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Community Engagement

Is your Nonprofit Living in the Past? Nine Outdated Ways of Thinking That Are Hurting Your Organization

Where complacent brands go

If any of these outdated beliefs still linger within your organization, then your nonprofit may be suffering both in terms of finances and mission delivery. It’s time to retire these obsolete practices once and for all:

 

1) You separate marketing and digital marketing because you think they are different

This is generally indicative of an organization that thinks “digital marketing” is more about mastering tools and platforms (e.g. Facebook) than mastering a long-term engagement strategy to strengthen your organization’s brand and mission.

Symptoms may include:

  • Digital initiatives that may appear cutting edge but don’t actually contribute to your organization’s mission or financial bottom line
  • An inability to activate online communities to behave in your organization’s interests despite having numerous fans on multiple platforms

 

Treatment: Certainly, organizations benefit from having a team that excels in online community management and maintains a thorough understanding of social media tools and digital engagement opportunities. That said, it is critical that these team members maintain constant involvement with the broader marketing and public relations leadership so that they may be empowered to integrate a strategy for ongoing engagement that yields returns rather than simply utilizing social media tools for social media’s sake.

 

2) You identify online donors and you treat them differently than offline donors

A donor is a donor. The means of conveying funds to an organization is irrelevant…it’s like treating a donor differently because they used a check for a gift instead of a credit card.  Basic courtesy and “real life” donor cultivation techniques should prevail regardless of how a person chooses to give. A donor who gives online shouldn’t be any less deserving of a personal thank you than a person who gives face-to-face, yet, somehow, the reliance on automated gift acknowledgments remains a practice for many organizations. Similarly, because a donor gives onsite may not mean that the individual does not expect the organization to recognize them when they interact on social media.

Symptoms may include:

  • A general lack of donor retention
  • An even greater lack of donor retention for those identified by the organization as “online donors”
  • Difficulty transitioning donors to the next level of giving

 

Treatment: Gather information and cultivate “online donors” just as your organization would cultivate “offline donors.” Similarly, if a “real life” donor engages with the organization online, acknowledge them and value their digital endorsement and communication. Treat donors online the same way that you would in person – just because something can be automated online doesn’t mean that it should be! Personalized touch points and cultivating the relationship are still critical practices.

 

3) You think marketing and fundraising serve independent functions

Marketing no longer serves as simply the megaphone for an organization. Today, marketing often provides critical touch points that serve to create meaning for audiences and connect them to the organization. This isn’t very different than fundraising.  A failure to recognize the importance of marketing and fundraising working in concert to achieve an organization’s goals may have negative consequences.

Symptoms may include:

  • Inability to identify new, potential donors
  • Few donors actively engaging with your organization online
  • Difficulty transitioning persons with interest in the organization into meaningful donors

 

Treatment: From an org chart perspective, marketing and fundraising departments certainly need not be one entity. However, it is critical that these departments (and the organization as a whole) recognize that the path to success in terms of donor identification, member retention, and donor cultivation lies in an intimate, real-time relationship between marketing and fundraising experts. The fundraising team (next-level meaning-makers) needs the input of the marketing team (and their real-time touch-points with audience members) to identify potential donors and aid their cultivation through an engagement funnel. In fact, social media is the new force empowering giving decisions.

 

4)   You think marketing performs a service function for the organization

If you still think that marketing plays a service role within your organization, then it’s time to catch up.  The role of this team has evolved from being the one-way voice of the organization (i.e. its mouth) to being its eyes and ears as well. More than ever before, it is the job of the marketing department to know, listen, and build relationships with your constituents. By necessity, successful marketing teams are increasingly expert about your audience.

Symptoms may include:

  • Low interest and engagement in initiatives and programs
  • Perceived irrelevance of your organization by the market
  • Difficulty getting attention from audiences
  • General lack of general success of new initiatives

 

Treatment: Consider the input of the marketing team before moving forward with initiatives instead of demanding that they “market this” (maybe not-so-great idea) after its actualization.

 

5)   Your social media managers operate in a silo 

Social media is an every-department job so access to the rest of the organization – especially experts – is critical for creating compelling content. A bad idea: Hiring an outside company to run your social media if you are an organization that builds reputation based upon being “expert” or builds affinity by telling powerful stories that are best communicated with the passion of an insider (which is basically all good stories).

Symptoms may include:

  • Several marketing-related messages on social platforms (which generally do not perform well)
  • Lack of audience engagement on digital platforms
  • Inconsistent social media posting
  • Lack of compelling stories that adequately communicate the passion of your nonprofit
  • Social media posts that demonstrate mission drift

 

Treatment: Make sure that folks working within your organization embrace the importance of sharing stories and are open to aiding social media managers in creating compelling content. Also, do your social media yourself or with a partner that has ongoing access to your entire organization. Your stories are your lifeblood.

 

6) You think the more followers, the better

This one is no surprise by now: The number of social media followers that you have is not necessarily indicative of the strength of your online community. It’s far better to have 1,000 followers with a genuine passion for engaging with your organization and sharing your message, than 100,000 fans that don’t help your organization reach its goals. In fact, having a lot of inactive followers dilutes your community and makes it appear as though you have bad content because not many people are interacting with you, despite your high fan number.

Symptoms may include:

  • An inability to activate fans to act in your organization’s interest despite high fan numbers
  • Distraction from achieving the organization’s true goals due to fixation on unimportant metrics
  • An inability to retain true fans due to superficial content that yields more “likes” than real affinity

 

Treatment: Quit focusing too heavily on fan count (and certainly do not dilute your community by buying fake fans). Pay attention to metrics that matter, and share content that inspires true evangelism. Instead of “the more followers, the better,” think “the more meaningful engagement related to our mission, the better.” If and when those ambitions cross, then that is great.

 

7)   Similarly, you think your number of website views adequately measures online success

It doesn’t. In fact, data suggest that online audiences are more likely to carry out desired behaviors (like making a donation, buying a ticket if you are a visitor-serving organization, etc.) if they are sent to social media platforms or peer review sites (TripAdvisor, etc.).

Symptoms may include:

  • Distraction from actual, meaningful metrics
  • Preoccupation with a metric that is not indicative of success
  • Directing audiences to platforms that are less likely to result in a desired behavior

 

Treatment: The role of your website has changed. Consider website views in the greater context of your overall digital engagement strategy. Understand that this number does not show the folks who are engaging with your brand or researching it on other sites.

