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The Top Seven Macro Trends Impacting Cultural Organizations

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Community Engagement

Non-Nuclear Proliferation: Who is REALLY Visiting Museums Nowadays?

family visiting museum

Is your nonprofit or museum still operating under the assumption that most of the folks visiting zoos, aquariums, museums, and performing arts venues are doing so with their nuclear families? Think again. Data concerning visitor-serving organizations (VSOs) reveals that travel party constructs have evolved. While only seven years ago a majority of visitors attended VSOs with their nuclear families, the majority are now visiting with significant others.

Why does this matter? Well, if you don’t know who your audience is, then it is more difficult to target them or retain their support. And keep in mind: Your “audience” is a dynamic group comprised of both online and onsite persons, as well as would-be and actual visitors alike. In other words, just because you are marketing your nonprofit to families and households with children doesn’t necessarily mean that they comprise the majority of your audience.

In fact, my colleagues and I at IMPACTS have observed this evolving reality within many of our client VSOs.  Several clients who have been predominantly marketing to their perceived, “traditional” base (i.e. the nuclear family) have had to adapt their engagement strategies to recognize the emergence of persons who visit without children.

To illustrate this change, I’ll present two sets of data: one for the U.S. composite audience (which includes travel party construct data for a representative sample of the total US population), and another for high-propensity visitors (HPVs, or those persons possessing the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that tend to suggest an increased likelihood to visit a VSO). One quick note: The data represent “discretionary consumer behaviors” – that is to say, it does not contemplate educational groups, field trips, and other group-motivated activities.

Let’s start by examining the change in travel party constructs for the overall U.S. population:

IMPACTS US Composite Visiting Party Construct

 

Notice that the dominant travel party construct has changed from “with family” to “with spouse.” Currently, nearly 50% of the overall U.S. population visiting a VSO is doing so without a child (quantified above in the “By self” + “With spouse” + “With friends” categories). This same cohort grew by 11% during the relatively brief tracking period!

Now let’s take a look to see with whom high-propensity visitors (HPVs, or, the folks that largely butter your bread) are attending organizations…

 IMPACTS HPV Visiting Party Construct

For HPVs, we witness a similar decline of people visiting with children…and, keep in mind, this behavior is amongst those persons most likely to visit your organization in the first place! Here are four noteworthy takeaways from the data:

1) The number of families attending VSOs has decreased

During the quantified duration, VSOs experienced a 10% decline in family visitation (from 41.8% in year 2006 to 37.5% in year 2012) and a 13% decline amongst HPV families.  Part of this decline relates to our evolving demography – there is a corresponding decline in “birth over death rate” amongst the educated, affluent populations that have historically comprised many VSOs core audiences.  Fewer children means fewer “traditional” families…so if your VSO’s primary selling point is “great for the kids,” then you may expect to see a fall off in your attendance numbers.

2) The number of folks attending VSOs as couples has increased

Among the overall US population, the percentage of people visiting VSOs with their spouses or significant others increased 14% during the assessed duration.  For the same period, “HPV couple” visitation increased by 10%.

Many organizations are observing this increase in “couples” visiting VSOs and are tailoring their marketing efforts accordingly.  At IMPACTS, we are often tasked by clients to assess the relative “favorability” (i.e. do people “like” the campaign) and “actionability” (i.e. how likely is the campaign to motivate visitation) of potential advertising campaigns, and what we increasingly find is that while “family-centric” advertising may risk engaging adults without children, more couples-focused messaging generally does not alienate family audiences.  Why?  The market has an intrinsic understanding that many VSOs are well-suited for families and children… often the “break-through” market for additional engagement is couples without children.

3) Grandparents are the new babysitters

Grandparents are increasingly important decision-makers when it comes to bringing a child to a VSO.  This may be symptomatic of more dual-income households or of a broader societal trend toward more grandparents raising their grandchildren, but the prominence of grandparents as both heads of households and proxy parents is clear.  Many VSOs have acknowledged this trend by re-imagining their family membership programs to be more contemplative of grandparents.  Other organizations are adjusting their marketing and communication techniques to better engage this growing market segment.

4) The evolution of the travel party construct is not a museum phenomenon, but a reflection of the overall market

When you consider all of the data, the shifts that we’re observing in terms of travel party construct aren’t at all surprising.  Rich, white folks – who still make up a substantial number of HPVs  – are having fewer children. From a societal point of view, the traditional “family” has undeniably evolved. Baby boomers – another demographic that has a high percentage of traditional HPVs – are bringing their grandchildren to their favorite museums, operas, and botanical gardens.  And, of course, the Baby Boomers are a huge generation – so a corresponding increase in people visiting with grandchildren makes chronological sense. Generation Y – the largest generation of all  – is taking over the market, having children later in life (and, thus, are more likely to visit with friends or significant others), and also having children out of wedlock (and, thus, are more likely to visit without a spouse).

 

At IMPACTS, we develop specific data for our VSO partners and it yields very similar findings across the board. In nearly every case, the organization is a tad surprised to learn that while they had their noses to the grindstone, the world turned. These changes affect not only how VSOs target audiences for marketing purposes, but also how they cultivate members, gather financial supporters, create appropriate programs, and engage with online and onsite audiences.

Still not a believer? Though the percentage of movement may seem small, it is indicative of a significant trend. If you can, take a moment to visually survey your current visitors. Suddenly, you may realize that the world is changing and it’s taking your museum with it.

 

*Top image photo credit belongs to Margaret Middleton’s On Exhibit

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 Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Non-Nuclear Proliferation: Who is REALLY Visiting Museums Nowadays?

Urgent Evolution: Marketing Your Nonprofit to the Audience of Tomorrow (DATA)

IMPACTS Historic visitor substitution

There are many reasons why your visitor-serving organization should be marketing to Millennials and other emerging audiences in order to ensure its long-term relevance and solvency. However, the single most urgent reason to target these audiences is that the “historic” museum visitor market is slowly dwindling, and organizations that do not evolve their marketing strategies risk long-term survival.

At IMPACTS, we collect ongoing, nationwide (and crazy-massive) data sets of the US market, and have uncovered the demographic, psychographic and behavioral attributes that tend to suggest one’s likelihood to go to or otherwise support a visitor-serving organization (zoo, aquarium, museum, botanic garden, performing arts organization, etc.). We call folks possessing these indicators high-propensity visitors (HPVs). While individual organizations may have slightly varying HPVs, we’ve found that there are several characteristics that a vast majority of organizations’ audiences share. And we’ve found something alarming: visitor-serving organizations’ (VSOs) “historic” visitors are leaving the market at a faster rate than new HPVs are entering the market, creating a negative substitution phenomenon that does not paint a bright future (or present, for that matter) for VSOs.

