How Nonprofits Use Language as a Barrier to Progress

Want to be a relevant, digitally engaging, and future-facing organization? You may be starting out on the wrong track. Read more

Signs of Trouble For The Museum Industry (DATA)

As the US population grows, the number of people attending visitor-serving organizations is (still) in general decline. And this Read more

Six Urgent Reasons To Add Millennials To Your Nonprofit Board of Directors

If your organization doesn't have at least one millennial on its Board of Directors, then you may be setting Read more

Why Using Social Media For The Sake of Using Social Media Hurts Organizations

Conducting contests that none of your online audiences are interested in, spending copious time on the newest social media Read more

How to Score an Informational Interview: 7 Tips For the Information Age

“Picking someone’s brain” needs an update. Here's how to actually get an "informational interview" in today's world. For years it Read more

The New Trickle Down Effect: Why Nonprofits Are Innovators for Industry

The company for which I work annually invests millions of dollars to help nonprofit organizations better understand and engage Read more

How Nonprofits Use Language as a Barrier to Progress

Inigo Montoya - You keep using that word

Want to be a relevant, digitally engaging, and future-facing organization? You may be starting out on the wrong track. While it seems like a no-brainer, the first step is to actually understand what those words mean…because it seems that many executive leaders and staff members may not.

Before you skim ahead and chalk up these issues to “semantics,” consider that when a term is used incorrectly by leadership within an institution, other members of the organization begin to use it in the same way. When these important – and, definitionally, misunderstood – terms become “cheat” words for industry evolution, problems emerge. At the very least, the organization (if not the industry) is destined to be laggard until we either get the meanings right or someone creates a NEW word to represent the thing that the original word should have meant in the first place.  These matters of “semantics” are misguiding our industry.

Misusing (or perhaps unintentionally “redefining”) important concepts for strategic evolution happens constantly. I see it in my work every day – not to mention in public communications from nonprofit CEOs. Perhaps it’s because I’m a digital native myself, or because I work primarily with Baby Boomers to whom these words may seem relatively new in a contemporary context, or because I’m constantly in the thick of conversations regarding strategic change with my clients…but I find myself consistently feeling like Inigo Montoya (without the cool ‘stache) when words like “relevant,” “digital,” “engagement,” and the “future” come up. Interestingly, it seems that the meanings of these four important words have been jumbled together.

Cheating ourselves by not truly considering the meanings of these words may be playing a role in declining attendance to visitor-serving organizations and their increasingly grim business models. It’s certainly not helping us correct the effects of negative substitution facing the industry.

Let’s dive into these examples. Here are those four words that nonprofits often “cheat” themselves out of by (knowingly or unknowingly) redefining their meanings. In no particular order, ladies and gentleman…

 

1) Relevant (vs. current)

It seems that when someone asks, “How can we make our organization more relevant?” the proposed solutions involve tactics that are current (e.g. utilizing social media, providing analysis of a current event on a blog, or adding a widget to a website). But what if the question was phrased, “How can we make our organization more meaningful to our constituents?” (That, folks, is the true opportunity embedded within the word “relevant.”) When we use or interpret “relevant” to mean “current,” we miss the boat on more important conversations with greater potential to elevate individual organizations and the industry at large.

Being relevant is about connectivity, not content. Connectivity is king. Being current can certainly go a long way in making your organization more relevant to individuals, but promulgating the use of “relevance” to instead imply “current” shortcuts important conversations about how to actually connect with constituents and inspire them to act in the interest of your organization’s mission.

 

2) Engagement (vs. social media interaction)

Without a doubt, fostering engagement is critical for securing support in the information age. The more folks feel a connection with your organization by whatever means, the more relevant (yes, the real meaning of the word) an organization may become. Like being “relevant,” “engagement” is about connectivity. It heightens an organization’s ability to foster feelings of affinity that motivate a desired behavior.

Engagement actually means “to become involved in.” Engagement does not mean, “create a moment of semi-detached, low-level maybe-interest on a trackable social media platform”…so let’s stop using it that way. We miss out on important discussions about impact and strategy (and confuse ourselves by further  contributing to the social media data dilemma) when we reduce “engagement” to simply mean something like “Facebook likes.”

 

3) Digital strategy (vs. technological skillset)

I’ve saved the two most important for last. Industry misuse of the word “digital” may be the entire reason why many organizations aren’t very good at translating it into visits, membership, financial support, or even lasting engagement. Here’s a truth bomb: “Digital strategies” are actually real-life, human-being engagement strategies. As much as many folks working in organizations want to write “all things digital” off to the IT guys (or even the marketing department alone), humans do not think in HTML. Technological skillsets come in handy when deploying tactical, isolated aspects of these strategies. In other words, “digital strategies” are not necessarily about platforms, but about people. So executives should really stop saying, “I don’t understand that” as an excuse for digital illiteracy. This actually translates into, “I know nothing about how to engage our audiences – particularly on their preferred platforms – and I probably should not continue to hold my current position given how remarkably unqualified I am relative to the moment.” The data is pretty unassailable on this front.

Want to dig deeper into this dilemma? Here are five reasons why conceptually separating out “digital” is a problem that is making it harder for nonprofits to succeed.

 

4) Future (vs. present)

Talking about the “future” of organizations may be holding them back. Many industry resources supposedly focusing on “the future” are actually communicating about emerging trends that are happening right now…and when we call them “the future” we do ourselves a grave disservice for several reasons. (For a full run-down, check out this article.) Among those is the fact that calling things that are happening in the present “the future” excuses putting off critical issues, implies uncertainty (even though the data is anything but uncertain), and this misuse of the word also fosters a false and undeserved sense of “innovation” when many organizations are not even keeping up with the day-to-day realities of the world that we live in.

 

These “matters of semantics” are playing big roles in the progress (or lack thereof) of nonprofits and visitor-serving organizations. My hope is that by identifying these “cheats” we may open our minds (and our mouths) to having bigger, more meaningful conversations about the future of our own organizations and nonprofits at large.

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

 

Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Community Engagement, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Media, Technology, The Future, Words of Wisdom Leave a comment

Signs of Trouble For The Museum Industry (DATA)

Main Hall and Stairs Mational Museum Warsaw

As the US population grows, the number of people attending visitor-serving organizations is (still) in general decline. And this is a very big problem for sustainability without a digital-age shift in our business model.  It’s not just museums. Many visitor-serving organizations – science centers, historical sites, aquariums, zoos, symphonies, etc. – are failing to keep pace with population growth.

Consider: In the five-year duration spanning 2009-2013, the US population increased by 3.5% from 305.5 million to 316.1 million. The majority of this growth occurred in major metropolitan areas – the very population dense regions where many visitor-serving organizations are located. Indeed, nearly one in seven Americans live in the metropolitan areas of the country’s three largest cities – New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

However, during the same duration, data indicate that attendance at many nonprofit, visitor-serving organizations has declined. In fact, of the 224 visitor-serving organizations contemplated in the 2014 National Awareness, Attitudes & Usage Study of Visitor-Serving Organizations (NAAU), 186 organizations (83.0%) reported flat or declining attendance. And this is neither a regional nor curatorial content-specific finding – the study representatively contemplates visitor-serving organizations of every size, type, and area.

