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Community Engagement

A Marathon Course for Online Engagement in Visitor Serving Organizations

I am currently training for the Chicago Marathon. As a total newbie to this whole “running” business (I’m not worthy of using the word in relation to myself without quotations yet), I’m learning an awful lot about training, timing, pacing myself, and creating a plan for the course. As I run through the woods in the Midwest, fighting off mosquitos and hoping that a selection from my holidays playlist isn’t the next song on my iPod (try running to I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas… in September. It throws you off a bit), I often find myself thinking about the parallels of this journey, and how zoos, aquariums, and museums engage audiences online. …Yes, I think about these things in my free time.

As it turns out, the metaphor of a marathon might be a useful way to think about engaging folks in an online space. This is especially true when contemplating how ZAMs should approach online engagement on the more popular social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter. In this metaphor, individual online advocates are the runners. , The course is the path to effective online engagement that ends in getting people through the door, and it is the organization’s job to put on the event and get runners across the finish line.

1. Recruiting runners to enroll in your marathon: securing positive earned media and organic (not sponsored) reviews. This process involves inspiring folks to become your Facebook fan or Twitter follower so that they can step up to the marathon starting line and engage with your brand through updates and all of that compelling content that organizations work so hard to create. This is a hard task, and of course it is critical (or why be on Facebook?). The best way to do this is to recruit runners to enroll through word of mouth marketing. This can be done most easily by folks who are already advocates (have already completed the marathon. See #7). Luckily, tools like positive reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp can inspire visitation if a potential “runner” is out-of-market or does not personally know an individual who has experienced the institution.

2. Developing a training program to help runners make it through: achieving Facebook “likes.” The parallel between online engagement and running a marathon crossed my mind while presenting social media best practices to an aquarium client. During our discussion on Facebook, a member of the marketing team asked me, “What do ‘likes’ mean? Should we celebrate these?” It’s a good question. The answer, I would say, is that on a social media platform, a “like” on Facebook means that someone has enrolled for your organization’s engagement “marathon” by signing up for a training program… and it’s the role of the aquarium (or other visitor service entity) to help get potential finishers in shape. A “like” means that someone has clicked on your Facebook page and self-identified as a potential visitor or advocate. That person has given your organization the “OK” to appear in their newsfeed and engage them on a daily basis. They have taken the first step and opened up to your organization, and now the ZAM must rise to the occasion and facilitate the connection. However, it’s important to remember that signing up for the training program does not mean that a runner will eventually finish the marathon or even get to the starting line. Also, many “runners” who aren’t enrolled in the training program (not following your organization) will complete the marathon. In other words, “likes” are not the most important form of measurement for online engagement. In fact, sometimes they can be a distraction.

3. Treating runners at aid stations: inspiring connection through organic, behind-the-scenes content. This is super important! These are the surveys, fun facts, photos, videos, blog posts, behind-the-scenes snippets, anecdotes, jokes, contests and data that ZAMs share with fans and followers to make them see the organization in their newsfeed and think, “Hey! That’s cool!” This is how organizations keep engagement going, and build upon this engagement so that the organization can “connect” with potential visitors who are compelled by the organization’s social mission (or, just want to see that exhibit in person). Here’s what I’m learning in my training: aid-stations are incredibly important. I know, personally, that I cannot run a marathon without water, or perhaps some lemon-lime Gatorade. Most runners cannot finish a marathon, or even a half marathon, comfortably without aid. Similarly, it is much harder for friends and followers to engage with your organization online without aid (read: relevant content). This is also the area in which I do the most work and the area in which ZAMs and other nonprofit organizations struggle the most. The secrets here aren’t tough (but every organization seems to struggle with them): be human, be transparent, be real (don’t over-plan) and listen to what your audience is saying.

4. Completing a half marathon: Securing an on-site visit. If we were marathon course-planning slackers, we’d stop here. We’ve accomplished an awesome goal: we secured a visitor– perhaps a whole family! This is not a small thing.We’ve contributed to the double-bottom-line of a nonprofit organization by both inspiring (hopefully) an individual with the organization’s social mission and also by contributing to the organization’s financial bottom line in the form of admission.  But there’s still a long way to go to really help runners reach their full marathon-running potential. It would be a disservice to think about the online engagement process as ending here. We are only halfway done!

5. Breaking out the goo around mile 17: providing avenues for half-marathoners to share their experiences, and facilitating and rewarding this sharing. This is a bit like #3 and it is equally important. Compelling content comes back into play in this part of the journey, but it relies more heavily on interactions. This is where word of mouth marketing is at its best. Encourage visitors to share their stories and experiences, celebrate their pictures, videos, and anecdotes. Remind them, if you can, to post about positive experiences on Yelp and TripAdvisor. During mile 17, runners should be actively recruiting runners for the marathon, and the organization should be facilitating this recruitment by continuing to inspire connections with online audiences by rewarding interaction and sharing visitor stories.

6. Finishing the marathon: A past visitor inspiring new visitors to come to the organization. When positive reviews from trusted sources (friends who have been to the organization before or credible earned media sources) inspire more people to visit, then the marathon is complete, in a way. Engaging content has been utilized beyond simply the clicks that it secures. For this reason and many others, it is silly to place too much weight on the number of clicks that a particular piece of content receives. For instance, a YouTube video may receive only 100 views, but if that video inspires those people to visit, and those people share their experiences through word of mouth marketing (online or in-person) and inspire more visits, then those mere 100 clicks have significant worth… far more than the weight that we typically put on the concept of only 100 clicks. However, this does not mean that every bit of content is a success in engaging audiences. It is critical to listen to online communities and create content that is most inspiring to your audiences. Or, content that you notice receives a response.

7. Placing in the marathon: The original visitor becoming a member, donor, or long-time advocate for the organization. Okay, in a real marathon, not everyone can place. But we nonprofit-folk try to be optimistic. The goal in this particular marathon is to get everyone to win, beat their own PR, place in their age-group– however you’d like to see it. This occurs when online and on-site engagement are so high, or personal buy-in is established so well, that the visitor or evangelists carries out an activity that strengthens the long-term bottom lines of the institution. The development of these folks is most frequently the aim for online engagement. Like any good marathon, if runners have fun, they’ll want to run it again. Thus, alongside this track, it is critical to continue to engage communities online. This especially includes members, donors, and advocates of the organization.

Good luck to all of you nonprofiteer marathoners out there running races this season! And also to all of you online-engagement-marathon planners! We’re rooting for you! And, if you happen to be in Chicago on October 9th, root for me. I’ll take all the support that I can get! See you on the course, folks!

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 3 Comments

Barriers to Adopting Social Strategies: Resources

(Or, How Being Scrappy with Resources can be Okay for Your Organization on Social Media)

The question of resources (who is going to run social media and how much time and money will it take?) is often a barrier for zoos, aquariums, and museums looking to adopt social strategies. I have saved this example for last in this series of four barriers to adopting social strategies, because it has the biggest “let down” factor. The let down? The amount of resources you dedicate to online engagement is up to you and your institution. (Clear-cut answers are so much sexier.) There is no right or wrong answer… except that you get yourself on these platforms and start experimenting… Like most things, scale and growth will require investment, but start small. Have one person take the reins and increase staff support as you uncover success in engaging audiences online. Though the amount of time and energy required to get involved in social strategies depends on the institution and the available resources at hand, there are a few helpful tips to help you maximize your resources– or at least ease your mind in the area of resources when considering barriers for adopting social strategies. 

