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Community Engagement

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

38 Ways Zoos and Aquariums are Engaging Audiences Through Social Technology

Shortly after writing 41 Ways Museums are Merging Social and Tech to Engage Audiences, I was approached by a couple of lovely marketing professionals at the Tennessee Aquarium asking if I’d mind sharing current social tech happenings in zoos and aquariums, specifically. Boy, is there a lot going on!

In preparation to facilitate an upcoming workshop on social technology at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Mid-Year Meeting on March 23rd, I’ve put together this list of innovative initiatives that I’ve uncovered with the help of a survey sent to AZA participants. Quite expectedly, the industry’s natural creativity, passion, and aim to inspire and educate are quite clear in zoos and aquariums in much the same way that they are apparent in other types of museums and creative learning environments. Zoos and Aquariums are playing a big part in moving the nonprofit sector forward through social media, crowd-curation, and mobile applications.

Interested in seeing- at a glance- which zoos and aquariums are using social media (or were by November 20, 2010 at least)? Check out this awesome spreadsheet created by  Anthony Brown of the San Francisco Zoo. It lists which zoos and aquariums are using Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube, as well as basic engagement stats.

Check out some of the classic, creative, charming, and kooky ways that zoos and aquariums are using social technology to make waves in their communities and beyond:

 

Utilizing Basic Social Media Building Blocks.

1. Twitter. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums maintains a twitter list with over 127 accredited zoos and aquariums on Twitter. But from the looks of things, there are many, many more than that. Among hundreds of others, you can follow the Oregon Zoo, the California Academy of Sciences, the Seattle Aquarium, the Fort Worth Zoo, the Georgia Aquarium

2. Facebook. 7% of all humans are on Facebook and zoos and aquariums are effectively using this space to cultivate networks, create interaction, and share information. The Tennessee Aquarium always surprises me with cool facts in my Facebook news feed.

3. Flickr. Holy cow! If there’s one social media platform in which zoos and aquariums are taking the lead, it’s on Flickr. When asked (in a survey I crafted in collaboration with AZA), many zoos and aquariums reported Flickr initiatives as their most innovative uses of social technology. My favorite straight-up use of Flickr? That’s a toughie… but the Shedd Aquarium’s Flickr group is up there.

4. YouTube. There’s so much good stuff here, too. Zoos and Aquariums are mostly using this site to help them give visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the institution. I like the San Diego Zoo’s YouTube channel.

5. Website. Have you noticed that many of the biggest and most visited zoos and aquariums feature links to social media pages above the fold on their websites (even if it’s small)?

6. Interactive Pages. Many zoos and aquariums are putting their web-based social and educational resources in one place. Check out the New England Aquarium’s awesome interaction page.

7. Blogging. The Dickerson Park Zoo’s blog posts and short and sweet- and a lot of fun. Speaking of blogs, the Houston Zoo has four of them. They use fun facts and photos to share information on conservation, education and Trunk Tales, a blog covering elephant news and happenings at the zoo.

8. Mobile Applications. These ones by the Woodland Park Zoo, the Memphis Zoo, and the Dallas Zoo aim to make the visitor experience as comfortable as possible by providing basic information on the zoo and the exhibits. They even feature GPS so you can figure out how to get to your favorite animals.

9. Foursquare. Remember to check in when you visit the Sacramento Zoo. You’ll be rewarded with a free carousel ticket- and the mayor gets a free gift.

10. Virtual Conferences. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums is on top of creating engaging webinars that allow zoo and aquarium professionals to connect and share stories online. Couldn’t make it to the AZA Annual Conference in Houston? No worries.

11. Podcasts. The Aquarium of the Pacific’s (for instance) podcasts share information about the aquarium as well as news and information about issues facing our oceans and our planet. It’s music to an audible learner’s ears.

But that’s not even close to the end of it. Prepare to be inspired… and learn a thing or two about sea creatures, four-legged friends, the environment, and everything in between…

 

Storytelling and Online Engagement

12.  It’s a boy! This baby gorilla was abandoned by its mother, and then had to be raised by hand and trained with a surrogate mother at the San Fransisco Zoo.  The sensitive situation meant months of no on-site press. But it was no problem for the zoo. They captured the baby gorilla’s pertinent milestones on video. Everything was filmed and edited internally, uploaded on the Zoo’s YouTube channel and then distributed to the press. It worked beautifully and the press used these video links on their own Web sites and in print. Broadcasters pointed viewers and listeners to the YouTube channel and also aired them during newscasts.