Many organizations are hesitant to acknowledge attendance challenges…especially when they have historically cited being the “most visited” as an indicator of their expertise and effectiveness. I sense that pressure from governing boards also plays a role – particularly as many organizations have been tasked to maximize earned revenues (often inevitably linked to visitation). Perhaps most concerning of all are attempts to blunt the challenge by proposing half-measures as remedy – you’ll no doubt recognize the “don’t worry, we’re going digital!” excuse and the related practice of sending mid-level staff to innovation conferences as attempted evidence of progress. (This last excuse may be especially worrisome as it seems that many staff members tasked to “innovate” may not actually be empowered to carryout their plans for advancement.)

But, regardless of the excuse, the numbers suggest that our industry risks becoming less relevant to future audiences. What does this mean to visitor-serving organizations? Let’s look at a few examples. (Note: To keep this from being a huge, overwhelming chart, I pulled out major metro markets and a few areas cited as “up and coming.”)

KYOB VSO attendance - IMPACTS

To illustrate, the population of the Atlanta, GA Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) has increased in the past five years by 9.4%. During the same duration, visitation to the Atlanta-area organizations contemplated in the NAAU study indicates an attendance decline of 4.6%. Think about that – if engagement were keeping pace with population growth, an organization with an annual attendance of 1,000,000 in year 2009 would reasonably expect to welcome 1,094,000 visitors in year 2013. Instead, on average, the studied organizations saw attendance decline from the theoretical 1,000,000 visitor level in year 2009 to 954,000 visitors in year 2013. Measured against the expectations of population growth, visitor engagement underperformed by 140,000 visitors!

The expectation would be for attendance to increase alongside population growth – otherwise, it is indicative of underperforming the opportunity.  Again, the findings are stark and concerning for organizations in the engagement business:

KYOB VSO Performance against expectations - IMPACTS

In most any other business, if you saw the market steadily increasing in size and your product’s usage in steady retreat alongside it, you’d likely think, “This business model sucks.”

Well, our business model sucks.

Confronted with this evidence, I’ve heard leaders recycle tired strategies of securing larger donations from an aging donor base, and plans to gain more grant funding from governments and foundations. Generally, they aim to “pivot” from a reliance on earned revenues to (hopefully…fingers crossed!) additional contributed revenues. Except no. The visitor-serving industry doesn’t need to pivot. It needs to reset.

Here are three behaviors we need to adapt to reset our current condition:

 

1) Stop citing poor previous efforts as evidence that something will not work

Some visitor-serving organizations will declare that they “already tried” something after investing only the most minimal of resources necessary to claim effort. This is a surefire recipe for failure …yet, it happens all of the time. Here’s a quick example: Many organizations will offer options to buy tickets online and simply invest enough to create a webpage for it. Then when nobody uses that method to buy tickets they say, “Look! We tried that and nobody bought tickets that way!” Actually, nobody bought tickets that way because your site wasn’t mobile friendly, it takes 10 different screens to buy a ticket, it requires several pages of personal information, it’s confusing and time consuming, and it costs more. Often it’s an organization’s own fault when data-informed things don’t work, but organizations frequently take a half (or maybe a one-tenth) approach to something and basically (knowingly or unknowingly) set it up for certain failure. This is just one, basic example.

“Our crummy product failed, ergo everything related to this project won’t work” justifies stagnancy by masking it with false wisdom. Organizations think that they are cutting-edge for trying something without any conviction, and that the wisdom they received from their inevitable failure justifies closing the book on really big things like digital engagement. How does this even make sense? This type of excuse-making is a shortcut to irrelevance. Just stop doing it.

 

2) Stop defending past decisions

This seems to be a particularly hard one for many leaders to embrace. After all, it may be human nature to defend one’s past decisions as “right” and “good.” And, at the time when they were made, they probably were. But times change. Today, we are witnessing incredible changes – many borne of technological advancement – accelerating progress at a revolutionary pace. By what rightful reason do we think that we’re exempted from the prevailing changes affecting the rest of the world?

Just because you spent thousands and thousands of dollars on print material doesn’t spare you from the necessity of hiring an online community manager. On a more substantial investment scale, those millions of dollars that you invested in a new entrance to facilitate faster put-through times doesn’t exempt you from developing a mobile ticketing platform that may make ticket counters increasingly obsolete. This is a lesson to learn in real-time (as opposed to retrospectively): Repairing and updating past decisions is often more time-consuming and, ultimately, more expensive in the long run than starting anew. It’s OK – heck, even encouraged – to approach the current condition untethered to the past. That was then, this is now.

 

3) Embrace the inevitable path of progress

Max Anderson, CEO of the Dallas Museum of Art, gave a short ignite talk at the most recent Museum Computer Network conference. The topic of his talk was how to “persuade your museum director to help you” (i.e. how to get him/her to invest in “innovation”). From the beginning of the video it’s easy to see one of the biggest, most glaring problems in our industry: He begins his talk by asking how many museum directors are at the conference. Very short awkward silence ensues…followed by laughter. Really?! Are even our conferences about innovation and new ideas attended primarily by middle managers?!

The reason for the lack of executive decision-makers at many conferences is not necessarily the fault of museum CEOs (as the conferences aren’t always adequately geared toward Directors). But it’s not wholly the task of middle managers to communicate and justify the imperative to remain relevant to CEOs either. There’s a messed up barrier to betterment here, and it has more to do with a flawed structure than simple lexicon within an antiquated museum hierarchy. His talk is absolutely true, probably staggeringly helpful, and thus amazingly messed up at the same time.

We’ve developed this detrimental idea that “digital” has to do with “tech” (not people), and “innovation” isn’t necessary for survival. Max Anderson’s “primer on the psychology of museum directors” underscores that the status quo (and, of course, legacy!) is what museum directors are primarily interested in…but the status quo isn’t working to bring in more people by creating crowds OR buzz. Efforts to abide the current condition fundamentally ignore the challenges imposed by a broken model. Changing lexicon is a pivot. Pivots sound pretty. Pivots sound agile. After pivoting, however, you may be facing in a different direction but you’re still standing in the same place.

Millennials – the largest generation in human history – may necessitate an update to the visitor-serving model in the information age. These “kids” will soon have kids, who will eventually have more kids, and if we continue to ignore the reality of negative substitution in our attendance, then we may soon have no museums, aquariums, or symphonies for those “kids” to go to at all. (OK – perhaps some hyperbole. We likely won’t have zero museums. Just more empty ones.)

 

The forces of change that propel the world forward are not going away. If we don’t change our model to one that is more sustainable, then we risk going away. This is a moment when our biggest barrier to engaging emerging audiences is holding dear to our increasingly irrelevant plans and practices. We need a reset. And it’s up to all of us to put our heads together and make it happen.

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

 

Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, The Future, Words of Wisdom 3 Comments

Six Urgent Reasons To Add Millennials To Your Nonprofit Board of Directors

Millennial board members

If your organization doesn’t have at least one millennial on its Board of Directors, then you may be setting your organization up for a difficult future. 

I cannot help but notice that the Boards of Directors of many large nonprofits are missing representatives from a critical current constituency – millennials. Strangely, this seems to especially be the case within large nonprofits (annual operating budgets >$30 million, or attendance >1 million for visitor-serving organizations)… And that’s particularly terrifying, as many smaller organizations often look to larger ones for cues to the future.

