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Community Engagement

Millennials and Social Media: Why Nonprofits Need Them to Survive

This video is a must-watch for all nonprofit leaders.  It is a keynote given by John Racanelli, CEO of the National Aquarium Institute, at the most recent Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) conference in Atlanta. Though the speech is geared toward zoo and aquarium folks, the message here is powerful, relevant, and well-articulated for all organizations with a social mission. It is about inspiring change, remaining relevant, engaging audiences and telling stories. As with most speeches worth sharing, it’ll likely give you goosebumps. Start at minute 7 if you are pressed for time, but really, I encourage you to watch it all if you can. There is incredible thought-food here and you won’t regret it.

Within the speech, Racanelli discusses the importance of understanding and engaging Millennials. He also discusses the communication method that we grew into and have thus developed an integrated knack for understanding: social media. At some points in the keynote, Gen Y and social media are discussed separately. At other points, they are explained together. The brilliance of this speech, though—and perhaps the reason why it is so powerful—is that all of the talking points (industry evolution, remaining relevant, social media, inspiring audiences, creating change, building emotional and social bonds between people) are interconnected… and that interconnectedness seems to be necessary for zoos, aquariums, museums, and nonprofit organizations to accomplish their goals.

Often, I find that my most valued contribution to my line of work is my role as an “ambassador for my species” (the Millennial species, that is). I travel nationally and internationally to work with ZAMs and help nonprofit leaders develop ideas and initiatives by contributing a Generation Y mindset (actually, to aid in online engagement, but I cannot always divorce the two). More often than not, I’m the youngest person in the room by at least twenty years. And I’m the youngest person in the fancy restaurants, always.

We Millennials are a unique group. We are also very confusing. Especially in regard to motivation and especially for boomers (and even X’ers) trying to speak to us in our language: Boomers worked their way up the professional hierarchy but we don’t have much regard for that ladder.  Generation X fought for workplace autonomy but we’d all rather work collaboratively. And then there’s the issue of money: we are the most educated generation in history, and we have by far the most debt. However, when looking for jobs, we seek out the ones that provide mentorship, work/life balance, an opportunity to “do good” in the world, and allow us to hang out with our friends. Heck, we even value the use of a mobile device to connect with our friends more than a high-paying salary. In addition to this, we are generally skeptical about long-term loyalty to an organization,  (raising the question, “how do we get these kids to commit!?”)  … but we’ve got some good points, too! We are entrepreneurial, optimistic, and civic-minded. (Or better stated, confident, connected, and open to change).

No matter how you cut it, understanding both the growing importance of Generation Y and online engagement are absolutely necessary in order for organizations to not only remain relevant, but to inspire individuals to create positive, social change. Extrapolating (completely independently) from the powerful points made in Racanelli’s keynote, Millennials and social media – both separately and combined- provide some not-so-secret sauce for moving organizations forward. Here’s how:

 

Millennials and social media make it possible to tell the compelling stories that will achieve social change. As John Racanelli points out, “We, in this industry, have one of the most powerful platforms for which to tell our stories, if we tell them extremely well.” Stories (telling them and showing them) are essential in communicating social missions. We create buy-in, awe, and wonder by telling stories. As Racanelli points out: ZAMs (and all nonprofits, I’d argue) have the capacity to inspire people. That’s a role that we live up to through the stories that we tell, exhibits and programs that we share, animals/artifacts that we care for, and broader conservation/education goals.

  • Generation Y knows how to tell stories and share information virally. Millennials like to share information—which has actually garnered us negative attention. But this characteristic has some pretty serious organizational benefits, too. Millennials tell stories all of the time, and we are often well-connected to peer groups outside of the workplace. Growing up on social media, this generation already thinks in organic, online content- the kind that tells the best stories online. Many of us use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr personally. And arguably more than previous generations, we have a good grasp on what is/is not likely to be spread, shared, and well received by our peers in these spaces.
  • Social media and word of mouth marketing can increase the credibility of stories: That sounds silly, right? It’s not. People trust their friends and social media keeps people connected to their friends (and, lucky for us, their friends’ interests). This is good for organizations because barriers to entry are low for spreading a message online; people can experience a nonprofit’s story from a computer at home, on their own schedule, and they can save, share, and revisit information as desired. Social media keeps organizations “top of mind,” which aids in attracting donors and evangelists. (As a related side, social media has the potential to be especially important in telling stories for zoos, aquariums, science centers, and other organizations with animals. In fact, organizations that serve animals (and children) have the greatest success on social media. ZAMs can find a way to tap this, too.)

 

Millennials and social media help bring people together to build communities for change. John Racanelli calls zoos and aquariums “a sociological force with power to bring people together around ideas.” That’s a good quote, I think, for reminding ZAMs of their social power. It’s post-on-the-whiteboard worthy. But I like this one, too: “The sooner we see visitors as communities, the sooner we can activate them.” Change “visitors” to “evangelists,” and you’ve got a message that is relevant to all nonprofits.

  • Generation Y is hard-wired for social connectivity, increasing information-share and creating communities. As mentioned above, Millennials are a social, well-connected bunch within their circles. They are also public service oriented and they care about change. This makes for a winning combination: Millennials think globally and act locally. It takes connections to connect folks, and Generation Y’s social mind-set is ideal for connecting people, spreading social messages, and managing communities- especially on social networks.
  • Social media provides a platform for “rallying the troops” and building a community that is location independent. Social media can play upon the strength of weak ties  in accomplishing goals related to “rallying the troops” online. We know from experience now that social media can be an effective tool for organizing movements and bringing people together on issues. Here’s an article from Mashable about how even a smaller organization made it happen. (Please notice that this is an example tied to people coming together for the benefit of animals—Oh, the possibilities for ZAMs!)