 

8) You deny the necessity of brand transparency

This means purposefully leaving your key evangelists out of the loop in regard to big decisions and happenings – it’s always a bad idea. Thanks to the web, we live in a “show and not tell” world and potential constituents make decisions about your brand based upon what you “show.” In sum, transparency is a critical value for successful online communications

Symptoms may include:

  • Negative sentiment or reactions from audiences on social media channels
  • Audience misunderstanding of or disbelief in an organization’s goals or objectives for a given project
  • Lack of trust in organization
  • Constituents “opting-out” of involvement with the organization

 

Treatment: Question someone who tells you to purposefully hide critical information that may aid audiences in understanding your brand or internal thought-processes (whether it is an internal or external person). Times have changed. As is the case in real life, organizations are consistently finding that, indeed, honesty is the best policy.

 

9) You need an industry example before carrying out an initiative that may help you meet your goals

Web engagement best practices are constantly evolving – and so are the platforms upon which engagement often occurs. This means that – from time to time – your organization may come up with an idea for online engagement that may help your organization better reach its goals…but your idea hasn’t been tried before. Far too many organizations prefer not to invest time and resources in a new opportunity unless there is an extant case study available for analysis and consideration. Invariably, it is the laggard organizations – ever fearful of innovation – who are left behind while admiring others’ bold inventions.

Worse yet, some organizations would seemingly move forward with very bad or detrimental ideas simply because they’ve seen other organizations launch a similar initiative.  If your organization is more comfortable copying mediocrity than innovating success, then prepare to soon be irrelevant.

Symptoms may include:

  • Lack of original engagement ideas
  • Lack of superlative perceptions of your organization among audiences
  • Missed opportunities to build affinity and cultivate evangelists
  • Execution of initiatives that do not match the goals of an organization

 

Treatment: Just because an organization carried out an initiative doesn’t mean it was successful or that it is a surefire win for your organization.  View the initiatives of others with due scrutiny or admiration and act accordingly with regard to your own organization’s goals and values. Also, if your organization has an idea for a new initiative that hasn’t been done before, perform a SWOT analysis and if the strengths outweigh the weaknesses, consider giving it a shot. You just might end up being an industry leader.

 

If these old notions still permeate your organization, it’s time to change.

 

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

 

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Is your Nonprofit Living in the Past? Nine Outdated Ways of Thinking That Are Hurting Your Organization

The Evolution of Marketing from a Service Department to a Strategic Collaborator

marketing fairy dust

If your organization still treats the marketing team as a “service” department instead of a critical, strategic resource, then it’s time to catch up.

Audiences now expect organizations to operate from the outside-in (the market determines the relevance of your organization), and no longer from the inside-out (internal experts attempt to declare the market’s preferences). If you’re making major decisions without first contemplating the market, then your organization may be doomed to fail.

Before the social media revolution, marketing often played a “service” role in organizations. That is, it was a department tasked with delivering the messaging that originated from other departments. The exhibits team decided to bring in an obscure exhibit about so-and-so’s this-and-that? The marketing department was at their service to get people to visit the exhibit. The CEO decided that he wants to take up a public-facing initiative of interest to him? The marketing team would have to find a way to deliver the news. This is what I mean by marketing playing a “servicing” role in the organization. In an outdated way of thinking, departments would make decisions and say, “Okay, Marketing – market this.”

It doesn’t work like that anymore. The most successful organizations with which I have the opportunity to interact consider the marketing team before the organization solidifies even minor public-facing plans. Why? Think about it…

 

1) The marketing department is now the ears of your organization and not just its mouth

Gone are the days of the marketing team playing the role of a one-way megaphone for an organization. Thanks to the 24/7 nature of the web, organizations that do not actively listen to their audiences, provide ongoing transparency, or engage in social care (that is, provide real-time responses to online inquiries within the organization’s community) suffer from a decline in reputational equities (and reputation is a driver of visitation and also plays a role in philanthropic decision-making). In short, the marketing department is no longer your organization’s way to talk at your audience, this department provides the opportunity to listen to and connect with your audience.

 

2) Connecting with audiences every day forces your marketing department to become expert in the wants of your constituents

Have you ever really looked at some of the interactions on your organization’s Facebook page that your marketing team nearly always seems to respond to with tact? Those responses are necessarily considered and thoughtful. I very rarely see a marketing person write something that illustrates what they may actually be thinking at times (“Sir, this basic information is all over our website, is extremely findable in a Google search, and is addressed in the comment below… but sure, I’ll respond during my dinnertime to supply this answer to you in a timely fashion and I’ll even thank you for asking!”) In other words, communicating on social platforms often takes time, skill, and consideration. By interacting with your audiences every day and successfully managing online communities, a good marketing team member necessarily becomes expert in your market’s wants, confusions, desires, hold ups, and preferred methods of communication.

 

3) Organizations sometimes determine importance but the market always determines relevance

This is an absolutely critical concept for modern-day nonprofit organizations to grasp in order to achieve financial solvency (and, thus, why I mention it in several posts): If audiences that truly matter don’t consider what your internal experts declare as important to actually be important, then you won’t succeed in garnering support. Your organization may claim that something is important, but that does not make it so to your audiences. The marketing team may be able to tell incredible stories, but if “important” content is not innately relevant, the job is much harder – and may be impossible in some cases.

 

4) Initiatives have an infinitely greater chance of success if marketing has been involved in their development rather than briefed after their finality

Because the marketing department knows your market and because the market determines your success, it’s unwise to treat this team as a “service” department rather than a strategic department. We currently live in a very connected world and we no longer have to “guess” what our audiences want or need in order to support our missions (see point #2). Thus, it makes almost no sense that a department within an organization might arbitrarily pick an initiative or exhibit (determining importance) without considering the market (ensuring relevance).

 

Although the role of marketing is changing and, in turn, the way that organizations think about their marketing departments has changed, that does not mean that this is the single most important department by any means. Marketing is an every-department job that only works with the help of others to bring expert content to potential supporters through the filter of how audience are best engaged.

Digital engagement provides an incredible opportunity to get to know audiences, break down ivory towers, engage in open authority, and build greater personal connections to nonprofit missions. In order to achieve success, organizations must listen to their audiences, relate to them, and provide value to individuals – and community management should be contemplated before an organization makes public-facing decisions.

If an organization is in the woods shouting its own importance and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Who knows…but, more importantly, who cares? Our organizations have both mouths and ears. It’s time to use them both.

 

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

 

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

Why Social Media Is The New Force Empowering Giving Decisions

Donate button

Nonprofits recognize that being on social media is good for public relations, but it’s increasingly driving innovation in the fundraising space by informing giving motivations. 