Missing millennial representatives on the board doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t loads of important conversations taking place about how to better engage millennials. It seems that many organizations are stuck in the mud of dialogue instead of finding traction in actually doing something constructive to meet this opportunity where it counts most. I’ve found that it’s not uncommon at many board meetings for there to be numerous Baby Boomers – and a few members of Generation X – waxing poetic about the urgent need to “engage millennials”…without any input from actual millennials.

The fact remains: The millennials aren’t coming.  They’re here now.  The time has come for organizations to sink or swim based on how effectively they engage millennials…which may be particularly hard to do when nobody tasked to govern leading organizations is actually a member of this generation. 

To be fair, there are some organizations that are moving forward and integrating millennials into their boards and strategic decision-making processes. I’m a millennial serving on the Board of Directors at the National Aquarium during an incredibly important time for the organization’s future. I’m grateful for this opportunity…but I also know that I’m one of relatively few millennials on the board of a larger nonprofit or a museum.

Don’t have at least one millennial on your Board of Directors yet? Here are six, critical reasons to call up the nominating committee and work on getting some impressive millennials aboard your nonprofit Board right now.

 

1) Millennials represent the largest generation in human history

…So not having at least one of them on your board may be a bit out of touch. Until Generation Y came along, baby boomers represented the largest generational cohort in the United States. However, at nearly 90 million strong, millennials have baby boomers outnumbered by an estimated 20 million people. As boomers age, the divide will continue to grow. This statistic alone should be more than enough to make executive leaders pause to consider the future of their organizations. Moreover, millennials will begin to tip the scales in buying power in the United States next year, and our economy will be feeling the impact by 2017.

 

2) Millennials will have primary influence on culture and society for an unprecedented duration

…So not having one on your board is delaying an inevitable future and holding back progress. I’ve written about this fact more directly before, but here’s a reminder: Millennials who have children are not having as many of them as their baby boomer parents. Moreover, Gen X (which is only roughly half the size of Gen Y) is simply too small in number to give birth to a future, large generation. Simply put, America’s birth-over-death rate is not increasing at the historic rates established by Baby Boomers. This means that millennials will remain the largest generational demographic in the United States for a much longer period of time than did the Baby Boomers – or any prior generation to date.

 

3) Millennials will significantly influence the outcomes of the next six presidential elections

…And if your organization does not get millennials involved in understanding policy-related challenges and opportunities from a leadership buy-in standpoint, you may be “voting” against your own best interests. Indeed, this depends upon millennials actually voting, but building any aspect of your organization’s survival strategy upon 90 million people not turning up for elections is a stupid strategy. Moreover, millennials will eventually dominate a very, very vast majority of all government leadership positions…mandatory government retirement policies dictate this math. Inviting millennials onto your board helps ensure that your organization’s best interests are best protected.

 

4) Engaging millennials requires immediate, strategic shifts in leadership mentalities

…Far beyond simply “using social media.” Engaging millennials isn’t merely a communication medium opportunity (especially because data suggests that millennials are not even close to the only audiences using social media). Engaging millennials requires new ways of thinking about marketing, development, human resources and operations, and even new strategic practices regarding things like membership. Millennial board members may provide valuable perspective regarding their own peer group and generational mindset.

 

5) What your organization actually DOES is more important than ever before

…And aiming to be seen as an organization welcoming millennials without actually welcoming millennials where it counts may actually be detrimental to your bottom lines. We live in a world now where everybody (not just millennials) increasingly look to real-time platforms to make decisions. People want to assess an organization’s promise, reliability, trustworthiness, and impact on their own – guided largely by perceived transparency. If your organization is actively trying to engage millennials, then it’s doing something smart (for the reasons mentioned above), but if it’s doing it without also empowering millennials where it counts (in the Board Room and the future of your social mission), then the story is incongruent. Thanks in large part to the web, we live in a “show vs. tell” world – and if what you say doesn’t match what you do, people are likely to notice.

 

6) Millennial board members can help connect your organization directly to millennial donors

…Because millennial board members can be every bit as valuable as other board members. Despite a strange want to promulgate the concept that millennials never do and never will actively contribute to nonprofit organizations, data suggests that most millennials actually do contribute. Yes, millennials donors exist and your organization is probably messing a lot of things up trying to engage with them even if you think you’re doing it right. (Here are six sad truths that I have learned as a millennial donor.) But the good things about adding other, more diverse members to your board are still true for millennials: insight, connectivity to the right people, an “in” with a valuable group of up-and-comers, and fresh perspectives.

 

With all of these reasons why it is absolutely critical to add quality millennials to your nonprofit’s board of directors, it makes me wonder why I don’t have many friends on the boards of larger nonprofits at all? It begs the question, “What are current board members of nonprofits so afraid of?” Change? Shifting tides? Loss of power? Diminished relevance?

Generational change and progress are inevitable – and they are horrible reasons to cripple the evolution of mission-driven organizations. The new first imperative of power should be not to retain it but, instead, to share it. That is the stuff of a true and worthy organizational legacy.

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Generation Y, Leadership, Management, Museums, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Change, Social Media, The Future, Words of Wisdom Leave a comment

Why Using Social Media For The Sake of Using Social Media Hurts Organizations

social media symbolsConducting contests that none of your online audiences are interested in, spending copious time on the newest social media features (that none of your audiences are using), measuring success by vanity metrics, and building out features that nobody is asking for…why do organizations do these things? They don’t help support bottom lines like getting folks in the door, building affinity, increasing donor support, or sharing knowledge if they aren’t relevant to your market or strategically integrated into an engagement plan…. and yet organizations brag about these useless endeavors to their boards and at industry conferences.

Many organizations seem to be feeling so “peer pressured” to be utilizing social media that they are using it to do stupid, time-consuming things for audiences that don’t matter (often, so that they may secure “innovation” points within the industry. Many museums, in particular, are guilty of this one). Your audience that does matter, however, is often left thinking something like this.

Using social media for social media’s sake is dumb. Let’s quit it. Want to impress the nonprofit next door (and also your donors and supporters)? Actually be good at running your organization and using social media to do so. A big reason for this problem is deep-rooted in how organizations view “digital” engagement. Specifically, many view social media as a tech skillset and not a strategy for building relationships with living and breathing human beings.

Doing social media for social media’s sake is like being expert at hammering a hammer but not knowing how to use it to build a house. You purposefully become expert at using the tool…but you forget that the whole reason that you have the tool is to actually build something. Hammers (social media) can help us build bigger and stronger houses (organizations) if we do something more than bang the floors with them.

Here’s why the rampant bad practice of using social media for social media’s sake is (at best) a distraction and, more likely, a stupid and capricious waste of time, talent, and resources:

 

1) It does not accomplish anything

Several questions should be considered before carrying out a digital initiative (or any initiative, for that matter). Some of those questions may be:

  1. Who will this initiative serve/who do we want it to serve?
  2. What do we want this audience to do in the near and long-terms?
  3. How does this initiative help us achieve our stated goals?
  4. “So what?” Or rather, what is the reason why this audience would be interested in this initiative? How is it relevant to them?
  5. What need does this initiative help serve?
  6. How will we capitalize on gains from this initiative with this audience (i.e. what will be the next step in the engagement process for them)?
  7. Does this initiative have value to our desired audience?

