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Big ideas

Myth-Busting Museum and Nonprofit Best Practices. Is Your Organization Celebrating its Own Demise? (DATA)

mythbusting

It sounds dramatic, but it’s true: Many organizations still apply “best practices” for short-term wins that data suggest leave them far, far worse off in terms of achieving their long-term goals.

As I’ve recently reported, If I weren’t providing market insight and analysis for museums and nonprofits for a living, I’d want to be a host of the show “Mythbusters.” It occurs to me, however, that in my own profession, I already get to do a whole lot of myth-busting.  And I’ve written a whole bunch of myth-busting posts to boot!

Here’s a myth-busting round-up of my three, favorite situations in which executives and board members most frequently (and cheerfully) celebrate their own decline. Dramatic? I’m channeling my fit-for-TV alter ego.

 

1) The Myth of the Special Exhibition that Permanently Boosts Your Attendance

The hope that visitors to special exhibits will become your regular museum-goers is often where this myth begins (It’s just not true) – but it runs far deeper. Blockbusters are anomalies – NOT a sustainable business plan. Museums that frequently feature these kinds of exhibits find themselves engaged in “death by curation” – a vicious cycle of having to host progressively bigger and more expensive exhibits in order to maintain their level of visitation over time as visitors create connections with transient highlights rather than the museum’s permanent collections. (In my line of work, dependency upon special exhibits is also fittingly called “blockbuster suicide.”)

At best, these special exhibits support an unsustainable, short-term increase in attendance that often leaves executives patting themselves on the back. Next year, when that same executive must pay double for another special exhibit that yields only a portion of the hopeful attendance boon, the executive will usually blame the exhibit instead of considering the short-sightedness of the business strategy.

 

2) The Myth of the Social Media Discount that Helps Your Organization Achieve Its Goals

Offering discounts or giving away your admission for free is generally a bad idea – and it’s an extremely bad idea to do this on social media. Like “death by curation,” offering discounts (even once) via social media channels creates a cycle that is detrimental to your organization’s strategic goals. Specifically, it creates four, huge problems: 1. Once offered and promulgated by your organization, your community comes to expect more discounts. 2. (And perhaps most importantly) your community will wait for discounts. Once so trained by an organization to respond to discounts, the data compellingly indicate that potential visitors will actually defer a full-price visit and, instead, watch your social accounts for a chance to come for less money. 3. The steeper the discount, the less likely the visitor is to come back again. (This is symptomatic of having perceptually devalued your experience to the point that it loses all its hard-earned premium connotations.  In other words, discounts frequently succeed in doing little more than “cheapening” your reputational equities.) 4. Discounts rarely capture new audiences. Instead, they allow folks who would have otherwise paid full-price (that’s moola for your mission!) to come for less money.

 

3) The Myth of Social Media Success Metrics

There are just so many myths here. Here’s some bustin’: Your number of followers on social media channels doesn’t matter because not all social media users are of equal value to your organization.  Thus, smart organizations know better than to rely too heavily on vanity metrics because they are not key performance indicators, but, instead, diagnostic metrics. Website metrics are not immune to these myths as well. For instance, your organization may reasonably aim to get eyes on its website or feet in the door (if you’re a museum). Increasingly, organizations cannot do both.

 

There are loads of busted myths all over Know Your Own Bone – but these three are my very favorite.  I think that is because they are extremely prevalent and seem to be deeply engrained in the way that many executives view success.

Runners-up include the fact that what people see at the museum is less important than who they are with, and entertainment is more important to visitor satisfaction and long-term solvency than education. For nonprofits looking to hire social media positions, here are some counter-intuitive tips: don’t hire for Klout score and absolutely skip someone with long-term, formal schooling in social media…and scratch that “professional writing experience” requirement. Someone too focused on this may not be your best bet for an accessible tone on social media.

In fact, Know Your Own Bone may be an entire blog about data-informed nonprofit and museum myth-busting and future-proofing. Hmmm…I like that. It makes me feel a bit like a superhero defending the honor of visitor serving organizations! Now, back to the action-packed task of dominating PowerPoint slides for this week’s Meetings of Myth Devastation! (Wait…Not cool? Did I lose you? Oh well…It was fun while it lasted.)

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter!

 

Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Branding, Community Engagement, Exhibits, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, The Future, Words of Wisdom Leave a comment

Why Your Visitors Are Not Buying Tickets Online (And Why It May Be Your Fault)

Ticket sales cartoon

“We added online ticketing to our website…so why aren’t more people buying their tickets online?”

This question seems common among certain leaders in museums and visitor-serving organizations (generally, because it’s true). Unfortunately, it also seems to have found a life as a shortsighted, defensive rationale for not investing in web-based platforms to engage visitors. Perhaps it hasn’t occurred to these leaders that the market is no dummy – simply deploying online ticketing doesn’t necessarily mean that the market will be inclined to actually use it.

Museum high propensity visitors profile as being “super-connected” with access to the web at home, work and on mobile devices. They use social media and online platforms to make visitation decisions. So why aren’t a vast majority of visitors buying tickets online to most organizations?

Because while you may think that you’re making life easier for your potential visitors by selling tickets online, many organizations actually make the act of purchasing a ticket a more expensive and/or more cumbersome process for their would-be visitors. While it’s inarguably “better” and more efficient for an organization to have the market avail itself of online ticketing, until the benefits of buying tickets online outweigh the costs (in terms of both convenience and currency) most people won’t do it. Here are four common conditions that may create needless barriers to your market purchasing a ticket online:

 

1) It is impossible (or exceedingly difficult) to purchase tickets via mobile platforms

Mobile web is among the fastest growing communication channels.  According to Pew Research, 56% of American adults have a smartphone and 29% of cell owners describe their phone as “something they can’t imagine living without.” 34% of mobile users go online mostly using their phones (as opposed to another device such as a desktop or laptop computer). On top of all this, more than 5 billion people will use mobile phones by 2017.  This is all a long way of saying that smartphones play an increasingly critical role in motivating and facilitating museum visitation decisions. If your potential visitors cannot easily purchase tickets on a mobile platform, then you’re missing a critical opportunity to act in your visitors’ interests…and you’re making it hard for them to act in yours.