 

Millennials and social media help increase public-facing transparency, which elevates trust in the organization. Here’s another little verbal gemstone from the keynote that, I think, is worth sharing: “Well, Of course [zoos and aquariums] matter. I believe our real challenge is to honor the trust our constituents and communities place in us by giving them the hope, the motive, and the inspiration to be part of the solution.” This equation cannot happen without first inspiring trust in an organization. Gen Y and social media can help.

  • Generation Y aims to build trust- and more than that, Generation Y can be most trusting. Or, at least more trusting toward organizations than Generation X or Boomers ever were, as Racanelli points out. We’ve got some over-share going on and when friends or organizations don’t also share organic, timely messaging, we lose trust. We wonder what is being hidden. Our trust is hard to gain through traditional marketing methods. Millennials are beneficial in the area of building online trust because it ties in to the way that we understand organizations ourselves.
  • Social media is a mecca for word of mouth marketing and honest reviews of organizations, helping to bring to light the effective “behind the scenes” of organizations. The best organizations on social media embrace this. They use online platforms to share “behind the scenes” information that creates a community of “insiders” (read: potential evangelists and free agents for your cause). Studies have found that people online don’t trust an organization’s website as much as they trust social media sites. Social media sites are thought to be more honest and transparent… and using them well can help increase a nonprofit’s perceived trustworthiness.

 

Millennials are not the only demographic using social media. Not by a long shot. But Generation Y came of age when social media was the cool, new thing. It is integrated into our daily lives. Most of us do not keep on top of happenings in the social technology realm because we are paid to be in-the-know on such topics. On the contrary, we do it because it is how we connect with our friends and how we understand the world.

Use us to help your organization spread its social mission.

Here’s a link to the quiz from Pew Research (How Millennial are you?) that John Racanelli mentions. And if you want to read a bit more on the role of Millennials in the workplace, check out an article that I was asked to write this Summer for Museum Magazine.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Millennials, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 5 Comments

The Four “T”s of Online Engagement

I recently  had the opportunity to give a presentation to folks at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and members of the Monterey community  on The Best of the Best of Online Engagement. (Big thanks to the aquarium for being great hosts!)  Though I have shared similar versions of this presentation before, my prep got me thinking about easy, “cheat sheet” ways to tie together not only these terrific examples of online engagement, but nearly all successful initiatives in this arena.

I came up with four elements that make for a successful social media initiative and overall mindset. None of these necessities are new or unique. In fact, they are the opposite: tried-and-true elements that make up a successful social media mindset and have been proven to position organizations to better reach online engagement goals. The “cheat sheet” part? They are presented as four “T”s.

It may also be the cheesiest part, but don’t judge. Mneumonic devices can be helpful, folks say… and to be missing even one of these elements in your engagement strategy could really cut your organization short of reaching its engagement potential. So make sure that your organization has integrated these things to develop a strong foundation, and then move forward from there.

 

Transparency

First thing’s first, and the first thing is absolutely transparency (or perceived transparency). That is, providing enough content to tell behind-the-scenes stories and give folks a peek though the alternative entrance. Transparency is achieved through the content that is shared. This content must be ongoing, often organic (not planned in advance), and portray a sense of honesty. Trust is built online through transparency, which challenges the way that we traditionally think about marketing. Traditionally, marketers would go out of their way to hide flaws. While it’s still not a good idea to scream every internal  issue from the rooftops, sharing select, relevant PR issues (before they come up on their own), is a good idea. In other words, if your organization is taking a risk- trying something new, publicising the birth of an animal with a high mortality rate, or doing something that might garner negative attention later- let your online audience know what you are up to.  Show them that you are taking that risk. When you engage in radical trust, the trust is often returned.

 

Timeliness

This has two parts to it: being timely in your responses to community members, and taking on timely initiatives. Being timely in responding to community members is simple and boils down to answering questions on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms as quickly as possible. Don’t make people wait. If someone asks a question or posts a comment related to public relations (as opposed to admission price, parking, etc) it is just as important to respond in a timely manner- if not more important. Aim for a few hours (4 max, with exceptions for overnight). People will notice a silence online if you don’t respond. That silence is particularly awkward if you wait longer than 24 hours.

When dealing with a particular online initiative, “timeliness” means taking into account the broader context of the world (or your demographic) at large during the time of the project. Often, the most successful online strategies capitalize on things that are happening in the world around us. Take, for example, The National Constitution Center’s Address America project.  This initiative took place in the time leading up to Barak Obama’s Inaugural Address. The timing of the initiative lent relevance and buy-in to the project.

 

Touchability

Or, accessibility. Successful online engagement minds don’t just post information directly to social media outlets. They filter it through a sort-of “touchability” lens so that folks can relate. As we know- especially in zoos, aquariums, and museums- some content is important, but dense. (This is true for nearly all nonprofits, especially those with messages regarding legislation which can make certain people “check-out” quickly). Online, it is important to have simple messages that can be understood immediately, or people won’t read the content. A few organizations that I work with have expressed frustration with this, commenting that people will post comments on the nonprofit’s blog without reading anything more than the title of the post- and completely miss the point. If your headline is something that is meaningful to people, then they are more likely to listen. In fact, if your content OR initiative are relevant and “touchable” to an audience, then it is more likely to be digested and shared. When coming up with an online engagement strategy, make it about your online audience- not about your organization.

 

Tone

Be human. Also, show and don’t just tell. On Facebook, users engage with brands as if they are their friends. Embrace this (read: be very careful of excessive “hard sells”). Would you be friends with someone who could not stop talking about how your giving them money would make you a good person. I sure wouldn’t. It would be exhausting. Not to mention, that’s not a functional relationship. The folks who like you on Facebook will engage with your brand in exchange for relevant information- and a product that they feel fulfills a purpose for them. Don’t tell them to donate or visit too often- show them why they should donate or visit. Being “human” about it will help. We all know that there is someone behind the computer screen. Be transparent (circling back to T #1) and have personality. We have seen time and again that tone makes a big difference. If you take on a human voice, people will be more drawn to your organization as well as your initiative.