But as a quick side, I want to share a presentation that I gave on August 9th that was hosted by the wonderful Tennessee Aquarium. The presentation is called The Best of The Best of Online Engagement and it highlights an Academy-Awards-of-such of how museums have moved forward in the area of online engagement over the last few years. Consider this resource shared!  Now, back to business:

 

Here are six little tips to consider when your organization becomes overwhelmed or apprehensive regarding resources in taking on social media or online initiatives:

1. Don’t leave it to your intern (but listen to your intern!) When social media first showed up, it was a thing for the intern. PR savvy folks know now that social media is a very important part of a marketing strategy. I’ll reference the Bass Model again: the coefficient of imitation (word of mouth marketing, peer reviews, earned media) are over ten times more effective than the coefficient of innovation (paid marketing and advertising). Again, there’s also data to support that your organization’s earned media is more important than your organization’s website.  Give the role of running social media to the wrong person/intern and you might just have an incredibly embarrassing situation on your hands— a “Marc Jacobs situation,” I’ll call it. While hilarious to read from a distance, an intern going nuts on your Twitter account hardly helps your brand.

Though we’ve moved past leaving social media entirely to the intern, it is still fiercely important to listen to your intern (and young people in general) when engaging audiences. Young people are generally masters of online engagement. Gen Y grew up with it and can use it with sincerity, they are “gatekeepers of dirt,” and perhaps best of all, they are generally energetic. Folks can smell a communications dud from a mile away. A person just going through the motions on social media usually won’t cut it. Tap an intern’s knowledge and energy.

 

2. Work on an effective scale for you. Remember the Brooklyn Museum example? They gave up Facebook and Twitter accounts for their 1st Fans initiative and moved to Meetup.com. They were using too many resources and their operations online were not producing their desired outcome. Thus, the Brooklyn Museum shamelessly and publicly switched it up. They did less to achieve more. If you’re going to get involved on a platform, do it well. Be unafraid to be thoughtful about the time dedicated to social media. Do only what works for you… and if you can, try to do something unique to engage audiences in a way that meets your goals (and then share it with me so I can tell other people about the cool stuff that you are doing, if you’d like!)

 

 3. It doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money. Okay, okay. Groupon is pretty big… but it’s not usually worth it. In general, it’s great to reward folks who interact with you online, especially because we are finding more and more that folks look to social media for discounts (Thanks a bunch, Groupon). Discounts and special offers are only one way to do this- especially for ZAMs. There are other creative ways to reward your fans on Facebook and Twitter. Check out those links for some simple ideas. But it’s not just about getting involved on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube. The best of the best in audience engagement create their own social opportunities online. And hey, the cost of building a social networking site has dropped to nearly nothing.

When it comes to running a campaign, social media consultancy can get pricey, and this is especially sensitive for nonprofits. Connecting with your contacts within the industry can help side-step some of these fees and you can meet a lot of these folks online. Here’s my “Museos” Twitter list for reference—and I follow a LOT more terrific people who share incredible resources online on a daily basis (Drop me a line on Twitter if you’d like me to add you to the list).  Associations can help, too. I’m a massive fan-girl of the American Association for State and Local History and AAM’s Center for the Future of Museums. I love them because they are run by insanely refreshing, forward-thinking people with an eye to the future. And yup, the future has it’s feet in online engagement. They (and other associations) are dripping with resources.

 

4. Use content on many networks (but use different messaging) It’s cool. You can cheat this way. Just pretty please don’t auto-connect your Facebook and Twitter accounts. The platforms are different and so are the way they are used and the people on them. Also, posting only Facebook statuses to Twitter doesn’t allow people to interact individually with your brand. From the other side, posting Twitter statuses to Facebook will alienate fans with hashtags and individual Twitter-based shout-outs. And these shout-outs are important (though here’s a fun resource on the best time of day to tweet). I’m focusing on Twitter here because Twitter users are critical for achieving earned media. Folks on Twitter are several times more likely than non-Twitter users to publish content, contribute to wikis, share coupons, post on blogs, review products, and participate in online forums. This means they are several times more likely to contribute weight to your brand.

 

5. Tap into your hub and use it to achieve your goals. This is a personal one from my own experience working with ZAMs.: create a hub.  (You may already have one and not know it, but knowing this space (a blog, portion of your website, etc) is your hub is critical.  A “Hub” is a place where you aggregate content and send people who find you on social media platforms. In other words, it is a page that all of your online initiatives point toward. In my experience, blogs (separate or on the website) serve s the best hubs. The best reason to have a hub is to help you reach your online goals. For instance, if you’re primary reason for being online is to get more visitors through the door, then your social media platforms should link to content on your hub, and your hub should have a clear next-move: driving people to the ticket purchasing page. If you have a hub, you can control the message on the hub. This will help you achieve your goals. This is my favorite little article to explain hubs.

 

6. Other departments are your friends. Here’s the part of the post where I remind everyone that social media does not entirely belong to the marketing department. I know, it happens in nearly every post. And here it is. I’m not saying that the PR person cannot (or shouldn’t) run social media, but I’m saying that the PR person (or any person, for that matter) cannot run social media without content provided by other departments. Social media and social initiative online often involve having an insider perspective of an institution as a whole- not just an insider perspective to the marketing/PR department. So get out there, talk to volunteers, spend some time in membership and learn the little anecdotes. It is the raw, organic stuff of compelling content.

 

Have other helpful hints to share on the topic of managing resources (time, money, etc) when using social media? Please share them below!

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Trends 1 Comment

Barriers to Adopting Social Media: Uncertainty

(Or, 5 Things You Need To Know When Developing and Carrying Out a Social Media Strategy)

Adopting social strategies- such as taking on innovative social media initiatives requires institutions to change how they think about communications. Creating this change requires removing four, distinct barriers: buy-in, radical trust, uncertainty, and resource issues. I have discussed buy-in and why social media is critical for institutions, and most recently, I gave an example of radical trust in action in the ZAM (zoo, aquarium, museum) community. Today’s post is on uncertainty- the biggest beast of the bunch.  Also, the cartoons here are by the wonderful Tom Fishburne

Uncertainty regarding “proper” use of social media and social network integration is a logical reason to be hesistant about taking on social strategies. There are hundreds of social media platforms and it’s easy to become overwhelmed. To make things even more interesting, I’d guess that most people are conversant on less than half of these top fifteen most popular social networking sites. This doesn’t mean social networking sites aren’t extremely important. It does mean that there’s a lot of chatter going on in regard to social media, and it is critical to delve into social media with a clear understanding of what you hope to gain. Otherwise, you risk getting lost in the “noise” surrounding online engagement. Whether you want social media to inspire audience connections to get folks to buy an on-site ticket or make a donation, or you want to educate potential visitors, start a revolution, or just raise awareness of your brand, a clear goal for each initiative- and your overall strategy- is absolutely imperative. For instance, if your goal is to drive ticket sales but link paths do not end up on the ticketing website, then there’s a huge missed opportunity to meet your goal.

Managing and developing social media strategies on behalf of an organization is not for the easily distracted, but it is a job for the open-minded and curious. Knowing (roughly) what’s happening in the social media world is important because it allows you to explore new opportunities, but it’s also important to keep your eye on the ball. The best folks I have found are those who say, “Holy cow! This random, new social networking site is sweet!” and then step back and ask themselves if it helps meet their organization’s stated goals in a creative and engaging way. If the answer is no (or it’s not worth the resources), they simply sigh and register for shelfari personally. In fact, this is a good transition to my first point below.