 

2) Purchasing tickets online is time consuming, and perhaps more cumbersome than applying for a mortgage

I’m exaggerating…kind of.  Have you ever tried to purchase a ticket on your own website? If yours is like the ticket buying interfaces of many visitor-serving organizations, then this is an elaborate, multi-click process that requires digital maneuvering between websites and a seemingly never-ending array of repetitive requests for personal information.

I’ll quote myself from a previous post on the matter: For many organizations, selling admission is a critical component of their financial plans. We live in a world where you can buy an airline ticket from San Francisco to Tokyo on a smartphone in less than 60 seconds, but it frustratingly requires five long minutes to purchase a ticket to some museums on the same device.

Some organizations have entered into long-term agreements with ticketing providers and are apt to shrug their shoulders and excuse their bad practices by saying, “Well, there’s nothing that we can do about online ticketing. We have a contract.” As a reminder: To the market, this is a “you” problem. The market doesn’t know that you’ve signed a contract with a company that doesn’t meet your needs – only that you’re not meeting theirs. (Which is especially strange when you consider that in this situation, their interest is to act in your interest!)

 

3) It costs more to buy tickets online than at the gate

Speaking of entering into long-term agreements with ticketing providers, many of them take a cut of online ticket sales or require a fee that is, in turn, imposed upon your visitors so that they must (quite literally) pay for your organization’s decision to engage with the ticketing provider. To organizations perhaps less concerned with their customer service standards, this may sound like a problem for the visitor (“Hey, this is what happens if you want to buy tickets online”). Smart organizations, however, realize that such fees present a significant barrier to entry.

Many organizations are very deliberately priced so as to maximize revenue without “leaving money on the table.” The market is very sensitive to pricing. The market reacts differently to a price point of $19.95 than it does to $21.95 – and the fees charged by ticket providers may well exceed the threshold at which your market finds value in your admission price. Organizations that charge additional fees for online transactions may unintentionally undermine their otherwise sound, research-based pricing strategies.

 

4) Your museum has likely trained people to buy tickets at the door

Thanks to newly designed (or renovated) facilities, improved wayfinding, and efficient entry procedures, visitor-serving organizations have become quite good at enabling hassle-free onsite access…and this relative ease of access also erodes one of the potential incentives of buying a ticket online (i.e. the convenience of buying online as opposed to waiting in line).

Many visitor-serving organizations have actually trained visitors to simply show up with a reasonable expectation of buying a ticket and gaining access to facilities with a minimum amount of wait time.  Think about it: If you’ve visited a museum time and again and never encountered a significant wait or been denied access due to a sell-out, would you alter your behavior without reason?  Now, add to this learned behavior the various disincentives of higher ticket prices due to online fees and the inconvenience of trying to purchase a ticket on your smartphone, and it is no wonder that some organizations struggle to meet their online sales goals.

The good news? If your organization wants to increase online ticket sales, these conditions are subject to improvement. You absolutely can increase online ticket sales – if you are willing to consider the transaction from the perspective of your audience. The big takeaways: Executing strategic initiatives on online platforms aren’t simple IT functions, and certainly don’t operate on an “if you build it, they will come” basis. Like absolutely everything else related to your organization, if you aim to inspire action online, you must consider overall market perception, behaviors, and incentives. 

 

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Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Technology, Words of Wisdom 2 Comments

Five Characteristics That Differentiate Museum and Performance Arts Visitors From The General Market (INFOGRAPHIC)

Today I am breaking my “post every-other-week” rule to share with you a simple infographic that I’ve made with the data compiled in last week’s post on the attributes of high propensity visitors. This is the first image that I’ve tried to make with any kind of IMPACTS data, so let’s see what you all think… Please feel free to share, tweet, pin, and post this infographic if it is helpful to you!

Expect a fresh post as usual on Wednesday of next week and please enjoy this image and data in the meantime:

KYOB IMPACTS High Propensity Visitors Inforgraphic

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or Google+) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Branding, Community Engagement, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Words of Wisdom 8 Comments

High Propensity Visitors: The True Attributes of People Attending Museums and Cultural Centers (DATA)

High Propensity Visitors IMPACTS

High propensity visitors (HPVs) are the lifeblood of a visitor-serving organization – they keep the doors open for zoos, aquariums, museums, theaters, symphonies, botanical gardens, etc. – and, accordingly, I talk about them frequently both on Know Your Own Bone and during speaking engagements. But what are some of the attributes that indicate a likelihood of visiting these organizations? Data indicates several prominent attributes of high propensity visitors…and I am thrilled to dig a bit deeper in sharing some qualities of the HPV.  

What is a high propensity visitor and why are they important?

A high propensity visitor is a person who demonstrates the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that tend indicate an increased likelihood of visiting a visitor-serving organization. Research both identifies and “weighs” the respective value of these (demographic, psychographic, and behavioral) markers to quantify these attributes that best suggest a propensity to visit. In a nutshell, these are the people with whom your organization’s “bread is buttered.” These folks are absolutely the most critical audience for both immediate and long-term solvency for your visitor-serving organization.

Think data is only good for telling us “Information 101” like gender, ethnicity, household income, and education level? Or that when I describe an HPV, I am imagining some makeup of these largely demographic statistics (i.e. “An HPV is a white woman between 35-54 with an annual household income greater than $65,000?”) Think again. While certain organizations may have a “prototype visitor” that is this cut-and-dry, this type of segmentation is far, far too oversimplified to truly convey meaningful information about your HPVs. In actuality, this demographic information teams up with psychographic and behavioral information to paint a more accurate, complete portrait of the characteristics that indicate your likely visitors.

