Consumer Perceptions of Arts Organizations’ Strategies for Responding to Online Reviews (Abridged)

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by Jennifer Wiggins, Chanho Song, Dharti Trivedi, Stephen B. Preece

 

The shift towards Web-based communication has fundamentally changed the role of critical reviews in consumers’ decisions concerning attendance at arts events. In addition to professional critics, amateur critics and audience members are now influencing consumer decision-making (Bronner and de Hoog 2010). Consumers are reading and posting reviews before and after attending events (Kerrigan and Yalkin 2009), and the reach of online reviews extends far beyond that of reviews in newspapers or on broadcast media (Chen and Xie 2008; Libai et al. 2010). While critical reviews previously had a brief impact and then disappeared from public view, they are now archived online and are available at any time (Dellarocas et al. 2007). Arts organizations that previously could respond to reviews by quoting only positive aspects in their advertising (Basuroy et al. 2003) now must cope with the full text of mixed and negative reviews being available to potential audience members. Arts organizations must choose how to respond to these reviews in the new environment of critique.

While there has been extensive research on the impact of reviews on consumer behaviour, research on organizations’ strategic responses to reviews has been limited. Researchers have found that some response from the company consistently outperforms no response in minimizing negative emotions, creating positive attitudes towards the company, and increasing purchase intentions and future sales.

Yet this may not be the case for the arts. Negative information is a commonplace, expected outcome of the ongoing critique of artistic work by both professional critics and audience members. In this study the authors examine how consumers react to arts organizations’ strategic responses to mixed or negative online reviews.

They conducted two studies to examine four different strategic responses that reflect the strategies identified in previous studies by Johnson and colleagues (2016): offering no response to the review, quoting only the positive aspects of the review, posting a link to the full text of the review, and inviting consumers to respond to the review and thus attempting to engage them in a dialogue. The studies used two different website designs with the same information and rated each on four seven-point semantic differential items. Participants then read a critic review and responded to three seven-point semantic differential items.

Results of Study

Study 1 found that consumers react differently to strategic responses and that their preferences lean more towards full disclosure of critic reviews. Quoting positive aspects of the critic review led to higher scepticism and lower trust, ultimately leading to more negative attitudes towards the response and the theatre. In contrast, the strategies of posting a link to the full text of the review or inviting consumers to respond to the review led to lower scepticism, higher trust, and ultimately to more positive attitudes towards the response and the theatre. Surprisingly, this did not vary with the genre of the theatre, and it did not appear to have an effect on consumers’ likelihood of attending the play.

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Study 1: Traditional Web Site

Study 2 suggested that consumers viewed responses to critic and consumer reviews differently. For the critic reviews, linking to the full text and inviting consumers to respond were viewed equally positively, while offering no response was viewed only slightly more positively than quoting the positive aspects of the review. For consumer reviews, altering the review by quoting only the positive aspects led to the most negative response, with higher scepticism, lower trust, and more negative attitudes towards both the response and the theatre. Inviting consumers to respond to the review was still generally viewed positively, but also led to an increase in scepticism towards the response. Offering no response did not lead to less trust in the theatre or to a less positive attitude towards the theatre. This suggests that consumers perceive the best response to a consumer review to be to make it available unedited and not offer a response from the theatre or invite responses from other consumers.

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Study 2: Contemporary Web Site

Implications

These findings suggest that consumers do react differently to different strategies for responding to critique. The modern approach of altering or quoting from reviews generated distrust and scepticism and resulted in more negative attitudes towards the organization, while the postmodern strategy of providing access to the full text of reviews was viewed positively and led to more positive attitudes towards the organization.

While consumers do engage in communication among themselves and respond to each other’s comments on performances, it seems that participation of the organization in this dialogue is viewed as a violation of norms or expectations and not as an attempt to engage the audience.

Finally, in the postmodern environment of ubiquitous critique from multiple sources, consumers do not necessarily expect organizations to respond. Indeed, given the prevalence and availability of critique, particularly online, consumers may not perceive a need for organizations to engage directly with amateur critique or become part of the consumer dialogue.