 

So print this out– or even just jot down these four words and put them on the online engagement team’s whiteboard. If you are the only person running social media for your organization, you can jot it on a post-it and put it above your desk (that’s what I do!). Whatever floats your boat. Regardless, I hope that these four Ts put words to the things that you already knew to be effective in online community management or pointed out something new to help your move forward.

Have items to contribute to the list? I’d love to hear from you. (extra points if your additions start with T!)

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

6 Reasons Why Your Organization Needs a Social Media Hub

My line of work involves writing a fair amount of Diagnostic Audits for the terrific zoos, aquariums, and museums with which I have the opportunity to work. This involves making assessments about social media and online engagement strategies. Very often, I find myself recommending the creation and execution of an effective “hub” to help organizations achieve their online engagement goals. I’m always amazed how many organizations don’t have an online home to help them drive website visitors to the organization’s desired social media outcome.

A hub is an important part of an online communication strategy. The hub serves as a landing page for engaging content (stories, videos, anecdotes, etc). The hub functions much like a blog– It is critical for community building and, unlike most websites for visitor serving organizations, it must be updated constantly. Some organizations merge website and blog formats successfully by integrating their hub directly into their website. The hub is a place where social media links are directed and content is aggregated. Not to mention, having a hub is resourceful and it makes achieving online goals a whole lot easier.

Here are six ways that your organization will benefit from having a social media hub:

 

1. The hub provides a consistent home for engaging content. A hub is a site where you aggregate all of your engaging content including embedded YouTube videos, favorite photos, articles about earned media that the organization picked up throughout the week, animal updates (if you are a zoo or aquarium), volunteer anecdotes, and short stories about that crazy-huge load of fish food that just came in on the loading dock yesterday. Putting all of this information in one place allows an organization to tell an ongoing, cohesive story; the story of the behind-the-scenes life of the organization. This backstage pass is more than a useful tool for coordination and potential visitor intrigue, it also increases the perception of an organization’s transparency– and transparency and honesty are cited as essential values for success in online public relations. In short, setting up this hub is putting your organization in a better situation to avoid (and if needed, address) a PR crisis. To reference one of the very best examples of this (again), here is how the Shedd Aquarium utilized their hub to not only avoid a crisis, but to get into the hearts of their online community after the death of a dolphin calf.

 

2. The hub provides an opportunity for the coordination and curation of stories.The hub is also a place of coordination. The hub is a single site where links are directed for compelling content and, like a typical blog, content is tagged and categorized. Though a compelling hub is constantly updated (about once or twice each weekday), folks need not be overwhelmed by content. Site visitors who are only interested in, say, an art museum’s Modern collection, need only to click on the “Modern Art” tag to see posts related to that topic. The hub is not only a place to tell the organization’s larger day-to-day, behind-the-scenes story, but a place where visitors can turn to find the stories related to their area of interest. Coordinating and cleaning up the hub with tags decreases the energy that someone needs to spend on the site in order to find out information that is important to them. It decreases barriers to potential buy-in.

 

3. The hub is an easy, go-to place for real and potential visitors and evangelists. The hub, if used consistently, can be established as a reliable place for information that is easy for readers to follow. It becomes a go-to site for real-time information (as opposed to closing times and driving directions). If the hub is in a blog format, people can put it in their preferred blog reader, or sign up for updates, or — much more commonly– folks can bookmark the site as a quick resource for timely and engaging information.  This site is helpful for people who want to know what is going on, but don’t want to scroll back through several days of Facebook status updates to find the information that they seek.  A hub doesn’t have missing information on unique happenings. It makes it easier for real and potential visitors to remain “in the loop.”

 

4. The hub allows you to direct messaging so it aligns with your social media goals. One of the most important elements of an online engagement strategy (and of managing your social media expectations) is having a clear goal or a clear reason to be using social media. Popular goals for social media include things like: spreading conservation messaging, educating the public on the value of x, increasing the reputation and credibility of the organization, reaching underserved audiences, accessing a younger demographic and– most commonly– driving attendance. The benefit of a hub is that you are linking people who have self-identified themselves as interested in your organization’s content to a single site, and you can control the messaging on that site. If it’s about getting people in the door, make sure there’s a banner about your newest exhibit. Include messaging about why right now is the best time to visit. You’ve channeled folks to one place… make sure that one place has the messaging to help you achieve your goal.

 

5. The hub also allows you to direct links so that you can better achieve your social media goals. Much like you can control the messaging on the hub, you can also control the link path on the hub. It’s simple but important: link folks to where you want them to go, and adjust your messaging to make them want to go there. If your goal is to increase attendance, link to the online ticket purchasing page of your website. Make it easy for your goals and the visitor’s goals to correspond by coordinating messaging and links.

 

6.  The hub increases site visitation and the possibility of earned media… and it only gets better from there. Because social media channels are all directed toward content on the hub, the hub becomes an easy go-to place with (hopefully) a good amount of visitation. The more people visit the hub, the more people have the opportunity to share content from the hub with their friends and online community. The more people share this content, the greater the opportunity for people to write about or review your organization, contributing to the development of word of mouth marketing regarding the organization.  When more people visit the website and write positive articles, glowing reviews, or even share a Facebook link, the organization may experience an increase in perceived credibility and expertise. This perception elevates the organization’s reputation- and reputation is frequently a key driver of attendance to visitor serving organizations.