By now, even the most laggard of organizations understands that digital fluency is a pillar of any strategy seeking to engage audiences, cultivate constituent relations, and secure donors.  More than a “next practice,” digital engagement is essential to the relevance and solvency of the contemporary nonprofit organization – simply keeping the doors open requires investments of time, talent, and treasure on digital platforms.

But social media is playing an important role in how people relate to and understand nonprofit organizations beyond simply their ability to converse on Twitter or post pretty pictures on Facebook.  In our progressively crowd-sourced, collectively intelligent, peer reviewed world that values trusted endorsements foremost among reputation-enhancing communication channels, social media is emerging as one of the most important tools in the fundraising toolbox.

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation recently announced that it is ending its eight-year, $12 million funding relationship with sites like Charity Navigator, GiveWell, and GuideStar – sites that attempt to aid donors in making philanthropic decisions based on “data-informed” factors.  An assessment concluded that, “While the foundation’s effort succeeded at producing more information about charity performance, it did little to change donor’s decisions: They continued to give with their hearts, not their heads.”

In many ways, this acknowledgment of the limited efficacy of these sites in influencing donor decisions is a simple response to a decision that the market had already made years ago – these sites simply have not proven meaningfully influential in terms of motivating “data-informed” giving.  Worse yet, many sophisticated donors recognize the type of data aggregated by these sites as somewhat specious – do lower administrative costs resultant from hiring a lower salaried (and, perhaps, correspondingly less talented) CEO really indicate greater organizational effectiveness than an organization that invests more in its people? An objective final analysis may well conclude that these sites did more to harm philanthropy than advance it by promulgating less meaningful metrics as substitutes for actual performance, and, thus, did nothing more than confuse an already incredibly complex field.

If the Hewlett Foundation’s decision recognizes the dwindling influence of these sites, then what are the information resources that impact and inspire our giving motivations? Increasingly, social media is playing a critical role in distinguishing effective organizations from less effective nonprofits for the review and consideration of the giving public.  Much like the initial aim of sites like Charity Navigator, social media sites empower potential donors to evaluate nonprofit organizations – but they do it with their own hearts and minds, and develop their own criteria for what makes a worthy organization.

Here are three ways that social media engagement on real-time, digital platforms is changing the nonprofit sector and empowering potential donors to make more intelligent giving decisions:

 

1) Social media increases the expectation of transparency  (which increases nonprofit accountability)

On social platforms, organizations are “judged” in real-time. Gone are the days of hiding from crowds in order for the CEO to spend a day crafting a response to a crisis. An organization’s tone, transparency, timeliness, and “touchability” (the four T’s of online engagement) may be observed 24/7 on social media sites. Steep expectations of speedy responses to online inquiries demand that an organization has its ducks in a row all the time – not just when there is an urgent need. In short, how good (and timely!) your organization is at carrying out social care matters.

 

2) It is harder for nonprofits to hide a lack of impact (so organizations must show progress or risk losing donors)

Studies reveal that demonstrating impact is a key driver of giving decisions. Right now, it’s cool to be kind and many organizations are sinking or swimming based on their perceived abilities to actually carry out their missions. Because digital platforms are real-time and supremely enabled to demonstrate transparency, it is easier for a potential donor to determine if a nonprofit is actually taking steps to fulfill its stated mission. Or, rather, if your organization suffers from mission drift, a potential donor may be able to see this based on content posted on social platforms. This one takes some thought for nonprofits because – when it comes to social media – many focus on metrics that mean nothing instead of true key performance indicators. It’s easy enough to increase your fan count, but increasing it with the right people who are willing to act in the interest of your organization and its mission is key.  The best way to get the right people to follow your nonprofit? Focus on your mission and impact.

 

3) Failures are more visual  (so nonprofits must consider potential market reactions)

Have you ever been to an industry conference of for-profit organizations?  While the presentations may feature a smattering of self-serving, promotional case studies, they more often overflow with learning from failures and missteps.  In the for-profit world, failure is a sort of badge of honor viewed as a healthy part of the innovation process (provided, of course, that one learns from the failure and applies this knowledge to a consequent effort).

For nonprofit organizations, making a “mistake” or even sharing a true, hard lesson at a conference seems verboten. “What if admitting that we don’t do everything right all the time results in fewer donors?” “The CEO won’t fund our presence at this conference so that we can share something that we did wrong!” As a result, nonprofit conferences may be good for networking and very, very useless for actual learning as they are generally self-promoting, self-congratulatory hot air festivals by nature (…or perhaps simply by our own perceived necessity).

Social media demonstrates that the market’s reaction to strategic decisions demand that organizations consider their constituents. Remember when Susan G. Komen for the Cure cut funding for Planned Parenthood and social media exploded? Susan G Komen still hasn’t recovered financially – and a large part of this may be due to ongoing social media conversations.

The Komen situation may have revealed a fundamental incongruity with the personal agenda of the organization’s leadership and its stated mission.  A critical aspect of the failure stemmed less from an unpopular, controversial decision and more from the response (or immediate lack thereof) to the market’s reaction.  The lesson is that we need to be ever more “outside-in” in our consideration of a situation and not confuse our internal ability as supposed experts to declare “importance” with the market’s absolute right to determine “relevance.”

The public nature of social media demands that organizations consider market reactions. It makes leadership think twice about the people whom they serve and how they go about their business. It gives the market a voice, and threatens to punish organizations that do not consider the folks who actually matter to the relevance and vitality of your organization.

 

Yes, social media takes time, talent, and treasure – but it’s worth the investment. Those very things that make it hard for some organizations (transparency, demonstrating impact, having the market as the true boss to the boss) will actually help us move toward a stronger, more intelligent service sector that is more effective and efficient at achieving social good.

Getting smart about social media isn’t about adapting to technology. It’s about people. It’s about showing of the true identity of your organization. If you don’t value social media, then you don’t value your audiences.

Hewlett’s funding decision recognizes an inalienable truth: People don’t want a middleman telling them what to do with their money. They want to decide how they feel about your organization for themselves.  Social media is your seat at the table for this conversation with donors.  Speak now.

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 5 Comments

The Relevance Test: Three Key Concepts to Future-Proof Nonprofit Organizations

Ivory tower

Ivory towers are proving fragile.

Many visitor-serving organizations benefit from “outside-in” thinking and have ceased depending solely on experiential intuition and other “inside-out” ways of thinking that have previously – and perhaps alarmingly – allowed a kind of Ivory Tower mentality to infiltrate many museums.

