Still from Material

Knowing and extending your audience

What do you know about your audience? Do you know everyone’s name? Why not try to find out? Then you can find out what they like, and it makes it easier to know more about how much they contribute, and also to encourage them to do so. It’s pretty obvious who helps with stacking chairs, or making cakes, but it can be harder to know personally all those individuals who help by liking your Facebook activity, promoting films by word of mouth or other means, submitting film ideas, or clicking on links in your weekly emails. By knowing them too you can further knit together your audience, and encourage more participation and engagement, and thereby enhance what you do.

This post is the fifth in a series that has been inspired by reading Nina Simon’s book The Participatory Museum[1]. The ideas here are simply those that occurred to me while I was reading and I’m sure if we ran a workshop with other community cinemas we’d generate an enormous list of other thoughts and ideas.

One obvious way of knowing the audience is to find out where they all come from, and how they first heard about your film society, especially (but not exclusively) those not in your village. Knowing that can help better target your own advertising, poster placement, leaflet drops and more. Interestingly, what portion of the target population are you managing to reach with your existing promotion strategy? I’m guessing that we routinely reach at least 20 per cent of our local population by some sort of direct communications (the population of Forest Row is about 5000, and probably 80 per cent of our email list recipients are in the village, plus some extras on Facebook and Twitter, and those who pick up and keep our printed programme). However, beyond the village, to, say, a 5 or 10 mile radius, I’d be surprised if we reach much more than 1 per cent of the population. Realising that means we need to reach out to our audience that we know come from a bit further afield and try and get them to help us work out how to reach more people in their villages.

You can also start to use your existing tools to better analyse your audience and membership. For us, we only have a small membership base, with most of our audience being ‘day members’ (ie they just turn up and pay on the door). Even so, our full members are those people who make a bit more of a commitment to us each year so it is worth doing them the honour of finding out more about them:

IDEA: Develop a better view of the membership. Cross check previous year’s membership list with this year and see who hasn’t renewed. Why? Compare with email list. Mail them. How many aren’t on email list. Why? Ensure mail program is segmented to indicate current members.

I’m keen to get a better sense of who our full members are; maybe we can then encourage more people to join and be ambassadors for us. However, that may well require that we do more for our members than simply giving them a reduced price admission!

Email tools certainly give you more opportunities for researching more about your audience, and you can then  follow up, either formally, or even just by talking to people:

IDEA: Use Mailchimp more effectively to segment the people who you already mail to. Take note of who reads mails most avidly; how often do they come to films? Do you know them? Find out what makes them open/read mail in the first place and click links. Talk to those on mailing list who don’t seem to open their mail much; why not? Can you write subject lines to be more effective and alluring?

We’ve seen in earlier posts how easy it can be to get audience reaction to your films, but there are other ways you can find out more about your audience’s taste, which can then inform your programming:

IDEA: Circulate a “Films I’ve Just Seen” sheet before each film: people can add title, quick rating and note about film. Add to website/FB so audience can see what other members are recommending. It also encourages one or more member of the committee to be moving around the venue chatting to people.

Alternatively, you could develop some sort of game or amusement before a screening:

IDEA: Over a season have a board on which the audience creates its top 40 list of films; each week the participants adjust the ranking and add new films by an agreed rule set. Ends up with a good view of favourites of current audience

But, if you only focus on the people who already come you are losing the potential for expansion, or indeed understanding more why other parts of your local community don’t come. Who are you not reaching?

IDEA: In village fete, have a board on which everyone is encouraged to post their favourite film and why, eg on Post-Its. Publish outcome in local press/website. Participants can also have small rubber stamp to “Like” others’ responses. Overseer needs to observe and document gender/age profile of respondents. This can inform ideas for new programming and audience development activities, and give an occasion to talk to people about what they might want to see. Need to have some likelihood of screening some of them, though

So, this article has mostly focused on knowing the audience, and not so much on extending it as I had intended. What ideas have you got?

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