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Community Engagement

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

Four Critical Reasons Why Nonprofit Organizations Must Not “Go Dark” on Social Media on Weekends

It is important for nonprofit organizations to maintain a presence on social media and manage their communities online. In fact, social media is the most influential and fastest growing marketing channel – with particular benefits in regard to targeting audiences (reach) and spreading messages (amplification). But those benefits only apply if you “do it right.” That is, you build your organization’s reputation by aiming for transparency, touchability, tone and timeliness in your online communications. Let’s talk about timeliness.

While banks and post offices may reliably post narrow hours of operations, most nonprofit organizations depend on the evenings and weekends to maximize their engagement.  For many nonprofits – especially visitor-serving organizations such as museums, zoos and aquariums – the evenings and weekends are times when many constituents may be most likely to engage with your brand. By “going dark” on the weekends and evenings (or only posting and monitoring social media when someone is in the office), an organization risks ignoring its audience at the precise moments when they may be most apt to communicate, and leaves the organization particularly vulnerable to negative brand sentiment or a possible PR crisis. 

Ignoring your online community for any extended period of time is likely to have a detrimental effect on your brand. And, at the very least, it “leaves money on the table” because you are failing to capitalize on an opportunity to engage online evangelists – a critically important constituency with the power to credibly re-communicate your messaging. Viewed in the worst light, it leaves you voiceless, powerless and ignorant of your reputation for 76% of the week (all hours of the week except the traditional eight hours when a social media manager is “in the office”). This is a big miss. In fact, it’s borderline negligent.

Does this mean that all organizations must have somebody sitting and exclusively watching social media channels like a hawk all week and throughout the night? Absolutely not. It simply means that organizations should aim to respond to social media inquiries within an average of 4 hours (to demonstrate accessibility and transparency) regardless of the day of the week, and post content outside of working hours and on weekends so as to remain top-of-mind.

Here are four, important points to consider regarding the value of social media and weekend social media activity:

 

1. No amount of advertising can make up for a lack of social and earned media.

When an organization goes dark on the weekends, that organization is missing an opportunity to engage audiences and secure reviews from trusted sources. Social media is a great creator of these trusted reviews, which carry significant weight with regard to promulgating messages.

The Bass Model below illustrates the bottom-line of the mathematical equation measuring paid media (Coefficient of innovation) and reviews from trusted sources (Coefficient of imitation). The take-away is clear: reviews from trusted resources (word of mouth, social media, peer reviews) are 12.85 times more powerful in the market than paid media. Therefore, there is no practical amount of paid media that can overcome a deficiency of social media interactions, peer reviews, and resulting earned media. Considering buying another billboard on the highway? Instead, why not pay your social media community manager a bit more and make sure you are managing your community throughout the weekend? (As a side, data suggests that buying billboard space may not be the best use of marketing funds anyway.)

 

2) Weekends may be a particularly important time for your audience to connect and engage

There’s a whole host of data from several entities boasting the best and worst times to post on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. While there has been a bit of debate about the generic “best” time to post across all industries, it has been shown that organizations that post outside of business hours have 20% higher engagement rates on Facebook than organizations that do NOT post outside of traditional business hours.

Saturday has been dubbed the best day of the week to share on Pinterest. Saturday has also been cited as the best day of the week to post on Facebook… But let’s not get carried away. To make matters more confusing than they already are in the always-evolving world of social media, bitly just released data that displays particularly low click through rates on Facebook and Twitter over the weekends. The unfortunate bottom line for organizations looking for a magical, cheat-sheet timeframe to post on social media? It doesn’t exist (yet). That timeframe depends on the industry, and it depends on the behavior of your organization’s demographic on Facebook.

There is no “one size fits all solution.” The best way to determine an individual optimization strategy for your organization is to simply test it yourself. Try out times and content and see what yields the highest amplification, conversation, and applause rates. Your own experience with your organization’s unique content will be most useful in determining this timeframe.