Perhaps the most interesting finding is that none of the response strategies had any impact on consumers’ likelihood of attending the play. Fear of a decrease in purchase intention, and subsequently ticket sales, is what drives the inclination to respond to negative reviews. Our results suggest that this concern may be exaggerated in the current review environment. Interestingly, consumers’ attendance decisions also did not appear to be highly influenced by the review itself, as rates for reported likelihood of attending were relatively high for the general population. Also, as the impact of a single negative review has decreased in the postmodern online environment of critique, there may no longer be a need to craft a strategic response to avoid a decrease in ticket sales.

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Image: stagemilk.com

These findings have clear implications for managers of arts organizations. Consumers are likely to reward arts organizations for providing open, unedited access to reviews and for engaging consumers in a dialogue surrounding a mixed or negative professional review. Organizations are likely best served by providing their most committed attendees with full access to reviews and enabling their audience to come to their defence if necessary.

The most important consideration, given the results of this study, are the long-term reputational advantages of open, transparent, genuine communication versus short-term transactional messages. Consistent and successful execution of this strategy over time will arguably encourage longer-term audience loyalty as well as an inclination towards other beneficial relationship support such as donations and sponsorships.

These results also suggest that audiences ultimately make up their own minds about what they want to attend instead of blindly reacting to reviews. The role of promotional efforts may need to evolve from one of convincing potential attendees that the presentation will be appealing to one of helping them know and understand what is being presented, enabling them to decide whether it will appeal to their tastes. This approach could engender a sense of trust and goodwill among potential attendees, reinforcing the message that audience well-being is the foremost concern over the long term.

The full study data and results can be downloaded from the International Journal of Arts Management, Volume 20, Number 1 – Autumn 2017.

Basuroy, S., S. Chatterjee and S.A. Ravid. 2003. How critical are critical reviews? The box office effects of film critics, star power, and budgets. Journal of Marketing 67(4), 103‑17.

Bronner, F., and R. de Hoog. 2010. Consumer‑generated versus marketer‑generated websites in consumer decision making. International Journal of Market Research 52(2), 231‑48.

Chen, Y., and J. Xie. 2008. Online consumer review: Word‑of‑mouth as a new element of marketing communication mix. Management Science 54(3), 477‑91.

Dellarocas, C., X. Zhang and N.F. Awad. 2007. Exploring the value of online product reviews in forecasting sales: The case of motion pictures. Journal of Interactive Marketing 21(4), 23‑45.

Johnson, J.W., S.B. Preece and C. Song. 2016. How are arts organizations responding to critique in the digital age? Arts and the Market 6(1), 17-32.

Kerrigan, F., and C. Yalkin. 2009. Revisiting the role of critical reviews in film marketing. In Mashing‑up culture: The rise of user‑generated content, W.E. Hemmungs and M. Ryman, eds. (pp. 169‑86). Uppsala: Uppsala University.

Libai, B., R. Bolton, M.S. Bugel, K. de Ruyter, O. Götz, H. Risselada and A.T. Stephen. 2010. Customer‑to‑customer interactions: Broadening the scope of word of mouth research. Journal of Service Research 13(3), 267‑82.

Bringing the Business of the Arts Back to Bogotá: Interview with Daniela Alzate, Marketing Advisor to Teatro Colon

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Daniela Alzate (2014) is a graduate of the MMIAM program’s first cohort.  She completed undergraduate studies in piano performance in 2012 and was working as a piano teacher in a music academy in Bogotá, Colombia when she decided to apply to the MMIAM program. We asked her what influenced her decision to pursue graduate studies in international arts management and talked about where her studies have led her in her professional life.

What was your experience in arts management prior to applying to the program?

I didn’t have any experience at all. I finished my undergraduate studies in piano performance in 2012 and soon afterwards, I was flying to Dallas for the MMIAM program, so even my work experience was limited. I was working with children as a piano teacher for a music academy in Bogotá for one and a half years before moving to Dallas to begin the MMIAM, so my experience was more focused in music education rather than anything related to arts management.

Why did you decide to pursue graduate studies in international arts management?

When I was teaching piano, I knew that I was helping only one child at a time. I was not making a big impact on improving the cultural environment in my city. My decision to pursue graduate studies was mainly to learn about arts management and how I could help improve the cultural sector in Bogotá. In addition to working as a piano teacher, I also worked with an entrepreneurial friend at his business. Through him, I learned a lot about marketing and discovered a new field of knowledge that interested me.