In fact, for every one historic HPV that leaves the market, they are being replaced by 0.989 “new” HPVs. Sound like a small difference? These people add up! Keep up your hard work reaching your traditional audiences and – for no fault of your own – negative substitution factors would suggest that an organization currently serving one million annual visitors will attract 946,000 visitors five years from now (that is 54,000 fewer people, and a likely corresponding decline in membership and program participation). This troubling “glide path” also considers that you’ll be doing everything that you can to meet your current audience’s needs, and continue to market to them like exceptional rockstars! This data suggests that the key to long-term organizational solvency is to evolve our engagement strategies to include our emerging HPVs. This means – as an industry – evolving our target audiences.

Though we observe broad negative substitution indicators for VSOs nationwide, the specific data referenced above contemplates VSOs residing within the top 50 metro markets as determined by Nielsen (a cohort representing nearly 70% of the US population).

 

Why is this happening? Our data points to three primary reasons:

 

1)   Rich, white people are having fewer children.

(Too blunt or refreshingly direct?) For the vast majority of U.S. visitor-serving organizations, this demographic represents their historic visitor. These folks are statistically more likely to have the household income, leisure interests, educational attainment levels, and psychographic profiles that tend to suggest an increased propensity to visit a museum, zoo, aquarium, botanic garden, performing arts venue, etc.

 

2)   The United States population is growing increasingly diverse with folks that aren’t currently planning a visit to your organization.

(I’m going for “charming directness” again!) Museums and other cultural visitor-serving organizations have not yet succeeded in breaking the conceptual barrier of being top of mind destinations for non-HPVs. At IMPACTS, we see disappointingly low perceptions of zoos, aquariums, museums, and performing entities as “a place for people like me” in the minds of emerging audience members.  (We call these perceptions “attitude affinities.”) Though select organizations are successfully executing strategies to engage these emerging audiences, the large-scale wave of change that we are seeking may only occur when we can alter the overall perception of VSOs as a sector.

 

3)   Millennials are taking over the market, but VSOs are reluctant and/or slow in figuring out how to attract them.

Millennials can be a gosh-darn confusing bunch for older generations to understand. As digital natives, we simply think differently. If you feel like your organization is always trying to play catch-up to capture this audience, it’s because most VSOs are!

Millennials (born roughly 1980 to 1995) represent the single largest generation in human history (nearly 20 million kiddos larger than the Baby Boomers) and too few organizations are currently cultivating them as donors or even potential visitors. Some aren’t targeting Millennials because older generations just don’t see how they could be that important in driving business (“My kids can’t dictate how I do things!”) Well, most Millennials aren’t kids anymore, and the sheer volume of this generation means that they are already starting the lead the market. Some believe that Millennials just won’t be significant donors so they aren’t cultivating this group (despite evidence that – despite debt and student loans – this generation is incredibly confident about its financial future and may be more financially responsible than older generations). Other VSOs aren’t targeting Millennials because they simply don’t know how or don’t have the proper skillset on staff. (If that’s your thing, here are some baseline pointers for marketing to Millennials). Regardless, this is a demographic that nonprofit organizations simply cannot afford to ignore. As “historic” HPVs – who think and behave in a way that executive leaders understand – leave the market, there will be a void. In fact, this largely contributes to the negative substitution at hand.

 

In sum, visitor-serving organizations need to evolve their target audience in a big way. And they need to work together to do it soon. Data suggests that many visitor-serving organizations are already observing the challenging effects of  negative substitution (e.g. declining attendance levels).  Of course, this doesn’t mean altogether ignoring the “historic” visitor that is currently many an organizations “bread and butter”…because, indeed, these people will continue to visit (albeit in increasingly smaller numbers).

Negative substitution quantifies the urgent need to evolve, and moreover, compellingly indicates the risk of “standing still.” In order to foster a change in market perception of VSOs as welcoming and relevant, organizations will need to start adapting their engagement strategies and outreach initiatives. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Really? Another thing that I need to worry about in the midst of so much market change?” The answer is, “Yes.” Let’s start worrying. Let’s evolve.

 

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 Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Urgent Evolution: Marketing Your Nonprofit to the Audience of Tomorrow (DATA)

Trust Your Audience: Data Debunks Nonprofit Social Media Fears

the scream

Despite the myriad good reasons to be using social media (including data indicating social media’s leading role in motivating visitation and donor support), some nonprofit organizations and museums have been hesitant to open content-related communications to online audiences. They wonder: What if someone posts something bad about us? What if they use our Facebook page to promulgate viewpoints that are contrary to our mission or practices? What if they say something inaccurate on our expert page?

Data suggests that fears regarding radical trust may be largely unfounded and/or dramatically over-emphasized. Why? Because there is proof that people do not believe everything that they read online. Though this may sound axiomatic or silly to some (“Of course people don’t believe everything that they read online!”), organizations that don’t trust their online audiences to make informed, intelligent assessments often cite this doubt as a justification to not embrace open authority. Simply put, many organizations are frightened by social media and the means by which it empowers online audiences to express their respective points of view – which may be negative about the nonprofit, factually incorrect, or even “irrational.”

The data concerning this reticence to trust is quite clear: Organizations that instinctively move to limit communications – or react to a crisis only when standing on the sidelines is simply no longer an option – are failing their constituents. Here are three things to consider regarding reticence to engage on social media due to fears of opening authority to others:

 

1. Data suggests that social media is used by the public to gather information to form opinions… and not as a tool to dictate facts

Online audiences visit your social media sites to assess how you react and engage with the public in order to determine their level of personal affinity with your organization. They want to make their own decisions about what they think about your posts…and, similarly, they consider comments from others (and your responses to these comments) as key components of their information-gathering process.

Consider data from IMPACTS regarding the general public’s trust of various marketing channels and note the level of trust that the public ascribes to social media:

IMPACTS- Trust in Marketing Channels

I’ve posted this data before highlighting the reach, amplification, trust and overall weighted-values of various information channels. It may well be the single most “expensive to acquire” data freely available to nonprofit organizations on Know Your Own Bone. (Read: I hope that you’ll please take advantage of this free-to-you information that was originally funded by for-profit clients. After all, that’s why I write!)

This data indicates the public’s relatively low trust in social media when compared to other information channels with higher publication thresholds (e.g. newspapers) and “traceable,” credible endorsers (e.g. word of mouth). While the findings suggest that social media is, overall, the most powerful channel as a source for information, it additionally indicates that the public understands that there are some crazy people on social media.