The dawning of the Age of the Internet has brought about many necessary changes in the way that people think and behave, and, thus, what people have come to expect from the organizations that they support. Digital, real-time tools now allow for transparency, the ability to communicate ongoing impact, and the ability to personally connect with organizations 24/7. Indeed, the market now expects – demands, really – transparent insights from organizations.

These changes shape the way that we interact and connect within our communities, create meaningful experiences, manage new demands for open authority, and inform our overall expectations of visitor-serving organizations.

While recognizing the progress that has been made, here are three new conflicting perceptions that visitor-serving organizations must internally resolve in order to remain relevant in our ever-evolving era:

 

 1. Prescription vs. Participation

What does your organization offer? Stale, outdated organizations offer a form of prescription. Today, however, if your organization believes that it is offering a form of treatment (i.e. to “teach” something, or to get people to believe something), then your organization is prescribing its experiences to folks who haven’t asked for a diagnosis. In short, if you haven’t first proven your relevance to people (let alone your unique relevance) then it’s hard to be relevant.

Offering participation and exploration encourages visitors to be active and uncover their own “truths”…for themselves. Thanks in large part to the amount of information available on the web, people expect to explore and make decisions for themselves. This is a big reason why open authority (basically, organizations finding ways to “open” their authority to the public) is increasingly important for visitor-serving organizations – and all other organizations for that matter.

This may trace back to the mission statements of visitor-serving organizations. Organizations aiming to “inspire” or “cultivate” may manifest themselves more dynamically than organizations aiming to “educate,” “demonstrate,” or “present” (exhibits, for instance). The former examples empower visitors; the latter examples remove this power. Many of our nation’s most prominent visitor-serving organizations’ mission statements are still self-oriented (and innately less relevant and impactful) rather than people or community-oriented. This may deeply affect how your organization functions…and, more critically, how your constituencies relate to your organization.

 

2. Tuition vs. Admission

Why are visitors paying to visit you? Most organizations call it “admission” – but is that how your organization internally considers the transaction?

When it comes to the overall satisfaction of a visitor’s experience, entertainment plays a leading role, and education is often used as a secondary or post-visit justification for visitation. Organizations that prioritize providing an educational experience may benefit by ensuring that it does not come at the cost of an entertaining experience.

Believing conceptually that your organization offers a form of “two-hour tuition” also demonstrates a misinformed viewpoint as to what makes a visit meaningful to your audiences. Namely, data demonstrate that who you are with and the memories folks make are more important that what they see at a visitor-serving organization. If you think that the thing that truly matters is the nuance of your unique collection of Monets, then you’re missing a bigger, data-supported benefit of what you offer your visitors: memories, experiences and opportunities for personal interaction.

 

 3. Institution vs. Community

What do you work to strengthen? Imagine how it would affect internal perceptions of your organization if you replaced every mention of the “institution” with the word “community.” Board members would sit at meetings and question, “How does this support our community?” and “What do we need to do to help our community prosper and grow?”

Because the market is the actual arbiter of your organization’s success (And, yes, I have been reminding you of that in nearly every single post), you need your followers infinitely more than they need you. Though it’s difficult to remember at times, your visitors could survive without your organization (though, yes, the world would be a little more drab and your mission more underserved)…but you cannot survive without your stakeholders. You need donors, visitors, supporters, evangelists…if you’re not cultivating them, then you aren’t serving your institution at all.

Ignore your community (both onsite locally and the potential national communities that you may serve digitally), and you risk ignoring the lifeblood of your institution. In other words: If you misunderstand or underestimate the deep connection between your institution and the socially-motivated community that you’re cultivating, then you risk rapid irrelevance.

 

Visitor-serving and other types of organizations must evolve – but this need for change extends beyond the obvious technology-enabled issues related to digital engagement. Perhaps the most important ways that organizations are evolving are more fundamental, more systemically pervasive than tactical: Ivory towers are proving fragile.  Instead of protecting and insulating an organization, they imperil and isolate its advancement.  Our opportunity comes not from on high (read: “in the tower”). It is born on the frontlines and lives at eye-level.  The organizations that thrive will connect and merge with the outside world.  “Inside-out” is yesterday.  “Outside-in” is tomorrow.  You choose where you want to be.

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments

There Is No Mission Without Money: Why Cultural Organizations Need To Get Smart About Pricing Practices

museum admission line

This article concludes a four-part series intended to help visitor-serving organizations understand and respond to emerging trends that will impact their financial and mission-related goals. Learn more about the series here. 

Austerity measures and the loss of heretofore “reliable” funding mechanisms pitched many European cultural organizations into a tenuous financial state and catalyzed a conversation concerning the sustained solvency of visitor-serving enterprise worldwide. In an increasingly competitive market where volume-based strategies (such as an ever-increasing attendance) are less likely remedies to the new economic reality that emphasizes earned revenues, 2014 will mark the year when organizations will need to “get smart” about leveraging data to develop intelligent, efficient price indices. In turn, analysis of an organization’s pricing structure will likely – and necessarily – foster additional discussion concerning the creation of more effective affordable access programming.

Nonprofits are increasingly competing with for-profit organizations as private companies capitalize on shifts in market behavior toward supporting social causes. The market – and especially millennials – are also increasingly sector-agnostic, meaning that simply being a nonprofit doesn’t necessarily indicate to audiences that your organization is providing more social value than a private company.   This is one of the reasons why visitor-serving organizations that highlight their mission outperform museums that market themselves primarily as attractions. 

It’s time to pause and think about your organization’s relevance – and relevance is determined by the market and the support that your organization is able to summon. In short order, museums that cannot survive a “natural selection” and appeal to audiences will sink due to lack of support (relevance), while those that remain solvent and vital (while also pursuing their mission), will enjoy sustained success.

 

1) Here’s why your organization needs to think about revenue and pricing right now (and more than ever before):

 

A) In general, fewer people may be attending your organization because of negative substitution of traditional visitors so increasing attendance may prove challenging in the near-term.

Visitor-serving organizations’ (VSOs) “historic” visitors are leaving the market at a faster rate than new high-propensity visitors 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” high-propensity visitors. That may sound like a small difference, but 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 do 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 your emerging high-propensity visitors.

The good news: If museums begin to target and cultivate new audiences now, we should start to observe a broad attendance turnaround in year 2019 as emerging audiences (such as English as Second Language households) continue to acculturate into the “mainstream” market and if millennials (who will dominate the market in terms of number and purchasing power) have been engaged by VSOs. But the attendance trend still stands: In spite of overall population growth and even if your organization does its very best and starts evolving right now (as you should in order to get things back up when the market is ripe around 2019), there’s a good chance that your attendance numbers may flatten out these next few years.