5 things that you need to know when developing and carrying out a social media strategy:

1. There’s power in your people.  Some professional social networking sites for museos allow individuals to connect,  in turn strengthening their organizations. Social media lives in a world where the personal and the professional mix together. And like most incredible things, this is both a risk and a terrific opportunity for reward for organizations. Employees can share links with their own personal/professional networks, which has high word-of-mouth value. Help them do that by creating a social media policy. ..Ugh. I hate the word “policy” in the name for this common document because it implies a rule, and a rule implies that you don’t really trust your people. It’s important to trust your people…but a good social media policy empowers people simply because it states clearly and openly what is allowed and what is not. In my experiences with organizations, this has been especially important with young people, including teens and interns. I love Gen Y (holler to my people), but it’s true: the youngest of us are sometimes lacking a filter online. A good social media policy inspires these natural, online connectors and creators to work their magic and share their stories. Next generation engagement for your ZAM? Your young people will do it naturally. Empower them. Have a clear social media policy that allows them (and others) to do their thing and even mix personal and professional. Let them be real, but also let them know any boundaries. Your legal department also thanks you in advance.

 

 2. For social media non-users, help them understand.. especially if they are a gatekeeper for compelling organizational content. It’s obvious: if nobody on your PR team knows much about creative engagement online, then there’s no key champion for developing and carrying out social strategies. If nobody on any of your teams knows much about social technology (I stand by it: good social media doesn’t belong solely to the communications folks), then it’s even harder. To make matters worse in zoos and aquariums, unknowing husbandry staff can be the biggest bottlenecks for signing off on messaging and creating transparent videos and photos that build online connections.This makes sense when it comes to precious animals with low survival rates. Some zoos and aquariums have rocking caretakers with a social presence, but for other organizations, clearing up uncertainty around social media and getting everyone on board and comfortable with it is no small task. It’s still critical. Baby-step this relationship because it’s important. These folks are sometimes treasure-troves of valuable, connection-inspiring anecdotes for online engagement. Let ’em know!

 

3. Your breakthrough will happen when you realize that it’s not about you. Here’s another one where it looks like Captain Obvious took over my blog, but this is a really hard lesson- especially for some of our best and brightest traditionally-trained marketing folks. It’s just a different way of inspiring connection with a brand, and it’s critical online. Transparency and trust are key to an effective social strategy. Inspiring engagement means inviting folks inside of your organization and creating a relationship in which they have the ongoing opportunity to peek behind the scenes. This requires not “selling,” but “sharing” your product/mission. Talk to your online audiences like you would talk to a friend. Be human. Putting up sturdy walls to protect the organization will backfire. In fact, the more you trust your audience and make it about them and their relationship with you, the more they will likely trust you in return. For a great example carried out by the Shedd Aquarium, visit my last post on radical trust. A sure way to break trust online and alienate online evangelists? Break news in print or on other sites before it’s released to your online audience (though breaking it at the same time is fine). You can think of your online community as special, online “members.” They are involved. They are special. They want to talk to a person, not an overly-professional, opaque, robot-like professional entity. (Grabbing my computer back from Captain Obvious and moving on…)

 

4. Test it. Fix it. Repeat. It’s not usually going to be an immediate success. I know that’s not cool. Your strategy will be a success over time, however, if you take the opportunity to listen to your audience, ask for feedback, are open about the initiative, and don’t get too attached to how you originally began doing things. You must do what best meets your organization’s goals. One of the best examples of this is when the Brooklyn Museum famously discontinued Twitter and Facebook accounts for their 1st Fans program. They wrote about it on their blog and shared their experience. In the end, they moved their strategy to meetup.com. In sum, they assessed how each platform was working for them in regard to reaching their goals, shared findings and were transparent with audiences, didn’t give up on social media but picked a platform that worked best for them and most of all, they weren’t apologetic about ditching platforms (even the most popular ones) that didn’t help them meet their goal of using social media to facilitate on-site engagement. Giving up 1st Fans on Facebook? Ballsy, some might argue. But it’s working for them.

 

5. Own it. It’s an active platform, not a passive one. That means you cannot just hop on Twitter and expect for it to make any amount of difference at all. If you’re going to put your organization on any social media platform, it is important that you keep it up-to-date and active or you should close the account. Even if your staff isn’t logging on every day to check out your Twitter feed, other people are seeing it. If it’s forgotten, your brand looks messy and you organization looks out of date and disorganized. That’s not a good way to look, especially if you are a museum fighting the old reputation that these institutions are stagnant,increasingly-irrelevant places (lies…). There’s more to it than just being active on social media if you have an account. You need to treat each platform differently. The tones and uses of even Twitter and Facebook are very different, so directly Tweeting Facebook statuses is a marked “fail” most of the time.

 

6. Social media and social strategies are evolving. So have confidence and be innovative. Only risks and new initiatives can push the envelope and help all of us to discover the incredible potential of social media and social networks. Individuals are spending an increasing amount of time on social networks. There’s an opportunity for exploration in this realm. By the same token, social media still takes an bit of experimentation to see results. It is not just the future. It is most certainly now.

 

And, because it never hurts to be overly-explicit, here are some things you probably already know, but you can take them for the road:

  • Pick measurable goals. Pick some that you can manage, such as responding to every inquiry on social media within two hours or aim to have two-point people for each initiative.
  • Buy-in from upper level management is critical, especially if you have the ability to take some risks and do some learning.
  • Don’t try to take on everything at once. It likely won’t be as effective if you don’t have a grasp on each part. Do what you can, well.
  • If you’re first starting, devise a strategy that you are sure you can sustain, but shoot for some creative initiatives.
  • Get pumped and let your personality (the organization’s personality) shine through. Also, if you don’t believe in what you’re doing and saying online, nobody else will believe it either. Nothing’s worse than a droopy social media presence.
Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Trends Comments Off on Barriers to Adopting Social Media: Uncertainty

Barriers to Adopting Social Media: Radical Trust

(or, How Trusting Your Online Audience Puts Your Organization at a Huge PR Advantage)

Adopting social strategies- such as taking on innovative social media initiatives- requires institutions to change how they think about communications. Creating this change requires removing four, distinct barriers: buy-in, radical trust, uncertainty, and resource issues. In my last post, I discussed buy-in and why social media is critical for institutions. This week, I’m delving into the topic of radical trust.

Radical trust is a term used to describe the confidence that any structured organization, including museums, government entities, libraries, businesses, and religious institutions, has in collaboration and empowerment within online communities. In order for social media to be effective, institutions must place a great deal of trust in their online audiences.

Institutions display trust in these communities by being transparent, open, and honest. That sounds easy, doesn’t it? It’s not. It’s not easy because, very often, social media best practices are in direct opposition with marketing lessons learned in traditional MBA programs. Take Chester Burger’s 1975 MBA curriculum staple on public relations from Harvard Business Review, How to Meet the Press. It’s nearly irrelevant in regard to online communications. In this day-and-age, it’s important not to think of public relations as a game (“how can we swing this?”) because a game implies a lack of transparency, seriousness, and honesty. Moreover, the media-verses-us tone of this and similar PR articles is poisonous for organizations. During a time when people are increasingly becoming the media (43% of young people find out their news from Facebook- that is, from their friends), this translates into a people-verses-us mentality. That’s just not good public relations (anymore), but that’s how many of our brightest have been trained.

