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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

Why Talking About The Future of Museums May Be Holding Museums Back

Marketoonist- Risks

What if we took some of the time that we spend patting ourselves on the back for thinking about “the future” and use it to better adapt to the world we are living in right now?

Before I jump in, I need to come clean and admit that I’m not innocent here. I’ve been (proudly) called a futurist for visitor-serving organizations and I even say that, for a living, I help “future-proof” nonprofit organizations. Some of my favorite resources and those that I believe to be the most thoughtful focus on “the future” (like the Center for The Future of Museum’s blog – which is worth checking out for its valuable thought-fuel). But here’s the thing:

While those ideas shared by our industry’s most engaging thought leaders and go-to resources may be “future-facing” (as in, they are sure to increase in relevance in the future) they are not actually about the future. Yes, it is a matter of language that is confusing things. Using the word “future” when we are talking about the “present” may be harmful to organizations because of what the word “future” means. Many resources focusing on “the future” are actually communicating about emerging trends that are happening right now…and when we call them “the future” we do our organizations a grave disservice.

Here’s why:

1) Things that get characterized as “the future” within the museum industry generally are not about the future at all

Check this out: Embracing millennials, mastering community management on social media, opening authority, heightening engagement with onsite technologies, breaking down ivory towers with shifts from prescription to participation, engaging more diverse audiences, utilizing mobile platforms, understanding the role of “digital,” breaking down organizational silos…These are things that we frequently discuss as if they are part of the future. But they aren’t. In fact, if your organization hasn’t already had deep discussions about these issues and begun evolving and deploying new strategies at this point, then you may arguably be too late in responding to forces challenging our sector today.

 

2) Calling it “the future” excuses putting off issues which are actually immediate needs for organizational survival

What if we called these things “The Right Now?” Would it be easier to get leadership to allocate resources to social media endeavors or deploy creative ways to grow stakeholder affinity by highlighting participation and personalization?  Are we excusing the poor transition from planning to action by deferring most investments to “The Future?”

Basically, we’ve created a beat-around-the-bush way of talking about hard things that separates successful and unsuccessful organizations. For many less successful organizations struggling to find their footing in our rapidly evolving times, their go-to euphemistic solution for “immediate and difficult” seems to be “worth thinking about in the future.” When we call it “the future,” we excuse ourselves from thinking about these issues right now (which is exactly when we should be considering if not fully deploying them).

Contrast this deferment strategy with those of more successful organizations who invariably and reliably “beat the market to the spot.”  It isn’t pure chance and serendipity that underpins successful engagement strategies – these are the product of ample foresight, planning, investment and action…all of it done many yesterdays ago!

 

3) The future implies uncertainty but trend data is not uncertain

Moreover, common wisdom supports that “the future” is uncertain.  “We cannot tell the future.” Admittedly, some sources that aim to talk about the future truly attempt to open folks’ brains to a distant time period. However, much of what is shared by those we call “futurists” is not necessarily uncertain. In fact (and especially when it comes to trends in data), we’re not guessing.  I’ve sat in on a few meetings within organizations in which trends and actual data are taken and then presented as “the future” or within the conversation of “things to discuss in the future.” Wait. What?

Certainly, new opportunities evolve and trends may ebb with shifting market sentiments…but why would an organization choose uncertainty over something that is known right now?

 

4) We may not be paying enough time and attention to right now

I don’t think that referring to “right now trends” as “the future” would be as potentially damaging to organizations if we spent enough time being more strategic and thoughtful about “right now trends” in general.  Many organizations seem to be always playing catch-up with the present.  If organizations are struggling to keep up with the present, how will they ever be adequately prepared for the future?

 

5) Talking about “the future” sometimes provides a false sense of innovation that may simply be vanity

To be certain, we all need “wins” – especially in nonprofit organizations where burnout is frequent and market perceptions are quickly changing. The need for evolution is constant and the want for a moment’s rest may be justified. That said, it seems as though talking about “the future” (which, as we’ve covered, is actually upon us) is often simply providing the opportunity for organizations to pat themselves on the back for “considering” movement instead of actually moving. To have the perceived luxury of being able to think about the future may give some leaders a false sense of security that they aren’t, in fact, constantly trying to keep up with the present.

 

Talking about “the future” seems to mean that you are talking about something that is – yes – perhaps cutting edge, but also uncertain, not urgent, not immediate, and somehow a type of creative brainstorming endeavor. While certainly brainstorming about the actual future may be beneficial (there are some great minds in the museum industry that do this!), it may be wise for organizations to realize that most of what we call “the future” is a too-nice way of reminding organizations that the world is turning as we speak and you may already be a laggard organization.

