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Audience reactions to #ShakespeareLives diplomacy campaign

Analysing global audience reactions to the British Council’s #ShakespeareLives cultural diplomacy campaign

The cultural value of Shakespeare Lives is a multilingual research project commissioned by the British Council and Open University where eight researchers, including Brunel’s Billur Aslan Ozgul, explored global audience reactions to the programme. 

Shakespeare Lives was a year-long global programme of events and activities celebrating William Shakespeare’s work on the 400th anniversary of his death in 2016.

The programme was run by the British Council and the GREAT Britain campaign and celebrated Shakespeare as a playwright for all people and all nations. More than 140 countries took part in the festivities.

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The research analysed how social media users around the world engaged with this programme, what kinds of cultural value the campaign generated for users and what the British Council could learn about digital engagement from this campaign. Researchers conducted a qualitative analysis of Twitter, Facebook, Weibo and Vkontakte interactions around the 2016 Shakespeare Lives programme across five languages (Arabic, English, Mandarin, Russian and Spanish) and visual analysis of Instagram posts. Researchers presented the cultural value model and project findings to the British Council on 27 February 2019: Summary of findings.

Top 5 findings

  1. Social media was mainly used for promoting and sharing information
  2. Shakespeare Lives worked best when close, reciprocal local partnerships were formed
  3. Celebrities and local cultural intermediaries drove traffic
  4. Competitions, controversies and quirky posts and good visuals created engagement
  5. Shakespeare was the main attraction. Perceptions of the UK were enhanced but not changed

The project’s findings provide guidance to the British Council on how to improve its digital strategies at a time that the organisations accelerating their technological change.

Billur Aslan Ozgul and three other researchers also wrote a forthcoming academic article exploring the audience engagement with Shakespeare Lives on Twitter. This study explains the key Twitter actors, topics and types of engagement generated by the programme. It also explores whether the programme met the two different objectives of the British Council: 1) generate intercultural dialogue and 2) measurable returns both on investment and influence. The study shows that the programme garnered significant positive attention from members of the public around the globe, yet the ambition to boost ‘Brand Britain’ did not appear to materialise.

Forthcoming publications

Ozgul Aslan B., McAvoy Nieto E., Gillespie M. and O'Loughlin B. (Forthcoming, 2021). Shakespeare Lives on Twitter: Cultural Diplomacy in the Digital Age. International Journal of Cultural Policy.

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Project last modified 18/03/2021