Public relations best practices have changed and are changing. We must keep our eyes open to this change regardless of academic background or years in the field. As Abraham Lincoln said, “As our case is new, we must think and act anew.” Need we start from scratch? Certainly not, I don’t think. But today, people strengthen brands through word of mouth marketing more than companies can strengthen brands through paid efforts.

Radical trust pays off. In fact, it’s difficult for social media to be effective in terms of meeting an organization’s bottom line(s) without radical trust. Organizations must keep communication channels open and be unafraid of cultivating personal connections with institutional content. Yes, this does mean embracing some potentially wacky comments and creative conversation, but giving your online community a voice pays off. As a related side, it’s also important to know what people are saying about you on the web. Here’s a tidy little online-gemstone to keep in your pocket for help in this arena: Mashable’s 10 Steps for Successful Social Media Monitoring. 

If your wondering what good radical trust looks like and how it can pay off, then you’re in the right place! Here’s a terrific example of a ZAM (zoo, aquarium, or museum) effectively displaying radical trust to educate, make unique connections with audiences, and avoid a possible PR crisis to boot.

 

The Shedd Aquarium vs. The Low Survival Rate of Dolphin Calves

Here’s the story told alongside explanations of how the Shedd Aquarium rocked radical trust and started gathering sugar for lemonade in case they received a lemon-of-a-situation.

 

Smart move #1: They celebrated the dolphin birth, despite low mortality rates. The Shedd Aquarium experienced the birth of a new Pacific white-sided dolphin calf on June 3rd, 2011. Despite the staggeringly low survival rates of dolphin calves both in aquarium and in the wild (they have a 33% mortality rate!), the Shedd seemed to shout the birth from its rooftop. They wrote up a birth announcement on their blog and linked to that copy on social media channels. The Shedd even wrote two blog posts on the day of the calf’s birth, establishing the blog as a site for ongoing information regarding the calf. One of the posts featured a video of the calf’s birth. Can you get more intimate than that? Shedd’s decision to celebrate the birth so quickly was a big one. If the calf did not survive even its first night in the world, there would be no turning back or hiding the death after such announcements.

 

Smart move #2: They kept us posted and let us in. The Shedd wrote ongoing updates on the dolphin calf and her mother, Tique. Communications were effective because they were honest, ongoing, and transparent. Instead of constantly reporting that, “the dolphins are doing great,” (or not posting much information at all) the Shedd shared concerns and small victories regarding the calf’s health along the way. Keeping up communications regarding the state of the dolphins allowed the social media team to connect online audiences with the institution while providing educational information regarding dolphin calf. Not to mention, these communications tactfully showed that the Shedd cared for the dolphins and their online audiences through timely posts. In essence, the Shedd set the stage for possible death of the calf, should such an event occur… which it did.

 

…and then the dolphin calf passed away… But thanks to the institution’s transparency regarding low survival rates and the preciousness of the baby dolphin before and after the death, online audiences responded with care and concern for the calf’s mother, as well as institution and its staff.

 

Smart move #3: They were timely in announcing the death through all channels. After posting six blog posts about the dolphin calf’s status throughout the seven days of the dolphin’s life, the calf passed away on June 10th. The Shedd was prepared. In this short time, they had built up interest in the dolphins, and they positioned themselves as loving facilitators between audiences and the calf. The Shedd Aquarium immediately shared the information on Facebook and Twitter, and they sent an immediate announcement to their email contacts. They accepted the risk that some folks might blame them for a possible death, but they opened their communication channels anyway. It paid off. Within only one hour of posting the sad news, the Shedd had 103  sympathetic comments on Facebook.  A vast majority of these comments expressed care and concern for the institution. It was immediately clear, even in this example alone, that the Shedd was not going to be villainized for the calf’s death. In fact, they were victims of nature’s course. Have you been emotionally moved yet today? Visit the Shedd’s Facebook page and scroll to the community comments around June 10th, 2011… Maybe prepare a tissue or two beforehand.

 

Smart move #4: They were human. Immediately following the announcement of the calf’s passing, the Shedd Aquarium answered questions, accepted sympathy, and most of all—expressed human sadness. The end of their email communication and blog announcement stated, “This is a difficult loss for the Shedd family. But in our joy and grief, we remain proud of our animals, our people and our husbandry program.” These sentiments are warm, touching, and (one must believe) true. When it comes to caring for animals, there is a strong reliance on science and research, but the Shedd did not overlook the value of the feelings involved in this situation. They did not “play-down” the situation, embed the announcement within a jam-packed email update, or try to gloss-over the happening in any way. They spoke in plain English, understanding that this is no time for “science-y” words that might alienate a concerned audience. Despite being a world-class institution, the Shedd opened up like a human being, increasing their potential for connection with audiences.

 

Smart move #5: They followed-up. After the announcement of the calf’s death, the Shedd could have chosen to divert audience attention. They could have turned their focus to their new exhibits, or their summer programs, or anything else. They could have tried to never look back. That’s not what the aquarium chose to do. Instead, they followed up eleven days later with a status report on the calf’s mother. They did not just let the connections created from the dolphin birth slide away, leaving audiences hanging. While this sounds like common sense, following up is a key element of online transparency that is very often overlooked- especially when something “bad” happens. We see this all the time on social media outlets: something bad will happen and the organization will try and make us forget that it ever happened by blindly diverting attention. Here’s a dose of reality: audiences don’t just forget. So don’t go for “forget.” Go for continuing to inspire connections to your nonprofit’s social mission and aim for forgiveness first.

 

Because of the outstanding trust that the Shedd Aquarium placed in their online audiences, the organization positioned themselves in a win-win situation: If the calf lived, the Shedd had engaging content to help inspire connections and draw attendance and support. If the calf did not live, they had positioned themselves as caring, informative, hardworking, and honest dolphin caretakers recovering from a terrific loss.

The Shedd Aquarium was unafraid. They were unafraid to show emotion, to express concern, and to share positive and negative news. They trusted their audiences to judge them fairly after they had placed all of the information on the table. That, I think, is how to handle a communications crisis and come out on top thanks to radical trust.

Got another example to share? Please write a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Trends 3 Comments

Barriers to Adopting Social Media: Creating Buy-In

(or, Why Your Organization Needs Social Media)

Last week, I identified buy-in as one of the four biggest barriers to change in inspiring institutions to embrace social strategies. And it makes sense that this is a barrier for change; why should an institution invest time and energy into social media if they aren’t aware of the benefits? The good news is that buy-in is a breakable barrier.

Buy-in is important on all levels when transitioning an organization to take on social strategies and online communications. The formula for change addresses important elements in tackling employee and colleague buy-in. However, for many marketing and communications directors with their pulse on social technology, the real obstacle is obtaining buy-in from the head-hanchos. That’s not always easy. In fact, some of the best ideas about social strategies are bound to come from employees working with visitors on the ground because it’s been found that, when it comes to large scale-change (like catching onto the social media revolution), the front-line folks see it first.

Here’s the bottom line: Social media contributes to both of your organization’s bottom lines. That is, (1) the economic needs of the institution, and (2) the social mission to inspire and educate.

 

1) Social media helps keep the lights on in a big way:

  1. Word of mouth marketing through social media and earned media are worth more than paid advertising efforts. Marketers may be familiar with the Bass Model. This model is based upon the coefficient of innovation (paid advertising and marketing) and the coefficient of imitation (word of mouth marketing, including social and earned media). According to the model, the initial sale of something depends on the number of people interested in the product (innovation). However, later sales are dependent upon the number of folks drawn to the product after seeing their friends and acquaintances use it (imitation). In the theory, innovation (q) has a value that is often less than 0.01, while imitation (p) has been found to have a value between 0.3 and 0.5. In other words, word of mouth marketing is over ten times more important than paid advertising in terms of driving sales. 
  2.  