 

3) “Going dark” makes your organization passive on social media and leaves a gaping hole in reputation management

If you’re like most visitor-serving organizations, you have the most visitation on the weekends. “Going dark” is generally never a good idea on social media as it leaves your viral, online community unmanaged. If something happens on Saturday and someone posts an alienating, inappropriate, or untrue comment that is not addressed, the brand could already suffer significant reputation damage by Sunday. But going dark during this particularly critical timeframe for your organization’s business is bad practice. Again, if you’re like most visitor-serving organizations, you get the most pictures and comments over the weekends from visitors. It is important to respond to and thank these guests for both their support and their online engagement. The nature of social media emphasizes real-time reactions and ongoing accessibility.

When writing up Diagnostic Audits for nonprofit, visitor-serving clients concerning their social media practices, I’ve encountered some urgent comments left by potential weekend visitors that were left unanswered and resulted in a decline in the organization’s online sentiment for that month (and a decline in overall reputation). I have seen frantic visitors wondering if the museum is open – which has caused others to ask the similar questions. (“Why wouldn’t you be open? Does this person know something that I don’t know? I’m not coming today.”) Perhaps the most painful examples are those wherein an inappropriate or untrue comment is left unaddressed over the weekend that calls into question the transparency of the organization and diminishes trust in the entity (someone accuses the organization for acting politically or engaging in activity that is at-odds with their mission – and the organization has posted too-little information on the topic for others to weigh-in in the organization’s favor).  If you’re a zoo or aquarium and somebody asks you on Facebook if one of your animals is still alive or if a certain creature is “alright” (even if it’s out of the blue), it’s important to be present to answer the question. Immediately.

Prioritizing a practice to “not go dark” on the weekends is an important risk-management practice, and allows organizations to play an active role in its reputation management.  (Aren’t we all sick and tired of always “putting out fires” on Monday?)

 

4) Posting over the weekend allows you to remain top-of-mind as a weekend destination (if you are a visitor-serving organization)

This is simple. The weekend is a popular time for leisure activities (as is likely mirrored in your visitation trends). Posting something to enter your supporters’ newsfeeds during this leisure time mindset simply keeps your organization top-of- mind. If you’re a visitor-serving organization only posting between 9am and 5pm on weekdays, then you are entering people’s newsfeeds at a time that folks likely couldn’t visit you, even if they wanted to (IMPACTS has uncovered that schedule is a key driver of visitation). Are most of the people who see the clever photo that you posted to your organization’s Facebook page going to shut their laptop, funnel their kids in the car, and visit you immediately? No, probably not. But they might chuckle and think (in their moment of downtime), “Gee, I haven’t been there in a while…” and start planning their next visit.

 

Simply put, going dark is a “you” customer service problem, not a problem that should be borne by your constituents. Allow them to ask questions and communicate with you at the time that works best for them – regardless of the time and date. This will create optimal engagement rates and maintain the greatest chances of capturing evangelists.

It may take a bit of extra time “outside of the office” to post content and remain accessible during the weekends, but it will be well worth the effort. Regardless of when you post, it is critical that you do not “go dark” and leave your online audiences hanging. Also remember: content is still king. What you post (whenever you post) matters and will affect your engagement rates.

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 7 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

Web & Social Media Play Leading Role in Public’s Decision to Visit a Museum (STUDY)

Potential museum visitors access information about the organization and decide if they want to visit by using web-based sites such as a museum’s website, social media platforms, and peer-review sites over more “traditional” forms of advertising. In fact, when comparing how folks get their information about leisure activities, it’s not even close: web and mobile platforms (including social media) are disproportionately influencing your museum’s visitation and attendance.

The following data indicates how the American public accesses information in order to make visitation decisions regarding leisure activities – such as the decision to go to a visitor-serving organization. This data has been compiled by IMPACTS Research & Development (the company for which I work) based on information from the National Awareness, Attitudes & Usage Study  – the largest survey of the American public concerning visitor-serving organizations heretofore conducted in the United States. HPV stands for “high propensity visitor” and indicates persons in the United States with the demographic, psychographic and behavioral attributes typically suggestive of a likely visitor to a zoo, aquarium, museum, botanic garden, historic site, or other VSO.  In short, HPVs are high-potential museum-goers.