Think about your favorite museum or nonprofit thinker. My guess is that you consider that person to be a kind of futurist, but really, you may find that they are interesting to you because they are actually a “right-now-ist.” They provide ideas, thoughts, and innovative solutions about challenges that are currently facing your organization.

This is all a long way of saying something incredibly simple, but astoundingly true: The future is now.  Let’s start treating it that way.

 

A quick aside: Speaking of “the future is now,” I’ll be conducting a free webinar with Blackbaud tomorrow (August 14) at 1pm Eastern entitled “Get Strategic: How to Connect With Members in a Digital Age.” You can sign up here!

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, Community Engagement, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Change, Social Media, Technology, The Future 5 Comments

Six Reasons Why Content Is No Longer King (And What Now Holds the Throne)

Know Your Own Bone - Connectivity is King

“Content is king” is confusing people and the reign is over. There’s a different ruler in town that is driving successful organizations: connectivity.

“Content is king,” said Bill Gates famously as the chief executive of Microsoft in 1996.  And for a while, there was little reason to disagree with Mr. Gates’s assessment – so much so that this mantra has been used by marketers the world over.  It makes sense: You need content to inspire folks to act in your organization’s best interest (i.e. become a member, purchase a ticket, make a donation, etc.).  But the reign of content has ended and – while still important – the saying is becoming quickly outdated in today’s increasingly digital world. In fact, the repetition of this saying is causing, cultivating, and excusing misunderstandings among organizations’ staff members. 

Let’s clear the air and work together to update the saying so that it can be more effectively applied to the purpose of inspiring action in today’s world. There’s a new king in town. Today, connectivity is king.

 

1) The concept of content as king is causing some problems

Let’s get one thing straight: Content is not unimportant. Compelling content creates the bridge that often inspires connectivity. However, our misbelief that content remains supreme is causing certain organizational problems that risk growing more deeply-rooted each day. Here are some symptoms of the outdated notion that content remains king that may actually jeopardize an organization’s solvency. Each of these conditions are symptomatic of a content-centric organization that deeply believes that what it outputs is more valuable than its outreach.

 

2) Connectivity is about your organization and its relationship with other people (Content is just about your organization)

The marketing channels about which the “content is king” saying may have originated were one-way communication channels. In other words, they were channels that generally gave your organization a “mouth” (e.g. television, radio, billboards, etc.). However, today’s most effective and efficient marketing channels have mouths and ears. That is, they provide a means of supplying feedback for the organization in addition to being soapboxes (e.g. social media, peer review sites, email, etc.).  Thus, it makes sense that the driving force in cultivating a desired behavior may have evolved to be more about linking up with an individual by way of a shared passion or situation than about an organization itself.

In other words, content is not necessarily about your audience. Cultivating connectivity, however, breeds and helps to strengthen a relationship with your brand and organization. Connectivity happens when an organization presents a passion or platform that resonates with a potential constituent. It’s about both the organization and the potential constituent. It’s the passion/subject/topic/mission/sentiment that bonds (or interests) the constituent to what your organization stands for.

 

3) Connectivity is necessarily relevant (Content can be irrelevant)

Connectivity is definitionally personal in that it is depends on something being of personal interest to an individual.  That  means that connectivity is necessarily relevant. Content, on the other hand, risks self-orientation that may not answer one of the most important questions that communicators should ask themselves from the perspective of potential constituents when they put out content: “So what?”

 

4) Connectivity is prerequisite for action (Content can operate in isolation)

Remember (because I mention it in nearly every post): Your organization can sometimes determine importance, but the market always determines relevance. In other words, you can talk…but unless people are connected to what you’re saying, nobody may be listening. Simply put: Without connectivity, nobody cares about your organization.

Connectivity is a prerequisite to action (e.g. signing a petition, securing a donor, summoning support, selling a ticket). Content, however, can easily operate in isolation if it isn’t thoughtful and/or doesn’t inspire connectivity.

 

5) Content can be the bridge that provides a pathway for connectivity (but if connectivity is not present then your content is pointless)

This is where connectivity emerges as the true “king” in today’s environment. Certainly, content is critical. Arguably, there could be no connectivity without content. However (and this is where folks are getting confused), there can be a great deal of content without connectivity.  Not all content is connective.