  3. Social media contributes to your brand’s reputation, and reputation is a main driver of attendance. Studies have shown that online communities are increasingly important for brand management and are often more important than your website. You likely wouldn’t think of  taking down your website because it’s one of the best ways for potential visitors to learn about the organization. However, social media and online interactions are stealing this spotlight, and it’s worth investing time and money in these social endeavours. Moreover, social media enhances reputation because it increases the perceived value of a product.
  4.  

Social media increases your word-of-mouth reputation, garnering attention and inspiring visitation. Thus, social media increases attendance (and donations). It does this in two, important and related ways:

  • By creating connections that are unique to your institution. Social media provides the opportunity to create a personality for the organization and connect to individuals on a personal level. Because social media platforms are (should be!) always in seemingly-transparent dialogue with fans and followers, these potential visitors have constant sneak peeks into operations. Social media allows folks to feel like insiders who are personally connected to museum happenings. This makes your institution unique to individuals and not “just another visitor-serving organization.” Instead of just a place to see a generic X (say, an original manuscript). It makes that generic X meaningful, and your museum is the only place in which that particular entity exists.
  • By securing earned media. Earned media is a gold star in the world of word of mouth marketing. Earned media is media that your institution does not pay for. For instance, a mommy blogger writing a blog post about her terrific day at the museum is earned media. It is a high-propensity visitor sharing his/her experiences with their network, who are also likely to be the kind of high-propensity visitors that your organization is targeting. In the mommy blogger example, this free agent is spreading the museum’s message on her blog, and her blog is likely read by other mommy bloggers, increasing the odds of securing visitors. But not all earned media is organic and spread by visitors. Social media also helps put operations in front of members of the media who may contribute to earned media by writing or reporting about the organization. Here’s a related little tip: thank your free evangelists.

By these same processes, social media aids in building and igniting donor relationships. As every fundraiser knows, building personal connections to an organization is critical for securing donations, and social media helps do just that. On social platforms, dialogue with an organization continues long after visits take place. Social media provides an opportunity to engage potential donors and inspire ongoing connections. Once they’ve contributed, social media helps keep donors and members posted on an organization’s great works, ensuring them that funds are used wisely and that the organization is continuing to cultivate community involvement.

 

2) Achieving the organization’s mission of educating and inspiring communities

Social media doesn’t just help keep the lights on; it helps organizations fulfill their missions. Informal learning environments often have the mission of educating and inspiring communities. Social media helps by providing an opportunity to:

  • EducateThese YouTube videos are creating a one-of-a-kind connection with the institution (and the people working there) that will end up elevating reputation. In real-time, they are presenting engaging content in a fun and informational way.
  • Transcend location and taking the mission home– Traditionally, we think of museums and cultural centers as places that are exculsively “place-based.” However, with the development of social media and creative engagement, museums are more than just buildings full of objects… They are accessible everywhere. You can learn from an organization and be inspired through computers, mobile phones, ipads, and podcasts. With the focus taken off of location, audiences can integrate organizations easily into their everyday lives, keeping the institution “top-of-mind” and building brand trust and transparency.
  • Reach new audiences– Generation Y has terrific engagement potential, and this audiences is most easily accessed through social media. Moreover, they are accessed on a personal level through social media. To say that having a social strategy will put you ahead of the game with this demographic (and future generations), however, is a lie. Social media is critical for reaching folks of the future—and folks right now. And if you’re not doing it well (or trying to), then you’re already outta the game. As a side, social media doesn’t just appeal to Generation Y. Know a few folks who say that they aren’t involved with social media because of their older age? Studies show that they are lying; one in four Americans over the age of 65 have an account on a social media platform.

 

Social media is critical to a visitor-serving organization’s everyday operations, as well as its long-term goals. It will be increasingly harder to educate, inspire, fundraise, and even keep the lights on without embracing social media and related social strategies.

What would you add to this? What are other but-in inspiring reasons why innovative social media is an organizational necessity? Please share your input below.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Trends 2 Comments

Inspiring Institutions to Embrace Social Strategies: A Formula for Change

Over the next several weeks starting today, I will be featuring posts on the topic of inspiring change to prepare nonprofit organizations to adapt to social strategies. 

Within the last month (hence the hiatus), I graduated with my master of public administration and secured a terrific new work opportunity with a research and development company with the bulk of my work focused on zoos, aquariums, and museums. Or ZAMs, I’ve heard them called affectionately. I like that shortcut. ZAMs sound cutting edge and efficient, much like these institutions strive to be and often are, despite the historically bad rap of nonprofit sector operations.

The company I’m doing work for uses market data and predictive technologies to help organizations make strategic decisions. There are lots of numbers involved in this process, all holding terrific significance to the success or failure of a plan. My colleagues turn right brain theories turn into left brain equations. If math is the universal language, then it makes sense to think of equations as guiding principles for even basic operations. Like the nickname of ‘ZAMs,’ this mingling of left and right-brained thinking provides helpful shortcuts for simplifying complex ideas. For example, complex ideas like how to create change within both an organization and within society as a whole. On second thought, large-scale change may be an overwhelming place to begin. Let’s start with institutional change- more specifically, institutional change involving the incorporation of social media strategies into common practice… Let’s do this.

For the next several weeks starting today, I am going to attempt to aid nonprofits in embracing social innovation by introducing an equation for change (That’s the pretty equation at the top of this post, folks!)  I will provide resources to help organizations combat each of  the four biggest barriers to embracing the incorporation of social strategies: buy-in, uncertainty, radical trust, and resources. 

I created the image above based on a lesson in Professor Robert Myrtle’s Strategic Nonprofit Management course at the University of Southern California. I think it’s helpful to think about change in this way. It requires three, key ingredients that must add up to be greater than the barriers to change:

(a) Dissatisfaction with the status quo- When creating change, it helps when business-as-usual is failing and the people who will need to make change happen already know it. In order for change to happen, individuals must understand that something is indeed broken and must be fixed. But this doesn’t need to a literal thing that is broken; it can be an element of workplace culture. For instance,  in the case of sparking change toward creating social strategies, the ‘broken’ thing could be lack of periphery or a lack of vision. It could be a workplace culture that does not value innovation and keeping up with the times in regard to the increased connectivity and information share that is booming with the social media revolution. Folks must know that this element of negative workplace culture exists, and they must be unhappy about it.

This may be the hardest element of the equation to realize, because people often get comfortable with business as usual, and dissatisfaction with the status quo often doesn’t take place until after competitors have raised the bar. In other words, sometimes this dissatisfaction only happens after an organization realizes that they’ve been left behind. For instance, there are still museums that still don’t even have a Facebook account (11% of AZA organizations have 100 or fewer ‘likes’ as of May, 2011). Those museums may note experience dissatisfaction with the status quo until they realize that most other museums do have accounts– and more than that– that most other museums are experiencing increased ticket sales, membership rates, program enrollment, and monetary contributions in large part because of their embrace of social platforms. Workplace culture is very important for this reason. An organization that strives to evolve will feel dissatisfaction with the status quo faster than an organization that makes change a last resort. The former will create change in order to lead the industry. The latter will create only as much change as is necessary to remain relevant, or worse: to keep the doors open.