Online audiences do not believe that other fans typing on Facebook walls are writing truisms in stone. While these comments may exist for the world to see, what is more important is how organizations react to these comments…

 

2. Online interactions establish relevance and transparency… and may clarify negative comments that organizations fear

As described previously, online audiences referencing your website and social media platforms are making decisions about how to feel about your organization. It is important that you are transparent, trustworthy, and authentically engage with these potential online evangelists. Some may even test you like this little lady did in her post on the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s Facebook page…

Smithsonian Facebook Comment

This interaction demonstrates the importance of responding to comments and interactions on your social sites – even, at times, when “negative” comments strike. If the museum hadn’t responded, the public may have perceived that the museum does not pay attention to online audiences, so why bother engaging? Worse yet, such perceived indifference may have actually inspired additional negative sentiment. At the very least, not-yet visitors to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History may consider that perhaps the museum is indeed “really boring” without having uncovered that feedback from this user was not sincere.

Nonprofit leaders need not fear comments such as the one above because being an “online organization” allows for both social media users and the nonprofit to uncover information that may aid other users in determining their level of trust in these communications.

 

3. Online interactions provide constructive feedback that, if acted upon, may position your nonprofit to evolve and thrive

While some executive leaders may claim to fear comments from less educated audiences than their own employed “experts” posting on social platforms, many may actually be concerned about receiving plain old negative feedback that stakeholders might observe on these same sites. They may fear that these critiques might then resurface in board rooms or donor conversations.

Avoiding feedback by denying a platform for conversation is rejecting low-hanging fruit to aid in the improvement of the organization. For executive leaders or marketing managers for which this is the case, well, you may have bigger issues within your organization than not being active on social media.

As the world changes (new technologies arise, new generations take the lead…), organizations confront numerous challenges. Often, the severity of these changes is correlated with how quickly the organization can evolve and adapt in alignment with changing constituent and stakeholder needs. Organizations that fear feedback may already know that they are behind the times. The solution to this is not to back away, but, rather, to consider embracing the insight that social media interactions may provide for your organization.

Leaders may be surprised how positively a simple, “Thank you for your feedback. We hear you and we’re getting started on fixing that by…!” resonates with online audience members with thoughtful, informative gripes (provided, of course, that you indeed start to address issues that arise and further complaints do not surface that may indicate insincerity). Also, executives and managers may breathe a little more easily knowing that – if a comment is legitimate – your organization probably (hopefully?) has the knowledge required to respond to thoughtful, negative feedback in a considered and helpful manner.

All this is not intended to suggest that negative comments do not have the ability to impact your brand. Instead, it suggests that organizations who fail to actively engage their audiences, do not respond to interactions, and adopt a “hear no evil” position when confronted by a challenging comment are doing themselves a grave disservice by not treating these moments as important customer service (and audience engagement) opportunities. In the end, if an organization rightfully considers thoughtful, negative comments as opportunities to listen, obtain feedback, and improve, and if the public is already considering the veracity of fan comments, what plausible excuse remains for an organization to fear social media?

You can’t argue with crazy. And, you can’t argue with facts. The public has figured this out. Isn’t it time that nonprofit organizations catch-up with the public when it comes to the ways and means by which we communicate with our constituents?

Barely a few weeks removed from our nation’s most recent Inauguration, please excuse me as I play off of arguably the most famous inaugural address in our history to drive an important point home for nonprofit executive leaders: When it comes to social media, perhaps the only thing that we have to fear is fear itself.

 

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 Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

The Top 5 Mistakes Nonprofits Make When Attempting to Engage Celebrities

Michael Phelps has started his own nonprofit focused on growing the sport of swimming and promoting healthy and active lives.

The Olympics have long come to an end and America has a whole new set of heroes and celebrities with newfound fame and glory. As a marketer, it was almost impossible to watch the Olympics without contemplating the celebrity, ubiquitous sponsorships, and nonstop social media involved in this worldwide event. Perhaps it is because of all this marketing and public relations excitement that celebrity sponsorship seems to be top-of-mind for many of the organizations that I am working with right now.

Though I focus the bulk of my efforts serving the nonprofit realm, my colleagues at IMPACTS do a significant amount of work with the entertainment industry. Operating in both the entertainment and nonprofit sectors comes in handy when these worlds collide. And, when it comes to nonprofits asking for celebrity endorsement or spokespeople, the two worlds often crash! We see a lot of nonprofits going about things all wrong…

Want to know how to increase your chances of getting noticed? Here are five mistakes that nonprofits often make when reaching out to celebrities and what you need to understand when considering your ask:

 

1) Understand that being a nonprofit is not unique.

When asked why they think celebrities will consider taking part in an event, many nonprofit folks seem to respond, “because it’s a good deed. We are a nonprofit!” I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your organization is probably not the only one asking for a celebrity’s time and energy in the name of social good.

Many big celebrities receive several requests for services each day. This includes requests for pro bono work from nonprofit organizations, asks for appearances at reduced rates, requests for time and even for donations. Nonprofits generally over-estimate the uniqueness of the opportunity for a celebrity to align him/herself with a social mission. Celebrities can do this without your nonprofit (many simply start their own foundations or nonprofits). This needs to be understood in order for your nonprofit to make a compelling ask.

 

2) Immediately articulate the return on investment in terms that matter most to the celebrity (not to you).

When reaching out, come knowing the details and exactly why your mission fits with the celebrity’s mission and overall brand persona. Don’t lead with the “charity” card, lead with the “fit” card (though charity might be an element of that). Ask yourself, “how can we help the celebrity do what they care about?”

One of the biggest mistakes that nonprofits make is assuming that A and B are the same circle. (“How could this celebrity not care about youth homelessness?!”) Even if a celebrity – or any person, for that matter – cares deeply about your cause, they are not your nonprofit. They have their own story, connections, and attitudes toward the cause. Successful organizations will do diligent research, find out where passions cross, and make an ask or create an event that caters to that unique focus. They make sure there’s a good fit so they can make the right ask.

 

3) Do not overestimate locality.

In the connected world that we live in today, celebrities don’t “belong” to any single place. In fact, they often strive to be a global brand. Understand that when asking a celebrity to do a hometown event, you should do your research to be sure that the celebrity actually is actively involved with or maintains connections to that town. While having the “hometown” card (or a similar location-based affinity card) in your hand may be helpful, don’t overestimate it as a driving indicator of fit.

 

4) Know that your nonprofit lends credibility, not reach.