I realized that I could use this knowledge to help artists in my country. In our music programs, musicians learn a lot about music history, performance, and so on, but not about how to face the real world of the arts once you finish university. There are no courses to teach them about this and they are left to learn on their own. I enjoyed teaching, but did not see myself doing that for my entire life and I saw an opportunity to help the cultural sector in Bogotá on the business side.

Where are you currently working and what are your primary responsibilities?

I am currently working as the Marketing Advisor to the Teatro Colon in Bogotá. I have many different responsibilities, including managing various aspects of box office operations, including determining ticket prices and promotional offers, the allocation of complimentary tickets and customer service; managing space rentals and coordinating all the ensuing requirements for rentals in the theatre; negotiating corporate event packages for different companies; creating and managing patron satisfaction and audience profile questionnaires; conducting market research for communications and programming purposes; and managing stewardship of all sponsors, including activating sponsorship benefits and writing follow-up reports.

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Teatro Colon in Bogotá, Colombia. (Image via teatrocolon.gov.co)

Which courses/what aspect(s) of the program were the most valuable to you for your career and why?

The marketing research course with Professor Alain D’Astous was very important for me. I am conducting a study right now to profile audience members and identify key demographics for different events. François Colbert’s marketing courses were very important for the work I am doing now as well. Perhaps the most applicable and useful course for me was the fundraising course in Dallas with JoLynne Jensen. Even though the reality of fundraising opportunities in the United States is very different from that of Bogotá, it helped me to understand how the fundraising process works in another country, how funds and sponsorship benefits are managed for an event, the element of publicity and media coverage, and so on.

Which campus was the most memorable for you and why?

From an academic perspective, definitely Montreal. It was a very interesting time in my studies, not just because I experienced living in wintertime, but also because, academically, it was a lot of work. Adapting to different environments was a good life skill to learn. The focus in Montreal was MBA-level marketing and was very demanding compared to the other countries.

Giving arts managers an edge in the international market: In conversation with François Colbert, Co-Director of the MMIAM

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colbertfrancois_2008-smallFrançois Colbert holds the Carmelle and Rémi Marcoux Chair in Arts Management at HEC Montréal and the UNESCO Chair in Cultural Management. He is also the Co-Director of the Master of Management in International Arts Management program.  Laura Adlers met with François recently via Skype and asked him how this program, now in its fifth year, is different from other arts management programs.

What is it about the MMIAM program that differentiates it from any other arts management graduate programs in the world?

First of all, this is the first program that is focussed specifically on international arts management, but more than that, it is the first program offered over one year in four international cities, with the experience of living in four different cities, adapting to new environments and truly living the international experience.  In addition, our cohorts are small (ideally 10-15 students), and are truly diverse in terms of their cultural backgrounds and experiences in arts management in their home countries.

Why were Dallas, Montreal and Milan chosen as the three main international campuses for the MMIAM program?

There are many graduate programs around the world which have arts management components as part of an MBA or which have business courses as part of an arts management graduate degree, but we are unique in that our course curriculum is taught by exceptional faculty at internationally-recognized business schools which also have great arts management programs.  The program idea was mine, but it really developed in partnership with Dr. Zannie Voss at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.  Her reputation as a leading academic researcher and instructor in both the Cox School of Business MBA program and at the Meadows School of the Arts arts management program is well-known. This is why our two schools formed the foundation of the program.

Many people ask, “Why Dallas?” In fact, I was surprised when I visited Dallas for the first time at the incredible cultural district, which is a concentration of cultural facilities and arts organizations on 68 acres and 19 contiguous blocks in downtown Dallas.  It is the largest arts district in the United States and is home to some of the city’s most important cultural facilities and organizations, including the Dallas Museum of Art, Nasher Sculpture Center, Crow Collection of Asian Art, Perot Museum of Art and Nature, AT&T Performing Arts Centre, Winspear Opera House, Dallas Opera, Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas Symphony, Dee and Charles Wyly Theater, Dallas Theater Center, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Dallas Black Dance Theater, and Klyde Warren Park, among other attractions. So, not only is this cultural district a very interesting case study in municipal cultural planning, but our visits to these facilities and organizations as part of the MMIAM program also add so much to the academic and cultural experience.

