How should arts companies use digital? Lessons from SMI: Arts

Over the six years of NativeHQ’s work, we’ve been developing our approach to delivering the best social media learning and development process for our clients. We aim to improve our clients’ own capacity to deliver good quality online social media communications that actively serve their mission.

We have developed a method that helps them to understand relationships with their networks, think through their digital strategic goals and develop skills and knowledge for turning their ideas into reality. We call it our Social Media Insights (SMI) programme. It takes place over a series of half-day sessions, which are scheduled between two weeks and a month apart.

Social Media Insights: Arts

Between 2013 and 2014, we worked with Arts Council Wales to trial this method with five arts companies at different stages in their development, working in a range of art forms across Wales in both English and Welsh. This post is about that project, and the lessons that we learnt through the work.

The SMI process starts by exploring the networks of people and organisations the company works with, who has relationships with them and how those connections impact on work. We then pin down their artistic and business aims within each set of relationships. This is the basis of a creative ideation process that helps us to develop ideas about how specific uses of digital media could improve the effectiveness of the work they do.

From this set of possibilities, we draw up a shortlist of initiatives, and the training and launch processes they need in order to start. The company picks the initiatives they want to prioritise and we plan a bespoke programme for them to take place over the remaining sessions of the programme.

NativeHQ’s work with Arts Council Wales

SMI: Arts Applicants Map

SMI: Arts. Applications

Arts Council Wales was interested in learning about how we support arts organisations in this way and commissioned us to deliver this service to five arts companies in Wales, and to learn from the experience.

We announced the project via social media and our call for applications received 45 applications from a variety of companies all across Wales.

There were many high quality applications and only space for five (MOSTYN, Dawns Powys Dance, Urdd Gobaith Cymru, Hijinx Theatre and Response). We then set about delivering our service to them between October 2013 and June 2014.

Responses to the programme

Here are a couple of the positive responses to the programme:

“Social Media Insights came at just the right time for Hijinx. We were in a period of change as a company, so it was the right time to stop and reflect on who are we, what we do, and how digital and social media could help us do that at a foundational level. NativeHQ have helped us to take a holistic approach to digital and social media as a company: to see digital’s potential for serving the company’s entire mission, rather than just as part of the marketing strategy.”

Vanessa Morse, Hijinx Theatre

“When we embarked on the Social Media Insights I really had not anticipated quite how the project would touch on every aspect of what we do and how we operate. Instead of some glib, generic advice on what to do / what not to do on social media, the project went so much deeper than that and required us to unpack who we are, how we do things and how we want to be and do. It was very, very bespoke and accommodated everyone’s’ skills and needs as well as the organisational needs. As a result of the SMI Arts, we now manage our projects; communicate within the team; manage our time; market ourselves; make and edit films and of course, use social media – much better than before!”

Amanda Griffkin, Dawns Powys Dance

Learnings

While writing our report to Arts Council Wales, we reflected on some of the lessons we had learnt. We are constantly learning and updating our methods and have now adapted our programme to incorporate them. Here are a few:

Blocking of essential internet services

Many arts companies, especially those working within the public sector, are struggling to access consumer web services (e.g. Facebook, Google Drive) that are being widely adopted by collaborators and audiences beyond their firewall, often because of IT security concerns. We now work with clients to help them tackle these issues within their company.

Need for strategy and the centrality of social media

Many people are still unclear about why they are using digital media and social media, which is increasingly a normal and central aspect of their network’s communications landscape. A result, they struggle for clarity about what their learning needs are, or how to manage their competing digital priorities. We start by helping them to think through their strategic priorities before we begin to plan a training programme.

Broadcast approaches

Many people take a broadcast approach to their social media presence, continually pushing information and talking at people. As this approach often fails to develop the potential of the medium, we work through alternative communications patterns, such as listening and conversations, collaborations, research and investigation. We seek to think through the possibilities of these digital patterns within their work objectives.