13. Talk about streaming cuteness. The Knoxville Zoo’s creative partnership with the Mozilla Foundation raised awareness of endangered species through a 24 hour live stream of two red pandas (firefoxes). Their names, Ember and Spark, were determined by online voters. I cannot lie: sometimes I open this tab on my browser and check-in throughout the day. It’s that cute. (Please don’t judge…)

14. Meet Essex Ed. Turtle Back Zoo’s resident groundhog, Essex Ed, took over the Zoo’s twitter account during the month of February, expanding his prognostication prowess beyond winter weather predictions. Look out @SUEtheTrex & @NatHistoryWhale.This furry futurist was quite charming (even if his lovable predictions weren’t always correct).

15. Turning print materials into links. The National Aquarium transcends the divide between printed materials and the web by using QR codes on printed materials that link to their YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or Flickr accounts.

16. Information share within the industry. Impactful nonprofits share their knowledge with others. That’s basically what the San Fransisco Zoo is doing in this video. One thing that I think is cool/important: the zoo doesn’t just leave twitter to the marketing department. They know that many departments should be at least a bit involved.

17. A picture’s worth a thousand words. The Monterey Bay Aquarium holds photo captions contests to engage visitors.

18. Going Meta. The Shedd Aquarium makes celebrating Flickr and Facebook fan engagement through Facebook look easy with their Fan Photo of the Week.  They encourage Facebook users to tag themselves in photos in order to vote for their favorite. It’s a genius voting system. When folks tag themselves to vote, it often shows up the newsfeed for people in their networks, spreading the initiative.

19. Live tweeting… from the ocean? The Birch Aquarium at Scripps took the middle-man out of education-based communication when they created a Twitter account specifically for whale-watching season. Their Naturalists tweet live from the boat!

20. Apes, Elephants, Pandas- oh my! The San Diego Zoo invites you to live stream their apes, elephants, pandas and polar bears! And while you’re on the site, try your hand at the Elephant Odyssey Game.

21. No photographer wants to be photo-bombed by strangers. The Aquarium of the Pacific takes Flickr photo contests to another level and uses it to bring folks in the door. They created regular Photography Nights in which photographers (and photographers-in-training) are welcome to take pictures without worrying about the general public.

22. Let’s tweetup! The Houston Zoo conducts so many of them that they have a separate Twitter account for them.

23. We advise you to visit the aquarium. Got a good rating on Trip Advisor thanks to great visitor service efforts? Flaunt it. Word of mouth marketing is thought be to the most trusted and effective form of marketing. Take a lesson from the Oregon Coast Aquarium: link to your ratings on Trip Advisor and make sure folks know how much your visitors love it.

That little owl icon in the right corner says, "People love this place!"

24. Know your assets! In this case, it’s a Great White Shark. Kind of. I dare you to take a look at this Flickr album of enthusiastic visitors to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, and tell me you don’t want to take a picture with this shark.

25. Because “Fluffy’s Daughter” is a bad name for a baby python. And the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium knew it was a lame name, so they called in help from their community. Their naming contest on Facebook resulted in thousands of submissions and 1,200 original names, which were narrowed to five and placed back on Facebook for voting.  Talk about well received; more than 500 people voted in the first 20 minutes and the zoo significantly boosted their “likes” on Facebook! (Spoiler: The name “Hanna” won with 816 votes)

26. The good ole’ ‘Fun Fact’ route never goes out of style. Rosamond Gifford Zoo tweets healthy doses of “Today’s Wild Wisdom,” by popular demand from their online community. A little bit (more) proof that social media works best when educational or exciting information is shared… and not just used as an announcement board for holiday closures.

On the West Coast? Not a problem for the Columbus Zoo.

27. Calling all ‘Mommy Group Organizers!’ Using the social tool Meetup.com, the San Diego Zoo makes it easy to set up playdates at the zoo.

28. Are you on Jumo? The Palm Beach Zoo has a page. No pressure.

29. Cell phone audio guides are a classic. At the Florida Aquarium, kids can listen to birds, fish, alligators, and otters through a cell phone audio guide.

30. State lines are for dummies. The Columbus Zoo offers special distance learning classes to K-12 kids across the country. The program “brings the zoo to you” using standard audio/video teleconferencing equipment.

 

Fundraising, Working the Market, and Strategic Uses of Social Media

31. Mobile devices= tools for donations. The Cameron Park Zoo launched a mobile giving campaign, which allows guests to donate $5 or $10 via text message. .