The categories above were determined by how the American public itself identified information channels and categories. Here’s an explanation of what they mean:

Web + mobile: This category refers not only to the organization’s web and mobile platforms (its “sovereign” content) but also information found on other websites – including mobile websites – that pertain to the information being sought regarding the VSO. For example, this would include information found on nytimes.com – but exclude the print edition of The New York Times as this information channel has been separately quantified within the “Newspapers (print)” category.

WOM: This stands for “word of mouth” and represents person-to-person testimonials and social media. Here, we are acceding to the market’s definition of WOM. The data indicates that they believe that social media functions as a form of testimony and/or endorsement (potentially both positive and negative). Since the market regards social media as a form of WOM, it has been so categorized accordingly.

Peer review web + mobile: This refers to TripAdvisor and Yelp (and the respective mobile web/apps for each), and other platforms with similar peer-reviewed content. “Peer review web + mobile” is considered separately from WOM because, again, this is consistent with the market’s perception and use of the informational channel. The market separately distinguishes social media and WOM from peer review sites because the former is perceived as “point-to-point/person-to-person” while the latter is perceived as a repository/aggregator. In other words, for people seeking information, WOM is a review meant for “my” consideration, while a peer review is meant for general consideration. One is personal; one is general.

For this very reason, strong WOM will generally outweigh a peer review on Yelp, TripAdvisor, or a similar peer review site. In other words, a person will generally be more likely to give consideration to a positive recommendation from a friend on Facebook than a one-star review from someone that they do not know on TripAdvisor. However, the reach of a peer review makes it functionally impossible to counter every negative peer review with a positive, first-person endorsement. It takes both attention to word of mouth marketing/social media AND peer review sites in order for an organization to maximize its endorsement opportunity.

Implications:

Museums must prioritize web and social media…  and make sure they have adequate resources and support to manage online communities. When it comes to annual budgeting for marketing, many museums allocate “last year’s budget plus five percent” to the effort without assessing how methods of communication and accessing information have changed. Time and time again, organizations say, “we cannot afford to hire a full-time social media person.” All too often, these are the same organizations that think nothing of spending $40,000 per year for glossy brochures and collateral materials…which, data indicates, have 11.5x LESS value as an information channel than does word of mouth marketing and social media to high propensity visitors– and 7.8x LESS value as an information channel than peer review sites. Increasingly, organizations that experience visitor growth will be those that have social media and online community management support… Stunning how growth flatlines when nothing changes, isn’t it? (said with a smile). We see this all the time. Growth depends upon adjustment according to timely awareness, attitude, and usage data.

Museums cannot “buy” their way to prosperity (as they may have once thought more brochures meant more business). According to the Bass Model, the initial sale of something depends upon the number of people interested in a product (called the coefficient of innovation, or “P”). Advertising represents “P.” However, all other sales are based upon the number of folks drawn to the product after seeing friends use the product (Coefficient of imitation, or “Q”). Word of mouth marketing represents “Q.” According to IMPACTS data, “Q” (Word of mouth) is 12.85x that of “P”(Advertising). In other words, word of mouth marketing has 12.85x more power than traditional advertising. So, while who a person visits with matters more than what they visit, so too does word of mouth matter more than advertising. Of course, both advertising and WOM work together to maximize marketing opportunity. Advertising is not unimportant. However, no pragmatic amount of advertising can reliably overcome lousy WOM and not-so-great peer reviews.

Two points of clarity on the data so that it is not “used for wrong”: 1) The slide above is not intended to be an all-inclusive means of indicating information channels. Instead, it quantifies the relative proportion and influence of the indicated information channels when compared to one another. 2) The data indicates how HPVs and the total American population access information about VSOs and leisure activities in order to make visitation decisions. It does NOT intend to make budgeting recommendations or take into account how much money should mathematically be spent in each category (i.e.- 3.8x more for Travel magazines than printed brochures), though a good application of this data may be in considering an organization’s marketing and communications investment by media channel.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, IMPACTS Data, 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