While acknowledging that there are multiple indicators of an HPV and that, at times, the specific make up of an HPV differs from entity to entity, the following five attributes are generally reliable across the board:

1. High propensity visitors are super connected

super connected 3HPVs have broadband access at home, work, and on at least one mobile device. In fact, these folks acquire information regarding leisure activities almost exclusively via web, social media, and peer review (i.e. Yelp, TripAdvisor) platforms – further underscoring the importance of investing in web-based communications for visitor-serving organizations. HPVs are approximately 2.5x more likely to be “super-connected” than the U.S. composite market.

2. High propensity visitors are pet owners

pet ownerThe people visiting your organization have a higher likelihood than the general population of being a pet owner.  They are also 12x more likely than the general population to own a horse for leisure/hobby (amateur) use. Put another way, not all HPVs own a horse…but those who own horses have a particularly high likelihood of being the kind of person who visits zoos, aquariums, museums, and music and theater performances. HPVs are approximately 2x more likely to be pet owners than the U.S. composite market.

 

3. High propensity visitors are foodies

foodieWe know that the perception of a critical mass of opportunity (such as access to unique shopping, urban waterfront, etc.) plays a role in motivating leisure activities – but for HPVs, access to good food also plays an important role. HPVs are leisure-travel motivated for fine dining and wine experiences. They also have daily food and beverage spending of $72.43 a day per capita. HPVs are approximately 2.5x more likely to be “foodies” than the U.S. composite market.

 

4. High propensity visitors are foreign travelers for leisure purposes

foreign travelThis is a big one. Folks who invest in foreign travel for leisure purposes have a very high likelihood of also being the same people who visit cultural centers. This is perhaps a very important consideration when endeavoring to understand the extreme competition for HPVs – for many museums, you are not merely competing with baseball games and movies for your audience.  HPVs are literally considering the world as it contemplates its leisure investments. The most popular destinations for HPVs include Europe and British Columbia (often, for skiing). Their average length of stay during foreign travel is six nights.  HPVs are approximately 6x more likely to be foreign travelers for leisure than the U.S. composite market. 

 

5. High propensity visitors are low intensity outdoor activists

HikingPeople who hike, ski, or golf  are also more likely to profile as the type of person to attend a visitor-serving organization or cultural performance. HPVs are approximately 3x more likely to be low intensity outdoor activists than the U.S. composite market.

 

Understanding these items helps organizations engage audiences

When we look at data and consider market trends, we pay special attention to the evolving behaviors, attitudes, and demographics of high propensity visitors. This information can help us market to folks with the greatest likelihood of visiting cultural centers, and also create programs and experiences that are most satisfying to these individuals. These are the people who reliably keep our doors open with their attendance, and also have tremendous opportunity to deepen their engagement with our organizations as members and donors.

Thinking of your visitors in terms beyond their demographics lends invaluable insight to our understanding of our audiences.  HPVs are the leading empirical indicator of the audiences that we are serving, and the people with whom we are best engaging.

 

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Photo credits: JapanPulse

Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Branding, Community Engagement, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Media, Words of Wisdom Leave a comment

Leisure Activity Motivation: How People Decide to Attend Your Museum or Visitor Serving Organization (DATA)

MET museum

When it comes to motivating attendance, data suggest that offerings outside of your visitor-serving organization’s walls often play a greater role than what is inside.

Wondering why you’re not getting more people through the door of your museum or performing arts event? It could be due to many factors – both internal and external. Often, visitor-serving organizations (VSOs) get wrapped up in their own content and confuse the role that these offerings play in motivating visitation. Namely, they think that their own content or visitor experience plays the primary motivational role. However, data indicate that an organization’s own, internal offerings generally matter less to visitors than does the market’s perceptions of the surrounding macro-environment when it comes to motivating leisure visitation.

The chart below (featuring data collected by IMPACTS) illustrates findings related to leisure activity motivation. In other words, it demonstrates the primary motivators that determine how the market decides what to do with its leisure time. (The x-axis demonstrates the percent of respondents identifying that aspect/activity as a primary motivator. Respondents with multiple primary motivators are also represented.)

IMPACTS leisure activity motivation

This data features several, key takeaways for visitor-serving organizations:

 

1) “Critical mass” plays an important role in motivating leisure activity

“Yeah, yeah – VSOs in bigger cities have more people around and thus usually get more people to come through the door,” you’re probably thinking…but there’s more at play here than one might initially think. Major metro markets contain a density of attributes and experiences such as the ones indicated on this list. However, data suggest that in terms of motivating leisure activities, some markets have stronger, “standalone” motivators than others and merely being a major metro market can be a less enticing draw than possessing a mix of other attributes. A certain way to ensure that your organization is being considered as a viable destination is to be surrounded by a core, critical mass of other leisure opportunities. Consider the Monterey Bay Aquarium (to mention a frequent example for me): Monterey itself is not a major metro market, but the aquarium’s proximity to the waterfront, unique dining, golfing, and other specific opportunities create a density of experience that makes the location a viable leisure destination. In other words, the combination of these attributes – coupled with the appeal of the aquarium – are enough to motivate people to travel 2.5 hours from a major metro market (San Francisco) to visit the aquarium.

 

2) More than ninety percent of people need external motivators in order to attend your museum or performing arts event

Visitor-serving organizations may overestimate the motivational qualities or singularity of their own offerings in driving activity motivation. The modest influence that visiting a museum (9.9%), a zoo, aquarium, or science center (8.9%), or a performing arts event (4.2%) has on the leisure decision-making process is relatively low when compared to the influence of other visitor experiences or destination attributes. This means that more than 90% of people need additional, external motivators to enter your marketplace. A museum could put a visit to a destination over the top, but it’s generally not a primary motivator. This makes sense when contemplating the opportunity trade-offs attendant to leisure decisions: Visiting Aunt Janet sounds great – but if you could visit a major metro with unique shopping near the water – and visit a museum – you might make a different decision (and maybe even bring Aunt Janet)!