32. Making fundraising social with new tools. The Museum of Science in Boston uses Fundrazr, a social fundraising tool, to raise funds. In fact, the museum has raised over $2500 for the renovation of the Charles Hayden Planetarium exclusively through its network of online followers.

33. Meet the parents. The Knoxville Zoo knows who makes up a big part of their market- and they utilize a local online social resource called knoxmoms.com to connect with parents in the area.

34. Zoos vs. Aquariums: Who does it better? The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium is already rocking the contests tab on their Facebook page to engage audiences- but one of their greatest contests featured a friendly race that pitted them against the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, IA. The race was to see which one–Aquarium or Zoo–could promote their page in order to get the most new likes/fans for their respective Facebook page by the end of the contest on October 31, 2010.  It was close, but in the end, the aquarium lost and had to do a full day of “dirty jobs” for the zoo.  But both organizations were winners in the end because of the increase in fans resulting from the competition.  The Aquarium increased it’s Facebook fan base by 283%!

In the spirit of sportsmanship, zoo employees also agreed to do some "dirty work" for the other team. On Facebook, this photo is titled, "Zoo marketing guy tries working at the National Mississippi Museum and Aquarium."

35. A collaboration to strengthen community. The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo partnered with the Division 1 college hockey team in town, the Tigers, to promote both partners’ community-strengthening missions. They agreed to publicize for one another through their social media channels. In exchange, the Tigers promoted the zoo by showing video footage of the zoo’s tigers during period breaks, on the concourse, and on TV big screens at games. The zoo and the hockey team also conducted a successful meet-and-greet with players at the zoo, all the while shouting out to one another and publicizing these events through social media.

36. Make it easier for fans to give. In celebration of National Adoption Day, the Rosamond Gifford Zoo did a two-day promotion in which they significantly discounted their Adopt-an-Animal program. They created a custom package that was smaller than a traditional package (and therefore less expensive for us to produce). The result? An easy way to make an additional $350 for the program while getting the word out and giving their online community a sense of special perks.

37. Don’t forget gift shop sales! Folks at  Clyde Peelings Reptiland say that Facebook is their favorite way to  promote new items in their gift shop.

38. Tapping social technology for active feedback. The first step in evolving in order to best need visitor needs is to know what those needs are. By listening to audiences on social media, organizations can learn a lot about those needs- but the Brevard Zoo is taking an even more direct approach. They created research site that asks visitors how the museum can improve. The site allows them to get active feedback, create focus groups, and engage in private forums.

The Brevard Zoo wants your opinion.

Do you know of any zoos and aquariums utilizing social technology to engage audiences in ways that aren’t mentioned here? Share them in the comments section and add them to the list!

*Big credits to ourfunnyplanet.com for the top two photos.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Digital Connectivity, Trends 5 Comments

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

How Planned Parenthood Used Social Media to Create a Win-Win Situation for their Cause

Over the weekend alone, more than 357,000 people signed Planned Parenthood’s online open letter to Congress to oppose the recent vote from the House of Representatives to bar federal funding for the organization. Planned Parenthood utilized social media to help reposition themselves from a “losing” situation (facing cuts in federal funding) to more of a win-win situation (garnering public support and raising awareness and passion for their cause).

Nonprofits rock at using social media because it supports storytelling, inspires personal connections, and heightens the transparency required to attract donors. It does these things better, and at less of a cost, than a Superbowl ad (or most any ad, for that matter). But there’s an ongoing tension between social media and its ability to have a direct, positive monetary impact for organizations. Like so many actions in the world of nonprofits, it’s hard to monetize and determine the ROI of the effort in terms of dollars.

Planned Parenthood has created a win-win situation: If Planned Parenthood succeeds in overcoming the recent vote to bar federal funding for the organization, then they will have a monetary benefit that resulted from online engagement efforts (they kept funding that might otherwise be lost). But if hundreds of thousands of social media users signing an open letter causes no change in government action, Planned Parenthood still wins. They’ve managed to create a compelling call to action that got their cause into the newsfeed of millions of people in an urgent and compelling way that folks are likely to remember. These people are potential donors with a new reason to contribute. If Planned Parenthood inspires government funding or not, it was still a huge success to summon potential donors who may give money to the organization, should the cuts go through. If your nonprofit organization is going to lose federal funding (which is almost never a “win”), it probably doesn’t hurt to capture hundreds of thousands of hearts in the process.