Leadership, sustainability and resourcing

While many organisations leave the work of social and digital media to the communications manager, digital media impacts on the whole organisation and is best tackled by a group that includes wider leadership and a breadth of team representation. While many organisations are worried by the resourcing requirements of a good social media presence, there are areas where more efficient communication skills can win time for them to make the work more sustainable.

The need for bespoke training programmes emerging from strategy

Having started with a focus on strategic aims, the training programmes that we delivered to the organisations involved in the Social Media Insights: Arts were unique to each company. Over the programme, we delivered training sessions on a very wide range of topics.

Training types chart... SMI Arts NativeHQ

One interesting statistic was that 58% of the training topics we worked on were delivered to just one organisation, and only a minority of topics were prioritised by more than one of them. The lesson from this was that there is limited value in “general” social media training, because the training needs of organisations are unique to them, if you pay close enough attention.

We have taken encouragement from this finding that our approach of focusing on thinking about strategic priorities first with our clients will result in a bespoke programme that will accurately prioritise their development priorities.

Programme adjustments

We learnt lessons about the programme, which we delivered as an eight-session programme over eight months. During the strategic development process, we have found value in compressing the sessions so they’re closer together to concentrate the thinking and creative process. Our training programme remains one in which sessions are spaced out by at least three weeks (preferably a month), so that new learnings have time to be embedded into working practices. Our current Social Media Insight programme is now structured as follows:

The programme’s impact

In our evaluation of the programme, we asked each company if they had experienced a change in confidence in their ability to:

  • understand how their work on digital platforms contributed to the company’s mission;
  • develop tactics for projects and initiatives;
  • how they resourced social/digital media;
  • innovate and develop new approaches;
  • run their own media, with existing skills and knowledge;
  • evaluate their own digital work effectively by knowing what metrics mattered to them.

Across all categories and organisations, there was an increase in confidence of 45%.

Dig deeper

If you would like to know more about this programme, our approach, or how we might be able to help enable your organisation, please leave a comment, or question, or get in touch.

National Assembly for Wales announces digital engagement plans

Cardiff Bay

PierheadSpeaking tonight at The Royal Television Society lecture in the Pierhead building in Cardiff Bay, the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales, Rosemary Butler, announced a series of actions that the Assembly plans to take in order to address the Democratic Deficit, including some significant plans to develop the way that the Assembly engages with digital publishers and communities.

‘Democratic deficit’ is the term that Mrs Butler applied to the problem of many UK and Welsh media organisations failing to properly cover the work of the Assembly and the public policy differences in Wales as a result of devolution.

For example, viewers of television news in Wales regularly find themselves watching stories involving the English Education Minister Michael Gove, when it is in fact Huw Lewis, the Minister for Education in Wales, who makes policies affecting the education system in Wales.

In her speech, Mrs Butler announced a set of specific measures the National Assembly will take to improve how the Assembly communicates its work with the people of Wales including,

  • work with digital and hyperlocal media and partner organisations to create a journalism hub in the Senedd that could provide content to these new digital channels;
  • make it easier to report the Assembly’s work by providing better communications facilities on the Senedd estate;
  • make the Assembly’s data more open and accessible;
  • ensure that Assembly Members are fully informed about how best to use the communication tools now available in this digital age;
  • work more closely with media organisations to take the Assembly out to the communities they represent with a series of regional Assembly press days; and
  • also work with those organisations to provide induction sessions for trainee journalists to ensure a better understanding of the work of the institution.

NativeHQ welcomes these announcements. They will make a significant contribution to the way that the work of the Assembly is communicated to the people of Wales. We have been involved in the discussions the Assembly has held about these issues over recent months – you can view a video of Carl Morris contributing to the discussions on our blog.

The key to the success of these initiatives will lie in the way that they are implemented. Some of this is already underway. The flagship Pierhead building in Cardiff Bay, where the Presiding officer made her remarks, has finally been given internet connectivity, which the public can use via wifi, and it is good to hear there will be better communications facilities across the Senedd estate.