Connectivity that’s created through a shared interest in a topic, idea, mission, purpose, or sentiment aligned with your organization’s brand and values is powerful.  Otherwise, your content will likely fall on deaf ears…and certainly not inspire engagement and supportive behaviors

 

6) Connectivity is about your whole organization and its mission (Content is viewed as marketing jargon)

Because “content” tends to fall under the conceptual categorization of one-way communication, the idea of “creating content” often falls to the marketing or public relations department. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

But what IS a bad thing is when people “not my job” content creation. Today, communication and content creation is an every-department job.  Worse yet, the problem of silo-ing the important work of creating connectivity is often exacerbated within organizations due to some staff members’ ridiculous associations with the word “digital.”

 

Connectivity can be sparked when the content being communicated communicated is deeply-rooted within your organization and mission. It may seem strange to some leaders, but the ins and outs of your day and your passions matter to your audiences. Often, to audiences, the transparent, unvarnished insights of how and why you do what you do in pursuit of your mission is every bit as important as what you are doing.

There’s a reason why marketing messages increasingly perform poorly in terms of engagement: People want to know what’s really going on…not simply receive your sales pitch (which, frequently, is the charge of the marketing department).  The most connective content often comes from other departments who represent the core of what you do. The marketing team’s best role is strategically making the balance of your organization’s content accessible (i.e. inspiring connections).

 

Let’s stop aiming “to content” and instead aim to connect.

If you supply content, they will come? Nope. Not necessarily.

If you supply connectivity, they will come? It’s much more likely.

At our best, our organizations do more than provide education…even more than provide memorable experiences in the case of visitor-serving organizations.  We provide and facilitate meaningful interaction – connectivity.  By connecting people to people, people to places, and people to ideas, we transcend mere content and provide pathways to engagement.  People – not artifacts – change the world.

Content isn’t dead, but connectivity assuredly is king. 

Long live the king.

 

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, Branding, Community Engagement, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Change, Social Media, Words of Wisdom 4 Comments

The Role of Email Has Changed. Here Is How to Evolve Your Communication Strategy (DATA)

RIP email

llustration by Sam Manchester/The New York Times

The efficacy and best practices related to email as a marketing channel have changed. Data suggest that email is less effective in reaching large quantities of people than it was even a few short years ago. But, can an organization use email to reach the right quality of people? Maybe.

I recently shared updated data from a Media Consumption and Usage Study conducted by IMPACTS that demonstrated a trending decline in the overall, weighted value of email as a marketing channel.There’s been some additional buzz about the decline of email, and worries about this changing platform seem to be lingering – especially in light of the big data I recently shared at MuseumNext. “I see that there’s a decline in email,” one attendee noted. “Email is working just fine for my organization.”

Indeed, organizations shouldn’t give up on the platform – especially if it is helping their organization achieve its goals – but it’s important to recognize the changes taking place that alter your market’s perceptions and usage of email:

IMPACTS Public sources of information 2011 - 2014

 

1) The overall efficacy of email as a communication channel for reaching mass audiences has dwindled

It used to be all about email lists – buying them, swapping them, getting people on them – and then “spamming” folks with marketing messages. It was about quantity of people more than the quality of people. Not anymore. Thanks to the increasing and massive trend toward personalization in marketing messages (due, in large part, to “touch points” made possible via social media), email is now a less effective method for engaging large quantities of people. The data indicate that mass messaging holds lesser value to audiences…and we observe people “opting-out” and unsubscribing to content that is not particularly relevant to them.

And folks can afford to opt out because – unlike the earlier days of email – there are much more personalized, real-time information channels promising greater connectivity readily available to them.

 

2) Email may now be better utilized for cultivating current audiences that already have an affinity for your organization

Email’s relative stability in terms of trust and amplification potential indicate that while it may not be wise for it to be your organization’s primary engagement or audience acquisition channel, it may still offer value by adapting its application to better serve current constituencies. Email should be approached as an “opt-in” opportunity for those who are budding brand evangelists. In other words, this communication method may be better suited for moving potential stakeholders through an engagement funnel instead of as a means to engender general awareness of programs, events, etc.

 

3) Your organization should not necessarily stop sending emails

Just because a channel’s weighted value is changing doesn’t mean that it’s wise to abandon the platform – especially if it is working for you in terms of helping to meet your financial and mission-related bottom lines. What this does mean is that your email strategy should not be stagnant – when it comes to email, a sound strategy may be to “ride the wave until it crashes.”