 

In sum, a hub is a critical way to harness interest in your organization. Without a hub, social media channels link out to YouTube, Flickr, Facebook statuses that are hard for interested parties to reference over time, various portions of an evolving website that may only be accessible for a few weeks, and other places. A hub gives an organization the opportunity to coordinate content, better meet social media goals, and tell a more compelling story online.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 8 Comments

A Marathon Course for Online Engagement in Visitor Serving Organizations

I am currently training for the Chicago Marathon. As a total newbie to this whole “running” business (I’m not worthy of using the word in relation to myself without quotations yet), I’m learning an awful lot about training, timing, pacing myself, and creating a plan for the course. As I run through the woods in the Midwest, fighting off mosquitos and hoping that a selection from my holidays playlist isn’t the next song on my iPod (try running to I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas… in September. It throws you off a bit), I often find myself thinking about the parallels of this journey, and how zoos, aquariums, and museums engage audiences online. …Yes, I think about these things in my free time.

As it turns out, the metaphor of a marathon might be a useful way to think about engaging folks in an online space. This is especially true when contemplating how ZAMs should approach online engagement on the more popular social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter. In this metaphor, individual online advocates are the runners. , The course is the path to effective online engagement that ends in getting people through the door, and it is the organization’s job to put on the event and get runners across the finish line.

1. Recruiting runners to enroll in your marathon: securing positive earned media and organic (not sponsored) reviews. This process involves inspiring folks to become your Facebook fan or Twitter follower so that they can step up to the marathon starting line and engage with your brand through updates and all of that compelling content that organizations work so hard to create. This is a hard task, and of course it is critical (or why be on Facebook?). The best way to do this is to recruit runners to enroll through word of mouth marketing. This can be done most easily by folks who are already advocates (have already completed the marathon. See #7). Luckily, tools like positive reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp can inspire visitation if a potential “runner” is out-of-market or does not personally know an individual who has experienced the institution.

2. Developing a training program to help runners make it through: achieving Facebook “likes.” The parallel between online engagement and running a marathon crossed my mind while presenting social media best practices to an aquarium client. During our discussion on Facebook, a member of the marketing team asked me, “What do ‘likes’ mean? Should we celebrate these?” It’s a good question. The answer, I would say, is that on a social media platform, a “like” on Facebook means that someone has enrolled for your organization’s engagement “marathon” by signing up for a training program… and it’s the role of the aquarium (or other visitor service entity) to help get potential finishers in shape. A “like” means that someone has clicked on your Facebook page and self-identified as a potential visitor or advocate. That person has given your organization the “OK” to appear in their newsfeed and engage them on a daily basis. They have taken the first step and opened up to your organization, and now the ZAM must rise to the occasion and facilitate the connection. However, it’s important to remember that signing up for the training program does not mean that a runner will eventually finish the marathon or even get to the starting line. Also, many “runners” who aren’t enrolled in the training program (not following your organization) will complete the marathon. In other words, “likes” are not the most important form of measurement for online engagement. In fact, sometimes they can be a distraction.

3. Treating runners at aid stations: inspiring connection through organic, behind-the-scenes content. This is super important! These are the surveys, fun facts, photos, videos, blog posts, behind-the-scenes snippets, anecdotes, jokes, contests and data that ZAMs share with fans and followers to make them see the organization in their newsfeed and think, “Hey! That’s cool!” This is how organizations keep engagement going, and build upon this engagement so that the organization can “connect” with potential visitors who are compelled by the organization’s social mission (or, just want to see that exhibit in person). Here’s what I’m learning in my training: aid-stations are incredibly important. I know, personally, that I cannot run a marathon without water, or perhaps some lemon-lime Gatorade. Most runners cannot finish a marathon, or even a half marathon, comfortably without aid. Similarly, it is much harder for friends and followers to engage with your organization online without aid (read: relevant content). This is also the area in which I do the most work and the area in which ZAMs and other nonprofit organizations struggle the most. The secrets here aren’t tough (but every organization seems to struggle with them): be human, be transparent, be real (don’t over-plan) and listen to what your audience is saying.

4. Completing a half marathon: Securing an on-site visit. If we were marathon course-planning slackers, we’d stop here. We’ve accomplished an awesome goal: we secured a visitor– perhaps a whole family! This is not a small thing.We’ve contributed to the double-bottom-line of a nonprofit organization by both inspiring (hopefully) an individual with the organization’s social mission and also by contributing to the organization’s financial bottom line in the form of admission.  But there’s still a long way to go to really help runners reach their full marathon-running potential. It would be a disservice to think about the online engagement process as ending here. We are only halfway done!

5. Breaking out the goo around mile 17: providing avenues for half-marathoners to share their experiences, and facilitating and rewarding this sharing. This is a bit like #3 and it is equally important. Compelling content comes back into play in this part of the journey, but it relies more heavily on interactions. This is where word of mouth marketing is at its best. Encourage visitors to share their stories and experiences, celebrate their pictures, videos, and anecdotes. Remind them, if you can, to post about positive experiences on Yelp and TripAdvisor. During mile 17, runners should be actively recruiting runners for the marathon, and the organization should be facilitating this recruitment by continuing to inspire connections with online audiences by rewarding interaction and sharing visitor stories.

6. Finishing the marathon: A past visitor inspiring new visitors to come to the organization. When positive reviews from trusted sources (friends who have been to the organization before or credible earned media sources) inspire more people to visit, then the marathon is complete, in a way. Engaging content has been utilized beyond simply the clicks that it secures. For this reason and many others, it is silly to place too much weight on the number of clicks that a particular piece of content receives. For instance, a YouTube video may receive only 100 views, but if that video inspires those people to visit, and those people share their experiences through word of mouth marketing (online or in-person) and inspire more visits, then those mere 100 clicks have significant worth… far more than the weight that we typically put on the concept of only 100 clicks. However, this does not mean that every bit of content is a success in engaging audiences. It is critical to listen to online communities and create content that is most inspiring to your audiences. Or, content that you notice receives a response.