Many (mostly larger) nonprofits misunderstand what they bring to the table by trying to bait celebrities with statistics on reach. If you try to encourage engagement by saying, “our museum has 1.5 million visitors annually,” to a celebrity who had 4.5 million people see their movie last weekend alone, then something is wrong. Already, Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte has sponsorship deals with Speedo, Gatorade, Gillette and Nissan that place him at the center of their respective global marketing campaigns…not to mention 1.1 million eager Twitter followers of his own!  Celebrities have reach. That’s likely a large part of the reason why you are contacting them in the first place.   Moreover, they often are “handled” by their own Dream Team (of sorts) of A-List PR and marketing experts.

However, many nonprofits do have something that can be extremely valuable to a celebrity that isn’t always capitalized on by the organization when making an ask – credibility. Celebrities that align themselves with authoritative nonprofits choose to align their respective brands with reputable, trusted endorsers. For celebrities with causes that they greatly care about, this can be a big driver of engagement. In sum, understand that reach is what your brand is getting and authority and credibility can be a powerful thing that your brand is giving.

 

5) Make it easy to say “yes” and understand that if you are requesting their skill set, you should offer to pay them.

While time is indeed money, asking a celebrity to work for free is still different than requesting an appearance. For instance, if you want to hold a concert with a well-known musician and sell tickets as a fundraiser, you should generally expect to pay the talent. In a few instances that I’ve witnessed, the celebrity has declined the fee and/or donated back the fee. However, even if they don’t demonstrate such largesse, nonprofits must understand that it is not their right to a celebrity’s free talent.

Also, it is critical to understand that big celebrities get many, many requests (paid, unpaid, nonprofit, for-profit) every day. In order to be considered, you must have your ask well articulated. A celebrity’s publicist is not your nonprofit’s party-planning committee and they don’t want to be. Make it easy for the celebrity to say “yes.” If you come in having done your research and knowing exactly what you want and what you can offer in return, you’re saving time and increasing the likelihood of engagement.

 

In sum, do your research, be thoughtful in your ask and approach, and don’t overestimate the power of any potential surface fit (your status as a nonprofit or your location, for example). Like attracting donors, you need to know what drives the person and not just want their brand is, but what the celebrity wants their brand to be. Have an idea of how you can help the person get there.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fundraising, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 2 Comments

The Importance of Social Media in Driving People to Your Museum or Visitor-Serving Nonprofit (DATA)

There’s a lot of conversation about the ROI of social media and confusion about how to explain its importance to executive leaders. Need help? Here’s some data behind how social media drives attendance to visitor-serving organizations (zoos, aquariums, museums, botanic gardens, theaters, etc). The research provided here is courtesy of IMPACTS.

It’s as easy as 1-2-3 (or, rather, the transitive property in mathematics):

1. Reputation is a major motivator of intent to visit

The above data indicates the index value (i.e. the relative importance) of select factors (“utilities”) that influence the market’s decision to visit a visitor-serving organization (VSO).  The way to consider this data is that utilities with index values greater than 100.0 bear a proportionally greater “weight” in terms of how the market makes its visitation decisions.  In other words, a factor such as “schedule” with an index value of 203.5 is roughly 2x more influential in the decision-making process for a high-propensity visitor than is a factor such as cost with an index value of 100.4.

The US Composite data represents the overall US population. The High-Propensity Visitor (HPV) data shows the index value for folks who possess the demographic, psychographic and behavioral attributes that make them most likely to visit a VSO.  In other words, by collecting data about actual visitors to VSOs, it is possible to develop a “profile” of the types of people who are most likely to visit a zoo, aquarium, or museum.  In the end, every individual organization will have its own, specific list of weighted utilities that indicate the attributes of its visitors – but for the purpose of this example, the HPV utilities and index values indicated here are an average for all likely US visitors to visitor-serving organizations.

It is clear to see that for the overall US population and high-propensity visitors alike how important “reputation” is to your market’s overall decision-making process.  In fact, only “schedule” rates higher in terms of influence on your market.  (“Schedule” summarizes not just factors such as your hours of operation, but also factors such as how your offerings align with considerations such as school and work schedules.  It may sound obvious, but if your organization isn’t conveniently accessible for your audience during its preferred days and hours, then you are risking your visitation potential.) And, while special events are an important driver for the US composite market, they are less influential to the HPVs (which represent the market segment where VSOs may benefit by targeting the majority of their marketing efforts).

2. Social media drives reputation

So we know that reputation is a major driver of visitation. But, what, mathematically, comprises your reputation? The answer is a little bit paid media (e.g. advertising) and a lot bit of reviews from trusted sources (particularly word of mouth and earned media – both of which are often facilitated or made entirely possible by social media). In fact, reviews from trusted resources are 12.85 times more influential in terms of your organization’s reputation than is the advertising that comes out of your budget.

3. Thus, social media is a driver of visitation

Social media and online engagement positively contribute to your bottom line by enhancing your reputation, which is a significant driver of visitation.  Critically, it is almost impossible for an organization to quickly and efficiently overcome negative reputation perceptions.  So, not only do social media and other forms of online engagement help boost your bottom line, they are also wonderful risk mitigation tools that keep you connected to your audience.

Interested in updates regarding nonprofit marketing and best practices for online engagement? Check out my Facebook page!

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 4 Comments

Why Offering Discounts Through Social Media Is Bad Business for Nonprofit Organizations

There’s significant data compiled by multiple sources indicating that “getting discounts” is the top reason why people engage with an organization’s social media channels. So it seems logical that if you want to bump your number of fans and followers, offering discounts is a surefire way to go. And it works – if your sole measure of success is chasing these types of (perhaps less meaningful) metrics. But, before you go crazy with the discount offers on Facebook and Twitter just to get your “likes” up, here’s another thing that’s true: Offering discounts through social media channels cultivates a “market addiction” that will have long-term, negative consequences on the health of your organization.

I recently wrote a post called “Death by Curation” within which I shared data indicating the non-sustainable cycle that museums enter when they must rely on new, progressively more expensive “special” exhibits in the hopes of achieving attendance spikes (what has since been referred to by a reader of this blog as “Blockbuster Suicide”). In many ways, offering discounts creates a similarly vicious cycle whereby a visitor-serving organization finds itself realizing a diminishing return on the value of its visitation.