 

B) Expensive special exhibits are often financial drains when compared to the potential alternative uses of these same funds.

Despite clear data that utilizing special exhibits to cultivate visitation is an ineffective long-term strategy and has particularly costly and detrimental consequences for organizations, many VSOs (and museums, in particular), get wrapped up in this bad, bad practice when times get tight.

In my world, we refer to organizations that prioritize special exhibits over building affinity for permanent collections as committing “blockbuster suicide.” And – though I won’t throw any organizations under the bus by mentioning their names – I’ll bet that you can think of an organization or two that has “committed suicide” in this way and is now in quite a financial pickle.  These museums train even their closest constituents to wait for expensive exhibits in order to motivate a return visit. Not only is this plan ineffective and ridiculously short-sighted, but it’s also very expensive.

In an economy that increasingly relies on maximizing earned revenues from a finite audience, the margin of financial success is very small. Many organizations cannot afford expensive vanity projects that do little to improve net revenues but add significant costs to their financial model.  Alternative uses of funds that focus on improving the visitor experience frequently realize better returns than the costs to actualize a “special” exhibit.  While many organizations have become very astute at calculating per capita revenues, it may also be wise to similarly calculate the per capita operating costs attendant to serving your visitors.  We reliably observe that exhibits increase per capita operating costs at a level that exceeds any short-term increase in per capita revenues.  In other words, there is little evidence to recommend the viability of special exhibits as a sustainable revenue maximization strategy.

 

C) Visitor-serving organizations that discount to increase word of mouth and drive attendance experience the backlash of negative reputational equities.

What about social media? Can’t we use that to drive attendance? Yes, data suggest that utilizing social media to increase reputation in order to drive attendance is effective and indeed you should! However, when times get tight financially, we see many organizations resort to offering discounts via social media…and offering discounts via social media is a big mistake. This practice cultivates a “market addiction” that has long-term, negative consequences on the health of your organization.

Moreover, the more steeply you discount, the less likely visitors are to return. (Here’s the data again). People also tend to value what they pay for. Those who visit your organization at a discount are also statistically less satisfied with their experience and report more negative reviews than those who come in at full price (Hey, you devalued your brand first!). So much for crossing your fingers for better word of mouth as the result of a discount…

 

 

2) Now look at how most organizations decide how to price for admission:

Many organizations price their admissions based on what we at IMPACTS have termed “unintentional collusion.” Take a look back in time to your most recent conversation about pricing. The origin of your pricing framework probably went something like this:

IMPACTS unintentional collusion pricing

This happens because organizations misunderstand a fundamental principle of pricing.

Museums actually have different reputational equities and thus differing values that the market is willing to pay for a unique experience. If you’re a zoo that is charging the same admission as a nearby children’s museum (or vice versa), then your organization may be ignorantly “leaving money on the table” by relying on the comparative price of a neighboring or “like” organization. Each museum actually has an optimal price index (often best derived as the result of data-based price analyses) wherein the optimal price to visit an organization maximizes revenues without demeaning attendance potential. Along these same lines (and for the reasons stated above), I’d like to offer up a concept that is increasingly critical for the long-term health and vitality of many VSOs:

The amount of revenue that your organization secures is more important than the amount of attendees that walk through your door.

Many executive leaders and board members have a shockingly hard time understanding this necessary – and completely pragmatic – evolution in visitor-serving “business” practices. Many have been hardwired over time to think of success as the number of people that walk through the door. (Why do we even think this way anyway?! It’s an outdated preoccupation with a relatively meaningless nonprofit output.)

The most direct and savvy way to reap the benefits of your labors cultivating evangelists and working to increase your reputation?  Utilizing it to increase your revenue. And when attendance plateaus at the time that your brand is at its most premium, the most efficient way to do this is to adjust your admission price accordingly.

 

3) Optimized pricing will necessitate conversations about affordable access programming that serves lower-income and other underserved constituencies (in other words, programming that actually works)

If your organization has been value-advantaged (“leaving money on the table”) when it comes to your admission price, then raising the price of tickets may, indeed, increase the barrier for low-income households to attend your organization. Because affordable access is often a key part of many organizations’ missions – or even required in order to be eligible for certain grants and government funding opportunities –  getting smarter about pricing will mean getting smarter about affordable access programs as well.

Experience at IMPACTS has shown time and time again that many affordable access programs are extremely inefficient. Specifically, many affordable access programs achieve startlingly little in terms of providing targeted benefit to low-income households and, instead, allow discounted access to those who would otherwise be able and willing to pay full price. These programs are neither capturing low-income households, nor are they increasing revenues so that museums may more effectively and efficiently fulfill their missions. They are glorified discount programs that organizations offer so that they may check off a symbolic box of “affordable access.”

As visitor-serving organizations realize the need to pay attention to pricing and maximize their investments, there will be incentive to re-evaluate affordable access programs so that they actually work. Namely, that they provide an opportunity for low-income households and other targeted underserved audiences to visit the organization without concurrently discounting admission for those who would be willing to pay full price for your unique experience.

All of this is a long way of saying that nonprofit organizations are finally going to have to think about money and stop defending outdated nonprofit dogmas that tend to demonize revenue as a “necessary evil.”  Museums, zoos, aquariums, performing arts and other cultural organizations are big business – accounting for $135 billion in annual economic activity and more than 4.1 million jobs.  Instead of considering volume of visitation as a key performance indicator, we ought to instead focus on meaningful outcomes and recognize that our collective ambitions to achieve social good require revenues.  In other words, there is no mission without money. 

 

*Photo credit: Telegraph, AP (The photo choice has nothing to do with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s pricing!)

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

How to Utilize Social Media to Actually Cultivate Donors (And Why You Need To Do It Right Now)

marketoonist community management

This article is part of a four-part series intended to help visitor-serving organizations understand and respond to emerging trends that will impact their financial and mission-related goals. Learn more about the series here. 

Conversations involving social media with many fundraisers often result in eye-rolling and a terse, “That’s not my job!” as those tasked with securing an organization’s contributed revenues deflect responsibility to the marketing/PR team. Here’s the thing though: Online engagement has evolved to the point where it is nearly impossible to optimize fundraising efforts and maximize donor retention without utilizing digital communications – and that includes social media.

