Four Lessons For Cultural Organizations From The 2016 Presidential Election

what cultural organizations can learn from the 2016 presidential election

This election has provided significant thought-fuel for cultural organizations. Before it comes time to “never look back” on this election, let’s reflect on what we’ve learned that can help organizations evolve.

Is it November 9th yet? While this election is a crazy one and we may all be rather sick of it at this point, we visitor-serving organizations would be remiss not to pause and take inventory of the lessons that we can learn from the 2016 Presidential Election.

I’m with her. That may be polarizing to some readers, but I’m passionate about that and I feel that I need to acknowledge this upfront. That said, there’s a lot that we can learn from him in this election cycle, and both candidates have shined light on important trends. While Trump’s rhetoric and viewpoints may make parents wish that those memory-zapping contraptions from Men in Black really existed for use on their children this election season, Trump has also provided us all with significant, useful thought-fuel. I think it’s important that we don’t let this moment go to waste and that we learn what we can from it. This is just a start.

There are many, many lessons to be learned from this election. Here is some thought-fuel offered from this election that can be utilized to help make cultural organizations better.

 

1) Disruption gets you noticed – but you need substance and credibility to lead

If Donald Trump’s mere existence as the Republican presidential nominee has taught us anything, it may arguably be that there’s value to authenticity and being yourself. Donald Trump seems to be unabashedly Donald Trump, while Hillary gets called out when attempting to appeal to different audiences or speak like a millennial. Trump’s disruption gets him noticed in a big way. He hijacks interviews, live tweets Clinton’s speeches, and even insults folks (Here are the 282 people, places and things that Donald Trump has insulted on Twitter). PixelKitchen says it best: “He disrupts what we have come to expect from a presidential candidate.” It gets him noticed and, for some, it secures his support.

Hillary, on the other hand, has more of the experience and background that we’ve indeed come to expect from a presidential candidate. As boring or frustrating that may be to some (depending on your views), it means that she’s spent her professional years doing very different things than what Donald Trump has been doing, “refreshing” as some may view his background to be.

While it’s not entirely different or maybe not as new or disruptive as what Donald Trump brings to the table, her substance and compared credibility is helping her in the polls. As I type this, Hillary Clinton has a 70.0% chance of winning the election according to Nate Silver’s famous FiveThirtyEight election forecast.

trump and clinton background

Lesson for visitor-serving organizations:

Be true to yourself AND bring value – combine the “good” of Trump with that of Hillary. Being true to your organization helps avoid point of reference sensitivity – a phenomenon that threatens overall satisfaction at cultural organizations. On the other hand, bringing value and a meaningful, public-service- oriented “so what?” helps drive financial solvency. And, obviously, we need to be solvent in order to survive and thrive.

There’s also a more tactical take-away here that mirrors the inclination of some cultural organizations to use social media for social media’s sake. In other words, some organizations use digital engagement in order to get noticed rather than to truly secure visitation or build their reputations in ways that underscore their mission. This “miss” tends to occur when organizations think that digital engagement is more about “digital” (i.e. technology) than it is about “engagement” (i.e. people.)

 

2) Who you are with matters more than your content

Donald Trumps words (or, content) has created a “political climate [that] is rampant with over-blown egos and personal interest, crowding out the kind of leadership that strengthens communities” and, according to TIME Magazine, may be threatening social and emotional health of children who are watching this election play out.  Still, Republicans are still supporting the candidate. In fact, House Speaker Paul Ryan voted early in his home state of Wisconsin, declaring the need to “support our entire ticket.”

More than 160 Republican leaders don’t support Donald Trump, and yet many are voting for him because he is the Republican candidate. It’s been reported that, “for all the attention on the fights between Trump and a faction of Republicans that support him, most GOP elected officials have so far taken the path of least resistance. They’ve supported their party’s nominee, even it they’re note thrilled with him. What seems to matter in getting votes for Trump may simply be that he is the Republican candidate.

Lesson for visitor-serving organizations:

The data is unassailable that who people are with when they visit a cultural organization is more important than what they see. When it comes to cultural center visitation, with > what. I’ve written about this data many times before, but it’s worth mentioning again: A great superpower of visitor-serving organizations is that we are facilitators of shared experiences – even more so than we are expert content providers.