Top 8 Tips for Museums and Nonprofits to Engage Millennials in 2012

Last week, Tina Wells wrote an article titled, Top 10 Generation Y Trends for 2012. Her predictions draw upon topics that research has already discovered to be true of Generation Y: our public service motivation, social connectedness, and technological savvy, to name a few. And thankfully, she graciously leaves out some of our more… well… negative qualities identified in the workplace and beyond.   Her article provides insight to logical next-steps for how organizations can best connect with Millennials in 2012. Actually, nearly all of these things were even true throughout 2011.  Here’s How Tina’s predictions translate to the ZAM (zoo, aquarium, museum) and greater nonprofit world.  If organizations can move forward in these arenas, 2012 Just might be the year for Millennials and museums

 

1. Tap into our conscious consumption by selling your Admission. Wells points out that Millennials are still consuming- but we consume products that support philanthropic causes. Gone are the days of covering up good deeds and “disguised” learning. Helping out philanthropic causes is cool in our book. If your zoo or aquarium is rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing animals, tell us. If your museum is bringing informal art lessons to areas of our community that are underserved, let us know.  Studies have shown that we care about “doing good” and are the most  socially aware consumers in society to date.  This is good news for nonprofits that offer admission, as those funds funnel back and often help fuel the organization’s philanthropic initiatives. Remind us of this to attract potential Gen Y visitors.

 

2. Capitalize on the experience of visiting the museum or being involved with the nonprofit. Millennials care about positive and unique experiences. Wells argues that, “ the real winners in Millennial marketing will understand how important it is to this demographic to have ‘once in a lifetime experiences.’” Marketers don’t need to sell life-altering, move-to-Africa-for-three-years experiences to capitalize on this. It’s simply a matter of understanding what makes up the unique experience of visiting a museum or cultural center. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s extremely successful Share the Love campaign realized that quite often, it’s the experience of visiting the aquarium and who you are with that matters most. The key motivator for visitation was a shared experience with loved ones. This campaign appealed to all generations through several methods, but the bottom line of this campaign may be critical for connecting with Millennials: sell the experience. Show Gen Y why this particular time and place is unique and important and what it means to them, personally.

Combine this with the tip above and you’re advocating a product in which Millennials see innate value (a unique experience) and reinforcing that this unique experience supports the public good (a consumption motivator).  Museums that do this effectively will rule the school in 2012.

 

3. In marketing communications with Millennials, get to the point and do it quickly. Instanity  (a term that Tina Wells coined) refers to Gen Y’s “insane focus on having everything now.” Technology has come a long way in the last ten years and processes that took hours then (or weren’t possible) are almost instantaneous now- like snapping a photo and sharing it with the world via social media. Also, Millennials have segmented engagement, meaning that there are seemingly a million tidbits of information fighting for folks’ attention. When communicating critical messages to Gen Y, content is still king, but make that content known and make it known quickly. “The incredible story of our 18th century XYZ” isn’t going to cut it as an engaging story or link title, and is not likely to get much traffic. Tell stories, but make sure that they are timely, organic, and accessible in tone.

 

4. Create exhibits that are technology-based and aim for social initatives. Here’s why: First, Millennials generally have a severe and permanent case of “Technoholism.” As Wells points out, we are “completely consumed by technology.” Technological endeavours are more natural life occurences to Millennials than they are rare feats of intelligence and innovation. (Remember: the oldest among us were hooked up to America Online by middle school). We expect technology and we are generally pretty good at using it- especially to connect with our friends and curate experiences (see point #5).

Second, we are consequently better at using technology as a general group than our elders. Also, Teens and Tweens are “swapping up” their gadgets with their parents, who are less crazed about having the latest and greatest new tech items, Wells reports. If you are developing a new exhibit using the latest technologies, please keep the Millennial audience in mind.