All signs (consumer motivation data and social media behavioral trends) are pointing toward the need for organizations to look beyond “vanity metrics” like fan and follower count and focus on the quality and strength of varied relationships formed on social media platforms – particularly ones that drive the gate (if you’re a visitor-serving organization) or cultivate monetary support. Simply put: A fundamental shift is occurring in terms of how successful organizations view online fundraising and donor cultivation.

Here are three critical items for organizations to come to terms with that affect how your organization may optimize social media and online donor cultivation:

 

1) Once and for all: Realize that the quality of your fans and your ability to activate them in your interest is significantly more important than the quantity of your fans

Would you rather have 100,000 Facebook fans or 1,000 active donors and supporters? Chances are that your organization is hoping to utilize social media to get something done rather than utilizing social media for social media’s sake. It’s time that we call vanity metrics exactly what they are and break through the noise of social media metrics that misleadingly influences too many organizations. In many situations, it’s an organization’s very desire to utilize social media metrics and data that lead strategy execution astray. Let’s start actually thinking about what these metrics mean.

The problem with metrics like fan and follower count is that they actually mean very little for your organization – especially if the increased reach is falling on ambivalent ears. What matters is not how many people ‘like’ you online but who you are able to activate through engagement online.

The days of “one size fits all” outbound social media communications are officially over. Your organization’s fans and followers are not all of equal value to your nonprofit’s relevance and long-term solvency – and treating every “like” the same way means purposely sabotaging your ability to achieve organizational goals through social media. (1) Members/donors, (2) Influencers, and (3) Evangelists are three categories of fans that have particular payoff to your nonprofit. Intelligent, strategic organizations benefit by creating content that stimulates these particular stakeholders.

A mission-related post may get less general engagement, but your reputation increasingly has a direct correlation to the level of support your organization secures. Securing a content share from a member (thus allowing for personal promulgation of your brand from someone to whom your mission has meaning) is more important than a content share from somebody who just thinks you posted a pretty picture (but doesn’t feel a connection to your organization). The market is the arbiter of your organization’s success, and knowing what makes your high-value supporters and evangelists (not just your overall target market) tick is critical for building the most helpful community for your organization.

 

2) Make online personalization part of your engagement and donor cultivation strategy

Personalization is one of the biggest and most discussed (and arguably one of the smartest) conversations taking place for all organizations and businesses right now. Case-in-point: I’m honored to be a keynote speaker at MuseumNext, Europe’s conference on innovation in museums, in June of this year and personalization is so increasingly critical to organizational success that it is identified as one of the four, key themes of the whole conference. I think they hit the nail on the head: “Our audiences increasingly expect experiences which are tailored to them. How are museums moving beyond one size fits all to accommodate the different needs of individuals?”

Opportunities for personalization (which increases relevance, garnering attention and aiding in building affinity for brands) are being explored for onsite experiences – but this mindset also must be applied to online engagement. Specifically, potential donors/members, influencers, and evangelists increasingly require personalized communications in order to optimize chances for activation (i.e. behaving in your organization’s interest).

How can you utilize personalization to cultivate donors online? A key to online personalization is actively engaging select audience members instead of being passive – or just waiting for them to tweet you or write on your wall. For starters, know who your stakeholders actually are and how they behave online (this often starts with compiling a list of key stakeholders and their social media platforms). This isn’t rocket science: Make a private Twitter list and pay special attention to your key influencers’ tweets, be active, and wish them a happy birthday (for example)! Other ways to create these individual touch-points is through diligent social care, or “social CRM” (responding to individual comments and questions on social media platforms in a timely and thoughtful fashion) – a community management necessity that is too often overlooked.

“Yikes!” you’re thinking if you’re a leader in your organization, “this is going to require a lot more manpower!” Yes. Yes, it is…but the importance of digital touch-points will not disappear any time soon.

 

3) Most importantly: Stop treating online donor cultivation as a separate beast and understand that it is a cornerstone of a broader cultivation and retention strategy

I often get the feeling that executive leaders somehow believe that supporters who give or may be cultivated online must be aliens who exist only online …or that online donor cultivation may be somehow different than offline donor cultivation. Here’s news that should be refreshing and empowering to organizations that are a bit intimidated by digital platforms: It’s not.

As a reminder: A donor online is still a donor “in real life.” Their money is still money, and their support is still support. They have the same motivations as offline donors, expect the same treatment, and expect the same personalization and attention as those who choose to give via a different method. Simply put, they are human.

Cultivation should happen for individual donors both online and offline. Instead of conceptually carrying out varying initiatives online for “online donors” and offline for “offline donors,” organizations should realize that online donor cultivation is not separate but, instead, an integral aspect of a broader cultivation strategy.

In sum, instead of viewing “online giving” and cultivation as a donation conveyance channel, smart organizations are realizing that it is an increasingly important (and expected) component of a broader donor cultivation and retention strategy, and that it – like all other fundraising communication methods – is more about the people than the platform or giving method.

At the end of the day, fundraising and donor engagement initiatives will continue to evolve in the online space – just as more traditional engagement methods evolve. This evolution will necessitate more informed, personalized donor cultivation leveraging real-time platforms.

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

Finding: Museums That Highlight Mission Financially Outperform Museums That Market Primarily as Attractions (DATA)

seafood watch

This article kicks off a four-part series intended to help visitor-serving organizations understand and respond to emerging trends that will impact their ability to achieve their financial and mission-related goals. Learn more about the series here. 

Data suggest a “new” draw to your organization that is now key to engaging both visitation and donor support. Well, actually, it’s not “new” – it’s the reason why your organization exists: Your mission. How credibly the market perceives your organization in terms of your ability to effectively deliver on your mission has a very strong positive correlation with your organization’s financial performance.

An analysis of the recent financial performance of a large and representative number of visitor-serving organizations coupled with the public perceptions of these same organizations reveals an outcome that may not be surprising for those who keep tabs on consumer behaviors: Organizations perceived as “best-in-class” in terms of mission delivery reliably outperform organizations that rely more on their reputations as “attractions” when it comes to their financial bottom lines.  In other words, mission and business are not in conflict – being superlative at your mission is good business!