NativeHQ will itself be involved in the effort to inform Assembly Members about the best ways to use digital communications tools as one of the organisations chosen to deliver training in digital and social media to AMs and their political staff. We’d welcome comments from our blog visitors if you have any thoughts about the key skills that Assembly Members need to know in order to become more effective using digital tools. What do Welsh politicans need to know about the social web?

The proposal to ‘make the Assembly’s data more open and accessible; opens up the exciting possibility of allowing journalists and citizens to analyse the data in new and innovative ways that could provide fresh insights to help the Assembly to do the important work of representing the interests of Wales and its people, making laws for Wales, and holding the Welsh Government to account. It will be important for the Assembly to work with industry leaders in the field of digital democratic engagement such as MySociety as well as local Welsh technology companies who understand the specific nature of the Welsh political landscape.

The idea of creating a journalism hub within the Senedd for niche digital publishers to engage with the work of the political community is a promising one, though not without its challenges for the Assembly. We would suggest that the Assembly guards against over-reliance on the idea of ‘hyperlocal’, as not all niches are geographic. While hyperlocal sites are an increasing feature of the digital landscape in Wales, many digital publishers focus not on an area of the map, but on an area of policy. For example YnniCymru is a blog which looks at the specific topic of renewable energy, right across Wales.

These topic and hyperlocal specialists are savvy digital users, so we’d suggest that the Assembly looks to create an information resource with smart filtering and notification systems that they can use to ensure that any Assembly activity relating to the area of  information that they focus on – be that geographical or topic based – gets to them quickly.

Image by Capt Gorgeous (Creative Commons BY licence)

Social Media Insights: Arts programme gets underway

NativeHQ recently started a project working in partnership with Arts Council Wales called Social Media Insights: Arts. It’s similar to the Social Media Insights service that we offer commercially, and is based on meeting with clients for monthly sessions to address digital strategy, tactics, training, tools and analytics.

We think this is one of the most effective ways to improve client’s effectiveness on social media platforms for clients who want to retain control of their internet presence, and avoid outsourcing it to an external agency.

We put out a call for Welsh arts organisations to apply for the five places on the scheme, and were very pleased to receive a total of 46 applications, which has obviously made it very difficult for us to narrow down to five, but demonstrates the a very strong demand exists within the Arts scene in Wales for more support in this area.

We were very interested in getting a diverse portfolio of organisations to work with, in terms of the artforms they work in, their geographical location in Wales, their organisational size and the languages that they work in.

We have made our decisions and have informed all the applicants of the results. The final list of the organisations we will be working with over the next eight months is as follows:

  • Oriel Mostyn, Llandudno
  • Hijinx Theatre, Cardiff
  • Urdd Gobaith Cymru, National
  • Powys Dance, Llandrindod Wells
  • Response Wales, Vale of Glamorgan

This is a pilot project, and will involve a research element which will explore some of the common challenges and needs of the sector in creating effective work in social media, which we will make available to Arts Council Wales. We are currently getting underway, booking our initial sessions with the organisations and conducting benchmarking surveys to assess their perception of the issues they face at this point in time.

As we deliver this programme, we’ll post occasional updates on our blog to keep you informed, and we’ll explore the issues that the arts sector is presenting us as we help them get to grips with this transformed media landscape.

NativeHQ wins Theatre Multiplatform award!

NativeHQ win Multiplatform Award

Big thanks to the theatre critics of Wales for giving us an award for the best use of digital/online content at the inaugural Theatre Critics of Wales Awards in Cardiff this weekend. We won it for our work with National Theatre Wales on The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, by Tim Price.

We designed an online project that created a native web experience of the play by embedding CCTV cameras into the set of the show, livestreamed the play and gave the online audience a chat space to communicate with each other and external links for viewers to explore the story in more depth that changed throughout the play to reflect what you were watching.

Multifplaform design awardWith Wikileaks, Anonymous and the Bradley Manning Campaign all tweeting links to the web production, nearly 10,000 people watched the play as it was beamed from Tasker Milwood school in Haverford West, Cardiff and Connah’s Quay in North Wales. On the final day of the show in North Wales, someone in the council switched off the internet for the weekend, so we were left streaming the production through a 3G phone tether!