For better or worse, this case illustrates some interesting ideas about how people relate to causes via social media. Here are some observations that may have led to the organization’s online success:

 

1. Planned Parenthood’s open letter made it easy to be an evangelist for a cause. Signing the letter takes less than a minute and the letter may have received a lot of attention for that very reason. It made caring about a cause easy and it let people think that they were doing something extremely significant. And they actually were, indeed, becoming evangelists for something significant. Public service and social causes are growing increasingly important to us as consumers (read: supporters and donors), which also may have aided in inspiring thousands to sign the letter. This is over-simplified, but here’s the point:  making the letter easy to sign made it easy for people to do something “good,” and because that’s cool and you are cool when you support social change, people want to share that they support it. Result? Lots and lots of easy evangelists.

 

2. The call to action wasn’t the most important one. It was the most urgent. The call to action isn’t for monetary support, though that would be more active and likely have a bigger impact than adding your name to a letter that may or may not be considered significant in the eyes of officials. Although I hope that it is, it’s not a stretch to see how this online letter might not be taken too seriously. Case in point? The Facebook group called “We Hate the New Facebook, so STOP CHANGING IT!!!” has 1.5 million fans. Not even Facebook cares to listen to the group and it’s on their own platform. Like the Planned Parenthood letter, there’s no threatening action here to make leaders think these people care all too much when it comes down to it. The letter and its support could easily be written off as something that may have more to do with exposure than passionate belief that funds formally allocated to Planned Parenthood shouldn’t go somewhere else.  Putting your name on an online letter is something, but it’s far from the most active thing that Planned Parenthood could ask their supporters to do. In fact, Planned Parenthood didn’t seem to ask for active donations at all in their I Stand with Planned Parenthood campaign. Was that the right move? Maybe. Maybe not.

 

3. Planned Parenthood has cultivated 400,000+ emotional investors just online. That’s a lot of potential passion and a lot of visibility. The above points are far from proving on any level that the social media push was not a great idea for the organization. In fact, though it likely wasn’t the primary goal, Planned Parenthood succeeded in creating a large-scale spread of the most valued kind of marketing: word of mouth. Facebook is interesting territory for marketers. It’s a great way to create conversation and spread your message. However, it is a relatively closed network compared to, say, Twitter- where statements can be searched and seen by anyone. To expand your fan-following on Facebook, you need to get other people to spread your message so that it comes up on the newsfeeds of the users’ networks. Planned Parenthood mastered this by sending a follow-up email to each person who signed up for the open letter with a prominent button asking you to make the message your Facebook status.  It was easy and it worked. It’s likely that all 400,000+ supporters knew about Planned Parenthood before coming across the letter, but now those supports have done three valuable things:

  1. learned more about the organization, assuming they read the letter they signed
  2. took action to support the cause (emotional investment)
  3. and many stated their support publicly (solidifying their emotional support and integrating it into their online identity).

 

4. What Planned Parenthood does next, counts. The organization has built incredible momentum and Planned Parenthood will likely have to do something to harness that momentum before it dwindles. If you’re a museum person, this is the same problem that the Museum of Science and Industry faced after they chose their Month at the Museum winner. How do you keep people engaged for the main event? In this case, how do you get these people to stick around to see if Planned Parenthood gets federal funding? More importantly, how can you utilize this momentum to get people to help support the organization financially if it doesn’t…. or even if it does? There’s a lot of potential here, and there’s a lot that nonprofit organizations can learn about the role of social media in advocacy through what happens next.

 

As a side for museum-focused folks out there (and others!), Planned Parenthood isn’t the only organization that risks losing funding. There are some scary anti-museum amendments being considered by Congress for FY 2011. While reading about Planned Parenthood, it’s hard not to wonder what the online museum community would do if a severe anti-museum amendment threatened the industry that we both care about fiercely, and that supplies jobs to fellow museum aficionados. Nonprofit organizations in general can learn a lot by watching and supporting Planned Parenthood’s efforts right now. Particularly with regard to the evolving tool of social media which will likely play a growing and important role in advocacy, enagement, and summoning public support to create and realize change.

Please weigh-in with comments about lessons you are taking away from the situation and interesting tidbits that may help shape how nonprofits can use social tools to cultivate political support.

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

The Key to Modern Day Marketing: Is Your Museum Utilizing Free Agents?