Only after contemplating these questions can one determine if an initiative is worth the required effort. If your organization has trouble answering any of these questions – or if the answers are too broad or inconclusive (e.g. “targeting all social media audiences” rather than a subset), consider altering the initiative so that it meets a strategic engagement need or opportunity. Know exactly who you are talking to with the initiative, why it is helpful/relevant to them, what you want them to do, and how you’ll keep them engaged. Most stupid initiatives have only resolved one or two of these things.

 

2) Providing the opportunity to participate does not mean that people will participate

The “If you build it…” mentality is categorically false. Just because you launch an initiative does not mean that people will take part in it. I don’t know why some organizations still overlook this fact. If you’re asking people to take an action that just has too high of a barrier/requires too much effort or doesn’t fulfill a relevant want for them, then they probably won’t do it.

I’m often asked things like, “How can we get more people to participate in our photo contest? We’ve done everything!” The answer depends on what you had hoped to accomplish by launching that specific contest. If you’re targeting the audience and they aren’t biting, chances are your specific initiative is just not going to provide the value you’d hoped because, well, the market has spoken and they are saying, “Nope. Not interested in doing that thing.”

 

3) It wastes resources

Resources can be tight for nonprofit organizations – and time is money. You may as well dedicate your time to spinning in circles in your office instead of carrying out social media for social media’s sake. In fact, that might even be better because it may cause you less stress than having to answer the question, “So…why was that strategically beneficial for us in the long term?”

 

4) It makes social media buy-in harder in the long run

On that note, carrying out several initiatives that aren’t strategically integrated into an engagement plan may make executives wonder what your engagement plan even is! Carrying out social media “bells and whistles” can be like crying wolf. How can executives (let alone your audiences) know which initiatives are important and which are for vanity? These types of initiatives may be especially difficult to reconcile if you don’t even have baseline practices down like social care.

 

5) It misses the point of social media

I refer again to my opening analogy about how social media for social media’s sake is like becoming really good at hammering, but not knowing how to use a hammer to build a house.

 

If you don’t know how that new, “cool” thing that you are doing on social media supports and enhances your organization’s bottom lines, then it’s probably a waste of time, money, and energy. Utilizing social media to strategically engage audiences is not only a good move – it’s increasingly critical.

Lest the signal be lost amidst the noise: The important word in the preceding sentence was “strategically” – not “social media.”

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, Technology, Words of Wisdom Leave a comment

How to Score an Informational Interview: 7 Tips For the Information Age

Informational interview

“Picking someone’s brain” needs an update. Here’s how to actually get an “informational interview” in today’s world.

For years it seems that career counselors have praised one, simple trick above all others as the best way to break into an industry: Conducting “informational interviews” with industry leaders. This advice makes perfect sense: The job-seeker gets face-time with someone in a leadership position, the leader makes a time investment in you (which may make them more psychologically inclined to want to help you land a job), and, of course, one stands to gain first-hand information about their hopeful industry. There are a lot of theoretical wins here!

Except there’s just one obstacle – actually getting the time investment required of that informational interview.

As a person who produces content online and has a public email address for communications, I get LOTS of requests to “pick my brain.” While I am flattered and grateful that I may be considered a valuable connection (I hope!), I don’t flatter myself enough to overlook how easy I am to contact after a simple Google search. The fact is, although I genuinely want to help, I cannot possibly respond to each of requests that I receive…or I would no longer have a job to talk about!

The concept of the “informational interview” needs an update (or at least a refresher) for the Information Age. In the past, when it was a tad more difficult to find information about professionals, just getting contact details could be the symbolic “in” that demonstrated a bit of effort and ingenuity. That’s not the case anymore. Contacting professionals is much easier for those seeking aid and, consequently, managing time and weeding through requests may be harder for professionals due to the increased volume.

I’ve compiled some of my own thoughts and have also been asking around to other professionals for better practices when it comes to scoring a helpful connection, and several “If they only knew…” themes have emerged from these conversations. Here are seven things to do if you want to land an informational interview:

(Spoiler alert: The web doesn’t remove the need for you to put in some effort.)

 

1) Know that you aren’t the only one asking for attention

This has probably always been true of informational interviews. However, please don’t forget how easy email addresses and contact information are to come by in today’s world…or you may risk underestimating the volume of requests that your interview target receives. This is especially relevant if you are reaching out to someone with a public email address, as the effort required to contact these people is very low (which can make their inboxes much more crowded and your aim to differentiate yourself and score some time much harder).

 

2) Show (don’t merely tell) your shared passion

When someone is getting multiple requests for their time from all sorts of individuals, it is difficult to distinguish those persons truly interested in making a meaningful connection from others thinking, “Well, why don’t I just shoot this-person-whose-job-sounds-cool an email?”

A way to rise above this – especially if you are contacting someone who is particularly active on social media – is to foster a virtual relationship with the potential interviewee before contacting them to ask for their time or input. Comment on their posts, tweet your thoughts with them, leave messages or post interesting/relevant content on their Facebook page (if it’s public). If you’re showing that you’re a member of their community and have similar interests, then you’ll have a much easier time telling them that you do when you reach out to ask for time – and chances are they may already have an idea of who you are. (Pro-tip: Don’t go crazy here. Just a few comments or interactions can go a long way.)

 

3) Having someONE in common is (still) often more meaningful than having someTHING in common

Having a shared interest or experience isn’t generally unique and – while it may be a conversation starter – it may not provide the catalyst for turning an communication into a meeting or detailed response. For instance, having the same graduate degree may not be enough to differentiate you among a sea of similarly credentialed recent graduates.

Having someone in common, however, may well do the trick – especially if your common connection to that individual reaches out on your behalf to the interviewee. Connections to people make the world turn – online and offline. This is the entire premise of LinkedIn for good reason.

The vast majority of the “informational interviews” that I accept are at the request of someone that I already know. After talking with several professionals, I learned quickly that this is often the case for them as well. Keep in mind that though we live in a world where it is relatively easy to find shared passions or experiences (i.e. a same degree or university) thanks to the web, knowing folks (and getting to know folks) still makes the world turn.

 

4) Offer something in return (by being interesting)

I don’t mean buy coffee…I mean, yes, offer to buy the coffee as a gesture, but know that the person with whom you hope to meet likely values their time exponentially more than a free cup of coffee. What I mean by “offer something in return” is “be interesting.” It’s much easier to invest one’s time to help someone else if the beneficiary of this investment is able to contribute something valuable to the conversation. Let the potential interviewee see how meeting with you might also be useful to them.

The world is turning at an exciting pace and smart leaders seem to understand this. Even if you are comparatively inexperienced and trying to break into an industry, there’s usually an interesting perspective that you can bring to the table.

 

5) Know exactly what you are hoping to learn and make sure that the interviewee can actually help

Keep in mind the expertise of the person with whom you’re meeting. By this, I don’t simply mean “make sure you’re discussing the same industry,” but, rather, make sure that you’re not actually seeking the advice of a different type of person – like a professional career coach. Sharing your story may be alright, but be careful not to put your interviewee in a situation in which they may not feel comfortable providing you with advice. If it is clear in your pitch that your “questions about the industry” are actually “deeply personal inquiries about your potential life path,” you may not get a response.

