Engaging Audiences for Culture Online
The Digital Horizons 2012 “Engaging Audiences for Culture Online” seminar organised by The South East Media Network explored how both cultural institutions and publishing companies are using innovative technological ways to engage and re-invigorate audiences.
New Media Knowledge heard from Dan Hon, co-founder of Six to Start and Deborah Wilson, managing director of The Talking Walls UK Ltd.
Six to Start’s co- founder Dan Hon described how literature as a cultural platform has been affected by the changes in technology. The industry has already seen a change in the habits of readers, illustrated with the mass second-hand selling platform that is Amazon and the evidence that readers are seeking new ways of digesting literature. The recent 2008 Christmas launch of the Nintendo DS’s Classic Book Collection demonstrates how technology is now able to provide readers access to 100 novels, mobile and at their finger tips.
Case study 1: “We Tell Stories”
Designed for Penguin Books by Six to Start, Dan Hon divulged a groundbreaking experiment in digital story telling: 6 Authors, 6 Stories, in 6 weeks.
Hon’s case study revealed how the “We Tell Stories” model of targeting influential people went from using just one press release and seven blog postings to having Penguin’s digital stories read by over 200,000 people, accumulating not only mass press and PR but also over 1800 blog posts.
Using already established channels, game design and great story telling Penguin Books brought their idea of bringing stories and literature to the web using the advantage of the interactive nature of the web and gained “stickiness” to their stories, building its readers by the hour.
“We Tell Stories” picked out interactive platforms on the Web and came up with six ways of story telling. These ranged from using Google Maps, where the protagonist talks to the reader in the first person as he is watched moving around London; Blogs and Twitter feeds – allowing readers to follow characters and interact with them; story tail matching and ending selections, live login story telling where readers read as the author wrote; the use of infographics to tell a story, and another where the reader could choose their own adventure story lines to get to the ending.
In terms of author benefits, Hon explained how they needed to get writers excited by a “new canvas” that was available to them and had to show how this wasn’t to replace their livelihood but merely to be used as another medium. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive and despite this example being treated as merely a non paid PR stunt to get readers to go on to read their new books the writers delivered the requested scripts and even presented how they envisaged it working on the web. The results for the writers was extraordinary and from being writers that had written 100s of books and being rarely known they shot to the word of mouth masses and are now being signed up on paid contracts to write with Penguin again using this new technological advance.
Hon reported that this was also the start of a new way to get children to read more and Six to Start received unexpected feedback from teachers trying to use these techniques to develop children’s interest in reading again. He stated, “we’re only now on the cusp of change with media” and referencing the recent Digital Britain Report, Hon agreed that no one will really know their business model in five years’ time.
“Reading experience is going to keep changing” he said, but this does not necessarily mean that the physical form of a book or magazine will no longer have a place.
Acting as a platform for innovative technological advances, “We Tell Stories” demonstrated how different mediums could now follow with literature development. However, it did leave unanswered questions; will the publishing industry follow the changes of the music industry? Is this the end of the paper back and the traditional written form? And is there opportunity to re-invent stories to create new forms of entertainment?
Case Study 2: “The Talking Walls”
As the managing director of Talking Walls, Deborah Wilson presented the direction cultural organisations are headed in order to captivate and connect with audiences. She outlined that there has always been an understanding of the need to strive to keep an existing audience whilst marketing to the new but that cultural organisations are now taking the next step to utilising tools and technology to excite audiences. The aim is to integrate participation by moving from the once static involvement to an active role. From these initial points it became much more evident that technology and social media developments will be an essential part of any cultural organisations outreach strategy.
Designed originally as a template based interactive multimedia software application for Beaulieu Abbey, Wilson presented her application, “The Talking Walls” demonstrating the ability to create visually rich, interactive and educational mobile technology for museum visitors. Allowing visitors to interpret each visit at their own pace and interests.
“The Talking Walls” model allows visitors to explore the heritage space via a multimedia platform and highlights how technology in this way can enhance learning and self development, providing a richer and more meaningful innovative consumer experience.
This “personalised attitude”, Wilson explained, “…allows the consumer to choose where they want to go, what they want to see and what they want to hear”. This matched Beaulieu Abbey brief of seeking to engage the user in a more friendly way and attract new visitors with visually rich content. She went on to display how the application also allowed visitors to view the building’s construction piece by piece, listen to carefully created characters, pull up fact sheets of the abbey, play educational puzzles and could be used by visitors to upload their own stories, photos or information.
Wilson commented how this sort of platform appeals perfectly to the “snacking information age” as visitors can scan read and pick and choose as they please.
Wilson did however warn that although these platforms are now possible for cultural organizations, the barriers that you come up against with “old school sign off permissions” result in very lengthy delays in the completion of a project. This does make you wonder, if such difficult practices of moving forward would lead to cultural organizations always being that one step behind.
Despite only touching the surface of the potential for cultural organisation application processes, Wilson’s case study poses the questions of how the cultural online experience could change audience experience. What the future is for cultural institutions by the use of such multi platform experiences. And will this concept of online viewing get so advanced that it replaces visiting physical institutions all together?