Bradley has nearly been in prison without a full trial for 1000 days. It now seems very likely that he did indeed leak the documents that he has been accused of sending to Wikileaks and with many Americans baying for blood, it’s is likely he will face a jail sentence. But having been a catalyst for the Arab Spring and brought the truth of American action in war and foreign policy thinking to global awareness, it seems like this Welsh Geek has done more in his young life to change the world than most of us ever will.

Many thanks to everyone involved in the production – Lucy, David, Jacob and Mike, to the creative team Tim, Chloe, Natasha, Mike, the cast and crew, and special thanks to John McGrath, the artist director of National Theatre Wales, for his vision and bravery in making NTW one of the most innovative digital theatre companies in the world.

Find out more about the campaign to support him through his ordeal by visiting the Bradley Manning Support Network.

The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning – using the internet with theatre

During April 2012, National Theatre Wales produced an important new play about Bradley Manning, the alleged Wikileaker who spent some of his early teenage years living in Haverfordwest in West Wales. NativeHQ designed and ran the multiplatform element of the production, in which we produced a global live stream of the play during every one of the live performances.

NTW’s Artistic Director, John McGrath, got NativeHQ involved very early in the development of the production, as writer Tim Price was developing his early drafts. We had a chance to think through the various options for placing the play into online spaces and settled on the live streaming concept, using surveillance cameras built into the set.

Tim wanted whatever we did to point to Bradley Manning, so we conceived of a web page which would go beyond simple live streaming to include live chat among virtual audience members and links that connected what was happening on the live stream with source material such as new stories, weblogs, interviews and even an archive of the website that Bradley created during his time in Wales.

Being integrated into the creative team provided us with an important opportunity to work with the very talented team putting together the show. Kudos should go to Producer Lucy Davies, Production Manager David Evans and Assistant Producer Michael Salmon , designer Chloe Lamford, Lighting Designer Natasha Chivers, sound guys Mike Beer and Matt Gibson, techie Jacob Gough, Stage Managers Fiona Curtis and Gemma Thomas, Costume supervisor Jo Nichols and AV designer Dan Trenchard. And of course Hoffi, who co-ordinated the website build, and Kinura who managed the live streaming infrastructure. Wales is lucky to have an impressive theatre community and tradition emerging here under John’s guidance.

Learning about theatre and multiplatform

There was a huge amount of learning about the process of theatre co-creation and how multiplatform production can find a place within this process. The big lessons are around time, budget and working closely with all those who are affected by the multiplatform work – it’s often new to theatre practitioners and going through the implications for their work can often take time and careful explanation.

The live streaming wasn’t without its technical problems – the last performances in Connah’s Quay, which were run by Carl, faced the challenge of a complete shut down of internet accessibility by the council, which seemed to have closed for the weekend. Carl and Michael Salmon stepped up to this by livestreaming the show to the world via a 3G connection through  Mike’s smartphone – impressive stuff, that hopefully none of the audience noticed.

In total, about 9000 people from over 70 countries around the world accessed the livestream, and it got wide coverage – it was tweeted by Wikileaks as well as the Bradley Manning Campaign, and a couple of theatre reviewers took the time to review the online experience, as distinct from the corporeal show. Dylan Moore from the ArtsDesk called it the ‘cutting edge of theatre’, while Daniel B Yates for Exeunt magazine used the opportunity to discuss the use of the internet in theatre and the nature of ‘Liveness’. Both reviewed gave the online experience four stars.

Reflections on live streaming theatre and immersion in web storytelling

Unlike physically live theatre, the use of live stream displaces the viewed by physical location and interaction. We become voyeurs. We played on this, and the themes of the story, by using the aesthetics of surveillance cameras. We also wanted to deepen the viewers immersion in Bradley’s story by offering them places to go through the links that were put onto the site during the show.

This was also important as it gave the viewed some measure of control over their own experience while keeping them in Bradley’s story – the web is a user centric, active medium, with that google search bar sitting at the top of the web page, making it easy to leave if the viewer is bored or distracted. In a theatre space, they are physically constrained, making it easier to hold attention. Adapting the story effectively to the web meant thinking carefully about the nature of the web medium and working to take advantage of its character in the multiplatform design.

