Museums and Cultural Nonprofits: Social Media Doesn’t Belong to the Marketing Department

Social Media Marketing has become a common practice in the business world, and of course, nonprofits have picked up on the benefits of this kind of marketing, too. More than that, nonprofits are rocking the social media marketing scene.

But in our nonprofit world– which emphasizes the importance of building relationships to secure donors– pairing social media solely with marketing can cause big problems and overlook the benefits available to organizations through this media. Museums, in particular, have a lot to lose when educators, program creators, fundraisers, and even board members or power players say, “Social media? Why, that’s a marketing thing!”

Development Department: social media helps create connections. Social media is mastered by nonprofit organizations because it’s a low-resource way to connect with individuals. While it’s true that word of mouth marketing is the most powerful kind of marketing, and folks on social media share views on organizations through this media, the connections created have the potential to serve as catalysts for donations in the future. Viewing social media as purely a marketing department endeavor means that your museum may leave many connections to go flat because these connections must be built upon (like any relationship) and a marketing department trying to reach a wide audience may not have the capacity to cultivate these individual relationships. Moreover, this relationship cultivation is often thought to be the job of development folks! This is not to say that development must be running social media, but social media (and communications with the marketing department regarding social media) should be important in the development department. One way to get the development department more constructively involved might be for Marketing to hand over a list of folks who have been engaging with the museum through social media, and for Development to follow-up and be sure to cultivate those relationships. There may be opportunities for future funding in these relationships.

Education Department: social media can teach people things. Many museums do a great job of engaging visitors with educational content through social media so that the visitors’ learning doesn’t end when they exit the institution. In fact, this idea of taking the institution home is powerful in building both connections to the organization and to educational content. What happens when the education folks don’t share educational material through social media? An opportunity to continue sparking interest in a topic or idea is lost. What happens in most institutions is that the marketing folks provide the educational content (or at least link to educational content supplied by the education department). This is not a problem– that is, as long as Education is working alongside Marketing to make sure that facts are correct and that cool information is free-flowing. Education must realize that social media can be an extension of the topics discussed at the museum– and a fun way to learn at home! Obviously, to be most effective, educational resources may need to evolve into new technologies and utilize other forms of new media (mobile apps, for example), but social media should be seen by the department as an educational resource offered by the institution, in a sense.

Power Players: social media keeps your organization relevant. Community engagement and community cultivation are gaining more and more ground in conversations and initiatives involving the future of museums. Social media is a step to help do this. Some of the best museums are already onto this fact enough to devote portions of their websites to social media communications. Being active in social media helps break the mental barrier that museums are slow-moving places that idolize the past and have little to do with the present or the future. The current types of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc) may be trends, but there’s an argument that social media has already changed the way we communicate on the whole. Board members, Vice Presidents, and Presidents may not be doing their organization any favors by letting them fall behind in current communication methods. In fact, social media is generally low resource– why not rise to the top if you can?

Organizations that do not acknowledge the interconnectivity that social media provides among departments may function less efficiently and effectively than organizations that embrace this new way in which much of the world communicates. Social media doesn’t need to leave the Marketing Department (and arguably shouldn’t), but this idea that social media doesn’t play a role in individual departments or the institution as a whole as it relates to the broader community? That, I think, must leave as organizations prepare for the future.

It requires a thought change, or a breaking down of a vertical ladder. In order for social media to work best for museums and cultural nonprofits, then everyone must work together to maximize the resource because it blurs the lines between so many departments. As a whole, businesses are becoming more organic and interconnected. Maybe social media can be the catalyst that brings this kind of organizational change to museums so that we, too, may function more efficiently and reap the benefits of this kind of collaborative culture.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 9 Comments

About the author

Colleen Dilenschneider

MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore