Incorporating an “open authority mindset” into your nonprofit’s PR strategy may be increasingly critical for remaining relevant, cultivating evangelists, and achieving your social mission. Here’s why.
For museums and information-based nonprofits, giving up control of authority can be a challenge in this day and age…but we already know this. Museum and nonprofit communities have focused energy on discussing radical trust, or the confidence (or lack thereof) that any structured organization has in empowering online communities. Best practice evolution dictates that a successful PR strategy must no longer dwell on self-focused radical trust. Instead, we must look outward to mirror organizational best practices and incorporate open authority.
Radical trust is an “us problem” and thus, it is irrelevant to our constituents and potential donors. It deals with the confidence that organization leaders have had (or haven’t had) in opening up their brands to contributions from online communities. Yes, it’s an issue to be named, but it’s not a solution. Open authority is the goal – and it focuses on neither organization nor constituent, but both as one. And achieving this goal may be critical to organizational success.
What is Open Authority?
Open authority is a new model in museum authority proposed by Lori Byrd Phillips in which a museum’s authority is (as it sounds) opened up to broader audiences and created with help from the public on open platforms.
Open authority is what’s happening with the merging of museums (places of authority) and the open web, which allows for the location-independent contribution of information and “outside authority.” In a nutshell (in my own words): museums and information-based nonprofits may be forced to embrace the spread of authority. Organizations that embrace this model may reap the benefits of remaining top of mind, maintaining long-term relevance, and may better pursue their social missions.
Examples of Open Authority in Action
- Wikipedia: At the time she proposed this model, Lori Byrd Phillips was the Wikipedian in Residence at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and was therefore specializing in an open platform that is perhaps the easiest example of open authority. On Wikipedia, folks from the open web weigh-in, make changes, and lend their own knowledge to topics. But open authority is not just about engaging off-site. In October of 2010, the Brooklyn Museum included Wikipedia into their exhibition on women and pop art, Seductive Subversion. The museum offered iPads throughout the gallery, and encouraged visitors to check out Wikipedia pages on artists featured in the exhibition. This was a collaborative effort between the museum and the open web, as museum employees joined the Wikipedia community to edit and fill out pages prior to the exhibition. This melding of information displayed the Brooklyn Museum’s willingness to “open authority” to the public and integrate that knowledge into their brand. Here’s the cool thing: within the exhibit, Wikipedia was actively consulted. Of the 32,000 visitors to the exhibition, there were roughly 12,000 sessions of one or more visitors consulting Wikipedia pages on the iPads. They were used for an average of 10 minutes at a time with an average viewing of 11.18 articles.
- Crowd-curation: But open authority doesn’t exist solely on Wikipedia, either. Now, Lori Byrd Phillips and the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis are conducting an interactive program called 100 Toys (And Their Stories) That Define Our Childhood in which online audiences can vote for their favorite childhood toys in order to unveil a ranking of popular winners. In other words, the public is creating an authoritative list – and the museum is facilitating its creation.
Here are 3 important reasons to immediately integrate open authority into Your PR strategy mindset:
1. It helps you achieve your social mission while heightening credibility and increasing reputation, which is a key driver for visitation.
Eric S. Raymond summarized his “the Cathedral and the Bazaar” theory on open source software with this quote: “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” Getting more eyes on problems helped solve them more effectively and efficiently. This is the entire premise behind the celebrated open wiki for web and new media strategy by the Smithsonian Institution. On the site, the SI explains, “we have really smart people here, but compared to the community of external experts we’re a tiny, tiny group.” Opening up authority is likely to make your organization more – not less – authoritative because you are channeling all experts, not only those on staff. This may serve to increase credibility and reputation – a driver of attendance to visitor serving organizations.
2. It allows your organization to connect with Millennials by personally engaging them with your brand… while showing the importance of your mission.
Open authority plays on many of the best practices for marketing to Millennials – your next generation of stakeholders, visitors, donors, and constituents. Open authority creates buy-in and allows audiences to participate. And while contributing, audiences become better acquainted with your mission. For instance, if you are an aquarium promoting conservation and allowing others to contribute tips for living a green lifestyle, then you are allowing participants to be evangelists for your cause and personally align themselves with your mission. And we Millennials like that. Consider the following statistics:
- 66% of millennials will recommend products/services if the company is socially responsible
- 83% of millennials will trust a company if it is more socially/environmentally responsible
- 74% of millennials are more likely to pay attention to a company’s message if the company has a deep commitment to a cause
An open authority mindset is critical for connecting with millennials. Start building those connections now.
3. It leverages online participation in order to raise awareness of and amplify your social mission.
Anyone can contribute in the era of the open web. It’s not a matter of “if,” but a matter of “how” people will use this opportunity to connect with other individuals and spread messages virally. Everyone can have his or her 15 minutes of fame in this day and age. ZAMs and other nonprofits will benefit by leveraging these 15 minutes of fame by offering folks opportunities to contribute to the museum’s authority. Let people share your message – especially since word of mouth and social media are particularly effective marketing tools. Give them a productive way to lend knowledge online and they just might take you up on it. If they do, your own organization stands to benefit in the long run.
Issues regarding radical trust will not evaporate – nor should they. However, focusing on open authority instead of the self-oriented issue of radical trust is likely to take us farther as a sector. Open authority looks outward and focuses on how to, indeed, “open authority” to the public.
A good leader knows that he cannot do it all, and must receive help from his team to reach his goals. So, too, must museums and nonprofits increasingly work with their team of the broader community in order to best remain relevant, maintain financial support, and pursue their social missions.
About the author
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