 

5. Let everyone be a curator (and understand that your own curator is less important). Curators are no longer the celebrity rockstars of the museum world… the visitors now hold that title. This shift from revolving around the business to revolving around the consumer has taken place throughout the business world, but the role of (and even the word) “curator” has experienced a particularly speedy evolution over the last year. Millennials have played a big role in this cultural shift… and this generation’s “Warholism” is likely to keep rocking the boat. Wells explains that Millennials know that fame is easily attainable in this day and age. Moreover, Wells predicts that Millennials will be continually less intrigued by celebrities over time. What does this mean for museums? Having knowledgeable, academically-celebrated staff may be extremely important for content accuracy and other functions… but for this over-educated generation, your celebrated curator’s “celebrity” isn’t the key to increasing reputation. That key is in appealing to us personally and lending control and content creation to the people.

 

6. Take audiences behind the scenes physically and virtually to show Millennials “how the cake is made.” This tip has been tried and tested over the last few years and is more a current and lasting reality than a prediction for the future. Taking audiences behind the scenes with engaging content is a common best-practice for organizations on social media. But it’s a good best practice off-line, too. According to Tina’s article, Gen Y is more interested in the process of making a cake than, say, buying a cake. Would we buy-in to the process of “visiting the museum or cultural center” or putting exhibits and programs together? Signs point to “yes.” And this will likely be an easier task for museums than other businesses that can show “behind the scenes” (“Our office dog Rex says ‘Good Morning!’”) but cannot as easily take audiences there (“Come see this Duchamp in person now that you’ve seen the process of acquisition”).

 

7. Put your collection online and make resources sharable. The Millennial culture is not about “owning” information as much as “renting and sharing” information. Wells uses Spotify to illustrate this Gen Y trend.  She points out that Millennials are committed to the music that they love, but they don’t want to buy it. They’d rather rent it and share it with their friends. There may be a lesson here for museums as guardians of private content.  Information is more valuable to this generation when it can be shared. From the point of the museum, this isn’t a bad thing. Sharing museum content often means sharing inspiration and an educational resource that aids in fulfilling the museum’s mission.  From a marketing perspective, it means improving the museum’s reputation as a credible source for information.

 

8. Tap into our desire for “profitable purpose” by making it personal to get donations. We’re public service motivated and we’re likely to respond to face-to-face requests for donations from nonprofits.  This point wraps up many of the points above.  “Millennials want to feel a personal connection to the brands they’re supporting,” Wells reports. These potential donors don’t want to just give their money (when engaged), we want to give our hearts. This sounds simple, but it means that nonprofit organizations will need to be aware of the needs and desires of this generation and work hard to appeal to them by connecting to potential Gen Y donors and engaging them personally through experiences, interactions, and effective storytelling. Oh- and for smaller gifts, let us give them online. 

 

*The photo above is based on a picture by Lance Iversen of Generation Y professionals enjoying the popular Nightlife program at the  California Academy of Sciences

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Millennials, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 4 Comments

Why Your Organization Needs You to Build a Personal Brand

If you’re reading this, then you’re probably the kind of person who already knows that professional resumes have transcended the boundaries of a sheet of paper. They’ve transcended beyond our LinkedIn profiles and seeped into everything that we do… because much of what we do (and what happens in the world) is online.  Information about you is online whether you put it there yourself or not. There are pipl and spokeo profiles that can give the heebie-jeebies even to people who are quite certain that they do not exist in an online space… and those are just online white pages. Combine that with industry news, social media profiles, and public records… and someone can find out a good amount about you and your interests.  Think you can benefit by NOT being online? That may indicate that you have not done anything worthy of recognition within your industry- and that’s not usually a positive perception either.  You very likely exist online and therefore already have an online reputation (a lack of an online presence says something, too). You can let that reputation go unchecked or you can manage it. Many people argue that you should manage it- and for very good reasons. If you’re a museum or nonprofit professional, there’s another good reason to manage your personal brand:

Because during this particular time of social media evolution and frequent Facebook change-ups, your organization needs you to have a personal brand.

An online reputation is often called a personal brand. For many people– especially nonprofit professionals who do not work in marketing– the idea of having a personal “brand” feels somehow insincere or contrived. It’s not. In fact, the best personal brands are authentic and transparent.  Personal branding means knowing what people are saying about you, being diligent and conscientious, and helping to paint an accurate picture online.