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The Dallas Arts District. (Image via dallasartsdistrict.org)

Our partnerships with SDA Bocconi and Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá were created, because they are regarded as two of the top business schools in Europe and South America respectively, but also because we already had established relationships with Alex Turrini at Bocconi and Jaime Gutiérrez at Los Andes. The culture and history in both of these cities are unique and fascinating and add so much to the MMIAM program. The faculty members at all four schools are passionate about the arts; many of them have been arts managers themselves, or have served on arts boards for many years.

What is the focus of study at HEC Montréal, where you are based?

We teach a Master’s in Arts Management at HEC in French, so when we were developing the curriculum for the MMIAM program, I wanted to ensure that our students got the full benefit of being taught by experts in the field of arts management. Our focus in Montréal is more on marketing, but there are also other topics which I thought were important, like the Leadership Management course, and a course in Information Technology.  Our strength at HEC is marketing and market research, however, so this is the primary focus for the MMIAM program.

The students also visit Bogotá, Colombia for a 10-day Campus Abroad program. What do they experience there?

We visit the beautiful Universidad de Los Andes campus and about twenty cultural and private sector organizations which are involved in innovative cultural programs. We also travel for two days outside of Bogotá to visit Villa de Leyva, where there are many artisans and cultural activities.

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The MMIAM’s second cohort in Colombia

The Bogotá campus is unique in that students learn about how a developing country can use cultural activity for social innovation to benefit the broader community. Besides the high art concert halls and theatres, there are foundations and businesses which work with the underserved communities of Bogotá to engage them in the arts and cultural projects and give them opportunities which will hopefully benefit them long-term. There is a real push towards the democratization of culture in Colombia, which has six class levels [according to Colombia’s system of legally defined socioeconomic levels], the bottom two being very poor and the top two being very wealthy.

For the students, it is eye-opening, as it was for me the first time I visited. We visit the national library, which has a system in place which allows everyone to access literature across the country.  The philosophy in Bogotá is that the poor and underprivileged deserve the best.  The national concert hall offers free tickets for 20% of the hall, and brings families in on buses from the poorer parts of the city to see world-class orchestral, dance, theatre performances for free. Colombia is the most stable country in South America right now and they have really done a lot in the last twenty years to improve the quality of life in the country. The cultural policy and private sector investment, including foreign investment, has had a lot to do with this.

The MMIAM program was launched in the 2013-14 academic year and is now in its fifth cohort.  How many students have completed the program to date and where are MMIAM graduates from?

To date, 54 students from 18 countries have graduated from the program.  They have mostly been from the United States and Canada, but we have also had candidates from Colombia, Mexico, Chile, Peru, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Switzerland, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Czech Republic, India, Iran, Indonesia, Singapore, and Australia.

Who is your ideal applicant for the program or are you looking for a broad range of backgrounds?

We are looking for broad diversity in terms of country of origin, arts sector, and level of experience, and of course we want people who are passionate about the arts. We are not going for quantity, we are really going for quality. The ideal candidate is around 25-30 years of age, and with at least five years of experience, but we have had more experienced arts managers in their late 30s and 40s in the program, as well as a few very bright candidates under 25. We really choose our candidates on a case-by-case basis.

Why do you think the specific study of international arts management is important for the profession and for the cultural sector?

More and more globalization is happening in the arts. I have been in this field for 45 years, and know that most individual artists and arts organizations want to tour – dance companies, orchestras, art or museum exhibits – and the international market is open to them as never before.  More than anything, we would like to give our alumni the edge to be able to work in the international market and to understand that working with different cultures means learning and understanding different ways of doing business.

What innovative ideas have you observed in the cultural sector in Canada which are leading the new wave in culture management?

With larger arts organizations, I am seeing that they want to really engage with their communities and go beyond their art form. The two brightest examples in Montréal are Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and its new dance therapy centre [The National Centre for Dance Therapy] and the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts and its new art therapy centre. They both want to serve the community through presenting wonderful art, but also by using art to help their community. This kind of engagement also forces boards of directors to broaden the scope of their strategic planning and fundraising.

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The dance therapy program at Les Grands Ballets. (Image by Karine Kalfon via grandsballets.com)