It’s no surprise that business practices, and especially marketing strategies, are evolving due to current changes in the way people operate and communicate. We didn’t have Facebook ten years ago- now organizations that are not cultivating online networks are doomed to fall behind in building brand loyalty and summoning the benefits of organizational transparency.

These changes, combined with the growing influence of Generation Y in the workplace, have created a new force to be recognized by your organization’s marketing and development departments: free agents.

Who and what are free agents? I’ll tap into The Networked Nonprofit for my favorite definition: Free agents are individuals working outside of organizations to organize, mobilize, raise funds, and communicate with constituents for a cause. They are generally comfortable with and adept at using social media. Bloggers are free agents, influential tweeters are free agents, and your tech-savvy and socially-connected nephew who believes in your organization is a free agent, too. They are social citizens dedicated to a cause. Though not all free agents are members of Generation Y, Millennials have grown up communicating and creating networks on the internet. They have a tribe to tap into when they want to spread an important message or highlight a cause. I’ve argued before that this is a good reason why museums and nonprofits should hire candidates with personal brands: they have a network. They can help you reach people.

Why your organization needs free agents. Free agents are connected individuals who care about your organization’s cause, and their network is likely to consist of similarly-minded people who are also likely to care about your cause. Free agents not only spread awareness of your organization, but they increase morale, and may even put together events or programs to benefit your organization. For instance, a free agent may have a party in which all proceeds go to a certain organization. Though they do not work for the museum or cultural nonprofit, free agents will champion your organizations message simply because they have a network and they believe in your cause.

  • A little example of a free agent in action. The American Association of Museums runs The Museum Assessment Program. It is a wildly affordable program for small and mid-size museums that helps strengthen operations, improve planning, and better serve communities through a process of self study and peer review. Applications are due by February 18, 2011. I do not work for AAM and nobody is paying me to let you all know about this seemingly-awesome resource (if you didn’t know about it already). I am writing about MAP because I support the program’s mission and I know that quite a few of you work for organizations that might benefit from MAP. I am playing the role of a light free agent for AAM because I, personally, think this program is really cool. But free agents can play more active roles as well. I might host a meet-up to discuss the benefits of MAP with museum professionals, or ask my blogger friends to spread the word, or run a marathon and raise funds for AAM to take another mid-sized museum into the program. It is not unusual for free agents to do these things.

How free agents work. Because free agents are internet-savvy folks who are independent of the organization, they are hard to control. In fact, an important part of utilizing free agents is understanding two key concepts:

  1. You cannot control free agents. It’s important to work with free agents, but treating free agents as if they work for you is a speedy way to lose a free agent. This is particularly bad news if the free agent you are working with has gone to great lengths to cultivate excitement around your museum or program. This also connects well to my second point.
  2. Free agents will come and go. Many free agents are members of Generation Y, and this generation is loyal to causes but feels skeptical about long-term loyalty to an organization. While free agents may come and go, remember to keep the door open in case they want to return to promote your organization.

Why free agents are good for your social media mentality. Certain thought leaders in the advertising field have argued that you don’t need a social media strategy (hint: It’s about values and people, not the tool). Working with free agents requires an openness and eagerness on the part of the institution. The fact that you cannot control or plan for free agents (aside from making yourself accessible) helps put museum professionals in a good place: focusing on community and values instead of trying to make rules about using social media. And “rules” have a way of fuzzing things up when it comes to brand transparency.

In sum, keep the door open for free agents. While nothing replaces face-to-face communication, it’s easy for professionals (especially members of older generations who are particularly unfamiliar with social media) to underestimate the value of online networks in helping an organization to reach marketing and fundraising goals. It may seem particularly strange to be encouraged to devote time and energy to cultivating young, sometimes still-unproven professionals. But try ignoring young professionals who are looking to support your organization, and you may find yourself slapping your forehead and (just for laughs) relating to this scene from Pretty Woman.

*Image based on photo from tremendousnews.com

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

The Classics: 3 Ways Museums Have Paved the Way in Online Transparency

It’s not breaking news: nearly all networked nonprofits have to grapple with issues regarding radical trust. Museums (those places inspiring real-life wonder… through research and factual evidence) arguably have the greatest cause for concern. We are enjoying an era of increased conversation, information sharing, and valued sincerity. While there’s real risk that, when given the opportunity, folks will weigh-in on a museum’s site with less-than-factual arguments and write negative comments, the benefits of transparency– such as loyalty, trust, and relationship-building– far outweigh the losses.

