With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
It's great to see how much technology is integrated into this year's National Arts Marketing Project Conference. Out of the three conference categories (audience actions, technology treasures, and eye on income), technology occupies a full third and among the others, many of the session panelists are from technology-focused businesses.
And of all the tools available to arts marketers, technology solutions provide some of the most powerful advancements in recent years to effect positive change.
At the same time, technology providers have a responsibility to resist overselling products and services; something I fear is beginning to get out of control to a point where some arts organizations are beginning to suffer from the pursuit of improved technology solutions.
It's become so commonplace among web and IT professionals in the field that dissolution is fodder for satire. For example, I received the following text from a colleague the other week who had this to say about the onset of a technology implementation project at her arts organization:
"...always fun to watch as people realize [Technology-X] doesn't cause gumdrops and lollipops to fall from the sky..."
Now, what's important to realize here is that Technology-X is actually a terrific solution and it does amazing things. But the other side of that coin it's a complex system that requires a sincere and vested effort among users to implement and maximize.
It's that latter part that doesn't get discussed much before decisions are made to invest in a solution and where some users end up falling short of maximizing potential because they underestimated the amount of effort and associated costs with mastering the system.
But that's precisely what needs to change; especially at a point in time when resources aren't something we can afford to fritter away on unforeseen learning curves.
Arts orgs need to learn which questions to ask.
As someone who has served as an arts consultant and technology provider for nearly two decades, I see a field that needs to expect more from its vendors. We need users to learn about the tough questions that folks in my position don't always want to answer and arts organizations need providers to become a vested partner in their success.
We shouldn't expect any sort of consumer protection mandated "truth in advertising" assistance to sweep in and save the day. Instead, we need to adopt a model of self regulated, responsible practices related to arts organizations using technology solutions to maximize local potential and build a sustainable system.
Arts marketing professionals need to learn which questions to ask and vendors need to shoulder the responsibility of making sure groups are taking advantage of what their services offer; without adopting business models focused on egregious profit margins or trapping users into a vicious cycle where the costs of leaving are far worse than the actual price. Here are a few areas where we can start:
- Training and ongoing support should be something that's rewarded and not used by vendors as an upsell opportunity.
- No more product demos that obfuscate the fact that the majority of features and functionality that make the product worthwhile are actually pricey add-ons. Oh, you want tires with this car; why didn't you say so? That costs extra.
- Service organizations, such as the Americans for the Arts, can provide unbiased assistance in teaching arts organizations how to go about soliciting and evaluating technology providers.
- A panel consisting of representatives from arts organizations and technology providers can create an arts technology code of conduct to establish recommended ethical business practices, etc. (take a look at the Apple Supplier Code of Conduct as a representative example).
What else would you add to the list?