And (contrary to a possible knee-jerk misconception associated with the word “brand”), personal brands aren’t always self-serving. In fact, when it comes to museum and cultural nonprofit professionals, developing and maintaining a strong, personal brand can be an incredible asset for your institution.  Professionals with strong personal brands carry their social missions into their online identities and can be incredible assets for telling the kinds of stories that spawn change. 

Thanks in large part to the rise of social media, the traditionally-stark line between peoples’ “personal” and “professional” lives has become blurry online. Last week, I gave an overview of some museum professionals who are successful in not only representing their museums in an online space, but in moving those organizations forward in online engagement through their own personal brands.  Though we always represent the institutions for which we work, some museum professionals go beyond merely “spreading the word” about their cause by actively blogging, tweeting, and engaging audiences online to strengthen both their own and their institution’s brand. There are a lot of great resources out there to help you establish a personal brand. But why do it? Here are four, important ways that personal branding and becoming engaged online helps strengthen your organization in the long run:

 

1. Personal branding increases your organization’s reputation, a key discretionary motivator for visitors. Through a recent, large-scale study on museum awareness, attitudes and usage, IMPACTS has found that perceptions of a museum’s reputation plays a very important role in whether or not a visitor will decide to attend a zoo, aquarium, or museum (ZAM). In fact, reputation is a top-five influencer for the U.S. composite and it is one of the top-two driving motivators for the average high propensity visitor at a ZAM. In sum, managing a ZAM’s reputation is critical to achieving visitation and reaching the organization’s financial bottom-line. A good way to increase an organization’s positive reputation is to align it with someone who already has a positive reputation. The brands strengthen and lend credibility to one another. Let’s give a written fist-bump to a side-step of the transitive property here: if a person working for a nonprofit is perceived to have talent, then the nonprofit is perceived to have talent.  A goal of personal branding is to manage your online reputation and paint yourself (ergo, your organization) in the best light possible. Brand management is reputation management.

 

2. Personal branding allows the organization to reach more targeted audiences with increased credibility. ZAMs have high propensity visitors. That is, people who are most likely to visit… and they have relatively specific profiles. All nonprofits have these specified audiences and it is up to the organization to know who these people are, where to find them, and what these people like to do so that they can be most effectively engaged. Effective, broader marketing strategies target these high propensity visitors. However, maintaining a personal brand alongside the institution allows you to engage other audiences or more closely target a subset of your high propensity visitor. This may be an audience of industry professionals (if you’re the CEO), an audience of history buffs (if you’re a curator), an audience of mommy blogging friends (if you’re a mommy-blogging PR rep), or an audience of Gen Y socialites (if you’re the well-connected visitor services intern)… You catch my drift. In other words, building a personal brand allows you to connect more personal friend-circles with the things that excite you about your profession. In this way, professionals are important evangelists for the causes for which they work. Word of mouth marketing is powerful, and positive messages to the inner-circles in which professionals are personally involved allows the organization to reach a targeted group with more built-in credibility.

 

3. Personal branding increases opportunities for transparency and provides an alternate avenue for engaging storytelling. Just look at how some top CEOs are using Twitter; they do it with their own style and authenticity… and that’s why it works. They lend a tone and message to their organization. This can be an especially terrific asset if your organization has a more formal, less-personal informational Twitter account. Tweeting about your day-to-day life (to an extent… too much of this looks solipsistic real fast…) shows folks online that the organization’s leader is a living, breathing, relatable human being with hopes, dreams, desires, a sense of humor, and sometimes-terrible spelling skills. A professional with an online presence can also be an avenue for telling engaging, personal stories. Putting a face, or a storyteller, to a story can make a big difference. A quick favor to branded professionals who engage on their organization’s Facebook wall: disclose your relationship with the nonprofit in your comment, or it looks like you are playing us as fools. Love always, the online community who will chalk up “untrustworthy” points for organizations that try to play us (whether they mean to or not). 