7. Placing in the marathon: The original visitor becoming a member, donor, or long-time advocate for the organization. Okay, in a real marathon, not everyone can place. But we nonprofit-folk try to be optimistic. The goal in this particular marathon is to get everyone to win, beat their own PR, place in their age-group– however you’d like to see it. This occurs when online and on-site engagement are so high, or personal buy-in is established so well, that the visitor or evangelists carries out an activity that strengthens the long-term bottom lines of the institution. The development of these folks is most frequently the aim for online engagement. Like any good marathon, if runners have fun, they’ll want to run it again. Thus, alongside this track, it is critical to continue to engage communities online. This especially includes members, donors, and advocates of the organization.

Good luck to all of you nonprofiteer marathoners out there running races this season! And also to all of you online-engagement-marathon planners! We’re rooting for you! And, if you happen to be in Chicago on October 9th, root for me. I’ll take all the support that I can get! See you on the course, folks!

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

We Can’t Keep Our Mouths Shut

The following article was requested and written as a Display Case piece for the American Association of Museums May/June issue of Museum Magazine. You can check it out on page 29 of the hard copy. The magazine is one of the great perks of being an individual member of AMM. You can become one here. (There are all kinds of other perks, too!) Special thanks to Editor and Chief, Susan Breitkopf, for contacting me and also to Susannah O’Donnell  of AAM for her terrific edits. I’m excited to have the opportunity to also share the article here.

 

Generation Y. Millennials. Generation “Me.” The Obama Generation. However you identify these 20-somethings working in your museum, one thing’s for sure: We function differently than older generations in the workplace. Members of Generation Y (born roughly between 1980 and 1992) have a different value set and method of communicating than the generations that came before us. In fact, if you are a Traditionalist (born 1927–1945), a Baby Boomer (born 1946–1964) or even a member of Generation X (born 1965–1979), you may find that the behavior and priorities of members of Generation Y are directly at odds with your own workplace desires—or, at least, in direct odds with business as usual.

If anything, the sheer size of Generation Y makes Millennials hard to ignore. By 2008, there were 77.6 million members of Generation Y, outnumbering the 74.1 million Baby Boomers.

So what do Millennials want from the museums that employ them, and why should institutions care? Studies have found that our generation has some tall orders that are likely to cause a bit of cross-generational clash. But while these starry-eyed, tech-savvy, entrepreneurial, cannot-keep-their-mouths-shut 20-somethings may have a thing or two to learn from older generations in the workplace, we bring with us a new way of thinking that can benefit any organization—and museums in particular—if given the chance.

 

Generation Y employees want to be included in important conversations regardless of their position within the institution … From a young age, members of “Generation Me” have been encouraged by elders to speak up and contribute—and we’ve been rewarded for our input. (On our Little League teams, everyone got a trophy, not just the MVP.) This egalitarian approach may perturb members of older generations who are accustomed to authoritative relationships within the workplace and value the hard work associated with moving up the organizational ladder that they climbed in order to participate in such decision-making discussions.

but they also bring transparency and accessibility to organizations, which will likely have a positive impact on the museum industry. The social media revolution is in full force, and many Millennials would not recognize a world without cell phones and the Internet. With increasing connectedness comes increasing information-share, and in the current market, incredible value is placed on brand transparency. Accessibility has always been an important aspect of museums’ missions, but it is becoming increasingly critical as social technology, online engagement and crowd-curated exhibits take hold of museum audiences. Most Millennials have communication and transparency hard-wired into their nature. And because we use these tools to communicate with friends and family, we often know how to utilize them with the sincerity that is required for building a strong brand.

 

Generation Y employees value mission and mentorship over money, challenging traditional workplace motivators … That may not sound like a culture clash, but it certainly makes the priorities of Millennials a bit tricky to understand, particularly for goal-oriented Baby Boomers who are accustomed to utilizing monetary reward as a motivating force. Tracing the annual Universum IDEAL Employer Rankings reveals a startling trend in Generation Y’s ideal employers prefrences. While the 1999 version of the survey found that Generation X wanted to work for large, private companies like Microsoft or Cisco, Generation Y prefers working for public service organizations. They don’t call us the “Obama Generation” for nothing: Working for an organization we believe in is often every bit as important to Millennials as the price tag on a starting salary. Because of our generation’s desire to achieve and be recognized, mentorship is also an important aspect of the ideal Millennial work environment. Mentorship takes time, though, and time translates to money for older generations. Making time for the mentorship of Millennials is not always a high priority for busy professionals.

but these values also represent a natural alignment with your museum’s public service goals. While adjusting to these “softer” workplace desires may require some effort within the museum, having energetic employees motivated by public service is sure to work in the organization’s favor. Don’t get me wrong: Millennials have more debt and student loans than any generation that came before them, so warm fuzzies aren’t going to cut it if we cannot pay our bills. Those emotional rewards, however, motivate us and provide what studies have shown is often very high on our workplace wish list: personal fulfillment by making a positive social impact.

 

Generation Y has a reputation for “overshare” and treating employees equally, even the CEO … Generation Y is often regarded as an “oversharing” generation, seemingly tweeting about every dinnertime meal and putting countless photos on Facebook for the world to see. Another habit contributing to our overshare reputation is the perhaps too casual way in which Millennials offer up input to leaders in the workplace.  In fact, Andrew McAfee, a principal research scientist at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, cited overshare and addressing all employees casually as two “not-so-smart” mistakes that Millennials commonly make in the workplace in a recent Harvard Business Review blog post. Being social means sharing information with your friends- and online, Generation Y has a lot of them. Millennials are a social bunch and, not surprisingly, surveys have shown that members of this generation prefer to work in groups and share information. Similarly, Generation Y has been found to value teamwork and organic workplace structures. Members of Generation X and Baby Boomers may find this particularly odd, as they’ve been found to generally prefer working independently and have championed workplace autonomy.