(b) An understanding of the desired future- In order to change, folks must have an idea of how they want the changed organization to function. Everyone should understand what that changed organization will look like. This is an important step in creating institutional buy-in for change. It requires a clear and compelling leadership team to communicate the vision and make it understandable to everyone in an organization. If you’re going on a trip to Europe, you’ll be much better prepared to make specific, actionable vacation plans if you know your stay will be in Italy. You’ll be even more prepared if you know that you’re spending your time in Rome. Similarly, if everyone works together to discover exactly where they are going (or would like to go), then everyone can work together to get there, and everyone can better relate to the organization’s vision because they understand it.

(d) And knowledge of the first step to get there- We’ve likely all heard Lao Tzu’s famous quote, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Hopefully, integrating social strategies into an organization’s general mentality won’t be a thousand-mile journey. Even if we call it a marathon of 26.2 miles (or a short 5k), understanding the first step is equally important. Plans and timelines are helpful. Social media strategies, though some smart folks say you don’t need one, can be helpful when explaining how integrating online communications will take place. These plans make goals feel more achievable, and the first step must be digestible and understandable. Returning to the topic of Rome, it wasn’t built in a day.

In order for change to take place, so the theory goes– and I think it’s a quite practical theory– these three elements (dissatisfaction with the status quo, an understanding of the desired future, and knowledge of the first step to get there) must be greater than the barriers to change. So what are those barriers for change in regard to integrating social strategies into museums, cultural centers, and other nonprofits? I’ve merged replies from a survey sent out to AZA organizations and my own understanding and experiences with obstacles to integrating social strategies and categorized them into four, main barriers:

1. Buy-in 

  • Does social technology contribute to our bottom lines?
  • How do you measure engagement?
  • What is the value of engagement

2. Uncertainty

  • What does a social strategy mean and why is it important?
  • How exactly do I use social tools?
  • What if we try it, and audiences aren’t engaged?
  • What are the rules for employees and where are personal and professional lines drawn?
3. Radical Trust
  • How do we control content?
  • What if someone says something bad about us?
  • What if someone shares incorrect information on our page?

4.  Resources

  • Who is going to run this?
  • How much time will it take?
  • Will we have to offer a lot of discounts?
Check back over the next four weeks to share your own words of wisdom regarding integrating social media and ‘thinking socially’ into an organization’s culture. Each week, a different barrier will be discussed. Please contribute with stories of your experiences or any aid that you might have so that we may help produce a helpful resource!
Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Trends 1 Comment

Social Media and Museum Fundraising: 3 Easy Ways to Jump-Start a Relationship

The Fundraising Process

*This post is directed toward museum professionals, but these simple fundraising to-dos translate to nearly all nonprofits.

In March, I spoke about how zoos and aquariums can engage audiences using social media at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Mid-Year Meeting. Before the session started, I asked folks to raise their hands according to which department they served in their institution. No less than 30 of the 40 people in the room worked in marketing and PR departments. About eight or nine people worked in education, conservation, or husbandry (which is important; online engagement is an effective tool for education)

…and only one person was part of a development department.

Social media does not belong to the marketing department. In fact, the museums that use it best focus on engagement and education. Social media and online engagement are incredible new tools in our ‘museum professional’ toolboxes… Social media informs. It educates. It creates connections….So why aren’t fundraisers getting with these new tools like the marketers?

Creating an effective social media presence requires collaboration with multiple museum departments. Utilizing social media within the development department is just plain smart. I don’t just mean utilizing social media to help meet a museum’s bottom line through mobile giving campaigns (like this one) or publicizing membership events–though it can be used very effectively for these purposes. If marketing, education, and development can work together to track social media interaction and engage audiences, then it can benefit all three divisions.

Here are three easy, low-resource ways that social media can help development departments build connections and keep a pulse on donor engagement:

 

1) Note interactions with donors on Facebook and Twitter to monitor buy-in.

An advantage that the development division has? They know who the donors are. Engagement of these folks is particularly important and may lead to further giving. Figure out which of your donors ‘like’ you on Facebook and make it a habit to skim your organization’s Facebook page at the end of each day (or week, even) to see if a donor engaged on the site. This information helps you keep a pulse on your donors. For instance, you may just have a better chances making a formal ask to someone who you know is seeing and interacting with your content. That person is actively keeping tabs on the institution and engaged on a day-to-day basis (and you know it).

 

2) Make a private Twitter list of small and large-scale donors- and make a point to interact with them. 

Retweet them, @ reply them. Whatever you do, don’t ignore them. Because Twitter is a site for active engagement and open information-share, there’s potential to summon excitement and connection through this platform. It’s a bit more difficult to create direct conversation on Facebook. Quick Google searches can often indicate whether or not a specific donor has a twitter account.  It’s easy to quickly search and compile a list of donor’s Twitter accounts to pass along to the marketing department (or whomever is managing social media). Give them the list and ask them to keep tabs on these folks using Twitter’s private lists. This way, followers cannot see your donors, but the person running social media has a quick and easy way to remember who to keep an eye on and engage.

 

3) Take note of donor’s interests through social media to hone your story and find your connection.

Social media profiles and activities can provide a lot of personal information about donors. Marketeers use this information to help trace their demographic, but fundraisers should be using social media to fill in gaps about donors’ interests so that they can be more efficiently ‘courted’ at events and on-site. Checking up on social media activities doesn’t just help by uncovering that, say, a donor is running a half marathon next week (which may or may not be useful to you). By utilizing your museum’s social media channels, fundraisers can learn a lot about what it is about the institution that engages the donor. If someone tends to ‘like’ statuses about specific events or artists, that gives you a peek into their interests– And even better than that; it gives you a peek into your shared interests.

 

Some fundraisers make it personal by being the face of their cultural center’s fundraising efforts for certain donors. When using social media, transparency is critical and this method banks on that fact, in a way.

Generation Y has incredible giving potential, if you can tap into it– and they are on social media. In fact, many of us were raised with virtual connections and it’s an easy way for us to communicate. Fundraisers who can figure out how to use this medium by keeping tabs on and engaging with donors virtually may have a big advantage in the long run.

*Photo credits to Tushneem’s Ramble

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Fundraising, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 1 Comment

6 Big, Societal Changes That Have Already Happened. Has Your Museum Adjusted?

“One day, going on Facebook will be synonymous with going on the Internet.”

“In the future, there will be far fewer middle managers.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if, someday soon, every brand on the market will be tied to a nonprofit or a social cause.”

I don’t think these are futurist claims. It seems to be that what we think of as likely happening in the near future is actually happening right now. Often, it has already happened.

It’s possible that going on the Internet will be synonymous with going on Facebook, but in many ways, that’s the case right now. There are already fewer middle managers in the workplace than there have been in recent years, and corporate social responsibility has been called a new, necessary value for corporate survival.   There are a lot of seemingly confident predictions that we make everyday in nonprofit organizations.  Usually, these casual comments aren’t just predictions that we share conversationally with coworkers, but important perceptions and clues to strategic organizational evolution. Casual comments about the future are key to organizational periphery because adapting to ‘the future’ as if it were right now is likely to keep cultural nonprofits relevant and better able to adapt to change.