Obviously, people still use email; however, they are using it in different ways and expect more personalization than email typically delivered in the past. Know this. Adjust. Watch the market. If something is still working, then, hey, it’s still working! That said, (and as is true with all communication channels) sending email for email’s sake without understanding how or if it is contributing to your goals remains an unwise idea.

 

4) Start exploring other channels that will help achieve your goals

While it’s not a bad idea to keep “riding the wave [that is email] until it crashes,” it would be advisable to concurrently cultivate engagement on other platforms in preparation for the inevitable crash. Heretofore, if your organization has been relying heavily on email, then it may be a good idea to consider building communities and strategies on other platforms so that you aren’t stuck with antiquated outreach tools that the market deems obsolete. Alternative channels and platforms that capitalize on real-time, ongoing, personalized communication generally involve social media or other web-based platforms…now is the time to start developing capabilities and capacities in these arenas before it’s too late.

 

5) Understand that email has changed and will keep changing.

Email has maintained its perception in regard to trust (i.e. how trustworthy it is perceived to be as a communications channel) and amplification values (i.e. how easy it is to share the message). You can see the data broken down by reach, trust and amplification here. It makes sense that amplification has not changed as it’s just as easy to hit “forward” today as it was in 2011. As other platforms evolve, how people view and use email will evolve as well. It is not used for the same purpose as it once was thanks to new information channels. The roles of organizations’ websites have also recently changed due to the presence and capabilities of social media. Know that things are changing and the relative strengths of communication channels are certain to keep changing, too.

 

An exciting aspect of leading an organization in today’s world is the incredible access provided by web-based platforms and how digital assets (and how the market perceives and interacts with them) constantly evolve. Wise organizations realize that the world is moving and it is unwise to maintain the same strategy for communication platforms year after year without considering changes in the market.

In sum, email is not dead…but it has certainly evolved. Many organizations have not caught up. If they don’t then, well, you know what Darwin had to say on such matters…

Darwin on change

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, Public Management, Social Media, Technology, The Future, Words of Wisdom Leave a comment

The Real Reason Some Nonprofits Stink at “Digital” (And Why It Is Getting Worse)

Dilbert vagueness plan

Within some organizations, “going digital” is causing more problems than it’s solving. This isn’t because of the people who work in digital. It’s because of the people who don’t.

I’ve posted briefly on the dangers of separating “digital” and “marketing,” but this topic arose quite explicitly on the very first day of the annual MuseumNext conference last month and was inspired by a presentation from museum pro, Koven J. Smith. (Sidenote to make good on a promise:  the slides from my keynote at MuseumNext are available here.)  Though the seeds of this article blossomed at a museum-oriented conference, the threat is relevant for many nonprofit organizations and businesses in general.

“Are you saying that ideally nobody in museums should have “digital” in their title?” one person asked in regard to a point in Koven’s talk. He paused for barely a moment. “Yes,” he stated simply.

This idea was a small part of his argument (check out more of his rich thought-fuel here), but I think he’s onto something big…something that I observe everyday in my work with well-intentioned nonprofit organizations: We are breeding a culture of misunderstanding around the important role of “digital” in the future of our organizations and, frankly, it imperils the vibrancy of the very future that we are trying to ensure. “Digital” has been allowed to become an “other” (i.e. “not within my scope of work” and/or “something I don’t ‘get’”) for certain individuals in certain organizations, and, like most “others,” digital (as a concept) is misunderstood, abused, and used as a scapegoat for an organization’s cultural and structural shortcomings.

Dramatic? Maybe…but until we solve this issue, how can organizations steeped in these misunderstandings remain relevant and thrive in the future? Here’s why conceptually separating “digital” – as the rest of the organization understands it – is a problem that is making it harder for nonprofits to succeed.

 

1) It constantly reaffirms that “digital” is about platforms or technological skillsets and not about people (and it actually IS all about people)

Digital marketing and marketing are one in the same – they are both about people and behavior. Likewise, digital fundraising and fundraising are synonymous in successful organizations. Again, they are both about people and behavior. Digital touch can be as powerful in inspiring audiences as physical touch.  “Digital” is a way of communicating and connecting, not “knowing java” or “mastering Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm.” Sure, those skills may have value in the digital world, but they aren’t the point of “being digital.” Communication goals on real-time, digital platforms should serve the exact same purpose and mission as the rest of the institution.

An online donor is still a donor. For visitor-serving organizations, a website visitor is still a visitor (a person connecting with your brand and mission). The difference is the platform (“connection point”), and the goal is the same as “in real life.”  Digital – when it is used with audiences – IS “real life” and organizations will benefit from treating it as such.