… but overshare keeps upper-level management aware of industry trends, and collaboration increases opportunities for competitive advantages. According to writings by Brian Huffman, a professor of management at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls, CEOs and upper-level management are nearly always the last to see big societal changes coming; the front-end folks see it first. Considering this, it may help that the front line has a big mouth. With social technology bringing about almost constant changes in branding, marketing and community engagement, Millennials can be a key resource for institutions wrestling with the misconception that museums are organizations frozen in time. You might still cringe when a millennial offers unsolicited input to the department director, but it can help to share different points of view. Studies have found that organizational collaboration helps dodge management groupthink and, in general, makes organizations stronger.

 

So, what’s the value in taking note of the workplace desires of Generation Y? A simple response may be, “Because they are the future leaders of your museum, whether you like it or not.” But that’s not a particularly compelling answer. A better reason is that competitive organizations are becoming more transparent, public-service oriented and horizontal in structure, with value placed on increased communication. The evolution of these business practices reflects the values of Generation Y.

Can members of Generation Y be a nuisance in the workplace? Maybe. Despite our reputation for over-confidence, we certainly have a lot to learn. But Millennials can also be invaluable members of your organization who help weave the fabric for a strong and strategically sound museum. Each of our respective generations marches to the beat of its own drummer. Though the Generation Y workplace beat is a bit more casual and dissonant than others, we still have the interests of the museum at heart and an aim to make a lasting difference in the communities we serve. And that’s pretty cool, right?

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Millennials, Nonprofit Marketing 2 Comments

“You Have to be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable”- One-Line Lessons on Leadership

I will be graduating from the University of Southern California next Friday with my Master of Public Administration (MPA). I am pleased to report that, even with real-world experience prior to entering graduate school, my skill-set has been sharpened and the items in my professional toolbox are polished. I am thrilled to re-enter the workforce and meld my formal and informal experiences in areas of management, evaluation, economics, communications, strategy, and leadership.

Though I’ve done it before, I generally try not to write about my own personal thoughts and experiences. This is because, as my former Program Evaluation professor says, “a sample size of one does not a significant finding make.” Here– and in life– I am going for significant. That said, I think the lessons I’ve learned in graduate school are indeed significant, and I am delighted to share some bite-sized morsels.

…I’m the type of person who takes physical notes in class. I’m also the type of person who holds on tightly to professors’ well-articulated verbal gemstones about leadership, and I tape them shamelessly above my desk at home. Yes, much like eleven-year-olds reserve space on their walls for Justin Bieber posters, I reserve space for phrases like, “The best way to create change is to take away the barriers to change.” It’s nerdy, but I’m a graduate student (for 10 more days…)

Here are my very favorite one-liner lessons from graduate school. A vast majority are attributed to Dr. Robert Myrtle, my professor of Strategic Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations, but there are other key, formative professors’ words here, too, such as Dr. Peter Robertson and Dr. Donald Morgan). I’ve added descriptions were context is need to strengthen the relevance of the quote.

  •  “People who learn quickly have a competitive advantage”  This was a running theme throughout the program. It is an especially key lesson for nonprofits because they’ve developed a reputation for being slow-moving. What this quote does is place an emphasis on the people. The organization can only change if employees can adjust.
  • “Businesses survive on information, not harmony.” This quote packs a personal message to step out of our comfort zone. Bringing up new ideas, challenging sector boundaries, and asking questions helps organizations and businesses stretch their thinking and gain information. It is through collection of that information that organizations can grow to their potential.
  • “You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable” You have to take risks to be a good leader. The idea here is that if you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing or reaching. If you aren’t growing and you are running operations in an organization, than the organization isn’t growing either.
  • “People who emerge as leaders are people who can manage change.” one professor reminded us that “nobody is going to change unless they see the need for change.” A good leader, he explained, is someone who sees the need, communicates it effectively, creates buy-in, and manages the change.
  • “Master the little things in relationships, because the unaddressed details– like who will do the dishes– will sink you.” This wasn’t just marriage advice dispensed by a professor. It was strategic management advice (and life advice, too). The idea of a partnership or collaboration sounds dandy in many situations. Unfortunately, our professor explained, many higher-ups leave the details dangling without clear direction as to who takes care of issues and how the partnership should be effectively handled by the organizations. Mastering the details is critical.
  • Treat people like they are valued, and they will be valuable.” This was said in regard to managing and leading teams, though I think it stands on its own.
  • “You must find the option that all parties hate equally.” This is about compromising and coming up with new solutions to meet stakeholder’s needs. Finding solutions that all stakeholders love is not very realistic in the public and nonprofit sectors. Also, if the quote was “you must find the option that both parties like equally,” then you’d never remember it. This quote also plays off of our program emphasis on Getting to Yes, a great book on compromise and creative solutions.
  • “Coopetition is when competitors collaborate” There are over 7,000 nonprofits in Los Angeles alone and many of these organizations have similar missions. Coopetition is a word that comes up a lot in classes in regard to strategically managing resources, but also putting a priority on maintaining a competitive advantage. Nonprofits must be able to both work together to accomplish a mission, and also to stand alone.
  • “Thou shalt not B.S. myself.” Organizational strengths only count as strengths if they are seen in the eyes of customers, donors, competitors, and constituents.  I like this quote, though, because it seems to be true of individual strengths as well.
  • “Social capital builds intellectual capital” In the information age, it takes people and connectivity to generate ideas and intelligence. Social relationships lead to new-age innovation.
  • “You need your followers more than they need you.” Leaders aren’t leaders if they don’t have followers and supporters. Achieving great things takes buy-in and participation.
  • “You get power by giving it away.” Don’t keep opportunity for yourself. Having power often means having opportunities and power to give to others.
  • “We all succeed or none of us succeeds…” This is not a quote from class, but a quote from A Dream For One World by Segev Perets, which we read in a class.  Though it would be an outrageous stretch to say that MPA’s run entirely on public service motivation, the desire to effectively carry out a meaningful mission that empowers constituents was a prevalent and key motivator for my classmates. It was the tie that binded us and a thing that we all seemed to understand.
I’m grateful to have learned an incredible amount of information in graduate school these last two years. These quotes don’t even begin to scratch the surface, but they are quick tidbits that I’ll carry with me into my next professional endeavour.
Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Miscellaneous, Nonprofit Marketing 6 Comments