 

3) Who people are with still often beats what they are doing

The highest primary motivator of leisure activity is visiting friends or family (70.4%). This mirrors other data supporting the finding that who visitors are with often means more than what visitors see when they go to a museum or other type of visitor-serving organization. This is worth extra attention, as the greatest motivator according to the market is not tied specifically to a physical aspect or feature of a destination, but rather the draw of being with loved ones.

 

4) What is good for your city in terms of increasing critical mass is also good for your organization

This is the essence of the “rising tide lifts all ships” theory of visitor engagement. Organizations that see other activities or experiences as competition for their potential audience’s time may be missing the mark. It may go without saying, but communicating the availability of unique shopping and dining, celebrating historic assets within your community, and highlighting hiking, swimming, golfing, or other activities that take place outside your walls also helps you better engage your own visitors.

Occasionally, museums and other visitor-serving organizations want to “silo” their organization as a more influential, standalone experience – a perspective that may be incongruent with the way that the market contemplates its leisure investments. Organizations should be careful to not forget that before a visitor can engage with your content they must first choose to visit your destination. Your visitors’ experience is often connected to the other experiences around you that make up their day. Promoting the robustness and vitality of neighboring organizations and the macro community is increasingly a wise strategy to maximize visitor engagement.

 

Quick note: I am pleased to be bouncing into Salt Lake City on October 12th to deliver a WestMusing: 10 Minute Museum Talk at the Western Museums Association Annual Meeting closing ceremony before hopping on the plane back to London! I’m thrilled to be delivering the talk alongside four great brains. If you’ll be there, come say hi or connect via one of my social channels!

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

 

*Top photo credit to nypress.com

Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Exhibits, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Words of Wisdom 1 Comment

The True Benefit of Ask A Curator Day (And Why It Is Not What Museums Think)

The ability to ask questions to curators at 622 museums via social media (during initiatives such as Ask a Curator Day) has relevance and importance – but probably not for the reasons that most museums that participated might think.

#AskACurator DayOver 622 museums in 37 countries participated in the third ever Ask a Curator Day on September 18th by taking questions and actively conversing with online audiences via social media platforms using the hashtag #AskACurator. While Ask a Curator Day has taken place annually since 2010 (with a break in 2011), some other social trends have taken/are taking place that necessitate the evolution of the meaning of this day to us museum folks – and the meaning of this day to the museums that we work in or support.

Museums’ most critical stakeholders aren’t one another – it’s the market that actually matters. Let’s look at Ask a Curator Day from the perspective of our potential visitors and donors. Here are some things to keep in mind:

 

1. Museums do not get points for making their experts accessible because high propensity visitors already expect museums to be accessible (way, way more than once a year).

Real-time access to experts in institutions is not particularly special anymore. In fact, it’s now expected at all times by the members of the market that display the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that suggest a likelihood of visiting a museum (read: your potential visitors and donors). (As many know, here on KYOB I call these people “high propensity visitors” – or HPVs – and we gather quite a bit of data on them at IMPACTS.)

Museum high propensity visitors are generally “super-connected” with access to broadband at home, work, or on mobile. They profile as the kind of folks who are connected to one another – and they expect the museums that they visit to be connected, too. 42% of individuals using social media expect answers to the questions that they ask online within one hour – whether or not it is Ask a Curator Day.

Social CRM (“social care”) is a big deal for visitor-serving organizations – and this aggressive (and growing) expectation to be accessible and responsive 24/7 may be one of the most difficult adjustments for nonprofits and companies alike on social media.

 

2. But museums do get mucho points for having topic experts and Ask A Curator Day reminds folks that we have a lot of these superlative people (and that museums themselves are superlative).

Reputation is an important driver of visitation for both high propensity visitors and the overall market. Expertise – which contributes to a “superlative” connotation – elevates reputation and also increases visitor satisfaction through the mitigation of Point of Reference Sensitivity. In other words, “expertise” helps people differentiate your museum experience as one of a kind.

To many of those working in the museum industry, the fact that their museums possess topic experts is no surprise. To the general market (who isn’t likely thinking about your museum every single day), something like Ask a Curator day is a nice – and important – reminder of museums’ social value.

 

3. Ask a Curator Day symbolically benefits the industry by reminding the public that museums are accessible, open to participation, and attune to audience expectations.

Because the market already expects your museum to be responsive via social media channels, audience benefit may be less about the “unique” opportunity to ask a curator anything about a museum’s collection and more about taking part in a community initiative to celebrate museums and the experts that work in them.

I hope for our audiences’ sake that, moving forward, Ask a Curator Day continues to represent a celebration of open, evolving, forward-thinking museum culture – and that we never mistake the initiative as an excuse to stay stuck in the past, relegating audience engagement to one day of the year and making access the thing that is rare and “special.”

In many ways, September 18th was a symbolic day for the museum community – and the visitor-serving organizations that made a coordinated effort to “show” their willingness to be receptive to audiences in real-time may deserve some kudos. They’ve symbolically played a role in elevating the industry.

Though not every day gets the same hype and publicity as Ask a Curator day, I know many museum social media managers who woke up the 19th – just as every day before – with the same energy and enthusiasm for connectivity that existed on the 18th.

Really, every day is increasingly Ask a Curator Day…without the attention of a trending topic on Twitter.

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter!

Posted on by colleendilen in Arts, Branding, Community Engagement, Exhibits, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, The Future, Words of Wisdom 1 Comment

Three Ways the Role of Your Website Has Changed. Is Your Nonprofit Keeping Up?

all the info now cartoon

Recently, I have had several conversations with leaders of nonprofit organizations concerning the management of their digital assets. Unfortunately, I’m sensing a disturbing trend: There seems to be a misconception that nonprofit websites are immune to the evolution attendant to all other digital platforms. Specifically, the misconception that the “strategic” role that websites play in the visitor and donor decision-making process is exactly the same today as it was ten years ago.