The web makes available sufficient information that – with just a mere moment of research – you can learn enough about your interviewee to focus your conversation…and also find someone else to talk to (like a friend or career counselor) if they better fit your needs.

An okay question for an informational interview: What graduate degrees, if any, do you think provide an advantage in the industry?

A not-okay question for an informational interview: These are my general interests. What graduate degree should I get?

 

6) Know when you should actually be paying someone directly for their time

Ah, the cardinal sin of “brain picking!” I’m hearing of more and more thought leaders charging “coffee fees” because of this kind of “brain picking” abuse.

When you hop on the phone with someone under the premise of an “informational interview” and, instead, steer the conversation into the specifics of your (or your company’s) individual circumstances, you may be asking for free services. This is a big no-no! At best, it is disrespectful.

Presumably, you wouldn’t seek an “informational interview” with a CPA…and then proceed to ask their assistance with your tax return. Nor would you seek a similar session with an architect…and then ask them to redline your house plans. Yet, for some reason, many people seem perfectly OK with the notion of seeking free counsel on matters pertaining to business operations, marketing, and communications.

In general, you should expect to pay for expertise and talent. Be honest with yourself before reaching out: If what you are seeking is specific expertise that is unique to your situation, then you probably don’t want to interview that expert. You probably want to hire them.

 

7) Time is money (and ease of communications do not change that)

We all need to be judicious with our time. Time – both yours and that of the interviewee – is a precious resource, and ought to be valued as such. When you request an informational interview (or even a thoughtful email response), you are actually asking for an investment. That email that you casually send to request an informational interview is actually a sales pitch for an investment in you and your future.  I think if folks thought about this a bit harder, the emails they send may be quite different.

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by colleendilen in Jobs, Lessons Learned, Social Media, Words of Wisdom Leave a comment

The New Trickle Down Effect: Why Nonprofits Are Innovators for Industry

teaching innovation

The company for which I work annually invests millions of dollars to help nonprofit organizations better understand and engage with their donors and visitors… and nonprofit leaders should know why.

It’s been a while since I wrote about myself, so I hope that you won’t mind my taking a moment to point out a trend: Inevitably, after talking shop with readers of “Know Your Own Bone” (but who may not know much about IMPACTS), there’s an awkward moment of silence before I’m asked, “So, why do you do what you do, and how does it…work?”

It sounds like a strange question, but I’ve come to understand exactly what they are asking.

Here’s a bit more about my “day job,” but, on “Know Your Own Bone,” my mission is to make accessible “big data” and data-informed analysis to nonprofit organizations for free (i.e. no advertisements, promoted opinions, sales pitches, etc.) Of course, this response often begs a few follow-up questions: How can I do this and feed myself? And how is this not detrimental to IMPACTS?

It’s no secret that there isn’t generally a massive pile of cash associated with helping nonprofits, and yet I work with a for-profit company that invests millions of dollars to help organizations better understand their market opportunities. It almost risks sounding like an example of “Do as I say, not as I do” – except, it’s decidedly not.

Nonprofit organizations are infinitely complex, and helping to understand how the market engages with that sector has proven incredibly valuable to the other sectors that IMPACTS serves. Indeed, when it comes to innovation, some of the best R&D happening in our space is being pioneered by nonprofits. For once, the “Next Practices” are trickling down from the nonprofit sector to the corporate world.

Here’s why:

1) Motivating visitation and/or giving decisions relies on understanding a series of complex behaviors

While it’s true that nonprofit organizations are not always the quickest to evolve, they rarely get the pat on the back that they deserve for working in an industry that can be exponentially more complex than that of most private enterprise.

Consider this visitor-serving organization example: Getting someone to visit a museum (or theater, symphony, science center, botanic garden, aquarium, historic site, etc.) requires an understanding of many multi-faceted, high-barrier motivations and behaviors. To get to a museum, for instance, a family would need to decide the visit would be worthy of their time, prioritize that experience over every other leisure time pursuit (including staying home and relaxing!), find an open day in everyone’s schedules, get the family dressed and into the car, drive to the museum, park, pay for that parking, play real-life Frogger hustling across a busy street, pay for admission, explore the facilities with the kids until they get tired, stop for snacks (if the kiddos get cranky), avoid (or embrace) the gift shop, then return to the car and fight traffic on the way home…

(Pant, pant…) There is a lot about consumer behavior to understand there…and we haven’t even yet begun to consider the philanthropic motivations that play an important role in helping nonprofits thrive. Perhaps now one can start to understand how – when compared to motivating engagement with nonprofit organizations – getting someone to buy a car, go to a movie, or even vote for a political candidate seems downright simple!

 

2) Understanding those behaviors and motivations informs other industries

Contrast the task of motivating the behavior of visiting an organization with the task of, say, motivating that same small family to enjoy a specific television show in pajamas in the comfort of their own home. If you are a member of the entertainment industry trying to get folks to watch a show – or even sign up for an “on demand” entertainment delivery platform, there is much less to understand and far fewer barriers to engagement.

Understanding why folks behave (or, for that matter, do not behave) in the interests of nonprofit organizations provides IMPACTS with incredible data and insight attendant to extremely complex behaviors, the transitive applications of which frequently inure to the benefit of comparatively less-complex behaviors such as, say, watching television.

Yes. What you work hard to understand and do in your day-to-day jobs at your organization actually informs how other industries do business…because the behaviors that nonprofit organizations motivate are complex and understanding them sheds light on the “hard to measure” aspects of human behavior and motivation. Unlocking the key to complex human behaviors and motivations is the secret sauce in many a corporation’s recipe for success…and the pioneers in this research are often nonprofits.

 

3) People. Planet. Profit. (You actually have THREE bottom lines)

Nonprofit, visitor-serving organizations must not only sustain themselves (some more than others), but they must also serve their communities (people) and social missions (planet). That’s a whole lot to think about compared to private entities – which, generally, are primarily obligated to the single bottom line of profit.

At the risk of some simplification, “profit” is relatively simple to figure out. People and planet – ostensibly selfless business motivations – are a little more inscrutable. And, yet, in our modern era where corporate social responsibility is increasingly good business, there is a growing need to better understand the more intricate aspects of human behaviors.

Again, this doesn’t even touch upon the topic of philanthropy – the motivations of which defy traditional utility curves.

Most simply put, nonprofit organizations are metaphorically juggling three balls at once…while many corporate entities are consumed by the one ball that they have up in the air. Add to this circus the fact that, well, two of your juggling balls are rather strangely shaped. (I love bad metaphors.) Understanding the expertise that goes into juggling three balls at once helps make the work of those with only one or two balls a whole lot easier.

 

4) Nonprofiteers are better than they think (but the imperative to evolve remains urgent)

Visitor-serving organizations, like many nonprofits, can get a bad rap. They are sometimes called slow-moving or culturally antiquated. Negative substitution of audiences is making increasing attendance difficult and long-siloed structures impede abilities to be agile and adaptive. CEOs of nonprofits are generally paid less than their for-profit peers, and retaining talent in a highly-competitive market can be a struggle.

However, consider again that visitor-serving organizations work every day to motivate a series of complex behaviors intended to inspire folks to act in the best interest of not only themselves, but of their larger communities. While some organizations have become accustomed to patting themselves on the back for achieving mediocracy, it’s important to keep in mind that, in many ways, the continued relevance of nonprofits and visitor-serving entities in the face of many challenges is quite a remarkable feat!