Social Media and Museum Fundraising: 3 Easy Ways to Jump-Start a Relationship

The Fundraising Process

*This post is directed toward museum professionals, but these simple fundraising to-dos translate to nearly all nonprofits.

In March, I spoke about how zoos and aquariums can engage audiences using social media at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Mid-Year Meeting. Before the session started, I asked folks to raise their hands according to which department they served in their institution. No less than 30 of the 40 people in the room worked in marketing and PR departments. About eight or nine people worked in education, conservation, or husbandry (which is important; online engagement is an effective tool for education)

…and only one person was part of a development department.

Social media does not belong to the marketing department. In fact, the museums that use it best focus on engagement and education. Social media and online engagement are incredible new tools in our ‘museum professional’ toolboxes… Social media informs. It educates. It creates connections….So why aren’t fundraisers getting with these new tools like the marketers?

Creating an effective social media presence requires collaboration with multiple museum departments. Utilizing social media within the development department is just plain smart. I don’t just mean utilizing social media to help meet a museum’s bottom line through mobile giving campaigns (like this one) or publicizing membership events–though it can be used very effectively for these purposes. If marketing, education, and development can work together to track social media interaction and engage audiences, then it can benefit all three divisions.

Here are three easy, low-resource ways that social media can help development departments build connections and keep a pulse on donor engagement:

 

1) Note interactions with donors on Facebook and Twitter to monitor buy-in.

An advantage that the development division has? They know who the donors are. Engagement of these folks is particularly important and may lead to further giving. Figure out which of your donors ‘like’ you on Facebook and make it a habit to skim your organization’s Facebook page at the end of each day (or week, even) to see if a donor engaged on the site. This information helps you keep a pulse on your donors. For instance, you may just have a better chances making a formal ask to someone who you know is seeing and interacting with your content. That person is actively keeping tabs on the institution and engaged on a day-to-day basis (and you know it).

 

2) Make a private Twitter list of small and large-scale donors- and make a point to interact with them. 

Retweet them, @ reply them. Whatever you do, don’t ignore them. Because Twitter is a site for active engagement and open information-share, there’s potential to summon excitement and connection through this platform. It’s a bit more difficult to create direct conversation on Facebook. Quick Google searches can often indicate whether or not a specific donor has a twitter account.  It’s easy to quickly search and compile a list of donor’s Twitter accounts to pass along to the marketing department (or whomever is managing social media). Give them the list and ask them to keep tabs on these folks using Twitter’s private lists. This way, followers cannot see your donors, but the person running social media has a quick and easy way to remember who to keep an eye on and engage.

 

3) Take note of donor’s interests through social media to hone your story and find your connection.

Social media profiles and activities can provide a lot of personal information about donors. Marketeers use this information to help trace their demographic, but fundraisers should be using social media to fill in gaps about donors’ interests so that they can be more efficiently ‘courted’ at events and on-site. Checking up on social media activities doesn’t just help by uncovering that, say, a donor is running a half marathon next week (which may or may not be useful to you). By utilizing your museum’s social media channels, fundraisers can learn a lot about what it is about the institution that engages the donor. If someone tends to ‘like’ statuses about specific events or artists, that gives you a peek into their interests– And even better than that; it gives you a peek into your shared interests.

 

Some fundraisers make it personal by being the face of their cultural center’s fundraising efforts for certain donors. When using social media, transparency is critical and this method banks on that fact, in a way.

Generation Y has incredible giving potential, if you can tap into it– and they are on social media. In fact, many of us were raised with virtual connections and it’s an easy way for us to communicate. Fundraisers who can figure out how to use this medium by keeping tabs on and engaging with donors virtually may have a big advantage in the long run.

*Photo credits to Tushneem’s Ramble

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Fundraising, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 1 Comment

6 Big, Societal Changes That Have Already Happened. Has Your Museum Adjusted?

“One day, going on Facebook will be synonymous with going on the Internet.”

“In the future, there will be far fewer middle managers.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if, someday soon, every brand on the market will be tied to a nonprofit or a social cause.”

I don’t think these are futurist claims. It seems to be that what we think of as likely happening in the near future is actually happening right now. Often, it has already happened.

It’s possible that going on the Internet will be synonymous with going on Facebook, but in many ways, that’s the case right now. There are already fewer middle managers in the workplace than there have been in recent years, and corporate social responsibility has been called a new, necessary value for corporate survival.   There are a lot of seemingly confident predictions that we make everyday in nonprofit organizations.  Usually, these casual comments aren’t just predictions that we share conversationally with coworkers, but important perceptions and clues to strategic organizational evolution. Casual comments about the future are key to organizational periphery because adapting to ‘the future’ as if it were right now is likely to keep cultural nonprofits relevant and better able to adapt to change.