 

Here are six societal changes that have already started happening in a big way:

1. Nonprofit, for-profit, or individual: only the kind survive. Evolutionary biologists (from Science Daily and other places, too) predict that kindness may trump fitness in the next leg of human evolution. We’re seeing clues of this already. Much of the youngest generation entering the workforce is looking to be hired by nonprofits and public sector entities (though that doesn’t mean they don’t hope to change a few things). More than ever before, folks want to be doing meaningful work. When unemployment went up even early in the recession, so did volunteer rates. When people lost jobs and were unable to volunteer money, they volunteered their time to helping others instead. We are becoming nicer, and we are placing increased value on organizations that are nice. In 2009, Time Magazine called the change in societal and consumer behavior a Responsibility Revolution. According to Towers Watson, being socially responsible is no longer an option for private companies. It’s required for organizational survival. In sum, we’re all high on feel-good oxytocin and we feel it and spread it when we’re nice.

At-a-Glance Updates:

  • Champion your mission- Work your cause!
  • Help yourself while helping others- Team up with other nonprofits and social causes.
  • Make it easy for people to show publicly that they support you- You look good and so do your passionate supporters.

 

2. Online  and virtual communication has changed how we operate. Speaking of oxytocin, we also release it when we use social media and it contributes to feelings of trust and security. Perhaps this is why virtual relationships feel “real”… because, according to our brains, they really are real.  There are 600 billion people on Facebook, and all that friending, sharing, and liking has already had effects on what we value. Namely, transparency has been a transformational force in the global economy. Because everything is online and in the open, we want nothing to be hidden. Combining the movement toward positive public good described above and transparency born from the Web has yielded radical transparency. Now we need see-through CEOs.  Information share, information access, creating connections, building relationships, learning new skills… It’s all already moved online.

At-a-Glance Updates:

  • Update your public relations plan. Value-alignment is more important than making sure everyone says the same exact words during a PR crises.
  • Be real. Be sincere, identify yourself and your relationship to the organization, and speak conversationally.
  • Don’t be defensive. People will wonder what you are hiding.

 

3. Content is king. And his reign is  stronger than ever before. Speaking of wanting everything to be in the open, Information rules. In fact, every two days we create as much information as we did from the dawn of man until 2003. This is in large part thanks to the web, but don’t be quick to think that’s we’re robots spouting crazy facts like those people in the Bing commercials. Studies have found that people who really need information seek it from other people– especially people they already know. (Re) enter: Facebook. It’s not just a platform for personal connections, but for sharing ideas, gathering information, and a mecca for word-of-mouth marketing. This means that social media is great news for organizations. It builds connections while building on a museum’s mission to educate by sharing information- and making it easy for other people to share that information, too.

At-a-Glance Updates:

  • Know your stuff- If you have information to share (more than something to sell), then you have value.
  • Share your stuff- Make your organization accessible and share your information.
  • Become a hub- You don’t need to know all of the answers. If you’re unsure of one, point your fan or follower to someone who would know the answer. They’ll remember.

 

4. Employees of an organization work with one another, not for one another. The idea behind flat organizations is that removing intervening middle-managers empowers employees, allowing them to play an active role in the decision-making process, creating organizational buy-in, improving morale, and therefore strengthening the entire organization. Flat organizations move more quickly than hierarchical organizations and have several other structural benefits. These organizations are gaining attention. This is how modern businesses run themselves now: with an eye toward employee empowerment. This is in large part due to the web and the growth of information-share. This type of organizational structure should be of particular interest to nonprofits, as it allows organizations to move quickly. A side, fun fact? The science of teams is now actually a science.

At-a-Glance Updates:

  • Remove the walls and encourage conversation- Put the museum director in meetings with the coordinators.

 

5. If you’re a softie, now’s your moment. There may be no crying in baseball, but we’re moving closer to crying in business. Well, at least business is becoming more subjective, emotional, and related to non-measurable aspects of conscientiousness. Given all of the shifts mentioned above, this isn’t much of a shock. Now even MBA programs want folks who are more creative team-players than the old-fashioned my-way-or-the-highway guys. All this sound feminine? It kind of is. Does that mean the pay gap will catch up and the nonprofiteers (often masters of soft skills) will be making all the dough in the future thanks to their in-demand leadership skills? I sure hope so, but I guess we have to wait and see…

At-a-Glance Updates:

  • Hire soft-skilled employees– Look for people who are resourceful, collaborative, and display a positive attitude.
  • Celebrate your employees and coworkers- Because chances are, they already display the soft skills that are leading your cultural organization.

 

6. Generation Y is taking the reigns. And there are a few general qualities that make up members of this generation: entrepreneurial, tech-savvy, over-confident, casual, team-oriented, and we value time over money. There’s value in getting this demographic on board and connecting with your charity. The key to that is in supporting them.  I think blogger Sam Davidson says it best: “More Millennials would rather buycott than boycott, and we’d rather volunteer than vote… Gen Y has the potential to change the world, just not in the way you think.” Aside from the fact that they operate in ways that mirror big societal changes taking place and they can keep you current, here are a few more reasons to hire and engage Millennials.

At-a-Glance Updates:

  • Hire young folks as managers– or staying relevant may be a bit harder…
  • Understand there are things to learn– They operate differently sometimes.
  • Know that the way everything operates is changing– And will change even more with Generation Z.
Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Millennials, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments

How Regional Associations May Be Models for Museums of The Future

Folks engaging and learning from one another at last week's CAM Conference in Pasadena, or a peek into the future?

I’ve noticed that a great deal of my favorite resources come from national, regional, or local associations. This makes sense to me. Professional and organizational development is their thing, right? But if you think about the role that these associations play in their communities, it doesn’t seem much of a stretch to conclude that the museum of the future is a regional association.

The California Association of Museums shared their new strategic plan during the CAM Conference in Pasadena last week. When Phil Kohlmetz, the CAM President was speaking, he mostly used the future tense, describing what the organization will be because the plan is in its first of five years. But in actuality, he was pointing out how the association has adjusted and arranged priorities to strengthen what it actually is. During their presentation, I thought simply, “If all cultural organizations adopted these areas of focus, then every cultural organization would be a high-impact organization.” Take a look at the focus areas that make up CAM’s strategic alignment:

  • Build capacity
  • Heighten advocacy
  • Foster community

Perhaps national and regional associations, being connector organizations made up of individuals who can maintain a day-to-day bird’s-eye view of the industry, are terrific models for museums’ strategic futures. Even if they didn’t take up any new practices or adjust to the times, the past and present function of associations may be similar to museum functions of the future.

Looking at attributes that make up national and regional associations reveals that what associations are now, and what museums may be in the future, may be close to the same thing. As such, examining the goals and operations of associations may be a helpful exercise for nonprofits preparing for the future.