I think people who work in nonprofits are the best kinds of fighters. That’s why I’m lucky to get to work with them and that’s why I feel passionate about hounding my company to continue to help them.

 

5) Much of the data conceptually belongs to you

Providing data and insight in a transparent, open-fashion feels like a good practice. Doing the right thing is a reward unto itself. And, in terms of the means of effectuating knowledge transfer, “giving away” information for free is the very nature of blogging.

I don’t think it’s fair to gather information about human behavior regarding visitor-serving organizations and simply sit on it for monetary purposes. Luckily, the company for which I work doesn’t think that either. So I get to share some of it here. I am grateful for that.

The more information I share, the more I hope that I can garner your trust and provide aid as a valuable resource. If I can do that, the data will be more helpful…and the changes we are seeking will have greater impacts in our communities.

Leaders of nonprofit organizations: pat yourselves on the back. What you’re doing is hard, important, and paving the way. 

Data proves it.

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Museums, Nonprofits, The Future, Words of Wisdom 3 Comments

The New Realities of Advertising Costs (Hint: You Are Getting Less Than You Think)

Budget expenses

Many nonprofit organizations misunderstand the increasing costs of advertising – and it’s costing them dearly.

It’s that season when organizations are preparing their budgets for the upcoming year. For many of us in the communications space, tis the season of spreading tough-love  in the hope that nonprofit organizations don’t hamstring themselves with a flawed “save one’s way to prosperity” approach to budgeting for marketing expenses – especially social media and advertising. Increasingly, advertising is not an optional expenditure – it is a basic cost of doing business for any organization that relies on the time, engagement, or concern of audiences (…which happens to be most organizations).

When it comes to budgeting for a necessary advertising investment, a tremendous challenge confronting many nonprofit organizations is a reliance on precedent behaviors to inform our future planning efforts. The advent of digital technologies amplified by an increasingly platform agnosticism market have rendered many of the traditional “rules” of advertising obsolete. The communications world – and, in turn, the advertising world – is in a period of significant revolution and reinvention. A dogmatic beholdenness to the past is likely to leave an organization forever behind.

Here are two important points that your organization should keep in mind when it comes to the basic cost of advertising:

 

1) The cost of advertising has increased dramatically in recent years and many organizations are not keeping pace with inflation

Though you may be spending more, you are probably getting less return on your advertising investment than you were a few short years ago. The few percentage points that organizations add to their advertising budgets each year is simply insufficient when contemplated in the context of the escalating costs of advertising.

For instance, in my experience, even forward-thinking organizations keep their annual ad budgets relatively stable (“Hey, this is how we’ve always done it!”) and will sometimes add 5-10% if there’s a special program or campaign taking place that they’re trying to promote. The thing is, while organizations think that they are spending more (because they are actually spending more), they are increasingly getting less.

Take a look at the chart below. The chart indicates examples of observed advertising costs during the last five years.  For relativity purposes, the escalating cost factors have been standardized and charted as index values.

 IMPACTS cost of advertising

“Blended CPM” indicates the growth in costs “blended” across all media types (i.e. broadcast, radio, print, digital, outdoor, etc.) as observed by the actual media plans of twelve IMPACTS clients.  CPM is an acronym representing the Cost per One Thousand impressions.  Thus, the average observed costs to advertise have increased by 41% in the five-year duration ranging from years 2010-2014.

As additional examples of advertising costs, within the same five-year duration, the chart indicates that the costs of a 0:30 second advertisement during the Super Bowl and Grammy Awards broadcasts have respectively increased by 60% and 105%.

We are living in an increasingly personalized world that emphasizes speed and convenience. We can simply TiVo, Apple TV or On-Demand our way out of most ads on our favorite television shows because we watch these shows at our convenience. Because of this, programs that folks watch live (e.g. sports, news, award shows, etc.) command premiums when compared to the costs of similar programming a relatively few short years ago.

In the simplest terms: Yes, on average, your organization will need to have increased its advertising budget by at least 40% in order to match your advertising efforts of five years ago. If you’ve added less than 40% to your budget, then your organization may actually be achieving less advertising impact than you were in 2010.

In the end, it’s a lesson in business and economics: You cannot just throw a bit more money at something year over year and get mad when you don’t get correspondingly “more” in return. If you’re not increasing the budget at the rate of what things cost, then you’re actually getting less. This lesson seems particularly challenging for nonprofit boards to understand when they are confronted with a proposed increase in the advertising budget. “So, if we spend more money on advertising, how much more support will we get?” is a perfectly reasonable question posed by many a board member. However, the question from board members probably ought to be, “If we don’t sustain significant investments in our audience acquisition strategies, how many visitors will we lose…and what will be the costs of trying to re-acquire them in the future?”

 

2) The first thing that organizations often cut is marketing (despite the increasing importance of funding in this area)

Compounding matters is the fact that – despite an abundance of the well-publicized reasons why it is a terrible idea – many organizations trying to balance budgets still seem to cut the marketing budget first.

This may be particularly relevant for visitor-serving organizations (museums, theaters, symphonies, gardens, aquariums, zoos, etc.) as these types of organizations are having a rough time meeting attendance goals. The anxiety associated with this causes organizations to deny data and do a lot of dumb things (and maybe some more dumb things) that will hurt them even more in the long run, and cutting marketing budgets in the Information Age is another one of them.

It’s a tough pill to swallow for traditionalists and specialists within organizations, but marketing is increasingly important for the survival of your organization. For many of the most successful organizations, marketing is at the center of strategic conversations. It’s a big change for many entities! And, organizations aren’t solely deciding that this should be the case…the market is deciding for them. As I say in nearly every post: Organizations can sometimes determine importance, but the market determines relevance.

Mix one part “not keeping up with the cost of advertising” with one part “cutting your marketing budget” and watch your audience awareness dwindle to record lows. For those persons in the nonprofit sector who may continue to balk at the idea that they need to spend more to acquire, engage, and communicate with their audience than they did five years ago, I ask you: What makes advertising exempt from the most basic laws of inflation? Again, these cost increases are the most basic costs of doing business.

 

For marketers, it is a tough road ahead: The “This is how we’ve always done things” and “Last year plus five percent” approach to budgeting and media planning that permeates many organizations is an increasingly doomed strategy. In a way, this post isn’t exclusively about marketing or advertising. It’s about a new way to think about the constantly evolving world that we live in. The world waits for no one. We need to keep pace or risk being left behind.

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Technology, Words of Wisdom Leave a comment

Facebook is Firing Nonprofits (And Why We Are Dumb to Let it Happen)

Facebook Firing

If your organization refuses to spend money on Facebook, then you aren’t firing Facebook. Facebook is firing you. And that’s way worse for you than it is for Facebook.

It’s not news anymore: Facebook has changed its algorithm to make its platform increasingly “pay to play” for organizations. A lot of organizations are upset about this change – after all, nonprofits tend to be cash-strapped entities and paying to boost posts on Facebook represents an unplanned expense into uncharted territory. (How much should we be spending? How do we develop an annual budget for something that keeps changing?! Where will this money come from?)

