investigate different approaches to diversifying their online audience.

Known as the Audience Broadening Initiative (ABI), the aim was to change the composition of the Art UK online audience to make it more representative of younger (16-24) and global majority audiences. Using an action research approach, a number of activities were chosen and implemented, their impact was measured and a reflective attitude was adopted in order to learn and inform further activity. Activities were grouped under the broad themes identified in the original research.

Measurement of the impact of activities involved a mixture of quantitative and qualitative approaches, including Google Analytics, pop-up survey results, social media analytics and both formative and summative discussion groups.

Change in the overall Art UK profile

The overall results showed that the composition of the Art UK audience did change over the duration of the project to include a higher proportion of global majority and younger audiences, although the growth was much more modest than the original ambitious targets.

The composition of the audience was monitored both on the Artuk.org website and also via Art UK’s social media accounts. It was important to consider both, since earlier research had indicated that younger audiences in particular were more likely to engage with an organisation via a third-party platform, rather than directly on their website.

Artuk.org website visitors (based on pop-up survey metrics for two comparable periods):

  • 16-24 year olds increased from a baseline of 3.5% to 6.1% against a target of 12%.
  • Global majority audiences increased from 3.4% to 5.9% against a target of 8%.

Social media: Across all platforms there was an increase in younger audiences engaging with Art UK. It was not possible to track ethnicity of social media users, although some activities aimed to evaluate responses in a qualitative way.

Success of individual activities

Some activities were more successful than others. Those that worked well tended to include one or more of the following elements:

  • Collaboration with representatives from the target audience, either through formative research, to explore and devise the activity, or by actively collaborating with them to produce the content.
  • A highly targeted approach, using platform-specific tools, such as Facebook paid advertising.
  • An iterative approach where the team refined activities in stages as the project progressed.

On occasion, an activity resulted in a significant initial increase in reach and engagement with the target audience, but, once the activity had been completed, the level of interest reduced significantly.

Conversely, some activities that showed less of an immediate spike in engagement demonstrated impact over a longer time period. The commitment to 50% of stories on Artuk.org being written by global majority authors or about global majority related topics is a key example. This content delivered relatively little impact initially but built steadily as more stories were added to the website.

Measuring the profile of audiences

Measuring audience profiles across multiple digital platforms is difficult due to the different ways in which each platform collects and records audience data. In addition, while age data is easier to obtain, ethnicity data is often not available. Care was taken to set baselines that allow growth to be measured effectively and activities were developed with measurement in mind. The project used a number of different metrics to track and monitor progress and this data was supplemented by qualitative feedback. Recommendations on measuring audience diversity in a digital context are included in the main report.

Embracing diversity

A great deal of time and commitment are required to reach new audiences online, particularly if they are substantially different from an organisation’s existing audience. This should not be under-estimated.

A key challenge for Art UK was to run a project specifically designed to reach completely new audiences while simultaneously, and separately from this project, ensuring work was being done to retain existing audiences. This underlined the importance of having a comprehensive audience development plan, which addresses different audience types within an overall strategy.

The project has resulted in Art UK making a positive commitment to embed audience diversification into their overall strategy. This includes the appointment of an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Officer (EDI), nominating a specific Board Trustee to have responsibility for EDI and an on-going commitment to having more diverse content on the website. Art UK see diversity as a key part of its strategy and recognise the immense value of working with and for a diverse range of audiences and, in so doing, being more reflective of differing values and experiences.

Recommendations for organisations in the sector

The main report contains detailed learnings and recommendations for organisations that are considering work of a similar nature. These can be summarised as follows:

  • When aiming to reach a new audience, that audience should be involved informative research and/or in the development of the activity, project or content.
  • Deciding success metrics is important. An organisation needs to determine the type of change it is seeking, how this fits within the overall organisational strategy and how impact will be evaluated.
  • Experimentation will help an organisation understand what does and doesn’t work in engaging an audience. As a result of the ABI project Art UK has a much clearer view of activities that are likely to attract younger and more diverse audiences.

Download the full report here