Digital Break Down

Stuart Buchanan
Stuart Buchanan, founder of Sydney based multi-platform agency The Nest, talks about deepening engagement with digital strategy.

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Digital breaks down the idea of ‘them and us’ and gives us the ability to include the audience at all stages of the creative process.

So says Stuart Buchanan, founder of Sydney based multi-platform agency The Nest, and guest speaker at Creative New Zealand’s 21st Century Arts Conference in Wellington.

“Their feedback, ideas and suggestions can help us in a number of different ways, we need only pluck up the courage to ask.”  

Stuart tells us about using digital strategies to deepen audience engagement and some of his recent work, including mobile and tablet strategies for Art Gallery Of New South Wales and the digital rollout for the 2013 Sydney Festival. 


Tell us a bit about your background.

Prior to moving to Australia, I worked for many years as an arts marketing professional in the UK.  I was lucky to be around at the time when the web was in its infancy and there was a great deal of wide-eyed excitement about its potential.  At that point, there wasn’t really any idea of right and wrong, everything was essentially an experiment – the web was a work in progress, and that was hugely exciting.

When I was at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, I took the plunge and produced their inaugural web site in 1995, and then went on to deliver a series of digital projects for London’s Royal Court Theatre in the late 90s and early 00s - including international, collaborative writing projects, working in chat rooms with writers dispersed across the globe.

Since moving to Australia in 2003, I’ve been lucky enough to have been a founding member of a number of creative organisations – helping to establish and managing Sydney’s FBi Radio (a rare breed of station, dedicated to Sydney music, arts and culture); devising the framework and acting as the inaugural Executive Producer for the Creative Sydney festival in 2009; and part of the founding team for the social commerce platform, Community Engine.

I founded the multiplatform agency The Nest in 2010, as I wanted to create a business that merged my passion for the arts with my passion for digital.  The Nest therefore specialises in the delivery of web, social media, mobile & video exclusively for the arts and creative industries. We have a team of eight, based in Sydney, and our clients include Sydney Festival, Art Gallery Of New South Wales, Opera Australia, Sydney Writers Festival, MONA, Tropfest, SBS and others.

Tell us a bit about your recent and upcoming projects.

We’ve been working extensively with one of Australia’s leading museums - the Art Gallery Of New South Wales - on their mobile and tablet strategies.  In the last twelve months or so, we’ve delivered two iPhone apps and two iPad apps – the latter of which highlights the Gallery’s collection areas, enabling users to get up close to works by important Australian and international artists. 

We’re currently working on the first iPad app for Opera Australia, and on the digital rollout for the 2013 Sydney Festival.  We’re also deep inside an exciting new multiplatform project called This City Speaks, working with Melbourne-based filmmakers to deliver an interactive documentary series about the underground arts scene.

What should every good digital strategy include?

A genuine understanding of your audience, coupled with an unbridled creative vision.  The former is critical – we need to not only understand who our audiences are and how they ordinarily behave, but we also need to have their needs and desires foremost in mind.  The latter – the creative vision – is of course if where we let our imaginations run free, and bring the creative and artistic ambitions of our organisation into play in a digital context.

In what ways can we use it to deepen engagement?

Digital offers great opportunities for engagement with audiences – not simply to generate awareness of our work, but to listen to commentary and discussions that will give us insight into audience expectations and demands.  Those can radically alter our perceptions of how we’re perceived, and how successful we are, which in turn can also alter our mission , our direction and our delivery.

More than that, digital breaks down that idea of ‘them and us’ and gives us the ability to include the audience at all stages of the creative process.  Their feedback, ideas and suggestions can help us in a number of different ways, we need only pluck up the courage to ask. 

We also now have a greater opportunity to more readily inspire and enthuse through multiplatform digital storytelling – our stories needn’t start and end on stage, or on the gallery wall, we can extend the story almost exponentially through digital channels, to enhance the creative experience before, during and after attendance.

What aspects of the Audience Atlas NZ report resonate with how audience engagement maps in the digital world, and why?

Both the levels of engagement (stepping up from Potential Attenders to Givers) and the four pillars of Needs, Risk, Interaction and Relationship, can readily be mapped to similar concepts of engagement in a digital context.  Similarly, we look at how different channels might be appropriate for different segments – print budgets don't always allow for multi-channel messaging, but it can be achieved much more economically in digital.

I recognised a great many crossovers between digital strategy and the types of audience engagement issues outlined in the Audience Atlas report – and I hope to expand on some of those connections in my presentations this week.

What are some other major recent trends in the online behaviour of arts attenders?

Firstly, video is an increasingly critical part of the decision making process.  Audiences are using video to research and preview work before making the decision to attend or purchase – I’ve seen this cross-artform, in everything from dance to literature.  It’s hard for organisations and marketers to make the transition into video – we may feel that we’ve mastered print media and are conquering online, but video is another steep learning curve, and also requires a rethink about how we prioritise budgets.

Secondly, audiences are quite rightly looking for more interaction – not just on a day-to-day level, say on Facebook, but being able to connect directly with artists, ask questions, have discussions and comment on their work.  Often, our artists, directors and creatives need to step out of their comfort zone and talk more directly to audiences – marketers and publicists might be a guiding hand in this scenario, but they also need to step aside and let the audience walk behind the curtain.

What’s great about the 21st Century Arts Conference?

It’s presenting ideas, context and research that’s unique to NZ – which offers fresh insights into how I think about audiences and digital engagement, and importantly, challenges my preconceptions, built from the Australian experience.  In many ways, NZ and Australia are similar, but I’m much more interested in hearing about our differences.

What’s your big idea for 2012?

Whilst there’s no longer any reluctance to engage in digital (we’re all there now), I often find there’s still a lingering sense that digital is somehow secondary in marketing terms to print media, display advertising or more traditional promotional avenues.  As we've seen this week with the dramatic turn of events in Fairfax and News Ltd, digital must now come first, print second.  Not only that, mobile needs to come before desktop – already in many scenarios, mobile web browsing outstrips desktop web browsing, and that completely changes how we think about engagement. 

What place is always with you, wherever you go?

I’m from Scotland, so that’s always with me. I’ve always been lead to believe that NZ is Scotland’s spiritual sibling, so I’m looking forward to finding out if that’s true.  So far it’s been very cold and wet in Wellington, so I’m feeling very much at home!

Further information:


Stuart is also the editor of the blog The Shared Experience which celebrates art and creativity – in all its facets – and looks at how we use technology to enhance, extend and share our experiences.  His work has been praised by both The Guardian Newspaper and MTV Music Television, winning a MTV Europe Award for his online work with Goldfrapp in 2004, and an AIMIA Award Nomination for Art Gallery Of New South Wales iPad App in 2011.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

21 Jun 2012

The Big Idea Editor Cathy Aronson is a journalist, photo journalist and digital editor.

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