When an organization provides discounts through social media it trains their online audience to do two not-so-awesome things:

 

1) Your community expects more discounts

Here’s where your organization breeds an online audience of addicts accepting discounts…and, strangely enough, becomes addicted to offering discounts itself. Posting a discount to attract more likes on Facebook (or to get people to engage with a social media competition, etc.) will very likely result in a bump in likes and engagement. But know that in doing this, you are verifying that your social media channel is a source for discounts. Discounting for “likes” attracts low-level engagers (they are liking you for your discount, not your mission), and prevailing wisdoms increasingly suggest that your number of social media followers doesn’t matter. It is far better for your brand and bottom line to have 100 fans who share and interact with your content to create a meaningful relationship, than to have 1,000 fans who never share your message and liked you just for the discount.

I can hear the rumbling now: Some of you are thinking, “But we’ve used discounts to attract more likes and it worked” (i.e. it generated more likes). Over time, however, these low-level engagers will stop following you if you do not continue to offer discounts. That is, after all, the reason why they followed you in the first place…and you have shown them that, yes, you will post discounts on social media. This is the start of the addiction: In order to keep these likes, you need to offer more discounts.

Try this: Simply stop offering discounts. Over the course of a few months, your number of likes will go down (because these people only liked you for the discount, not your awesome, socially conscious content). They were not actual evangelists – and cultivating real evangelists to build a strong online community is the whole point of social media. You want folks who actually care about what you’re doing and will amplify your message (not the “we are offering a discount” message – which is the content that, unfortunately, frequently gets the most shares and perpetuates this cycle).

 

2) Perhaps more importantly, your community waits for discounts

Here’s where becoming an addict takes a toll on the organization’s health. Data indicates that offering coupons on social media channels – even once – causes people to postpone their visits or wait until you offer another discount before visiting you again. Worse yet, the new discount generally needs to be perceived as a “better” offer (i.e. an even greater discount) to motivate a new visit. This observation is consistent with many aspects of discount pricing psychology, whereby a stable discount is perceptually worth “less” over time. In other words, the 20% discount that motivated your market to visit last month will likely have a diminishing impact when re-deployed. Next time, to achieve the same outcome, your organization may have to offer a 35% discount…and then a 50% discount, etc. You see where I’m going with this…

Here is the debunking of another popular misnomer that some organization’s use to justify their discount tactics: You are not necessarily capturing new visitation with discounts. In fact, data from the company for which I work suggests that the folks using your discount were likely to visit anyway…and pay full price! This is a classic example of an ill-advised discounting strategy “leaving money on the table.”

To compound matters, instead of hastening the re-visitation cycle, the “waiting for a discount” phenomena may actually increase the interval between visits for many visitors. The average museum-going person visits a zoo, aquarium, or museum once every 19 months. If you offer a discount, while you may not attract a larger volume of visitation to your organization, you may accelerate your audience’s re-visitation cycle on a one-time basis. This sounds great…until you realize the significant downsides to this happening: Your audience just visited your organization without paying the full price that they were actually willing to pay and they likely won’t visit your organization again for (on average) another 19 months. On top of all this, IMPACTS data illustrates that the steeper the discount, the less likely visitors are to value your product and return in a shorter time period.

Think of it this way: A visitor coming to your museum in May 2012 would likely visit again in December 2013 (i.e. in 19 months). Let’s say that you offer them a discount that motivates them to visit in October 2013. Now, you’ve linked their intentions to visit to a discount offer…and decoupled it from what should be their primary motivation – your content! And, by doing so, you’ve created an environment where content as a motivator has become secondary to “the deal.” In other words, you will have moved your market from a 19-month visitation cycle to a visitation cycle dependent on an ever-increasing discount. Can your organization afford to keep motivating visitation in this way?

So, how do museums get addicted to discounts, too? Well, we sometimes confuse the response (i.e. a visit) to the stimuli (i.e. a discount) with efficacy. Once a discount has been offered to motivate a visit, we regularly witness the market “holding out” for another discount before visiting again. And what are museums doing while the market waits for this new discount? Sadly, often times the answer is that they are panicking.

If you run a museum, you’ve probably spent some time in this uncomfortable space – we observe the market’s behavior (or, in this case, their lack of behavior), and begin to get anxious because attendance numbers are down. What’s a quick fix to ease the pain of low visitation? Another discount! So we offer this discount…and, in the process, reward the market for holding out for the discount to begin with. This is the insidious thing about many discounting strategies: They actually train your audience to withhold their regular engagement, and then reward them for their constraint. We feed their addiction and, in turn, we become addicted ourselves to the short-term remedy that is “an offer they can’t refuse.”

Like most addictive – but ultimately deleterious – items, there is no denying that discounts “work” – provided that your sole measure of the effectiveness of a discount is its ability to generate a short-term spike in visitation. But, once the intoxicating high of a crowded gallery has passed, very often all that we’re left with is a nasty hangover. My advice to museums and nonprofit organizations contemplating a broad discount strategy on social media: Just say no!

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 6 Comments

Reach, Trust & Amplification: The Importance of Social Media in Nonprofit Marketing (STUDY)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to share recent IMPACTS data (collected in real-time through the end of last month) regarding the comparative importance of different marketing channels. The key finding? Data indicates that social media is the fastest growing and most influential marketing channel.

A few weeks ago, I shared data indicating that websites and mobile platforms – followed by word of mouth, social media, and peer review sites – play a disproportionate role in encouraging visitation decisions to visitor-serving organizations compared to more traditional marketing mediums such as radio and print media. With the help of coworkers at IMPACTS, I’ve drilled deeper into available data in order to answer the question of how these platforms play a role in the current marketing world. To do this, we looked at these mediums through three parameters: reach, trust, and amplification. Then, we calculated the weighted influence of these parameters to assess the overall value of each channel.

We measured the following information channels/marketing mediums:

  • Web – an organization’s website or an online news site, for instance
  • Social media – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, and other social networking sites
  • Word of mouth (WOM) – Person-to-person sharing of information
  • Email – Good ol’ email.
  •  Mobile web – web accessed via mobile device or mobile platform
  • Peer review web – TripAdvisor, Yelp, and other online review sites
  • Television – both commercial and public broadcasts, news programming, information acquired through television
  • Radio – both satellite and terrestrial programming
  • Newspaper (print)– Any newspaper source in print (content accessed online are included in the “web” category. In other words, the print edition of The New York Times falls within the “newspaper” category, whereas content accessed via nytimes.com would be considered a “web” resource.)
  • Periodicals and magazines (print) – Magazines and periodicals in hardcopy (again, online versions are included in the “web” category)
  • Direct mail – That stuff that physically arrives to your home/office and clutters your countertop
  • Other print – Brochures, flyers, other informational, printed material
  • Other – billboards, bus signs, posters, etc.
Take a look at our findings below and consider how your organization values these channels. Do your organizational priorities match the public perception and actual use of these marketing channels? Click on the graphs below to pull up larger images.