The web offers new interactive possibilities to theatre makers, and we chose to take full advantage of the liveness in time that streaming offers, while thinking carefully about the way context collapses – viewers encountered it in offices, cafes, living rooms, kitchens or bedrooms. It was important to enable people to not only follow along, but share, comment, speak back, write and create themselves.

NTW18 was the latest in our journey of experimentation with multiplatform technology and John McGrath’s National Theatre Wales. It’s a journey that has taught everyone involved invaluable lessons on what is possible, what is involved in creating virtual spaces that work together with physical spaces, and the potential of the internet as a vehicle for storytelling and live multiplatform experiences.

Social media training with Size of Wales

Size of Wales training

Size of Wales is a great charity that is working to unite the people of Wales (and those who love us) around a project to protect an area of rainforest the size of (you’ve guessed it…) Wales.

They have made a great start to their work on social media with a fantastic effort to gain over 5500 fans of their Facebook Page, a brilliant Facebook application on their website that enables people to get together in Tribes to raise funds and regular interaction via Twitter.

The team wanted to come together to look at how they are using social media in support of their strategic goals. They also wanted to come up with creative ideas for creating digital content and promoting conversations about rainforests and action on fundraising.

We developed a process for the Size of Wales team which included evaluation and creative ideas generation. We also looked at specific issues with the functionality of platforms and ways in which the work being done by the whole team could feed into their communications work.

Find out more about our social media training

The Passion of Port Talbot: Michael Sheen

Michael Sheen multiplatform

It’s nearly a year ago since Michael Sheen’s The Passion of Port Talbot – one of the most acclaimed pieces of large scale participatory theatre in recent history.

The play that transformed the South Wales town of Port Talbot on Easter weekend 2011 was also live blogged to the world across multiple internet platfoms thanks to a project that we ran with a team of volunteers from the town. It’s one of the most exciting multiplatform events we’ve been involved with.

Port-Talbot.com was framed as a local blog within the world of the Passion story… writing as if everything happening in the show was happening for real. During the weeks leading up to the show, we built up the storyworld in the town, spreading news of a missing teacher from the town and a sinister multi national company ICU industries, which was due to arrive at the town soon.

We set in motion a transmedia experience with an alternative reality game (ARG) that took people from codes on graffitit defaced posters in Port Talbot town, to phone numbers, live events and the web, leading to the release of a unique short film with Michael Sheen as the character, The Teacher.

We lived blogged the events that took place in Port Talbot over the weekend, filming the action and editing and uploading it to the web within a couple of hours. The final crucifixion scene was witnessed by twelve thousand people on the streets of Port Talbot and tens of thousands more online from one hundred and twenty countries.

Live blogging has the advantage of bringing an event to the web, enabling people from all over the world (from 120 countries!) to feel involved and connected to events on the ground. With the Passion, we created the blog as a new character in the story – a media outlet that was part of the world in which The Passion took place.

Looking back to The Beach: the multiplatform design

It’s hard to believe that two years ago I was caked in sand, doing early development of The Beach theatre game.

I thought I’d blog some of the background to the multiplatform work we did, partly because we have come to regard this as one of the core specialities of NativeHQ and partly because multiplatform theatre is a growing area of innovation. I also wanted to pull together some of the relevant links in one place.

The Beach was a pioneering theatre production combining drama with gameplay, produced by National Theatre Wales in association with Hide & Seek. The live event ultimately took place on the sands of Prestatyn, Wales in late July 2010. If you’re curious about the live game itself start with the blog post about game design and others tagged ntw05 on the theatre’s community site.

But as I said, let’s consider the multiplatform aspect to the production.

Theatre-goers were given the opportunity to interact with the characters of Charlie and TJ in advance of the game via discussions on their personal Facebook profiles.

