Power Curve: Four (Short) Stories About Empowering Audiences

A few years ago arts organizations had the bright idea that they should sell tickets online. Not wanting to invest much in the effort, they turned to the obvious ready-made ticket seller: Ticketmaster. It wasn’t an encouraging experience. Orchestras reported mediocre online sales. It wasn’t until a customized ticket-selling web application came online that online sales proved their worth.

What was the difference? The new ticket services not only had seating charts and more information about performances, you could see the prices of every seat, and when you clicked on a seat, you could see the view of the stage from that seat. Customers loved it. Not only did online ticket sales take off, the average ticket sale went up 14 percent. Turns out when you put more control of the experience in the hands of the customer, they use it. And they choose to treat themselves better.

nike+.jpgNike has learned a similar lesson. The company’s Nike+ pairs running shoes with monitors that measure a runner’s workout.

Few things illustrate the power and promise of Living by Numbers quite
as clearly as the Nike+ system. By combining a dead-simple way to amass
data with tools to use and share it, Nike has attracted the largest
community of runners ever assembled–more than 1.2 million runners who
have collectively tracked more than 130 million miles and burned more
than 13 billion calories.

guardiancrowdsource.JPGThe Guardian newspaper found itself at a distinct disadvantage recently when the government dumped half a million million documents detailing expense claims submitted by members of parliament. Sorting through the documents would take reporters a year. So the Guardian decided to enlist readers. Editors put the pages online and asked readers to look at them and report back what they found.

How to lure them?

By making it feel like a game. The Guardian’s four-panel interface — “interesting,” “not
interesting,” “interesting but known,” and “investigate this!” made
categorization easy. And the progress bar on the project’s front page, immediately giving the community a goal to share.

Within a few days more than 20,000 readers had reviewed 181,829 pages and the newspaper began reporting on what they had found. Editors had mobilized their community to help produce the product, and readers were enthusiastic about it.

“Any time that you’re trying to get people to give you stuff, to do
stuff for you, the most important thing is that people know that what
they’re doing is having an effect. It’s kind of a
fundamental tenet of social software. … If you’re not giving people the
‘I rock’ vibe, you’re not getting people to stick around.”

logo_dashboard.jpgThis is the kind of thinking behind the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s Art Babble. (UPDATE: Lesson to self: Don’t post so late at night – I meant the IMA’s Dashboard. AB is also a project of the IMA] The idea is to empower the museum’s community by being as transparent as possible. So on the website you can find out how many people visited the museum that day, what art is hanging and what is in storage. You can even find out the value of the museum’s endowment at the close of the market.

Are most people interested in this level of detail? No. Is it a bit scary to have your endowment figures up for everyone to see in this financial market? Absolutely. But if people take more ownership of a community when they have more information, and if they feel encouraged to participate in that community because they can see how it works from the inside, then this is a smart strategy for growth.

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  1. Noelle says

    In your last example, I think you are referring to the Indianapolis Museum of Art's Dashboard, not ArtBabble. ArtBabble is an online destination for art videos (also extremely cool). The Dashboard measures aspects of the Museum's performance with stats: http://dashboard.imamuseum.org/

  2. says

    I have excitedly forwarded this column to colleagues in mental health services, crisis intervention training, organizational/ management development, public radio, jail ministry, and a variety of other endeavors where this concept seems wonderfully adaptable and useful. The final sentence here says it all! Mind & Imagination together here could lead to very exciting results in near-countless "venues."

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