 

1. Reach

This parameter quantifies the relative efficacy of each channel in terms of that channel’s ability to expose an individual or household to a message within any defined duration. In other words, we’re trying to understand how effective any medium is at “reaching” an overall population (or, for that matter, a targeted audience such as women aged 35-54, etc.)

As you can see above, in terms of “reach,” websites are the primary channels used by the market to acquire information. An interesting item of note here is the growth in the importance of web/mobile platforms (web, mobile web, peer review web, and social media) compared to the June 2011 baseline data. In fact, every defined marketing channel that was NOT web or mobile-based (except word of mouth, which is the only channel based on person-to-person interaction) experienced a decline within the past year in terms of its reach.

 

2. Trust

This parameter quantifies how credible these channels are perceived to be as information sources. In this metric, we still see traditional, printed materials leading the way. We sometimes refer to this as the “Publication Effect” – there has been an observed tendency for the market to “believe” information obtained via mediums with higher barriers to publication (e.g. newspapers and magazines) than those with relatively easy publication thresholds (e.g. online forums). And, this perception may be reality. Not only do more traditional publishers employ “credibility protectors” such as fact-checkers, researchers and editors, the physical nature of the medium tends to imply a certain level of gravitas that a more ephemeral medium simply cannot achieve.

Still, the web and mobile platforms have generally displayed the most positive change in terms of being identified as trustworthy sources of information, and I expect for this trend to continue as more traditional publishers develop increasingly robust online presences.

Self-published content such as direct mail are among the least trusted sources of information. (Interesting finding: Upon reviewing data from previous years, we know that the trust value of direct mail tends to further plummet during election seasons when mailboxes are littered with campaign propaganda – and we may reasonably expect this in the upcoming seasons.) Other printed materials (e.g. brochures) are also considered to be comparatively untrustworthy sources of information.

This data should be of considerable note to nonprofit organizations (or any company) spending a significant portion of their budget on printed materials while largely ignoring its online reputation – especially if the organization could alternatively invest an equivalent amount to hire a resource to manage its online engagement and social media platforms.

This data is particularly intriguing to me because it illustrates a very unique moment in terms of the evolution of marketing and information-share. Perhaps the way that we think of printed materials such as direct mail will someday soon join payphones, Polaroid pictures, Blockbuster video stores, road maps and telephone books in the pantheon of obsolescence.

 

3. Amplification

Amplification quantifies the re-distribution potential of the respective information channel. Marketers should care about amplification because this measure potentially indicates the amount of “marketing bang” that an organization will get for its buck – a particularly relevant item for cash-strapped nonprofits. This parameter measures how likely folks are to share these marketing channels with others. In my line of work, we sometimes refer to an information channel’s amplification value as its “sneeze factor” – how many other people can we infect with this message? (Quick apology to health-related nonprofiteers reading this post!)

As you can see, web and mobile-based sites generally have higher amplification rates and are easier to share than more traditional marketing channels. This seems sensible. It is, of course, easier to forward an email than it is to share a radio spot with a friend… but some interesting habits of the general population and how they use/relate to these channels emerge in these numbers. For instance, when compared to other printed information sources such as newspapers and direct mail, we generally find a higher amplification rate for magazines because they often have much higher production values (i.e. look and feel “nicer”). Because of this, magazines are more likely than other printed channels to occupy a spot on the coffee table until the next month’s issue arrives. During that time, friends coming over may see these magazines, flip through their pages, and presto! The magazine as an information channel has achieved amplification.

Unfortunately for many museums and nonprofits spending large amounts of money on printed materials, less substantial brochures do not have the same fate and are tucked away in private spaces or ultimately land in the trash before they can be amplified.

Though high in credibility value, word of mouth has a low amplification rate because it is difficult to reproduce and scale an in-person interaction.

 

4. Overall Value

The overall value represents the weighted, relative values of these information channels after collectively considering the reach, trust and amplification metrics. The results here may be stunning in their comparative value – especially for marketing traditionalists or web and social media “nonbelievers.” All of the web and mobile-based information sources experienced growth from June 2011 to March 2012 (i.e. web, social media, mobile web, and peer review web). No other media channels experienced growth. Email also experienced a decline, and though this is indeed a medium that is dependent upon the web, it does not represent a “living” platform with rotating, changeable content and thus functions differently than social media, peer review web, etc.

Social media is an enormously important component of your overall marketing and communication strategy. In fact, data suggests that it is the most important channel to engage your users and constituents. The overall value of social media increased 49.2% from June 2011 to March 2012. This is (quite obviously) the most significant change observed across the quantified information channels.

This data serves as yet another reminder of the recent, rapid evolution in the ways that people communicate, spread information, and find value in marketing messages. This is more than just anecdotal word on the street; it is compelling evidence of the way that our society behaves. CEOs and managers slow to “believe” in the power of online platforms and social media may need to lower the printed brochure in their hands, put away the flyers, and move their communications into the present.

Findings such as these present the contemporary nonprofit organization with a handful of basic choices: Relevant or obsolete? Solvent or destitute? Growth or regression? More or less? And, perhaps most importantly over time: Life or death?

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 9 Comments

Death by Curation: Why the Special Exhibit Isn’t So Special Anymore (CASE STUDY)

Museums often develop a cycle wherein they rely heavily on visitation from special exhibits – rather than their permanent collections – in order to meet their basic, annual goals. This is a case of “death by curation” – bringing in bigger and bigger exhibits in order to keep the lights on. Museums often fail to recognize that the best part of the museum experience, according to visitors and substantial data, is who folks visit and interact with instead of what they see. Understanding that a museum visit is more about people than it is about objects can help museums break the vicious cycle of “death by curation,” and help them develop more sustainable business practices.

 

The Myth of the Special Exhibit Strategy

It’s no secret that a true blockbuster exhibit can boost a museum’s attendance to record levels. However, a “blockbuster” is rare, and the fact that these blockbusters spike attendance so dramatically is an important finding: Blockbusters are anomalies – NOT the basis of a sustainable plan.

We know the story well: a museum decides to host an exhibit and develops exhibit-related messaging to promote visitation to the exhibit. The museum sees a spike in attendance, which dips when the exhibit closes. The museum wants to hit these high numbers again so it hosts a “bigger” exhibit and hopes for the same visitation spike.

This is the beginning of a costly, ineffective cycle. Here are two misbeliefs that perpetuate this less-than-sustainable practice:

1. The museum comes to believe that it cannot motivate visitation without rotating increasingly “blockbuster” exhibits. And, by doing this, museums train their audiences only to visit when there is a new exhibit. Thus, they risk curating themselves into unsustainable business practices.