 

4. Personal branding can inspire earned media. Twitter users are three times more likely than other social media platform users to be critics (think Yelp reviewers) or creators (think mommy bloggers). From that perspective alone, personal branding with relation to your organization has a huge benefit: instead of one, faceless account Tweeting for a cause, online advocates can tweet from their personal accounts, increasing opportunities for earned media. This is strongly connected to reaching new audiences and increasing reputation. Earned media often functions like word of mouth marketing— it is media for which the organization did not have a monetary transaction. It is often organic and timely. Having advocates online, whether they work for the nonprofit or not, creates opportunities for securing earned media. Branded professionals can be seen as go-tos for information on cause-related information. This happens organically and it can be heaven for the organization if online employees are advocates of the mission… but it can backfire faster than the Formula Rossa roller coaster  at Ferrari World with staff members who may be online and are unaware of the important role that they play in word of mouth marketing for the organization. (A solution here? a social media policy).  In sum, earned media is an important aim for online engagement, and developing a personal brand can help your organization increase the likelihood of spreading word of its mission and inspiring this kind of media.

 

What can museum professionals do to get started on a personal brand? There are a lot of terrific resources out there. This isn’t even the tip of the iceberg, but it sure is a good place to start:

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

Personal Branding and Museum Directors: A Look at Two Industry Leaders

There are plenty of benefits to having a personal brand, just as there are incredible benefits to hiring someone who has a personal brand. It allows you to be a thought leader, have a voice, and necessitates keeping a pulse on the online community, social trends, and evolving communication methods.  Perhaps most importantly, though, having a personal brand allows you to be a better storyteller. CEOs with strong personal brands carry their social missions into their online identities and can be incredible assets for telling the kinds of stories that spawn change. They become spirited leaders of not only an organization, but of a cause. And the person, the organization, the cause, and the constituents are all beneficiaries in this personal-branding-for-social-change love-fest.

For most cultural nonprofits, there’s an un-tapped opportunity to build credibility, authenticity, and infiltrate your story with a professional demographic… and that opportunity lies in nonprofit’s CEO or a public-facing department leader. 

Personal branding– also connection with brands and building networks online– -are big for the Gen Y crowd, but most nonprofit CEOs are not Millennials (yet…although I think this may take longer than Tierney’s proposed decade to occur due to merging nonprofits, late-retiring boomers, and other reasons). Folks build a personal brand to engage, to network, and to establish credibility as a thought leader. It makes sense that some of the biggest tech CEOs have personal brands like Mark Cuban (of too much to name), Marc Andreessen (of Ning), Craig Newmark (of Craigslist), and Guy Kawasaki (of Alltop). A large portion of their work takes place online, but increasingly, a large and important portion of all nonprofits’ work will take place online in the form of storytelling, online engagement, and building transparency- an already- important public attribute.  We can learn from these tech and social industry leaders and their brand management. I’d say that they are good places to start, but museums already have some professionals with well established web presences.

An interesting thing about working in museums is that they have different departments and different opportunities for engagement. For some institutions, the leader in the online space is not the CEO at all. Here’s a very (very) select and diverse group of professionals with clear personal brands, and who successfully bridge personal and professional to be advocates for their museums. Their tribes range in size, they have different tones, and they appeal to different folks. Here are a few:

In many situations, professionals who run social media or have tech roles within the museum are social tech savvy, so keeping an eye on them can be a cheat-sheet for current happenings. So where are the museum directors? I’m glad you asked. Here are two, stellar examples of museum CEOs with terrific personal brands. Both of the museum directors below use their personal brands to their- and their institution’s- advantage.. and they do it in different ways.