The result seems to be that many organizations are simply accepting their new lack of organic reach and not boosting posts or otherwise exploring paid ways to get on the “winning” side of Facebook’s algorithm. In a nutshell, many folks (unfortunately) seem to be saying, “We just can’t afford it, so Facebook is less important to us.”

Wait – Hold up! Is social media any less important to your potential constituents and donors? Nope. In fact, data suggest that social media is the strongest and most valuable communication channel in existence today.

What’s interesting about the reaction that some organizations are having is the astounding lack of business savvy or even baseline market awareness associated with the perspective. It is truly shocking to watch. If you’re not experimenting with boosting posts than you’re not firing Facebook, Facebook is firing you…and that hurts you way more than it hurts Facebook. In fact, if your organic reach is still decreasing, then Facebook wants you gone because it thinks you are noise cluttering up newsfeeds with stories that simply aren’t engaging.

I have no affiliation with Facebook. I specialize in overall engagement strategy (that specifically results in increased likelihood of long-term solvency) and do not receive any of my salary for knowing Facebook “tips and tricks” (which become outdated very quickly anyway). I have absolutely no reason for arguing that nonprofits should be experimenting with Facebook boosting aside from my experiences with my clients these last several months – both those that are boosting and those that are not.

Here is some perspective:

 

1) Organizations became acclimated to an economic inefficiency (which is dangerous because such inefficiencies do not last long).

The hardest part about the increasing “pay to play” concept on Facebook seems to be the idea that Facebook was “free” and now it isn’t. First of all, social media is not and never was “cheap” or free – but the issue here is that organizations didn’t need to pay the platforms directly.

Facebook plays an important role in shaping organizations’ reputations, allowing for personal interactions and “touch-points” with constituents, giving organizations a real-time voice, and aiding in perceived levels of transparency and mission impact. Facebook has played a starring role in changing not only the way that businesses and nonprofits work, but it has shaped market expectations about our brands. Facebook has, in many ways, changed the world.

Think about it: In order for the market to have changed so deeply, social media platforms needed to be “free” to enlist and engage the participation of massive numbers of organizations and consumers alike.  (Otherwise, the initial cost to participate may have been an insurmountable barrier to trial.) Because we could all “play,” we all had a role in making the market what it is today – an audience more interested in trust, transparency, and personalization than ever before. But now we live in that changed world and businesses are getting a LOT of free communication and top-of-mind opportunities from Facebook.

Organizations are no longer all that important to Facebook for its solvency. Now Facebook is more important for the solvency of our organizations. Of course, market inefficiencies eventually come correct. We don’t expect to engage with traditional one-way communication platforms for free (TV ads, radio spots) – so it was only a matter of time before two-way communication channels (which are proven to be more effective in driving desired actions on behalf of organizations) demanded payment as well.

In short, organizations got used to an unsustainable market inefficiency. And the rules of economics underscore that those inefficiencies don’t last long.

 

2) Organizations increasingly understand the need to move from quantity of fans to quality of fans on Facebook. So does Facebook.

By now you’ve probably heard a lot about vanity metrics and why your number of fans is less important than having fans that care about your organization and are willing to act in its interest. This type of thinking is especially important for development and membership departments within nonprofit organizations. (Oh, and here are eleven ways you can start focusing on quality over quantity right now).  We are getting it. We are increasingly paying as much attention to “going deep” with our messaging as we are to “going broad” because we know it’s better for the actual, long-term health of our organizations.

Facebook gets that, too. It’s less about having tons of organizations on Facebook making noise (quantity) and more about the right organizations on Facebook that help achieve Facebook’s long-term strategic plans. 

Simply, there are two kinds of “quality” organizations for Facebook: organizations that provide consistently compelling content (because it keeps people logging onto Facebook and checking their newsfeeds), and organizations that pay them. An organization that pays them and provides compelling content is a double win because they pay Facebook to show stories in people’s newsfeeds that people actually want to see. Those seem to be the organizations and businesses increasing in reach right now. Also, it seems that when you boost a post, Facebook sees the increased engagement and gives you a bit of a bump in organic reach when you next post. These are smart business moves for Facebook – they are rewarding their best customers. This strategy makes perfect sense for any enterprise. We want quality over quantity now, too – even within our own Facebook fans!

But let’s look at this in a less-rosy way: If you’re not boosting, you are generally less likely to secure higher levels of engagement (thanks to Facebook’s algorithm), and then you will slowly slip from the newsfeeds of even your quality fans over time. Of course, you can alternatively only post the most engaging of content and go viral with your messaging all the time and you’ll have no problem (which is far easier said than done). Harsh truth: You’re being fired from your most effective communication channel for being bad at it. And you’re letting it happen.

If you have the money to send endless amounts of direct mail which data suggest are increasingly less effective, then perhaps you can spare some of the budget to talk with your audiences instead of talking at them.

 

3) There may not be a business incentive for Facebook to make exceptions for nonprofits

Consider: Audiences are increasingly sector agnostic and your voice is being drowned out by for-profit companies that, in some cases, have incentive to do what you do better than you do it because – thanks in part to the culture of transparency and customer empowerment we’ve created with social media – corporate social responsibility pays off.

Perhaps Facebook will come up with a program for nonprofits that aids in increasing reach for cash-strapped organizations that promote social good. But even then, it is in Facebook’s best interest to make sure that stories that folks don’t care about don’t end up in users’ newsfeeds. If your organization has “dropped out” or stepped back from creating compelling content, you may not be able to gain the traction back to demonstrate that your content is indeed compelling.

 

4) There remains a market inefficiency and this may be the best time to experiment with boosting posts

There is still an economic inefficiency and it’s in our best interest to keep capitalizing on it. Specifically, the buy-in to boost and keep organic reach a bit higher is in flux. Right now may be the best time to play with boosting posts because now is a period of experimentation in terms of quantifying the costs of accessing audiences on Facebook. Until Facebook gets a firm handle on what is the sustainable and appropriate cost of reach, then there is an opportunity for organizations to also engage in relatively low-cost experiments to help inform their future engagement strategies.

So, experiment! See what happens when you boost to your geographic area, or boost to your current fans, or boost based upon interest. Experiment and take note. Arguably, the cost to reach audiences may be lower than it will be in time.  More to the point, the cost to reach audiences may amount to less using Facebook than it is on other communication channels. The point is: You won’t know the opportunity and the outcome until you complete the experiment.  And, it is better to start experimenting now – when the cost of the experiment remains relatively modest – then at a later date when the costs may inflate.

 

We are in a time of change, and it is in the best interest of nonprofit organizations to begin to cultivate an internal structure that is agile and allows for opportunities to quickly capitalize on economic inefficiencies. But it is also critical that we think through our actions – especially the most important ones that affect our relationships with our constituents (and, thus, our bottom lines).  Instead of retreating or focusing on their own, independent next moves, organizations may benefit from considering WHY platforms are making changes. What they uncover may be equally critical for their own survival. 

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, Technology, Words of Wisdom 4 Comments

6 Strategic Reasons For Membership Teams to be Involved with Social Media

Geoff Cartoon - Keeping old customers

An organization’s social media initiatives are every bit as important for the membership department as they are for the marketing team when it comes to the long-term solvency of your organization.

It’s not news that social media is an every-department job, but changes in Facebook algorithms seem to have increased the desire to develop social media postings that go “wide” with reach instead of “deep” with constituents. This distraction of focusing on the quantity of those engaged instead of the quality of engagement is hurting organizations – and may be particularly challenging for membership and development teams trying to integrate their functions.

