Look at What People Look At

I’m particularly interested in what people pay attention to online. I’ve long known that images are particularly valuable in guiding the eye towards an article. In many cases, images can convey more about an arts event than can text.

Now there’s some research from the Poyntner Institute which can help guide arts managers in terms of what images work better than others. Notice I say "work better" which isn’t necessarily "look better" in the traditional sense. Stay with me here.

The Poyntner study (Poynter Online – EyeTrack07 ASNE Presentation Script) focused on how people got their news from newspapers, both online and offline. Here’s what caught my eye:

Color photos draw dramatic attention in broadsheet (print), compared to black and white photos.
Live, documentary news photos –– photos of real people doing things in real time — got more attention than staged photos. Studio or staged photos received little attention.
And mug shots got relatively little attention in any format.

So, if you’ve got a choice to use a stock image supplied by a PR company or agent, that won’t be nearly as engaging as an unstaged photo or something you may be able to take on your own. For instance, use a shot of an actor backstage, rather than their headshot. Take a picture of an author or speaker yourself with a digital camera, rather than one he or she provides.

Sure, some will argue the image you’ll get won’t be of the same "quality" as a professional shot, but it seems that doesn’t matter. The rules online are different than in print. Authenticity is more important than almost anything else. 

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