 

Nina Simon (@ninaksimon)- Director of the Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz

Leveraging thought leadership to build community and elevate the museum. It’s no surprise that many (if not most) of the professionals online keeping updated blogs and personal brands are consultants and writers. This makes sense, as consultants’ credibility often depends upon their symbolic capital. Nina Simon was a writer and consultant before taking up her relatively new position as Director of the Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz. Her blog, Museum 2.0, has thousands of dedicated readers and her book, The Participatory Museum, is a hit. The Smithsonian has called her a “Museum Visionary”, and with cause– just check out her projects and publications! The coolest thing about Nina Simon’s career is that it happened in large part because of her deciding to establish a web presence. In fact, she credits her blog for much of her career path and success. Here’s (a few of) the many things that Nina Simon did right that leveraged her brand (and reputation) in the long run:

  • Nina Simon built a brand
  • She carved out a timely niche (participatory museum experiences)
  • She became an expert (the expert, arguably) in her niche
  • She built a strong community and made herself known as the go-to person for her niche
  • She embraced multiple online platforms, utilizing Twitter, Blogging, Facebook, and became involved in various committees and online communities
  • She became the Director of the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz
  • She told everyone
  • Now all of her followers and communities have this museum on their radar and the museum gets to benefit from the symbolic capital of having an established thought leader and author leading their institution (and their brand).
In one of my personal favorite posts by Nina Simon, she says that getting hired for her was a matter of “what you want, how aggressive you are, and what ideas you can offer.” It’s the ideas and aggressiveness that have and continue to set Nina apart from the crowd.

 

Max Anderson (@MaxAndersonUSA)- Director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art (until January)

Being the face of an institution reinventing online engagement and making it a priority. Max Anderson was named CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 2006. This last October, he announced that he was leaving IMA and moving to Dallas to head up the Dallas Museum of Art (effective January 9, 2012). Anderson was the Director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art for only five and a half years– but those were particularly good years for the museum and online initiatives. In fact, under Anderson’s watch, the IMA was credited with significantly pushing social technology forward for museums and the larger nonprofit industry. For a moment, let’s forget the fact that Max Anderson added over $30 million to IMA’s endowment through gifts and pledges and more than doubled museum attendance…and focus on the topic at hand, here: the man has a web presence. Perhaps they are related. Most importantly, he led the way as the museum took up three initiatives that arguably changed the world of museums and social media:
  1. Anderson led IMA in creating its famous IMA Dashboard in 2007. This initiative was well-timed and has gained significant and much deserved recognition for leading the way for online organizational transparency in all sectors.
  2. After receiving a suggestion from blogger, Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes, on Twitter, Anderson promptly bet famous works of art on the 2010 Superbowl… through his personal Twitter account. The initiative displays the importance of listening to an online audience, acting quickly, and well… just being cool. Unfortunately, the Colts lost the Superbowl, but the IMA held up their end of the bargain: they lent Turner’s The Fifth Plague of Egypt, 1800 to the New Orleans Museum of Art for three months. We’ve all looked to this as a great example of online engagement and local community cultivation ever since. And now these bets are becoming tradition.
  3. Artbabble is a community that showcases video art content in high quality format from a variety of sources and perspectives. It was created so others will join in spreading the world of art through video– and it’s working. The initiative now has over 30 museum partners throughout the world and a cool, online-friendly tagline: Babble on.

Max Anderson not only aided his museum through his own personal brand, but he gained recognition for the institution as an online community-building leader during his time at IMA. He was an advocate of social technology and information-share. Here’s a bit of what Max Anderson did right to help create and elevate his brand:

  • He came into IMA as the Director
  • He realized the potential value of online engagement relatively early (he’d dappled with some online information-share initiatives in the past)
  • He supported efforts to engage online communities through new initiatives
  • He used social media himself (fearlessly, in the case betting artwork on the Superbowl)
  • He  made information about himself and IMA accessible
  • He encouraged IMA to take up initiatives in the online space and made a (good) example out of the institution

 

Both Nina Simon and Maxwell Anderson are considered thought leaders in the area of museums and social media. And in fact, by very large measure, both of their successes stem from their personal/professional involvement in the online space. Through this involvement, both Simon and Anderson have moved their organizations forward and propelled them into the future… through two relatively different approaches.

Want to figure out how to take the first step in branding yourself as a museum professional? There are a lot of resources out there to help– but I’ll post some of my very favorites on Thursday (December 8th) to help get you started and outline some basics.

In the meantime, please comment and share examples of your favorite museum and nonprofit directors (or department leaders) involved in community engagement. There are some great examples out there and I’d love to hear your favorites.

*Photo credit

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