National and regional associations actively have aimed to:

  • … Exist as connectors. Between every session at the CAM conference, the organization provided an opportunity for networking and building connections. They put on breakfasts, lunches, even an ice cream social! The Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) actively conducts meet-ups to get folks connected. Associations bring in different speakers and writers to offer different opportunities to connect, and, like a museum, they bring in people eager to learn and explore. Like museums and other cultural organizations, associations aim to get people to interact and learn from one another.
  • …Create horizontal professional communities. Most associations that I’ve come across have committees. The American Association of Museum’s (AAM) committees are the first to come to my mind as an example- probably because they have so many of them. Within these committees, folks are invited to engage equally and contribute to the conversation. Organizations are becoming less vertical (hierarchical) and more horizontal in the way that they operate. They are welcoming more voices when making important decisions and they are working more often in groups. National and regional associations have been putting like-minded folks in groups for years in order to support one another and help come up with industry solutions.
  • …Cultivate professional development and encourage skill-building. The nonprofit sector is notorious for ducking out on providing employees with professional development opportunities. For associations, professional development and skill building is front and center. It’s not a surprise: cultural nonprofits that follow the lead of investing time and energy into their people will develop stronger, more valuable people and build a more successful organization.
  • …Share resources and strengthen their communities. Museums and cultural organizations aim to educate in order to build more vibrant, healthy communities. The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) invested the time and energy to develop a format for online engagement during their 2010 annual meeting. The organization realized the location barrier that existed; not everyone can be in Oklahoma City, but everyone at a cultural organization could likely benefit from involvement in the conference. They paid attention to issues threatening their ability to share quality resources, and they employed new media solutions to create an interactive platform to keep the information flowing, and people conversing. Speaking of which, most associations have the benefit of being able to…
  • …Pay attention. They have a macro-view of the community they serve and industry needs. If you have your eyes open to things happening in the outside world, then you are better able to adjust. Moreover, you’re more likely to see changes coming and ensure that you’re organization doesn’t get left behind.
  • …Create a hub. Do you remember a few years back when marketers would do whatever it took not to link to another webpage? The fear seemed to be that if the web user clicked on something else, they’d leave your page. There’s no way to know if they’d come back. At the CAM conference, Maria Gilbert of The Getty said simply, “create a hub.” Make your website (or your people) the go-to for desired information, and folks will come back. Regional associations have been creating hubs long before the boom of online engagement.
  • …Welcome evangelists. Like me, because they know that if I can find a way to get to the CAM conference, I’ll likely learn something and share it with my friends and networks. Similarly, many associations give out fellowships or scholarships that allow young professionals and students to attend events. This is a great idea because young people are using social media the most to create online content. Cultural nonprofits (and public sector entities) should do this too. Know who your evangelists are and make it easy for them to help you spread your message– online or otherwise.
  • …Master the market. What I mean by this, really, is that they function based off of traditional utility functions. This isn’t new for museums, which do the same thing. They produce goods and services that are desired by a population, and they make a portion of their revenue from “selling” their product to donors. This is worth attention, because an organization that does not utilize the market or work to sustain itself would be a bad example of an organization to mimic.

Perhaps association organizations are museums that are not place-based or artifact-based, but people-based. That may be the reason why some of their traditional functions serve as good models for future cultural nonprofit operations. As society continues to evolve to be more social (or anti-social, depending on what you think about online communications) and participatory, the traditional practices of association organizations become even better models. Perhaps they aren’t ideal (how do you incorporate ‘place’?), but they may be a cheat-sheet about how to think about the future.

What do you think? Can museums of the future learn a thing or two from national and regional association organizations? Please weigh in with your thoughts.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment

Nonprofit Management: 3 Ways That Social Media Builds High-Impact Museums

The Exploratorium is one of the twleve organizations identified by Crutchfield and Grant that displays all six practices of high-impact nonprofits.

Nonprofits risk missing out on several opportunities when they entertain the mindset that social media belongs to the marketing department. This is especially true for museums. For one,  audience-inspiring stories often stem from inside operations, such as conservation, horticulture, and life sciences departments, not to mention anecdotes and lessons from  floor staff, interpreters, docents and ongoing programs. The opportunity that social technology affords museums in spreading their mission of educating visitors cannot be ignored. Social technology helps educational initiatives transcend museum walls, and even the most common social media sites offer opportunities to engage different types of learners.

But the issue extends beyond the notion that social media helps nonprofits and museums better fulfill their missions. Social technology can (and soon enough, in everyday life, will be) used to make nonprofits stronger organizations overall. In preparation for their 2007 book, Forces for Good, Leslie R. Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant examined twelve of the nation’s most impactful and successful nonprofit organizations. They pieced their findings together and outlined six practices of high-impact nonprofits: inspire evangelists, nurture nonprofit networks, share leadership, advocate and serve, make markets work, and master the art of adaptation.   Today, social technology plays a leading role in helping organizations to meet more than half of the critical six practices of high-impact nonprofits. And chances are, social media will continue to evolve so that we can even better utilize social media to take on these critical functions.

1. Inspiring Evangelists. Successful organizations turn outsiders into insiders in order to help spread a message. Evangelists often have a personal connection to an organization’s cause and they cultivate their own networks to support the cause. This effort helps build the organization’s overall community. Successful organizations open the door to outsiders and seek to communicate with them and creating meaningful experiences. Because being social is at the heart of social media, sites help to efficiently create conversation and cultivate evangelists. In the world of social media, we call these evangelist outsiders free agents. It’s no wonder we’ve developed have our own term for online evangelists in the last four years;  the Internet makes it easier than ever to connect with causes- and to connect with people who support your causes.

2. Nurturing Nonprofit Networks. According to Crutchfield and Grant’s research, successful charities recognize that strengthening their organization involves also strengthening the sector and sharing information. The notion that a good nonprofit tries to put itself out of business is at least conceptually true. A step forward in innovative educational outreach for one museum is a step forward for the power of informal learning for everyone.  Social media makes it easier to grow the pie and share knowledge. Several significant online resources are free to everyone. If one museum has developed a new exhibit that has been shown to have educational value, it’s easy for museum professionals to share the information. In fact, the blogosphere is great for information-share and overall sector-strengthening. Information sharing not only strengthens museums overall, but it helps to develop individual leadership. And we need strong and knowledgeable leadership for this evolving industry. As a related side, here are some of my favorite, basic resources for individual museum professional development.

3. Mastering the Art of Adaptation. Social media not only facilitates the development of this organizational skill (adaptation), but having good social media requires it. Forces for Good shares a cycle for adapting to change: listen, experiment and innovate, evaluate and learn, modify. This is the exact approach that is advocated (yes, for lean start-ups, but similarly) for developing social media strategies. In order to be effective on social media, folks representing museums and other nonprofit organizations must listen, try new things, and take note of how audiences respond to those initiatives. Moreover, mastering adaptation involves balancing bureaucracy and creativity. As museums embrace social media, they find themselves both hungry for online engagement but also apprehensive of it. Radical trust is an issue for museums. Taking on social media mimics the organizational process of adopting change, mostly because adapting to social media is a big change for many institutions. The cycle never ends. In order to be taking full advantage of social media, organizations must be constantly listening, testing, and fixing. They must be constantly adapting.

Nonprofits are moving forward in utilizing social to aid in the final three practices of high-impact nonprofits as well.

  • Advocating and serving. Crutchfield and Grant found that high-impact nonprofits both provide their own services and advocate for policy reform. It’s no surprise that social media is a good tool for building awareness and spreading a message. In fact, Planned Parenthood is a good example of an organization tapping into networks to support policy advocacy.
  • Sharing Leadership. “Great nonprofit leaders share power,” Crunchfield and Grant write. Social media can help share information in order to educate professionals and cultivate leaders. It prepares professionals for the sharing of leadership, and empowers them to create their own professional voice through their personal brands.
  • Making Markets Work. Social media can help nonprofit and for-profit partners connect to create collaborations that financially aid nonprofits and lend a reputation for promoting social good to for-profits. One way that museums leverage the market is by selling admission. In this case, social media really does work as a true marketing force, and online tools and mobile applications can help visitors purchase admission remotely.

Social media is a key resource for museums that want to develop nonprofit management techniques to help raise their organization above the rest. However, this will not be the case for long. Before we know it, those organizations that have not tapped into online networks to strengthen their museum will be far behind. Using social media to actively and consciously cultivate sustainability and long-term impact will be commonplace. At some point we may find that online engagement through social technology is not just a smart business move, but a matter of long-term nonprofit survival.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 1 Comment