2. If the museum is successful with this strategy of rotating blockbuster exhibits, then the exhibits grow grander (it’s hard to keep improving on a “blockbuster” – have you ever known a sequel to cost less than the original?), and the attendant costs grow at unsustainable rates…but become conceptually necessary for the museum to keep their lights on.

What of the hopeful thought that visitors to blockbuster exhibits will become regular museum-goers? It is largely a myth. An IMPACTS study of five art museums – each hosting a “blockbuster” exhibit between years 2007-2010, found that only 21.8% of visitors to the exhibit saw the “majority or entirety” of the museum experience. And, of those persons visiting the sampled art museums during the same time period, 50.5% indicated experiencing “only” the special exhibition. This data indicates that these special exhibit visitors are not seeing your permanent collections and, thus, are missing an opportunity to connect with your museum and become true evangelists.

Even members, whom museums often assume are more connected to their permanent collections than the general public, have been trained to respond almost exclusively to “blockbuster” stimuli. To wit: The National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study recently completed in April 2011 indicates that of lapsed museum members with an intent to renew their memberships, 88.6% state that they will renew their memberships “when they next visit.” Of these same lapsed members, 62.5% indicate that they will defer their next visit “until there is a new exhibit.” In other words, museums have trained even their closest constituents to wait for these expensive exhibits in order to justify their return visit.

 

Case Study

I like to think of this as a sort of “Pavlov for the museum world” – except instead of inspiring behavior with a bell, we’ve decided to provide Monet, Mondrian and Picasso as stimuli. This is all perhaps well and good…but it isn’t sustainable.

Consider the 20-year attendance history of a museum client of IMPACTS (the company for which I work). Can you spot the “blockbuster” year?

In this example (which I selected because it is representative of the experience of many museums), the “blockbuster” exhibit of year 2004 resulted in a 47.6% spike in visitation. But, what is perhaps most telling is how quickly – post-blockbuster – the client’s annual visitation returned to its average level. Does this suggest that the client shouldn’t pursue another blockbuster? Well, they did. But, not with the expected results.

Let’s consider the same chart again – this time with the special exhibits costs by year also indicated:

Still drunk with success from their blockbuster exhibit in year 2004, this museum went to the “tried” (but, not necessarily, “true”) blockbuster formula in year 2009. As you can see, in terms of visitation, history decidedly did NOT repeat itself. This where it becomes additionally important to acknowledge that “expensive does not a blockbuster make.”(See the domestic box office receipts of “John Carter” for recent proof).

Another fun fact that will surprise absolutely no one in the museum world – audiences are fickle! Their preferences shift quickly and they become increasingly hard to please. In fact, first-time-ever museum visitors rate their overall satisfaction 19.1% higher than persons who have previously visited any other museum. In my business, we call this “point of reference sensitivity” – the market’s expectations, perceptions and tolerances are constantly shifting and being re-framed by its experiences. Think about it yourself: The FIRST kiss goodnight – a forever memory! The hundredth kiss goodnight – (still sweet, but) been there, done that.

 

Break the Cycle: Invest in People and Interactions

Knowing that who a visitor comes with is the best part of visiting a museum provides power for museums to break this cycle.

Instead of relying on the rotation of expensive exhibits, many successful museums instead invest in their frontline people and provide them with the tools to facilitate interactions that dramatically improve the visitor experience. Improving the visitor experience increases positive word of mouth that, in turn, brings more people through the door. Importantly, reviews from trusted resources (e.g. WOM) tend to not only inspire visitation, they also have the positive benefit of decreasing the amount of time between visits. In other words, people who have a better experience are more likely to come back again sooner.

The power of with > what has other positive financial implications for museums. If the institution focuses on increasing the overall experience (which, again, is a motivator in and of itself – as opposed to the “one-off effect” of gaining a single visit with a new exhibit), then the museum’s value-for-cost perception increases. In other words, it allows the museum to charge more money for admission without alienating audiences because these audiences are willing to pay a premium for a positive experience.

(For you mission-driven folks shaking your head about how this potentially excludes underserved audiences, this is where your accessibility programs will shine. It allows them to be more effective and increases their perceptual value as well.)

This isn’t to say that new content and engaging exhibits are not critical to a museum’s success. It is to say, though, that times are changing. To sustain both in terms of economics and relevance, museums must evolve from organizations that are mostly about “us” (what we have is special and you’re lucky to see it), to organizations that are primarily concerned about “them” – the visitors.

Like it or not, the market is the ultimate arbiter of a museum’s success. Those of us with academic pedigree, years of experience, and technical expertise may well be in a position to declare “importance,” but it is the market that reserves the absolute right to determine relevance. In other words, while curators still largely design the ballots, it is the general public who cast the votes. And, in the race to sustain a relationship with the museum-going public, the returns are in and the special exhibit isn’t so special anymore.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 11 Comments

According to Visitors, THIS is the Best Part About Going to a Museum (Hint: It’s Not The Exhibits)

When it comes to “the best thing about visiting a zoo, aquarium or museum,” visitors indicate that having a shared experience with friends and family is most important.

I’m pleased to have the opportunity to share a tidbit of data uncovered by IMPACTS Research & Development (the company for which I work, folks)! The data below was first published by the National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study (NAAU) and, since April 2011, it has been re-confirmed in six, separate, proprietary studies on behalf of various visitor-serving organizations with which we work. The image below shows unprompted responses to the question and are displayed with the index value for each response. The bottom line? People don’t go to a museum to see the newest exhibit… people go to a museum to see the newest exhibit with people they care about.

Of course, museum marketers are selling an experience, but the trick may be for museum marketers to understand that they are selling a personal experience.

The “with > what” mentality may turn the museum industry’s self-perception on its head. Traditionally, museums (especially certain kinds, such as art and history museums, for example) may be perceived as quiet places preserved in the past and shielded by silence and white walls.  Museums have been seen as intellectual spaces with curators serving as great academic gatekeepers. The ‘museum experience,’ to those of us involved in creating and shaping it, often revolves around the exhibits, the artifacts, the collection…and it is about those things. For visitors, however, the experience is more than an intellectual quest; it revolves around the entirety of the experience and the company attending with the visitor.

This does not mean that the “what” isn’t important. I frequently write about the evolving role of the curator; how in the information age, everyone is a curator and how – particularly for engaging Millennials – highlighting your curator is less important than ever. Although accessibility and self-curation are becoming increasingly important, having and promoting these artifacts and collections can certainly  inspire visitation. They are the things (“whats”)  that people come with their loved ones to see. In other words, the  “with” here may not be as strong without the existence of the  museum’s “what.” (…Did you follow me there?)