There are three overall findings relating to the “mission is good business” trend:

1) Organizations perceived as more credible actors in terms of fulfilling their mission financially outperform peer organizations whose reputational equities relate primarily to their roles as attractions

IMPACTS collects and analyzes attitudinal and awareness data for 224 visitor-serving organizations in the US (and that may even include your own). This data and analysis informs the development of key performance indicators that reveal trends and correlations affecting visitor-serving enterprise.  The charts below indicate the relationship between 35 visitor-serving organizations’ financial performance in terms of “revenue efficiency” coupled with the market’s perception of these same organizations’ “reputational equities.”  (In the interest of maintaining appropriate confidences, I’ve “anonymized” the findings)

First, a few quick definitions (with advance apologies for the analytical jargon):

Revenue Efficiency: A composite metric contemplative of onsite-related earned and contributed revenues (e.g. admission, contributions, grants, membership, programs) contemplated relative to the cost to deliver onsite services (i.e. operating expenses) and the number of persons served onsite.  Generally, a more “revenue efficient” organization exhibits more favorable financial key performance indicators (e.g. greater revenues, greater net operating surplus) and reduced financial volatility than does a less revenue efficient organization.  Data informing the IMPACTS revenue efficiency calculation are commonly available in an organization’s financial statements, annual reports, and Form 990 filings.

Reputational Equities: A composite metric contemplative of numerous visitor perceptions such as reputation, trust, authority, credibility, and satisfaction that collectively indicate the market’s opinion of an organization’s relative efficacy in delivering its mission.  As mentioned previously, IMPACTS collects perceptual data from 224 visitor-serving organizations in the US to inform its reputational equities calculation.

KYOB aquariums reputation and revenue

Aquariums are a good place to start because (a) in addition to tackling the mission of inspiring audiences, they are also increasingly engaging audiences on broader conservation issues; and (b) aquariums tend to be more reliant on earned revenues than their museum and zoo brethren who may have greater public funding and/or endowment support. In short, absent the safety net of large endowments and government appropriations, aquariums are among the most market-driven businesses in the nonprofit sector, and translating positive reputational equities has an enormous financial benefit for these organizations (and, in inverse, lessened reputational perceptions bear tremendous risk to an organization’s bottom line).

Generally, revenue efficiency follows reputational equities (so working to increase reputational equities tends to positively affect revenue efficiency). Thus, we can reasonably surmise that year 2014 may bring continued challenges for Aquariums H, I, K and L should they choose not to prioritize remedy for their lacking perceptions as credible actors when it comes to delivering on their missions.

KYOB zoos reputation and revenues

Much like aquariums, the zoos that are perceived as credible actors in regard to their mission achieve the greatest revenue efficiency. Again, in the example indicated by the assessed zoos, the relationship between reputational equities as a predictor of financial success is clear and compelling.

KYOB museums reputation and revenues

Again, when segmented by museums (in the above example, all of the assessed organizations would be rightfully classified as either “art” or “natural history” museums), the trend holds true: Those museums perceived by the market as the most esteemed in terms of fulfilling the promise of their missions achieve the greatest financial performance.

You’ll notice that out of the 35 organizations represented in this assessment, Museum H is the only organization that does not indicate the relationship between reputational equities and financial performance – and, even in this exception to the trend, the difference is very slight.

 

2) Your organization must increasingly be MORE THAN an attraction but it still must be an entertaining destination.

The reputational equity metric is contemplative of overall satisfaction and data indicate that providing an entertaining experience is an extremely important component of visitor satisfaction. To be clear: The data do not support abandoning efforts to deliver an entertaining experience in the hopes of enhancing your organization’s reputation as a credible, mission-related authority. Instead, data support efforts to underscore your social mission and demonstrate topic expertise alongside location-based content to help drive visitation and provide insight into the entertaining and inspiring experiences that you provide.

Simply put, people want to visit organizations that are more than just attractions.

 

3) The importance of underscoring reputational equities is likely to grow as millennials increasingly comprise a greater percentage of museum audiences

The analysis indicating the relationship between favorable reputational equities and financial performance for visitor-serving organizations aligns with multiple findings concerning the influence of social missions (in business-speak, think “corporate social responsibility”) on consumer purchasing behaviors. Namely, people – and especially millennials – are more likely to purchase products that support a mission.

The data has long suggested that millennials are particularly public-service motivated, and as Gen Y has become a more powerful market segment (indeed, millennials are the largest generation in human history), organizations have experienced a “market shift” in support of organizations that support “social good.”

That sounds great for educational, conservation, and cultural organizations such as museums, aquariums, and zoos, right? Well…maybe not…especially because millennials are generally sector agnostic. Millennials tend to support organizations and businesses that appeal to them regardless of whether or not there is 501(c)3 designation involved. (In other words, while the IRS may care about your tax-exempt status, the market increasingly does not!) This means that in terms of securing support, many nonprofits are “competing” directly with for-profits for the market’s time, attention, and resources.

Organizations that have marketed themselves too heavily as attractions without underscoring their mission and social impact have lost a valuable opportunity to differentiate themselves as superlative to a critical demographic. Potentially worse yet, they may have built their reputations based on motivations that millennials don’t care about. Case-in-point: Take a look at what millennials want out of a zoo, aquarium, or museum membership compared to older generations.

Organizations that the market favorably perceives as more than “just an attraction” tend to financially outperform organizations perceived primarily as attractions.  Money follows reputational equities. Zoos, aquariums, and museums that have been trying to “sell” the wrong brand attributes may find themselves struggling even more in the future as emerging audiences emphasize mission and social impact as vital attributes of the relationship that they seek with the organizations that they support.  Year 2013 was only the tip of the iceberg. Perceptions are changing and the data affirms a strong, encouraging trend:

Finally, it’s cool to be kind.  More than that, it’s plain good business.

National Aquarium cleaning debris

National Aquarium

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment

What Museums Can Learn From Online Dating (Hint: Touch Really Matters) (VIDEO)

*Accessing this post via email and having problems viewing the video? You can watch it here

Is social media hurting the onsite visitor experience? Data suggest that in today’s world, museums need to be masters of both offsite communication (social/earned media) and onsite, face-to-face communication in order to be successful. Increasingly, a museum’s business strategy cannot thrive without one or the other.

Here’s a handy (pun intended) concept that I recently presented for thinking about the relationship that “digital touch” and “physical touch” play in driving museum visitation and maximizing visitor satisfaction.

Westmusings

I was honored to have had the opportunity to take part in the Western Museum Association’s first-ever WestMusings: Ten Minute Museum Talks in October in Salt Lake City.  What Museums Can Learn From Online Dating briefly traces a museum visitor from the visitation decision-making process through a museum visit and demonstrates how “digital touch” and “physical touch” work together to “seal the deal” of getting folks in the door to experience sparks of informal learning.

Here are those slides about reputation up close (what motivates the visitation decision and the diffusion of messaging).