IMPACTS- With over what data

Okay, okay. It may be a stretch connecting it to the election… but “with > what” underscores issues of identity and alignment in terms of what arguably matters most to people in life and in cultural organizations: connection to others. At our best, we are hubs for human connection. 

 

3) Be smart with social media.

Social media has played an important role in this election because social media is important (link). Candidates have been using social media to tell their stories from the beginning of the election. For instance, the Clinton campaign uses Snapchat and she even let Katy Perry take over her Instagram account for a day,

Pew Research reports that, even in January of 2016, “44% of U.S. adults reported having learned about the 2016 presidential election in the past week from social media. Moreover, as of July, 24% say that they have turned to social media posts by Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump for news about the election – more than those who turn to either of the candidates’ websites or emails combined.

While election-based social media is often simply used to reinforce confirmation bias (or, help people stengthen their resolve in believing their already-held beliefs), it is used differently by the candidates. Hillary often passes along messages crafted by the campaign itself while Trump reaches out to news media and the public, Pew Research assesses. Trump has created a reputation as a Twitter Cry-Bully and Hillary is tweeting things like this: (Bazinga!)

Hillary Clinton Twitter

The candidates are utilizing each platform in the ways that best match the needs of that platform’s audience. It’s been reported that while Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are still priorities, Snachat and Instagram have emerged as the best way to reach young voters during this election.

 

Lesson for visitor-serving organizations:

Be smart about your use of social media. Social media is NOT only used by millennials. In fact, social media is an incredibly important communication platform for potential visitors and donors to cultural organizations. Moreover, social media plays a critical role in driving visitation decisions. And if you think that, unlike the resources utilized by the market to learn about the election, your organization’s website is your most important online communications asset – think again. Social media is critical for reaching audiences today.

IMPACTS - sources of information for HPVs

4) Know your target audience  

Microtargeting has been a big deal in this year’s election. Microtargeting involves utilizing big data to craft messages that appeal to very specific audiences or bands of supporters. The more data that’s collected, the “smarter” the predictive model becomes. (This is a lot like what we do at IMPACTS when determining optimal admission pricing for visitor-serving organizations.) As an example related to the election from Forbes, “Ted Cruz hired statisticians and behavioral psychologists to analyze voters’ consumer habits and Facebook posts, as well as to tailor messages to specific personality types. To elicit support for gun ownership, people who were deemed “fearful” were sent a picture of a burglar breaking into a home, whereas “traditional” voters received a picture of a family on a hunting trip.”

For the election, microtargeting begins with a voter database and builds on with supplemental information that may include demographics, occupation, memberships, magazine subscriptions, and other types of information that can be accessed and help paint a portrait of a type of person. You can read more about microtargeting during this election here. Moreover, Trump’s will to ignore voter data is thought to hurt the GOP.

 

Lesson for visitor-serving organizations:

We live in an increasingly personalized world. Our Facebook and social media feeds run on algorithms intended to appeal to us specifically. They aim to show us what we have the most interest in seeing. Personalization is critical for visitor-serving organizations and it affects everything from the onsite experience to group tours, to – of course – social media interactions.

Understanding the importance of targeting messages to different audiences is the very basis of a sustainable business plan for cultural organizations. Namely, admission is not an affordable access program and admission and access programs need to work together to both achieve financial sustainability and also achieve our missions. Not adequately targeting audiences is a big reason why most affordable access programs within cultural organizations are unsuccessful. In sum, targeting messages to specific audiences is a required area of growth for our industry, and the presidential election reminds us that this is the new reality of today’s world.

 

While it almost pains me to write an election-oriented post during a time in which many cannot possibly wait for the election to be over, I hope that the lessons that we’ve learned are not lost on us. I fear that if we don’t take a moment to reflect on what is happening and what we can learn, we may miss a critical opportunity to move forward (together?). (Apologies. I couldn’t resist!)

Here’s to whatever outcome you are hoping for on November 8th .(By now, you all know my strong preference.) But here’s also to learning in the meantime. Scratch that. Here’s to always learning so that we can make museums and cultural organizations great (again?) (Once again, I couldn’t resist.) Yes. Here’s to always learning.

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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.

 

Photo credit: The Hollywood Reporter,

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

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

Add a Comment