 

2) Believing “digital” is about technology instead of people and behavior breeds a desire to simply translate real life to the digital realm (and that is generally a bad idea and waste of resources)

This, too, was a very popular topic of conversation amongst the thought leaders at MuseumNext: The very real-time nature of digital platforms necessitates different behaviors online than would take place in similar offline situations. For instance, a businessman may not check out your collections (if you’re a museum, for instance) at 10am in his pajamas “IRL.”  But, he can do so digitally…and that changes how we need to think about collections, engagement, social care, image rights, accessibility, membership retention, donor cultivation, and donor discovery. It’s not a one-way track wherein we simply “copy and paste” what’s onsite onto the web. That’s not engaging and it misses opportunities. If we didn’t deeply believe that “digital” was aligned more closely with technological skillsets than brand strategy, then we probably wouldn’t still be making these mistakes (i.e. posting our collections to the web or starting a simple blog, patting ourselves on the back for it, and wondering why nobody engages with it.)

 

3) It excuses leaders for being out of touch with the market (which is a glaring sign of bad leadership)

To paraphrase another point made at MuseumNext: It’s okay (and maybe even cute) if your grandmother doesn’t know what Twitter is or how exactly it is used. It’s absolutely NOT okay for today’s leaders, fundraisers, curators, and administrators to not be minimally facile with Twitter, Facebook and basic platforms or means of modern day engagement. Ignorance isn’t cute. It makes you less qualified for your job.

A basic facility with engagement platforms doesn’t mean everyone needs to be tweeting up a storm 24/7 – but if someone claiming a position of influence or leadership doesn’t understand what Twitter is, its benefit as a social force, or how people use it, then you’re dealing with a willfully ignorant, disconnected person. Good tip for organizations whose solvency depends on making connections with the market: Don’t hire people who live in holes.

Tough love moment (which I’ll admit may be funny because I’m an energetic, camp counselor type): I’m talking to you, people who say “digital just isn’t my thing” and write it off as something that isn’t worth your time to minimally understand. You sound stupid. Personally, finance isn’t my innate passion – but I’m a professional, functioning adult and, as such, I make an effort to understand the basics of how the world around me works.   There are no excuses for choosing ignorance and disconnection – especially for people in the nonprofit realm who often claim “education” and “engagement” as their raisons d’être.

 

4) It makes digital teams a dumping ground for nebulous projects

Koven Smith MuseumNext It’s difficult to read, but Koven‘s slide references a quote that was made jokingly, but may be indicative of a larger point: “If my co-workers say, ‘I don’t get this,’ it’s automatically in the digital department.”

When the digital department becomes a dumping ground for all things tech-oriented, an opportunity is lost. “Digital” is not necessarily the same as “IT.” Again, it’s about people, strategy, engagement, and utilizing new platforms in creative ways. When “digital” devolves into a language that certain employees cannot speak or a thing that they’re allowed not to understand, they become more removed from the world that we live in. That excuses and further cultivates an out-of-touch team… and that could be deadly for the future of your organization.

Does this mean everyone needs to run out and learn code? Again, no. Not even a little bit. But join the conversation and start thinking more strategically about organizational goals and creative engagement. It’s okay if you don’t know CSS (of course), but understand what the CSS is trying to achieve.

5) It silos marketers from content (which makes it harder to make connections to audiences)

“Digital” often resides somewhere around marketing within organizations – and that’s good! But if “digital” is considered too much of an “other,” then it forces web engagement teams to operate on their own. Social media is an every-department job, and often, creative engagement is as well. Marketers have no connective content without the aid of other departments. Basically, if we conceptually divide “digital” from the strategic functions of the organization, then we lose the very benefit of being “digital” – creating connections to people and creating meaning that will inspire a desired behavior (e.g. donation, visitation, participating in a beach clean-up, etc.).

 

Basically, when people in organizations stubbornly section out “digital” as something associated simply with technological skillsets, they are admitting to being out of touch with the very people that they are trying to serve. (P.S. Museum visitors and most bigger nonprofit donors for other kinds of organizations profile as “super-connected” with broadband access at home, work, and/or on mobile). When it comes to the inevitable pace of innovation, there is no comfort in yesterday.

If you don’t care to “get” digital, then get out of the way. Your organization is trying to effectively serve a social mission and it has important work to do.  

 

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Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Community Engagement, Education, Leadership, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Public Service Motivation, Social Change, Social Media, Technology, The Future, Words of Wisdom 4 Comments
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