Take a look at a visitor serving organization that has shared the love…  To be a museum marketer and miss this critical half of the equation for visitor motivation is a major loss. In fact, institutions that miss this will be limited, especially as the information age continues to reveal increased communication based on public sharing and online brand identity. So who is already onto this information?  To name an example that I’ve referenced before, Monterey Bay Aquarium used the “with” to promote their “what” in their extremely successful Share the Love campaign. The aquarium  got creative and pulled out all the stops with this campaign, and their concept of “sharing the love” – or sharing the experience of visiting the aquarium –  was a hit.  (Notice the  silhouettes, which allow viewers to place themselves into the pictures and videos for the campaign!)

Moreover, there’s empirical evidence that members of Generation Y may be particularly receptive to marketing messages that promote sharing visitor experiences. In particular, Millennials seek existential experiences.  Sometimes this young demographic gets a bad rep for moving conversation online (“Get off of Facebook and go hang out outside”), but this demographic is actually upping the demand when it comes to in-person experiences as well.

In my line of work, this kind of data on visitor motivation  informs significant decisions regarding discounts, exhibit cycles,  reaching new audiences, and long-term planning (to name a few broad areas…). I look forward to delving further into some of the the implications of these findings in the upcoming weeks. Be sure to check back!

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 7 Comments

Why Your Nonprofit’s Number of Social Media Followers Doesn’t Matter

(…nearly as much as most organizations think that they matter)

Would you rather have 100,000 Facebook “likes” from folks who never visit your museum or donate to your cause, or 10 Facebook “likes” from folks who do?

It’s important to have an ongoing presence on social media because customer interactions build powerful word of mouth marketing opportunities, it is important to be accessible, and transparency is an increasingly important social priority for successful businesses.  However, I’m always surprised when I start working with an organization and the marketing department’s social media strategy focuses on gaining Facebook likes or Twitter followers rather than engaging online audiences or getting people through the door. This happens all the time. Really... it happens all the time. It’s a good idea to aim for high quality followers, but focusing on  collecting sheer numbers is a waste of time and using this as key metric for success is a distraction. Having thousands upon thousands of social media followers is not necessarily indicative of an engaging online presence and may not be working to your organization’s benefit at all.

Your number of social media followers can and should be used to track growth and engagement, but aiming simply for high numbers misses the boat. Here's a photo tip from John Haydon.

Social media follower numbers are a big tease. They are displayed prominently on social media sites and organizations yearn for a way to measure ROI for social media. Thus, organizations often measure success based upon the pure number of people who follow them. These marketing managers are distracted.  Goals for social media should be no different from the greater goals of the organization. At the end of the day (for museums, for instance), that goal is to increase visitation, evangelism, and educate or inspire the public. An organization’s ability to do this is not dependent upon the number of followers or likes that they have, but the quality and level of engagement of those followers. Stop focusing only on this number and making it a single point of celebration.


The value of social media followers:

To reference a metaphor that I use frequently, engaging folks online is  like managing and setting up a community marathon race.  If getting runners to complete the marathon means that you’ve converted the individual into a donor, then getting a “like” means that somebody has signed up to join your training program. Generally, training programs are important to have for many reasons and there’s reason to pay attention to the number of people who sign up. However, not everyone who joined the program will finish the marathon… and many more people will likely complete the marathon who haven’t signed up for the program (or who aren’t represented in your “likes” on Facebook).

Though number of “likes,” followers, and subscribers is far less important than the quality of the evangelism in these folks, likes actually do have some value on their own- it’s just not as significant as some make it out to be. It’s important to understand how this number (alone) can actually help your organizations reach its goals on social media:

  •  Social media followers are self-identified evangelists and collecting followers increases the likelihood that people will see your message thanks to placements in newsfeeds or the Facebook Ticker.  However, they do not mean that people will share, promote, or engage with your message- or even that their level of evangelism reaches beyond that single “like” or “follow” click. Focus on engaging audiences and inspiring conversation (which increase your reputation, a proven driver of visitation to a museum) instead of increasing your sheer number of low-level followers.

  • An organization’s number of social media followers often indicates credibility to potential donors or visitors. However, a small number of followers isn’t likely to deter high-level evangelists who feel a connection to your organization. This benefit of having sheer high numbers of social media followers does not outweigh a misdirected effort to focus on this metric above all else.  Try to get social media followers when you can, but aim for individuals who are likely to communicate your message and don’t make sheer numbers your top priority.

What should you measure instead of focusing entirely on your number of social media followers? Your organizations’ conversation rate, amplification rate and applause rate are good places to start.

 

The whole point of collecting social media followers is to get them to do something.

 Recently, Rick Schwartz (@ZooKeeperRick)  of the San Diego Zoo aimed to prove the “power of social media” by taking on a challenge to get 30 new Twitter followers in 3 days. Rick more than succeeded; he reached 30 followers in just the first day and collected over 96 new followers by his deadline three days later. The goal of this was- very simply-  to gain followers… Any followers. In this case, it was likely that the audience reached in this initative could be classified more as social media fans than zoo advocates so it’s hard to say if this experiment demonstrates a certain level of evangelism or even strengthens Rick’s online influence… But he achieved his goal and made a point: “social media can get the word out, and quickly.” All too often, this is where social media goals end: after the initiative to get more social media followers ends.  But what’s the point of having any followers at all if not to spread a message? Why exert an effort to get followers if there isn’t even more effort put into getting these followers to do or support something?

On social media, Rick is a huge marketing asset for the zoo. He is engaging, fun, and tweets great conservation and animal information. In several ways, he is a living message and accessible personality for the zoo who helps fulfill the zoo’s goal to educate and inspire.  He’s proved that getting numbers can be achieved (especially when it’s timely and urgent), but he has his eye on the greater point of social media for nonprofits:

 

Focusing efforts on achieving high social media follower numbers misses the point of social media and does not even guarantee that followers will be active, engaged, or share your message. However, making efforts to attract high quality evangelists online is a worthy goal that helps your organization achieves its mission in the long run.  Design your social media strategy for an outcome that meets the organization’s goal (inspiring visitation, securing donations, or raising awareness) and don’t be sidetracked by sheer follower numbers.  The goal isn’t just a high number. The goal is a high number of high-quality social media followers who will actively support your cause.  One person who believes in your organization is worth far more than one million people who don’t.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends Comments Off on Why Your Nonprofit’s Number of Social Media Followers Doesn’t Matter
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