In sports, fans feel “ownership” towards their team, which encourages them to support the team through good times and bad. At a time when attendance at traditional live performance may be declining, can dance companies build this same kind of loyalty? And if ownership is such an essential ingredient in encouraging engagement, then how does a company foster such a feeling across the boundaries of geography and time?
The Trey McIntyre Project, based in Boise, Idaho, hoped to answer these questions by using a mixture of live, non-traditional performances and online strategies to build lasting relationships between its company and its audiences. They explored methods that have proven to work for them not only in Boise, but now, with EDA support, on tour across the country.
All activity is connected through TMP’s strong web and social media presence, with consistent brand identity. Live events are linked with online strategies including smart emailing, podcasts, and videos. Texting technology connects with younger people.Encouraging participation, providing plenty of content (such as dance documentaries) and fostering one-on-one relationships has helped TMP build a local audience, which in turn becomes a base for patronage and advocacy.
Central to all communication—digital and in person—was giving audiences direct contact with the dancers themselves. All dancers have their own feature pages on the website and interact with audiences via tweets, texts and in person after shows.
While its website has been successful, TMP had hoped to find out if texting as well as spikes in the number of hits its social media pages see after events might eventually translate into a sustained connection with audience members. TMP conducted in-venue, post-performance mail-back audience surveys at four selected tour performances. As detailed in the EDA report below, the results of that research suggest that those who participate in residency activities show higher levels of engagement with the performances; however, that engagement activity cannot be interpreted to have caused these differences, since people self-select to attend these activities. In addition, TMP conducted an online survey to explore how individuals who engage with TMP via their website and other technologies (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc.) describe or feel a sense of ownership of TMP. From that, 20% of the respondents who live outside of Boise have never seen TMP live, yet follow them online. According to consultants WolfBrown, “TMP’s relentless focus on engaging its audiences and community has paid dividends in terms of generating a loyal local audience and a base of online followers.” However, the consultants then point out that no similar research has been done on other companies’ measures in these same areas, making it impossible to draw a comparison of whether these measures are higher than others.
As with other EDA grantees, the challenges for TMP related to capacity, relative to their size. In the beginning of the project, they were overly ambitious, pushing dancers and the organization to do more than was possible, soon concluding, as staff said, that “quantity of events is not quality.” They also learned to be more efficient within a set time period, better defining the purpose and goals of the particular engagement methods and forthright with presenters in shaping residencies and determining priorities. TMP did not have quite as much time for reflection on the project as desired, and hopes to develop more empirical measures for their work in the future.
EDA may have started as a project, but it has permeated the organization’s structure, resulting in a reorganization of staff to integrate engagement duties into three jobs, and they hope to make a full-time hire in this area. They are presently creating an online engagement manual, with a goal of sharing it with other arts organizations.
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.