Daily Archives: February 5, 2013

Human algorithms and arts audience development

The latest and greatest idea is the use of algorithms (check out You’ve Cott Mail’s line-up)  to produce suggestions for our audiences based on what they have already purchased.  Amazon and Netflix formats are being worked on underground to become the next big thing for arts websites.  At first I was excited about the possibilities.  Finally, I thought, we will be able to increase exposure to the arts by suggesting more arts that will matter to our audience members!

Today, I am applying the breaks based on a “rebuttal” from Adam Huttler, Fractured Atlas’s founder and Executive Director.  He did bring up the fact that these computer based algorithms could go astray and make suggestions that make as much sense as a ballet purchaser being suggested a grunge concert (although, maybe that would work for some?).

When I was reading the “buts” about the new computer algorithm formats, I came up with a major one myself.  I replied on his blog post and will save some time by quoting myself here:

Algorithms could be quite useful, but in all the hub bub on this brilliant discovery, we seem to be forgetting that back in the day, the customer services, sales, box office staff used to suggest other offerings to their patrons based solely on knowing their audience member’s tastes personally. There are talented people that can serve as an algorithm if they would take the time to get to know their audience members and keep track of preferences in their databases. Old fashioned up-selling should not be ruled out in favor of a computer attempting to fill this void.

Are we again attempting to go by the lazy side and use computers to build our audiences for us?  The last time this happened, the online ticket purchase without needing to speak to or see someone from the arts organization, we experienced patrons falling through the cracks.  And now, the computer algorithm suggestions may not only have people falling through the cracks, but cracking up when the suggestions are ludicrously spit out.

Why do we keep attempting to save time and effort when time and effort is what we need to get back to?  Word of mouth is the best way to build an audience for an event.  We have surveys upon surveys that are proving this.  Word of mouth involves human interaction.  We trust our families, friends and colleagues.  Do we trust a computer interface when it artificially computes word of mouth?  Most of the time we laugh at it because it is yet another inhuman form of mass marketing in disguise.

We need to humanize the arts again.  Good old fashioned interaction – face to face, people to people.  The golden age of customer service can’t come back too soon for us.  People make the world go round.  People energy creates an idea and catapults it into becoming a reality.  I will put my money on the Human Algorithms every time, and if you want to build the best audiences for yourselves, I hope you will too.

Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,


Shoshana Fanizza

Audience Development Specialists



“Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.”
~James Stewart

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Filed under Arts, arts management, Audience Development