The benefits of audience research
It’s all about audiences
What would be the point of a cultural institution without audiences? Visitors, spectators, listeners, readers or users keep it alive. Audiences in all their diversity are an essential component of any cultural institution. An institution’s legitimacy is rooted in its service to the public: presenting and making available the results of its cultural work. Audiences are more and more in the focus of these institutions, especially when genuinely audience-oriented.
The concept of audience orientation first spread under the labelling “visitor orientation” and has since been extended to all kinds of audiences. It refers to a fundamental and comprehensive attitude of the institution placing the audiences at the very core or everything. A museum, for example, understands visitor orientation and its implementation as a strive for excellence in the full panoply of museum work, from infrastructure to collection policy, from exhibitions to museum education and mediation programmes.
The premise of audience orientation is to know one’s audiences, their expectations and their needs. Far from submitting to the diktat of mass opinion, its purpose is to reach the institution’s goals in the most efficient way.
Audience-oriented cultural institutions strive for excellence. To achieve it, an organisation needs to gain sufficient knowledge about its users‘ opinions and wishes. In order to design an outstanding cultural offering, it is crucial to have information about the social structure of visitors, their behaviour, their motivations, their satisfaction levels, the interests of potential target groups, as well as to respond to their feedback. This information should be gathered through systematic and in-depth research going far beyond simple audience observation.
Audience research is an instrument used to gain scientific knowledge about audiences and target groups. It includes fundamental research in humanities and social sciences as well as their implementation in empirical studies. Amongst them are the so called “visitor studies”, case studies dealing with specific questions raised by one particular institution. Their findings are of direct benefit to the institution thus examined.
A visitor study could bring answers to whatever you want to know or should know about your audiences, such as:
|Who are our visitors?|
|Why do they come, what do they expect?|
|Did I reach the target group I wanted to reach?|
|Who are the potential visitors who did not come?Why didn’t they come?|
|How well-known is our institution? What image does it have with the general public?|
|Are our visitors satisfied?|
|How did they behave in the exhibition, which parts of it did they visit, what texts did they read, which hands-on displays did they use?|
|Have we managed to answer the needs of our visitors?|
|Did we achieve the objectives we set up for the exhibition?|
|What do our visitors think of the new display or the educational concept we have developed?|
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