The market’s use of social media and online platforms changes so quickly that it seems silly to expect the role of an organization’s website to remain unaffected by the “moving parts” of digital advances occurring all over the web. Here are three, outdated ways that some organizations still view the role of their respective websites – and how that old role has long since evolved:

 

1. Some organizations still view their website as the optimal landing spot to get audiences to act in their interests

(FYI: The homepage now generally functions as a repository for unassailable facts)

Let’s say that there is a new movie coming out and you’re thinking about going to see it. If you’re like most members of the digital age, then you’ll likely search for a review in The New York Times (earned media), or check out the movie’s score on Rotten Tomatoes (peer review)…but you probably won’t look to the Warner Bros. website to determine if the movie is actually any good (Here’s the model behind why that is).

However, you may visit the Warner Bros. website to learn matters of unassailable fact (e.g. cast and crew information, run time, rating, plot overview, etc.) On factual matters, the producing entity is considered by the market to be the expert.  On subjective matters relating the quality of the experience – or, even, if the experience is worth the investment of one’s time and money – the market generally does not consider the producing entity to be as credible of an attesting source as impartial third-party endorsers.

The same is true for the websites of nonprofit (and most other) organizations. These pages often serve as repositories for unassailable facts – they are the places audiences go to learn more about where you’re located, what you do, and about your mission and social impact. Indeed, this information plays a critical role in the decision-making process, but it is hardly the active role that some organizations still ascribe to websites from the pre-social media era.

 

2. Some organizations still believe that their own website analytics hold the key to understanding digital behaviors

(FYI: Social media platforms often play a leading role in informing visitation and donor-related decisions)

At IMPACTS, a significant part of what we do is leverage data to deploy “intelligent” digital advertising.  Often, when we share online campaign-related data with an organization, they are challenged to reconcile the quantity of impressions being delivered with their website’s Google Analytics (or like application) data. This is because we refer persons with a propensity to be influenced by social media to social media sites instead of an organization’s website.

We do this because we possess significant evidence (proprietary to each client, but generally applicable across the board) that there is a large segment of the market more likely to “act in the nonprofit’s interest” when they are sent to social media sites. (Remember: Not even close to everyone who looks at your Facebook Timeline or Twitter account is necessarily following you.)

This leads to widespread-website-strategy mistake #2: Thinking that your own website analytics tell anything more than a small fraction of the story concerning digital engagement. Unfortunately, we cannot control Facebook (and when it comes to our relationships with our online audiences, Facebook controls us (see the cartoon under #3)). Moreover, from an optimization perspective, analytics are only capable of partially informing existing content preferences – they fail to diagnose if the existing content is optimal in the first place!  (So, these numbers have always been diagnostic metrics, NOT key performance indicators).

Strangely, many organizations that fancy themselves “data-driven” proudly invest in back-end, retrospective assessment tools (e.g. analytics). And, yet, these same organizations don’t seem seem to think twice (or even once) about first benefiting from even the most basic of front-end evaluative tools (e.g. A-B testing) before spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a new website.

In the overall scheme of things, your organization’s website analytics play a very minor role in indicating the efficacy of your overall digital engagement strategy.

 

3. Some organizations still prioritize bells and whistles

(FYI: If acting in your nonprofit’s interest isn’t easy, online audiences have neither the time nor inclination to figure it out)

What is the single most important action that you want online audiences to do in the interest of your organization? Now consider: How easy is it to tell from your website that this is THE most important behavior that you are requesting of your audience? And even more importantly: How easy is it to carry out this action? What about on mobile platforms – where more than 50% of a zoo, aquarium or museum’s high-propensity visitors access information?

Perhaps making a donation is a priority to your organization. If so, is it the single most important thing on your website?  Many organizations bemoan their lack of success engaging online donors…all the while relegating a donation request to a tiny button in the top right corner of their home page competing for attention with all sorts of digital “noise.”

Organizations interested in maximizing their online effectiveness don’t create virtual games “because they’re cool,” chase industry awards, or develop super-sexy widgets as a display of their technological prowess; instead, they unrelentingly focus on making it easy for online audiences to act in their interest.

For many organizations, selling admission is a critical component of their financial plans. We live in a world where you can buy an airline ticket from San Francisco to Tokyo on a smartphone in less than 60 seconds, but it frustratingly requires five long minutes to purchase a ticket to some museums on the same device.

Some organizations have entered into long-term agreements with ticketing providers and are apt to shrug their shoulders and excuse their bad practices by saying, “Well, there’s nothing that we can do about online ticketing. We have a contract.” As a reminder: To the market, this is a “you” problem. The market doesn’t know that you’ve signed a contract with a company that doesn’t meet your needs – only that you’re not meeting theirs. (Which is especially strange when you consider that in this situation, their interest is to act in your interest!)

We easily accept that social media evolves and even platform uses change – but, to some organizations, there seems to be something sacred and untouchable about the role of their websites. Like all digital platforms, its purposes, strengths and weaknesses change over time. Organizations that recognize these changes will be best able to utilize this valuable tool to support both their business and mission objectives.  Those that resist the inevitably of change will continue to witness the decline of their online audiences. In sum, organizations will benefit by developing a digital strategy and evolving their websites to meet changing needs and expectations – rather than building strategy around the outdated role and “rules” of a website.  

Did your content change cartoon

 

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Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Media, Technology, The Future, Words of Wisdom 1 Comment

3 Market Changes That Have Completely Altered the Role of Marketing in Nonprofit Organizations

Word of mouth cartoon

 

Gone are the days of marketing from the inside-out…When the exhibits teams would decide on the new attraction and leave it to the marketing team to get folks in the door. Now, in order to remain relevant and solvent, nonprofit organizations must market from the outside-in.

The increasing importance of the role of technology in our lives has brought about several changes in how the market interacts with organizations, raised the stakes in brand communication (with a new emphasis on accessibility and transparency), and even altered how we maintain our own personal relationships. This era of stakeholder (donor and constituent) empowerment has also changed the way that smart, sustainable organizations operate on the whole…not just how they “market.”