One of my favorite books on social media (also not new and breaking news) is The Networked Nonprofit by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine. I know that many of my broader nonprofit-oriented readers are more than familiar with this book. The museum community? I’m not as sure. But museums play an important role in this book– and outside of it– as drivers of online engagement and brand transparency. The last example is not from the book, but it’s just as popular and serves as a great example of an institution’s understanding of social media. Here are three well-known examples of museums paving the way in online transparency– and not just for the museum industry.

1. That time when the Indianapolis Museum of Art starting putting their Organizational Dashboard on their Homepage. It started in 2007 and it was genius. …At least I think so. You can still see the ongoing stats on a designated webpage. This initiative does not shy away from the truth; while it can serve to boast success in mission-oriented activities such as educational tour participation and the number of works on view, it also displays some potentially not-always-so-great numbers such as energy consumption. While the size of the IMA’s endowment can be uncovered in the organization’s Form 990, placing it front and center makes this could-be threatening information easily accessible. Though the endowment amount below reads $315,100,000, the organization is still seeking funds from donors– and they can see this number without looking for it. Putting these numbers up not only demonstrates transparency, but also trust in the general public. The IMA trusts that potential visitors will understand and accept these numbers which can be perceived as are high, low, or just right in the eye of the beholder. It encourages an understanding of the nonprofit sector and the organization itself. Instead of shying away or putting up barriers, this action embraces engagement, shares struggles and successes, and lets everyone in one the process of building up the institution.

2. The thing I’ll call Night at the Museum: Battle of Strategic Transparency. The Smithsonian Institution has not only opened it’s doors and made their online engagement efforts visible, but they have invited us in by creating the Smithsonian Commons. This effort began to take place in 2008. Here’s the vision for the commons shared by Michael Edson, the Director of Web and New Media Strategy. Before 2008, however, the Smithsonian Institution conducted strategic online efforts behind closed doors (like most similar, though arguably smaller, institutions). Transparency came with a new president: G. Wayne Clough, thus in some sense proving the importance of having upper-level buy-in in order to align initiatives toward organizational transparency. Since then, The Smithsonian Institution has helped paved the road to museum online transparency by putting it all out there: Here’s their Web and New Media Strategy.

The Smithsonian Institutions shares their New Learning Model via Wikispaces and shares their engagement strategy with online communities.

3. All that stuff that the Brooklyn Museum is doing… and not doing… with social media. Okay… yes. The Brooklyn Museum is mentioned in The Networked Nonprofit. They are highlighted for their 2008 crowd-sourcing experiment, “Click! A Crowd-Curated Exhibition” in which the museum put out an open call for photographs and web visitors ranked images to help choose which would be in the show, “Changing Faces of Brooklyn.” This museum is a leader of online engagement, but the museum has just recently made quite a stir in regard to online transparency. In early November, the museum announced on their blog that their online strategy for the 1stfans program was not having the desired effect, and as a result, the museum discontinued its Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr groups in favor of utilizing meetup.com.  Why so bold and important? Because in this age of social media, there’s a lot of pressure to get moving online. The Brooklyn Museum’s action reminds us that social media is important in building community, but it cannot solve all problems– and when it’s not working for a certain project, then it’s just not working. Social media and online engagement is still an experiment in a sense, but one thing is certain: it provides an opportunity to listen and learn. The Brooklyn Museum learned that their 1stfan efforts weren’t working, and they reacted accordingly and in the best interest of the institution. They were transparent in sharing the purpose of the switch, and they demonstrated loyalty to their mission– and shared their lessons with the greater community.

As shown above, the Brooklyn Museum's Twitter Art Feed communications were not working well for them. The museum openly changed its strategy to better fit its needs. And they explained their reasoning.

It’s been said over and over that nonprofits jump-started many of the online engagement efforts that are common practice in public and private sectors alike. Museums, though (predominately) nonprofits, can relate to private organizations in that they offer goods and services to an individuals who will benefit directly from those goods–as opposed to solely benefiting a third-party. This fact puts museums at an arguable advantage for stepping up to the plate and taking risks regarding radical trust and organizational transparency. They must master both direct sales and fundraising, and they must manage customer experiences and social missions. Museums can learn from both nonprofit and private sector practices, but in the examples above, the opposite has taken place; museums have stepped forward to take on transparency practices that prove powerful lessons for both private and nonprofit organizations.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on The Classics: 3 Ways Museums Have Paved the Way in Online Transparency