I was reminded of the importance of time here. Time is among a multiplatform producer’s best assets. I think one particular challenge we had was that we were building not only character profile pages (which is trivial) but social networks of audience members to be friends for the characters (which requires promotion of some kind). If you don’t have time to build these networks of friends/followers, you need massive exposure. That same summer in 2010 Bethan Marlow (who was one of my co-writers on The Beach along with Rhiannon Cousins) worked on Such Tweet Sorrow which was an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet on Twitter. The Royal Shakespeare Company, the producers of the show, made excellent use of the Twitter fever and their own reputation to build the characters social networks rapidly. Another advantage RSC had was that their production, while multiplatform, was online-only whereas we were sharing the attention between online and the live game on the beach. If anything The Beach used online as an adjunct to the live game.

While this was happening and the live rehearsals were beginning I captured a few One Minute With video interviews, which weren’t part of the drama but intended to be a chance to meet members of the production team behind the scenes.

The characters also produced daily phonecam videos where they gave story details and began to recruit members to the mission, i.e. members of the audience. These and the other social media activities were an integral part of the theatre production, the drama and its interactivity. Members of the audience began to consider themselves participants and had some early affinity with the characters. Because each video was uploaded while fresh it felt very spontaneous and dramatic, very much like theatre although the medium was online video. This contributed greatly to the later success of the live event. From a theatre production standpoint, the videos provided additional opportunities for the director Catherine Paskell to help the actors develop their characters in advance of the live game.

A key aim was to guide the online storytelling strategy and ensure that the drama was expressed believably through social media. I’m very pleased with how this was done and in the process I definitely learned some valuable insights about character and story from my colleagues on The Beach project.

A465 social media surgeries – Merthyr Tydfil and Ebbw Vale

We are currently organising social media surgeries in Merthyr Tydfil and Ebbw Vale, Wales.

Have a look at the following two events hosted by A465.com, an initiative for people living and working in the Heads of the Valleys.

Wednesday 22nd February 2012

Orbit Business Centre, Merthyr Tydfil
8:30AM – 10:30AM session for businesses
12:00 noon – 2:20PM session for community groups

Friday 24th February

The General Offices, Steelworks Road, Ebbw Vale
9:00AM – 11:00AM session for businesses
12:30PM – 2:50PM session for community groups

As you can see above there are two dates, each of which has two sessions. You can find a whole lot more event info on the A465 site or have a look at the flyer for business and the flyer for community groups/projectsBook your free place now.

National Theatre Wales Community in the Guardian

The Guardian published an article I wrote about the National Theatre Wales Community today in their Culture Professionals Network. Here’s the link – it’s called “The next step to social networking is to build your own online community” and looks at how the community, which is built on the Ning platform,  has been used by the theatre to develop as a company.

One of the most important ways in which the community has affected the growth of the company has been to enable them to invite participation in their development of policies and initiatives. Everything that they do is communicated through the community, including the framing of their approach to commissioning, casting and theatre criticism. The community site allows the to throw the virtual doors open and invite comments and debate about their work and the direction of theatre in Wales.

Encouraging people to participate in an online community isn’t easy – it’s not just a simple matter of ‘build it and they will come’. It takes commitment from the people at the top to set participation in online discussions by the staff as a clear priority for the work of the company, something that John McGrath the Artistic Director has given in spades.

John is one of the most committed bloggers on the site, regularly sharing his thoughts and reflections about the work of the theatre, responding to people who seek his views. We trained their staff to administer the network, to blog and to help people to feel welcome and encourage them to participate in the debates and discussions held online/

One thing is certain – setting up an online community for a major national institution has been an exciting process and has brought some changes to the way that the company operates – it changes the demands on the staff team, requires training and guidance and it changes the feeling that people have about the institution – hopefully people have felt more involved and listened to.ask for his thoughts and leading debates about where theatre is going – see for example this recent discussion on the shape of political theatre.

There is still a lot to do for the company to realise all the opportunities to connect and communicate with the arts community in Wales that this resource offers them, but they have made a tremendous start and we wish them all the best as they continue to develop their online community, and the theatre community as a whole in Wales.