The old, inside-out method of marketing: Nonprofit boards of directors, exhibits teams, program executives or other content gatekeepers decide on the next, big feature or program for an organization – often based solely on “experiential intuition” and supported by little or no market data.  In other words, the “Someone Important – a would-be expert – just decides” method of content development.

Once the decision is made, marketing teams are notified of the content and charged with the task of bringing people in the door to see/experience the content that this important person/committee likes. It’s a self-protecting system for higher-ups and other departments: If people didn’t come, it was the marketing department’s fault.

The new, necessary outside-in method of marketing: Organizations actively listen to their audiences and collect market data to determine what kind of content the organization’s visitors and supporters want. Instead of marketing and PR teams responding to executive committees alone, things are increasingly the other way around: Marketing folks are the experts on your audience and they work with decision-makers to determine which programs will engage the maximum audience (and, in turn, attendant revenues). Instead of being informed of what to “sell,” marketing teams within the most successful organizations that IMPACTS works with (nonprofit and for-profit clients alike) are brought on board in the earliest phases of the content development process to lend voice to the market’s preferences.

Here are three, critical evolutionary changes that serve as key reasons why organizations benefit by “marketing” from the outside-in:

 

1. There is an increased emphasis on product and experience (mostly, because you cannot hide it if people do not like your product or service)

How many times have you looked at your on-staff social media pro and asked urgently, “How can we increase our Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews?!” (Some CEOs even ask me this with the assumption that the answer lies in somehow “mastering” social media sites!) Your social media pro can’t increase your peer review ratings on their own because peer reviews are a result of audience experiences with your product or service. Marketers can frame the experience, provide critical clarification, and manage customer service on public platforms after the event, but you cannot sweet-talk your way out of several already-posted negative peer reviews harping on the same product or service downfall. In today’s world of transparency with the increased importance of word of mouth validation, smart organizations increasingly understand that sometimes maintaining support and affinity is dependent upon listening to audiences and then changing the product.

Increasingly, organizations are finding that they should not just have special exhibits – they should aim to have special exhibits and permanent collections that people want. (I’ll put extra emphasis on permanent collections because we can trace “Blockbuster Suicide”  to many of the financial perils currently faced by many museums).

 

2. Welcome to the age of the empowered constituent/supporter (and the increased need for audience interaction and participation)

Thanks in large part to the real-time nature of social media and digital platforms, today’s audiences are armed with vast amounts of real-time information. So much information, in fact, that audiences prefer to make decisions on their own or with the help of peer review sources (the value of which is on the rise). Indeed, if your organization isn’t particularly attune to the market (or chooses to selectively ignore potentially negative feedback as “anomalistic”), then there is an excellent chance that your audience may have more “visitor intelligence” than you do.

The role of the curator is evolving, and people now prefer to experience and interact rather than to be told what to do/think. We are seeing an increase in audience participation and crowdsourced exhibits. With these trends possibly re-defining the staid reputation of museums and other visitor-serving organizations, the “come to this because I told you so” method of thinking about marketing doesn’t work as well. It’s an outdated, inside-out approach to cultivating visitors. Today, organizations build stronger affinity when they articulate the value for the visitor (i.e. “What’s in it for the audience?”) rather than messages wherein the only apparent “gain” is the admission revenue (i.e. “What’s in it for the organization?”).  And, really, the “Because I say it will make you smarter” rationale doesn’t cut it as a major component of the value proposition.

Simply put, in order to articulate value to your visitor, you have to know your visitor now more than ever before.

 

3. Nonprofits sometimes determine importance, but the market always determines relevance (and organizations that misunderstand this now experience expedited financial strife)

I’ve written about this before, but it’s worth repeating: As highly-credible topic-experts and trusted authorities, nonprofits often are able to declare “importance.” However, if the market isn’t interested in your area of expertise or does not find it salient in their lives, they may deem your “importance” to be irrelevant. All too often, nonprofits generally misunderstand the role of the public as the ultimate arbiters of an organization’s relevance…and how much they need supporters and diversified revenue streams simply to stay afloat.

When we forget this, we get caught up and sidetracked by things like Judith Dobrzynski’s recent “High Culture Goes Hands-On” article in the New York Times. We forget that at the end of the day, we need to attract attendees, members, donors, and supporters…and that a museum that is closed cannot serve its social mission.

Due to the speedy share rate of vast amounts of information, we now live in a time when irrelevant messages are easily drowned out by other priorities – and even more-relevant “noise!” This may possibly expedite financial woe for organizations unwilling to consider the wants and needs of their audiences.

We must keep up or get left behind. We must evolve (like every other being, entity, or industry that has ever existed) or risk extinction. Increasingly, a big part of our evolution is discontinuing old habits of marketing from the inside-out, and instead keeping tabs on the market so that we may contemplate the best ways to operate from the outside-in.

 

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Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Branding, Community Engagement, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, Words of Wisdom 5 Comments

Social Media Degrees: The New Fool’s Gold for Companies and Nonprofits

twitter degree

In my line of work, I frequently get asked to review job descriptions for social media-related positions. At the onset of the search process, my feedback is very straightforward and my recommended “edits” to the job descriptions are invariably very similar: “Take off ‘5-7 years professional writing experience.’ There is no faster way to kill brand transparency than to hire a stilted, ‘professional’ writer. It’s harder to ‘un-teach’ experts in one-way communications than it is to teach a PR pro from scratch how to approach social media.”

But when candidates start responding to these job descriptions, things become more difficult for the organization. In a world in which seemingly everyone with a Facebook profile calls himself or herself a social media guru, it can be hard to identify the folks with the foresight and talent to transcend simply utilizing social media tools to strategically leveraging social media to ensure the sustainable relevance and solvency of an organization.

In the not-too-distant past, I’ve struggled with trying to explain the deep-rooted difficulties of weeding out those who just want to find something “hot” in which to be an “expert,” and candidates who may genuinely prove valuable in moving organizations (and the sector) forward.  This difference was very hard for me to explain…until I saw the recent buzz about universities offering graduate degrees in social media.  Suddenly, separating the qualified wheat from the wannabe chaff became a whole lot easier:

The kind of person who gets a graduate degree in social media marketing is exactly the type of person that your organization should not hire to guide your use of digital platforms and content marketing. Though it is unclear how popular this kind of degree (or even related certification programs) may currently be, my aim is to provide a framework to identify the attributes and skills that suggest a truly qualified candidate to help maximize your organization’s social media opportunities.

