Online tools have revolutionized the ways the dance field can market itself and the ways audiences provide feedback. While social media and web tools open new possibilities, the amount of time and technological skill necessary to utilize these tech applications can be daunting. What if an online platform acted as a one-stop “control room” for audience engagement, combining the ability to work with multiple tools in an easy-to-use interface? Would it lead to increased levels of marketing and communications activity in the dance field? And would it enhance interactions between viewer and artist, strengthening the impact dance companies have on audiences?
Brooklyn-based Misnomer Dance Theater created the Audience Engagement Platform, or AEP, as just such an online platform to help artists develop and manage their audience engagement practices. Built using open-source software and third-party APIs, AEP seeks to provide artists with a consolidated, streamlined process to create interactive web events and marketing campaigns. With EDA support, Misnomer trained dance artists to use AEP and assessed how the platform can be used by the field. Its features take into account the needs of dance artists:
The beta launch in 2011 opened up participation to a group of dance artists (most of whom are D/USA members), testing its features’ interest and effectiveness, the design’s intuitiveness, and the training needed to use it. Through case study research, EDA and AEP strove to determine the platform’s overall value to beta users including, ultimately, what fee level might be charged for it in the future, if AEP is to become self-sustaining.
Misnomer’s scope of accomplishments, in the end, was sizeable and some of its lessons learned are instructive to the dance field. Artists came to the project concerned about their financial bottom line and, as AEP staff says, “Any systematically applied increase in audience engagement will be reinforced if it can be coupled with creating revenue.” The notion of market segmentation was a new practice for some of the artists, who learned how to create a portfolio of events for smaller fan segments. Artists had excellent ideas for new engagement offerings, and were energized by swapping ideas as a group. Artists particularly appreciated the close involvement of the AEP community manager in facilitating their learning and experimentation within the platform. Some artists grew to derive pleasure and value from interacting with their audiences through the new kinds of events they had created.
On the practical side, since using any new software can be particularly challenging for people with limited time and tech expertise, the artists appreciated that the related software within AEP for ticketing and scheduling had been vetted and selected by Misnomer, so they not have to do it themselves. Considering its usage over the longer term, artists ranged from some, who were eager to stay involved and try new features of the software as it developed to others, who questioned the amount of time involved in using AEP and the value of it over other free products. Most were willing, if not interested, to “wait and see” how AEP continued to develop.
On an internal level, Misnomer itself learned substantive lessons about the significant investment, planning and leadership required to develop an ambitious new software platform, and those comments are available directly from the company, which experienced transition in its staff and board during the project.
AEP’s goal is to be a long-term, field-wide solution to connect those who create art with those who appreciate it. By providing a platform for interaction and assessing feedback from audiences and organizations, AEP has already answered some of the important questions about the impact of a centralized audience engagement hub on the relationships between dance companies and dance lovers. This exploration will no doubt continue as the platform evolves.Visit the Audience Engagement Platform
See also the content about this project that was presented during Dance/USA’s EDA Learning Exchanges, including video presentations from the grantees themselves about their project, as well as timelines, budgets, and other details.