With more than 15 years’ experience as a social media expert and consultant, Haydn Corrodus is better placed than most to offer insight into how the fast-evolving world of social media can be harnessed by the arts and culture sector. Having started his career agency side working with brands such as Coca-Cola and Unilever, Haydn’s most recent role has been as a Tech Champion for Arts Council England where he’s had the opportunity to work with over 300 organisations.
We caught up with Haydn to get his perspective on what’s changed in recent times, how cultural institutions can devise more impactful campaigns and what the future of social media might look like.
“One of the things that struck me moving from working agency side to immersing myself in digital marketing for the arts and culture sector is that big brands understood the value of digital marketing much earlier,” says Haydn. “To an extent, I think there is sometimes a hesitancy within cultural institutions to ‘say too much’ or ‘be too loud’ – which is something that just doesn’t enter the conversation for commercial organisations.”
Although Haydn is quick to point out that this less aggressive marketing approach often comes from a good place, it nevertheless creates a barrier that prevents those in arts and culture from gaining the same results from digital marketing.
He says, “One of the surprising things is that big brands know the value of storytelling in a way that cultural organisations often don’t – even though they have a wealth of content at their disposal. Considering the amazing creative people we have in the arts; often they don’t translate those stories into their social media or digital marketing activities.
“I think part of the progress we’ve seen through Covid is that there’s been a bit more experimentation and teams have explored opportunities to use collections and archives to generate emotional connections and responses. I certainly saw that as a Tech Champion, where I’ve been able to interact with so many people who were coming up with some amazing ideas. And I see some amazing opportunities to expand on their work.”
Haydn suggests that the challenge now for organisations emerging from the Pandemic is to keep momentum going and maximise the opportunity of digital campaigns. He urges institutions not to neglect online now that on-site and in-person activities have returned post-lockdowns.
“There is a feeling that that people are pulling away again. The sector definitely upskilled and became more digitally savvy during 2020 and 2021, but as they return to their day-to-day roles I think it’s very easy to let that online activity fall by the wayside and lose the momentum that’s been built up.
“For me, there’s no ignoring the fact that digital is going to be an integral part of arts and culture going forward. Letting it tack a backseat now is going to make it more difficult for a cultural organisation to regain that engagement in the future.”
Haydn also points out that arts and culture professionals may need to be less afraid of appearing to have commercial objectives. He says,
“We all know that museums and galleries have shops, sell merchandise and require donations. There’s no need to shy away from delivering great campaigns online that acknowledge the importance of audience support and fundraising activities. After all, institutions are providing value to people and they should be confident about that – whether it’s entertainment or education.”
One of the clearest examples of this, he acknowledges, is the huge success of the Museum of English Rural Life in recent years. As Haydn suggests,
“They’ve understood what they are about and how they can tap into their audience by telling really great stories. It’s easy to underestimate the value of this edu-tainment but if it stops people from scrolling and encourages people to find out more about a particular story, collection or theme then the MERL have fulfilled their purpose.”
Escaping the social media trap
Haydn highlights that social media marketing presents organisations – both within the arts and elsewhere – with a unique challenge. Often it is young, entry-level professionals who are digital natives and more comfortable using these channels. However, their managers may be less familiar or equipped to provide the strategic guidance commonplace in other fields.
“The responsibility lies with senior managers to upskill themselves, understand the value of digital channels and find ways to integrate them into their broader strategic goals, so that those talented young professionals have the necessary guidance and framework in place.
“One of the key things I’ve always advised is that organisations build their strategy and approach, understand the stories they want to tell and look at how they can use the right digital channel to launch that campaign. That can’t be done simply by handing over the reins to a junior without consideration.
“As with many businesses and organisations, teams are often siloed. Organisations need to find ways to incorporate the relevant team members and build robust internal processes that help to bring creative ideas to life.”
Of course, Haydn acknowledges that many of the challenges faced by arts and culture venues are related to a simple lack of resource and bandwidth to explore ideas. Even in the biggest organisations, there’s limited time to dedicate to social media content creation with staff stretched and pulled in so many different directions.
“There’s no easy answer to this. But if an organisation does have aspirations to make an impact online, improve accessibility and take advantage of the people who want their content in the digital space, then making time for creating the processes and strategies for uplifting its social presence has to take priority.
“One thing we have tried to share with the Digital Culture Network is that the most labour intensive part is identifying the overarching objectives and putting a plan in place. Once that’s done, implementing a social strategy can be done more efficiently and within a framework that everyone is comfortable with.”
Creating a recipe for success
Every arts and culture venue or institution will, of course, have its own unique drivers, approaches, tones of voice and brand identity to consider when looking to build an effective social media presence. However, Haydn suggests that some of the basics and models for best practice always remain the same.
“Fundamentally, it’s about finding a way to connect with audiences and build a relationship. For me, that’s what storytelling is about. The more you build those relationships, the more they are going to talk about you, interact with you and generally become ambassadors for your brand.
“Cultural creatives are used to thinking about how they initiate a response from audiences, so arts are in an amazing place. They have a wealth of stories that can connect with culture, so they should really be better placed than most industries to gain traction online.”
Going further, Haydn suggests that getting to grips with social media and mastering the opportunities in the digital space is “critical to the survival of institutions in the future”. Alluding to the future of digital technologies and the rise of the Metaverse, he says,
“Whatever you think of the buzz surrounding the Metaverse, it’s worth remembering how the mobile era has become so dominant. While the Metaverse may not take shape in the way we conceive of it now, there’s no doubt that people will increasingly spend their lives in a digital space. That means that failing to invest in digital and engaging with people online could eventually see organisations become out of touch and unable to reach audiences.
“One recent statistic I read demonstrates this perfectly: 75% of children in the USA between the ages of 9–12 use Roblox regularly. That’s the generation of kids who will expect a huge amount of their cultural experiences to be available online.
“Here’s another one I read recently: Fortnite makes the same profit on fashion, cosmetics and other in-game purchases as Amazon makes each year! That’s the audience we know that arts and culture organisations need to appeal to over the next 10–20 years.”
With such an explosion in traffic, reach, engagement and dwell time during the pandemic, the return to normality has inevitably seen many organisations struggle to keep their audience figures looking as healthy in 2022 as they did in the previous two years. But Haydn says that this shouldn’t deter cultural institutions from investing in digital; rather it should be seen as a sign of progress made.
“Prior to 2020, defining success with established KPIs for an online campaign might not have been front of mind for arts and culture organisations. But many of my conversations with professionals during the pandemic revolved around were setting benchmarks and understanding what to measure. It’s probably not realistic that every social campaign is going to hit the numbers that were achieved during lockdowns when there was a captive audience. But the fact that people are collecting and analysing that data is a sign they can work out what might work well in the future.
“To be clear: not everyone needs to be a data expert in a museum or gallery team. There should be dedicated people in role for that. But there is a piece I think that is important on understanding the digital landscape and what success should look like across cultural organisations.”
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