Beware the social media community manager whose primary credential was earned in an ivory tower – these people are dangerous to your brand. Here are the five attributes that organizations should try to avoid like the plague and that, quite remarkably, seem inherent to the type of person who may choose to pursue a degree or “certificate” in social media:

 

1. Beware of social media managers who underestimate how quickly social media tools and market trends change. (They will tether your organization to the past.)

Facebook is notorious for frequently changing its status-delivering algorithm and just about anything else every few months. And that’s just within one platform.  Usership statistics and demographics for various digital platforms – and even (especially) market expectations of brands are constantly evolving as new platforms and trends in media alter the digital marketing landscape. Vine was a big deal …until Instagram rolled out video and Vine’s links began to tank on Twitter in just one week.

vine tanks in one week

Things move fast in this here li’l social media joint. An organization’s ability to succeed in this space often depends on its agility, willingness to evolve, ability to utilize new tools, and a market-centric priority mindful of audience expectations.

Getting a degree in social media is incongruent with the revolutionary pace of change in the industry. Imagine how out-of-touch your skillset would be if you graduated today from even an expedited graduate program that you walked into 18 months ago: You’d have missed Vine and the rise of Snapchat. You’d have had no-longer-relevant Facebook 101 classes without hashtags and an understanding of evolving algorithms. You’d be without acknowledgement of the move to a more visual web, and be desperately playing catch-up on the critical rise of social CRM (“social care”). It’s a little bit like getting a graduate degree in “the state of the world in January 2012.” Unfortunately, you would commence into irrelevance and obsolescence – all of your efforts studying a then-today would only make you expert in yesterday.  And social media doesn’t evidence much need for a rearview mirror.

Smart social media managers understand that the digital landscape changes and what makes these real-time, two-way platforms so powerful is their ability to connect with an evolving right now.

 

2. Beware of social media managers who emphasize their ability to use specific tools. (Their value to your organization has an expiration date.)

As a friendly reminder: We live in a world where people can print edible hamburgers. People can print hamburgers from a printer and then eat them! This may be particularly impressive to those interested in the physical evolution of the sharing of information, but the inevitable march of technological progress looks a lot like death for someone who majored in, say, ink.  There is a world of difference between someone who understands the theory and application of evolving ideas, and a person who sole mastery is of a tool.

Social media helps your organization achieve a greater goal like visitation or donor support…and the best tool for the job often changes. If you’re trying to build a cabinet, hire the best builder/designer – not the person who has majored in turning a screwdriver.  To be clear, the builder needs to know how to use a screwdriver, but they need to do so in a broader, holistic context that contributes to the overall goal.  Successful social media efforts have infinitely more to do with strategy and integration than the practice of any specific “tips and tricks” (AKA “the tools of the trade”).  And, just to completely beat my bad metaphorical references to death, we live in a world wherein screwdrivers are being replaced by power tools on most every job site.

Smart social media folks are eager to learn how to use new tools…but they are wise not to invest more time learning techniques than the length of time that those tools may be relevant.

 

3. Beware of social media managers who undervalue strategy and public relations/communications skills. (They directly misunderstand how social media advances organizational goals.)

A person who chooses to obtain a master’s degree in social media (specialized, single-purpose) has actively decided not to pursue a master’s degree in communications, management, or even the humanities (degrees that generally focus on how to think). And the reason may be indicative of a quick-fix, instant-expert mentality. (“I see this opportunity and it’s good for me right now” instead of “I’d like to develop my strategic capabilities in order to meaningfully contribute in the long-term.”)

If one thing is for certain about social media, it’s this: Tips and tricks for specific platforms or even entire systems aren’t long-term. The need to clearly communicate with stakeholders with transparency and respect? That’s likely to stick around.

 

4. Beware of social media managers who are not capable of thinking critically about how to apply societal developments to strategic decisions. (They have a blind spot to greater, market contexts.)

I understand that many of you reading this work in universities and formal learning environments – but for those of you who may appreciate the reminder: universities, like other organizations, need to make ends-meet, too. Here are two things that are rather prevalent in the news: 1) universities currently have strained budgets, and 2) there are a whole bunch of people looking for a shortcut to a job. Potential solution? A degree in social media in a hopeful attempt to offer a program to boost university revenue. (Hey, universities need the money and people “need” the shortcut.)

At best, your organization probably doesn’t want a person who capitalizes on self-oriented shortcuts running your most public form of public relations. At worst, your organization probably doesn’t want a person incapable of identifying current happenings in the news and putting them together running platforms that center on one’s ability to assess news and think critically about how they apply to that person’s job. 

 

5. Beware of social media managers who are willing to make shortsighted investments of time and money. (These are especially valuable resources in the nonprofit world.)

This may sound sassier than I intend it to sound, but here goes nothing:

We nonprofit folks (myself included) – and especially museum folks – tend to love higher education. And, if there’s one thing we’re arguably pretty good at it’s hiring substantive experts instead of social entrepreneurs to run our organizations. But as audiences become more sector agnostic, there may be an increased need for business (or nonprofit!) savvy in addition to academic pedigree.  As mentioned above, some university programs exist solely as revenue centers for the school…a degree in social media might be one of them. Getting a “degree in social media” may, in some way, seem to speak to us academic-loving folks in our language. And it just might be a ploy.

For the reasons listed above, investing in getting a degree in social media may be a questionable investment of time and money. Your organization probably wants someone who makes thoughtful, considered investments for good reasons…

Here’s an idea for your good thinking and hopeful discussion: Excluding short-term seminars, conferences and defined, discrete courses to help keep abreast of evolving social media strategy and market trends, what value do you think obtaining a graduate degree in social media would afford someone looking to ultimately rise to a leadership position or elevate the sector in the long-term?