While I spoke about museums in connection to online dating, I had the opportunity to take part in the WestMusings initiative with three, fabulous museos who imparted their own wisdom regarding museums and their connection to similarly creative topics: Scott Stulen of the Walker Art Center spoke about cat videos, James Pepper Henry of the Heard Museum spoke about culture clashes, and Carrie Snow of the Church History Museum spoke about roller derby (in full roller derby attire, no less)! Intrigued? Check out their WestMusings here.

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments

Does Your Nonprofit Believe This Myth? The Best Indicator That An Organization Is Bad At Social Media

Wheel ROI

The easiest way to spot an organization that completely misunderstands the role of social media is to look for those boasting that it’s cheap or free. It’s not. And it hasn’t been for a while now.

Social media arguably represents your single most impactful marketing channel. Believing social media is free is especially dangerous for nonprofit organizations. Carrying out an effective content strategy and monitoring online platforms takes time…a lot of it – not to mention talent, buy-in, strategy, cooperation, and integration. While social media may have initially boomed among nonprofit organizations due to the ability to set up free profiles on various platforms, that certainly doesn’t mean that maintaining an effective online presence is “cheap” – let alone free.

If you still think social media is cheap or free, then you are doing it wrong. Here’s why:

 

1) Time is money

And executing effective digital engagement strategies takes a lot of it. This point, however, is especially exacerbated for nonprofit organizations that frequently stretch employee responsibilities.  

What executives often refer to as “social media responsibilities” encompasses much more than simply “posting stuff on Facebook.” It involves the development and ongoing evolution of content strategy, constant content creation, real-time and ongoing “listening,” social care (e.g. Did you know that 42% of folks who post a question on your Facebook wall expect a response within one hour?), and keeping abreast of engagement strategies and evolving platforms in the digital media realm – which move at a breakneck pace. Cut corners on these and you may not reap the benefits of social and earned media, negating any investment in this powerful method of communication.

Think one person can do all this well while they are stretched thin with other responsibilities and expected to manage social media “on the side?”  Organizations that treat employee time and energy like bottomless renewable resources risk resource depletion, burnout, and speedy staff turnover. In terms of social media, turnover without a clearly defined social media strategy often results in inconsistent tone, sporadic postings, unclear calls to action, and alienating or inappropriate content (such as “selling” too hard or promulgating marketing messages that appear “spammy” and result in negative feedback).

 

2) Talent is money

Successful online engagement necessitates an understanding of how the market communicates and makes decisions – as well as a keen ability to align aspects of social media communications (like the Four T’s of Online Engagement) to optimize initiatives and individual posts. It takes an understanding of public relations and a knack for communicating with an open authority mindset.

What all this means is that it’s not likely that, say, Jack Smith – who suddenly has free time on his hands after serving as an A/V tech at last month’s donor event – taking over your online engagement efforts is a good idea. In fact, it’s probably a very, very bad one. Social media (and earned media and word of mouth resulting from social media efforts) are incredibly potent communication tools and they are easy to mess up…and the consequences can be colossal in terms of trust in your brand.

 

3) Hiring more people is money

Don’t have the time and talent on staff? You’ll have to hire someone. And as social care needs increase (i.e. as more and more people turn to social media for real-time conversation, information, and question-answering – a need which is already rather aggressive) you may need to hire more people.

 

4) Good content is money

Facebook’s algorithms generally aim to deliver more effective content to more people, while suppressing content that is unlikely to merit significant engagement. This means that your content needs to be engaging in order to reach the most people – or even to be delivered into your fans’ newsfeeds. Content is still king on social media, and as other organizations improve their content and initiatives, your organization will need to keep up or it will be drowned out by content that is deemed more effective.   Time required to create quality content aside (where much of this cost resides), creating this content costs money in terms of cameras and like technologies, staging, design, etc. This doesn’t mean that all videos or content must be “expensive” to produce in order to be successful – but it does mean that if you don’t have the tools to make content that will aid in engagement rates then…well, you just cannot create or maximize that strategy.

 

5) Effectively utilizing platforms is money

Social media monitoring tools often cost money – and monitoring (or “listening”) is critical for even social media mediocrity, let alone success. It’s possible to find “free” tools, but some require an investment to get to the information that may actually be helpful to your organization.

Also, social media platforms are increasingly becoming “pay-to-play” in regard to promoted or sponsored posts. If you want to stay in the “game,” it is wise to consider these options at least from time to time as they may help your organization rise above social media “noise.”

Finally, learning tools for your staff like conferences and webinars cost money. Unfortunately, this kind of development often gets cut within some organizations, but social media platforms and best practices are constantly evolving. Your organization may benefit to know what is going on so that it may adapt and most effectively utilize digital tools.

 

6) Buy-in and integration is money

Marketing is the wingman for your mission-based departments so that they may score some action with donors and constituents. In order for PR and Marketing departments to be most effective in delivering engaging messages, they need support (both content and ongoing communication) from multiple other departments within the organization. This means that – for effective organizations – there is a portion of nearly everyone’s time that is ultimately dedicated to social media initiatives. Social media requires time above and beyond “the usual suspects” within marketing and PR departments.

Within a museum, for instance, social media managers need aid from curators and collections staff in creating accurate, expert content. They need to coordinate with guest relations to uncover methods of communicating important dates and museum information. They need to be in constant communication with operations folks to answer questions about logistics and customer service – and in dialogue with education departments to answer content-related questions in real-time. Moreover, they need to work with development to make sure that members and donors are recognized and “courted” on social media platforms. In short, social media is an “every department” job and organizations that deny this are “leaving money on the table.”

 

Not only is social media NOT cheap, it is a very real investment. And it’s one that your organization would be unwise not to make. At broader, industry conferences, it always looks the same: an organization steps up to discuss their social media practices (presumably, because they think they are good at it) and start with a slide that says, “Why are we on social media?! BECAUSE IT’S FREE!”  It leaves me baffled and, indeed, wondering how they do it.

How can you execute social media strategies that bring about monetary support without spending any time on strategy (or anything else related to social media), without creating any kind of content, without any talent, with ignorance of all changing platforms, and without time or support from anyone? Increasingly, you can’t.  And if you think you can with a minor investment, then you probably aren’t seeing any of the real strategic, monetary benefits of having an online presence at all.

 

*Image photo credit goes to Rob Cottingham

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, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 3 Comments

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.)

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Myth-Busting Museum and Nonprofit Best Practices. Is Your Organization Celebrating its Own Demise? (DATA)