Making your audience feel special

Making your audience feel special

All those people who turn up, help, follow you on Twitter are important to you. Let them know it.

This post continues my thread of notes that were inspired by reading Nina Simon’s book The Participatory Museum,[1] which contains a huge number of ideas that have resonances with any arts organisation, or indeed any community engagement activity. I certainly need to re-read it, since there’s bound to be aspects of it I’ve missed completely, or maybe not even grasped the significance of. Still, this is where I’ve got to for now….

Whenever you devise some activity for your audience and followers, try and explain how and when people will be rewarded for participating; we’re not talking about a financial reward, but how they will benefit (eg through better programming, more social opportunities, etc). At the same time, ensure that there will be a valuable outcome for non-participants as well, for example by reporting back on the results of an activity, blogging about it, or whatever.

It is certainly important to be active in developing the audience you already have. Make every one of them feel special. All the committee have a responsibility to be friendly and talk to all of your audience, not just your mates; identify the newbies, find out where they are from, how they heard about you, what films they like, and so develop their engagement with your organisation.

For the regulars, welcome people by name, and introduce them to others, so you knit your audience together. Then, at the end, offer them a “thanks for coming and see you next time” on the way out; we want them to come back. Don’t frighten them off.

IDEA: While talking to your audience before and after a film, sound them out for their film interests; you may find you can get some of them to introduce a film (with help/support if they are unsure of what to say); or perhaps to lead or take part in a post-film discussion (where should that take place? Not in venue? In the pub? Ask the audience!).

These sorts of things then help to get the audience flying the flag for your community cinema, which then reduces the divide between Us and Them.

So, this could result in people creating their own self-organising groups with film as catalyst and focus, which then encourages them to come back for more. You can seed some of that too, either by organising some gentle, fun film education activities (we’ve done film quizzes, for instance), or get your audience to help out in other ways:

IDEA: Do a social session on writing programme notes (for distribution with each film). In the first instance this could be for the committee, but why not widen the invite to anyone, and get any volunteers to write them for forthcoming season. People like to be asked.

People feel special by being valued and contributing, but they can also feel special by developing an understanding of how they are part of a something much bigger:

IDEA: Develop a wider sense of belonging by repeatedly hooking into and referencing the whole national and international community cinema network. Your little film society in a village hall does not exist in isolation. It is really important to increase member awareness of BFFS and other community cinemas in the area. Making connections is vital.

Similarly, sometimes you can organise screenings that are part of a bigger event. We ran Countdown to Zero as one of the seventy venues on its opening night, with a live streamed Q&A, and you can book Pablo Larrain’s No through BFFS during its theatrical release period. Don’t squander that specialness; make sure your audience know how special and lucky they are!

Again, our films at the beginning of this season were part of the Scala Beyond festival. I don’t think we capitalised on that as much as could have, but that is something we can look at next year.

There are also occasions when you’ve gone to a fair bit of trouble to track down the rights holder for a particular film. We always tell that as a little story in our regular email or at the beginning of the film; it shows the audience how much you might do for them and thereby make them feel special, but also subtly helps them learn about how much organisation is required for screening a film. It’s not just sticking a DVD on. We’ve had a couple such instances recently: first for our screening of Youssef Chahine’s Cairo Station, the programming of which was inspired by Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film, and also needed our local council to rate it; and now after a long and circular chase we’ve finally sorted out the rights for a screening of Peter Brook’s monumental Mahabharata. That is special, indeed.

What other services can you provide to make your audience feel special? They need to be easy to set up, or (even better) ones that you can get someone else to develop for you:

IDEA: Set up a DVD exchange library. There used to be an online service to support this sort of thing, but I think it has vanished. Most of your audience will have DVDs, and your community cinema probably does too, so it would be great to have a system to know who has what and to track lendings. Admittedly, this could be a can of worms, since it could be a nightmare to track, DVDs could get damaged, and it may be in breach of public lending rights. Nice in principle, but it may be better to park this one…

So how about:

IDEA: Hook up with your local library and curate collections for them from their DVDs targeted specifically for your members. This will help promote your film society more widely in the community, and also increase library usage. Try and get your members to give you feedback on any of the DVDs they have borrowed, and pass it back to the library, which they can then use to promote the films.

These ideas are just the beginning, though. As you get more and more engaged, participating people involved, you can keep extending the range of ideas. They don’t all need to be complicated, as we’ll see with some more of the ideas in the next post.

What other ideas have you got? Is this hitting the spot?

  1. Nina Simon. The Participatory Museum. 2010. Museum 2.0: Santa Cruz, California. Also available on