 

Photo credit goes to iJobs.

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Posted on by colleendilen in Education, Generation Y, Graduate school, Jobs, Leadership, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, Technology, Words of Wisdom 4 Comments

Entertainment vs Education: How Your Audience Really Rates The Museum Experience (DATA)

museum experience flickr

When considering the overall satisfaction of visitor-serving organization (VSO) attendees, data indicate that not all aspects of the experience are created equally. In fact, the individual components that collectively comprise a visitor’s onsite experience may run counter to many VSO’s differentiation and engagement strategies. In terms of maximizing visitor satisfaction, VSOs may not truly understand “where their bread is buttered,” and this misunderstanding may result in serious financial repercussions.

IMPACTS gathers data to inform the development of key performance indicators concerning 224 visitor-serving organizations (zoos, aquariums, museums, theaters, symphonies, etc.). One of the key performance indicators that we regularly quantify for specific organizations is “overall satisfaction.”  Overall satisfaction is a composite metric (i.e. a metric informed by a multiplicity of data inputs yielding a single output) that contemplates 10 source evaluation criteria (e.g. employee courtesy, admission value, retail, etc.)

In developing the overall satisfaction metric, IMPACTS doesn’t weight each evaluation criteria equally because the market isn’t influenced by each criterion equally. As indicated in the table below, the market determines the “weight” of individual criteria based on each criterion’s relative contribution to the visitor’s perception of overall satisfaction.  (The formula to calculate the respective weight of any individual criteria contemplates such factors as frequency of mention and strength of conviction.  The overall satisfaction metric updates in “near real-time” based on the most contemporarily available data so as to accurately reflect seasonal influences on the visitor experience.)  Perhaps most interestingly, in my observation, the weight of any single evaluation criteria tends to vary very little between organizations.  In other words, please don’t make the mistake of assuming that your organization is somehow indemnified from the implications of this data because you’re a symphony…or an aquarium…or a museum.  The data simply doesn’t support any notion of “exemptions” for certain types of VSOs.

IMPACTS Overall satisfaction by weighted criteria

These weighted values may be used to inform resource allocations to maximize overall satisfaction (which data indicate are critical for securing positive word of mouth, repeat visitation, etc.). The values may also inform marketing strategies for museums so that they may best communicate the educational experiences that they…oh, wait…

Well, this is awkward.

 

1. Museums may overvalue educational assets as a differentiating factor positively contributing to visitor experience.

Unfortunately for many museums’ social missions, visitors indicate that the quality of an organization’s “educational experience” matters relatively little to overall satisfaction. Many of you may have – at some point or another – heard of/been involved with a museum leadership team that is convinced that it cannot fail because of the number of academic minds at the helm that are working to further the museum’s superstar educational opportunities. Regardless of the organization, I’ll bet that they are either strapped for cash and/or rely disproportionately on public funding or grant and contributed income – which means that in the world of “Museum Darwinism” (or heck, according to the plain old rules of economics), these museums may be at financial risk.

Data suggest that museums may not be looking in the mirror clearly when it comes to understanding the value of their educational assets. Will you be a successful organization (in terms of market relevance and long-term solvency) if your greatest experiential asset is your mastery of first-rate, dissertation-worthy, you-get-a-master’s-degree-equivalent-in-a-visit content? Sadly, no. The market is the ultimate arbiter of your organization’s success, and the data suggest that even the most educational VSO risks relevance if the experience isn’t entertaining…

Oy. I said the other “E”-word…

 

2. Deny being an entertaining entity at your own risk.

As nonprofit organizations with valuable social missions, we can get rather feisty when someone compares our entity to Disneyland…and museums aren’t Disneyland for all of the important reasons that drawing that comparison probably makes nonprofit stakeholders squirm. That said, the market attributes a higher value to “entertainment experience” than any other criteria – even the overall satisfaction summary (“sum of its parts”) metric!

Organizations that try too hard to promote education at the expense of providing an entertaining experience are truly missing the mark. Remember: your organization only has the opportunity to communicate what is important after the market dubs you relevant. If nobody wants to visit, then nobody is going to participate in the educational experience that you are trying so hard to perfect.

 

3. Education and entertainment are not mutually exclusive. Aim to be BOTH but understand how each aspect individually contributes to your reputational and experiential equities and strategize accordingly.

Knowledge is power, right? If you didn’t know it (or at least suspect it) already, you do now: the market at-large cares comparatively little about the super-specialness that is your educational experience. And that’s sad for museum leaders…but the weighted value of “entertainment experience” isn’t necessarily bad for museum leaders. The knowledge of this data may make VSOs more prepared to serve both functions effectively or, better yet, make educational experiences more entertaining.

The trick may be to understand the role that each of these aspects plays within the market – and what that means for your organization. On one hand, many VSOs are nonprofit organizations with a mission to educate and some research has shown that seeking an educational experience may justify a visit for some. However, the market considers “educational experience” a relatively small piece of the overall satisfaction puzzle when visitors actually have their onsite experience.

Considered collectively, I think that it may prove worthy to further parse the differences between motivation and justification.  I observe a compelling abundance of data that suggest that entertainment is the primary motivation for a visitor experience, whereas education is often cited post-visit as a justification for having visited.  In other words, all being equal, the public will often choose an experience with an educational component over “pure entertainment” – provided, of course, that all is actually equal!  Education will not compensate for a deficiency of entertainment.

Henry David Thoreau (a personal favorite who receives a hat tip for my blog title, Know Your Own Bone) advised, “When a dog runs at you, whistle for him.” The power of this data comes in embracing the findings rather than trying harder to deny them.  Let’s strive to be the most entertaining educational entities possible.

After all, who decided that “entertainment” was the enemy of “education” anyway?

 

*Photo (and cute kid) credit belongs to Flickr user Jon van Allen

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter!

Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Education, Exhibits, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management 11 Comments