I was recently asked by Blackbaud to conduct a webinar that addressed the role of social media in engaging key constituencies.  I developed “Get Strategic: How to Engage With Members in a Digital Age” to help Blackbaud share my thinking on this popular topic.  (Click on the link to hear a recording of the webinar – It’s free!) Here’s a link to the slides.

I also thought that it might prove helpful to summarize a few takeaways from the webinar that may be particularly urgent for membership and development departments to consider as they plan their organizational futures. The importance of various departments beyond marketing and communications strategically contemplating how they best engage their current and emerging audiences can be a difficult topic for many organizations to tackle for two, unfortunate reasons:

  •  Many professionals (especially in the nonprofit sector) still ignorantly invoke “not my job” on many matters concerning digital communications to the detriment of both their professional functionality and the efficacy of the entire organization.
  • The “siloed” and increasingly outdated structure of more traditional organizations (including many visitor-serving organizations) is challenged by the need to work collaboratively among departments to create the kind of cohesive strategy that is prerequisite for successful digital communications.

 

In my estimation, development teams generally aren’t any more guilty of these organization-hurting offenses than any other department. However, a lack of collaboration between development/fundraising and marketing/communications comes at perhaps one of the most extreme expenses for a nonprofit organization.

Here’s why:

 

1) A member online is a member offline (and vice versa)

Too often, organizations create membership or donor cultivation strategies (or even marketing strategies) and then develop completely independent digital membership and donor cultivation strategies (if they have them at all). A member online is a member offline. You wouldn’t get to know somebody at a party and then completely ignore them and all of the things that you learned when you see them again at a different party. That would be rude and particularly confusing for your new acquaintance (or old friend) – and yet organizations act like this all the time when it comes to melding online and offline experiences. This miss seems to stem from one, basic misunderstanding: that digital strategies are somehow about technology or skillsets and not about a means of engaging people.

Hint: Communication on digital platforms operates a lot like communication in real-life. Membership retention is about PEOPLE – not technology. In real life, we expect people to be transparent, express human sentiment, listen, and be responsive. Those same communication expectations exist on social media.

 

2) Social media is not only valuable at the start of an engagement funnel. It is arguably even more important in the middle where members reside

When folks talk about social media and digital platforms – perhaps especially the marketing department – it’s often discussed as a starting point in an engagement funnel that hopefully leads to visitation (and, then, perhaps membership or donor cultivation). And, social media does aid in reaching new people and support relationship-building at the beginning of that funnel.  But it’s also critical that an organization utilizes social media to deepen connections with your mission because people on social media operate at all levels of an engagement hierarchy – not just at the beginning. If your organization is only putting out content that goes “wide” (or helps to increase reach), and not “deep” (or, content that deepens affinity with your cause), then it’s going to be difficult to turn folks from visitors into more consistent supporters.

Members are in the middle of the funnel – which is a particularly interesting place for a group to reside. They are supporters beyond a basic visitor, but who also hold the promise and potential of becoming donors. In a lot of ways, this is a make-or-break group to engage! They could go either way – and often (in fact, more often than we admit) their decision to renew or not to renew is based upon our own strategies for membership retention and how successfully we engage with this key audience.

 

3) Not all social media followers are equal

In fact, social media inequality is a best practice among successful organizations.  Simply put, your organization’s fans and followers are not all of equal value to your nonprofit’s relevance and long-term solvency – and treating every “like” or opportunity for social care the same way means purposefully sabotaging your ability to achieve organizational goals through social media.

Social care (or social CRM, which is responding to inquiries and taking steps toward active community management) is one of the most important and overlooked aspects of social media communications and brand engagement – and it is increasingly expected by your audiences. It’s a good idea to prioritize social care across the board, but active engagement may be particularly important when it comes to keeping stakeholders like members and donors satisfied online.

 

4) Those likely to be members (of cultural organizations) profile as being particularly connected to the web

High-propensity visitors (HPVs, as we perhaps unfortunately refer to them at IMPACTS) are folks who display the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood to visit a visitor-serving organization (museum, aquarium, zoo, historic site, symphony, theater, botanic garden, science center, etc.) These are the people who profile as likely to visit your organization – and also to become members. We have some fun facts about HPVs, but perhaps one of the most critical of all is this: High propensity visitors (and thus likely members) are 2.5x more likely than the composite market to profile as “super-connected.” This means that they have access to the web at home, at work, and on a mobile devise..

No matter how you cut it, your members are a connected bunch (Even more so than the composite market, which also places a great deal of value in digital communications.) Ignore this unassailable fact at your own peril.

 

5) The desired membership product is changing

I saved the most important thought for last. Data suggest that (aside from the free admission perk) the desired membership product may be changing from the more “attraction-oriented” benefits of the past (access to member-only events, other discounts), to more “mission-oriented” benefits (a feeling of belonging, supporting the organization). This is especially pronounced among Millennials – or members of Generation Y. (You can find more information on this in my slides from the webinar)

If your membership is struggling among younger audiences, it may be because you (a) don’t offer the desired membership product; or (b) you offer it, but continue to be communicating it in an incongruent “sales-y” way. In sum, know what matters to your potential constituents – and make sure you are not only offering a membership product based upon the correct motivating benefits, but that you are communicating them in befitting manner.

To the folks thinking, “Nope. Nope. Nope. Millennials don’t want to become members.” I say, “Data suggests that you’re wrong. And your defensive way of thinking indicates that you may be ineffectively communicating the motivating benefits of membership.” It’s time organizations get on this. There are young members to be cultivated!

 IMPACTS data - Millennials and Membership

 

6) Make sure social media posts often aim for depth of engagement instead of breadth (because Facebook changes are distracting organizations from doing this)

In the midst of the frenzy associated with Facebook decreasing its organic reach for organization pages, folks seem to be very preoccupied with their ability to utilize content to go “wide” (get a lot of engagement) instead of going “deep” (get the right kind of engagement from the right kind of people).  A healthy social strategy includes both content created to get new folks in the engagement funnel AND strengthen the “passion-connection” that ties an individual to your organization online. (In marketing jargon terms, we call this “strengthening affinity.”) While there are many things that may be done to cultivate members online, making sure that you’re posting the right kind of content is perhaps the most critical.

Next Wednesday (August 27th) I’ll post about immediate opportunities to more deeply engage members that will include ideas from the webinar and some other near-term opportunities to better connect with your digital audiences. If you want to make sure that you don’t miss it, you can subscribe to Know Your Own Bone and receive emails when there are new posts. (Already get these emails? Keep your eyes peeled next Wednesday…and thanks for being a consistent reader! I deeply hope that KYOB provides helpful thought-fuel for you and your organization!)

The web has changed our organizations more than simply “adding a social media arm.” It affects every department within an organization – and because digital engagement strategies are about PEOPLE, it arguably most affects those departments that work directly with audiences. It’s time for organizations to work together to ensure that their digital endeavors are doing more than getting people in the door.  We must also be aware of how digital engagement impacts the experiences that members and higher-level constituents have with our organizations. There’s work to be done!

 

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Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Community Engagement, Generation Y, Lessons Learned, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Media, Technology, Words of Wisdom Leave a comment
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