 

Here are six societal changes that have already started happening in a big way:

1. Nonprofit, for-profit, or individual: only the kind survive. Evolutionary biologists (from Science Daily and other places, too) predict that kindness may trump fitness in the next leg of human evolution. We’re seeing clues of this already. Much of the youngest generation entering the workforce is looking to be hired by nonprofits and public sector entities (though that doesn’t mean they don’t hope to change a few things). More than ever before, folks want to be doing meaningful work. When unemployment went up even early in the recession, so did volunteer rates. When people lost jobs and were unable to volunteer money, they volunteered their time to helping others instead. We are becoming nicer, and we are placing increased value on organizations that are nice. In 2009, Time Magazine called the change in societal and consumer behavior a Responsibility Revolution. According to Towers Watson, being socially responsible is no longer an option for private companies. It’s required for organizational survival. In sum, we’re all high on feel-good oxytocin and we feel it and spread it when we’re nice.

At-a-Glance Updates:

  • Champion your mission- Work your cause!
  • Help yourself while helping others- Team up with other nonprofits and social causes.
  • Make it easy for people to show publicly that they support you- You look good and so do your passionate supporters.

 

2. Online  and virtual communication has changed how we operate. Speaking of oxytocin, we also release it when we use social media and it contributes to feelings of trust and security. Perhaps this is why virtual relationships feel “real”… because, according to our brains, they really are real.  There are 600 billion people on Facebook, and all that friending, sharing, and liking has already had effects on what we value. Namely, transparency has been a transformational force in the global economy. Because everything is online and in the open, we want nothing to be hidden. Combining the movement toward positive public good described above and transparency born from the Web has yielded radical transparency. Now we need see-through CEOs.  Information share, information access, creating connections, building relationships, learning new skills… It’s all already moved online.

At-a-Glance Updates:

  • Update your public relations plan. Value-alignment is more important than making sure everyone says the same exact words during a PR crises.
  • Be real. Be sincere, identify yourself and your relationship to the organization, and speak conversationally.
  • Don’t be defensive. People will wonder what you are hiding.

 

3. Content is king. And his reign is  stronger than ever before. Speaking of wanting everything to be in the open, Information rules. In fact, every two days we create as much information as we did from the dawn of man until 2003. This is in large part thanks to the web, but don’t be quick to think that’s we’re robots spouting crazy facts like those people in the Bing commercials. Studies have found that people who really need information seek it from other people– especially people they already know. (Re) enter: Facebook. It’s not just a platform for personal connections, but for sharing ideas, gathering information, and a mecca for word-of-mouth marketing. This means that social media is great news for organizations. It builds connections while building on a museum’s mission to educate by sharing information- and making it easy for other people to share that information, too.

At-a-Glance Updates:

  • Know your stuff- If you have information to share (more than something to sell), then you have value.
  • Share your stuff- Make your organization accessible and share your information.
  • Become a hub- You don’t need to know all of the answers. If you’re unsure of one, point your fan or follower to someone who would know the answer. They’ll remember.

 

4. Employees of an organization work with one another, not for one another. The idea behind flat organizations is that removing intervening middle-managers empowers employees, allowing them to play an active role in the decision-making process, creating organizational buy-in, improving morale, and therefore strengthening the entire organization. Flat organizations move more quickly than hierarchical organizations and have several other structural benefits. These organizations are gaining attention. This is how modern businesses run themselves now: with an eye toward employee empowerment. This is in large part due to the web and the growth of information-share. This type of organizational structure should be of particular interest to nonprofits, as it allows organizations to move quickly. A side, fun fact? The science of teams is now actually a science.

At-a-Glance Updates:

  • Remove the walls and encourage conversation- Put the museum director in meetings with the coordinators.

 

5. If you’re a softie, now’s your moment. There may be no crying in baseball, but we’re moving closer to crying in business. Well, at least business is becoming more subjective, emotional, and related to non-measurable aspects of conscientiousness. Given all of the shifts mentioned above, this isn’t much of a shock. Now even MBA programs want folks who are more creative team-players than the old-fashioned my-way-or-the-highway guys. All this sound feminine? It kind of is. Does that mean the pay gap will catch up and the nonprofiteers (often masters of soft skills) will be making all the dough in the future thanks to their in-demand leadership skills? I sure hope so, but I guess we have to wait and see…

At-a-Glance Updates:

  • Hire soft-skilled employees– Look for people who are resourceful, collaborative, and display a positive attitude.
  • Celebrate your employees and coworkers- Because chances are, they already display the soft skills that are leading your cultural organization.

 

6. Generation Y is taking the reigns. And there are a few general qualities that make up members of this generation: entrepreneurial, tech-savvy, over-confident, casual, team-oriented, and we value time over money. There’s value in getting this demographic on board and connecting with your charity. The key to that is in supporting them.  I think blogger Sam Davidson says it best: “More Millennials would rather buycott than boycott, and we’d rather volunteer than vote… Gen Y has the potential to change the world, just not in the way you think.” Aside from the fact that they operate in ways that mirror big societal changes taking place and they can keep you current, here are a few more reasons to hire and engage Millennials.

At-a-Glance Updates:

  • Hire young folks as managers– or staying relevant may be a bit harder…
  • Understand there are things to learn– They operate differently sometimes.
  • Know that the way everything operates is changing– And will change even more with Generation Z.
Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Millennials, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments

Nonprofit Management: 3 Ways That Social Media Builds High-Impact Museums

The Exploratorium is one of the twleve organizations identified by Crutchfield and Grant that displays all six practices of high-impact nonprofits.

Nonprofits risk missing out on several opportunities when they entertain the mindset that social media belongs to the marketing department. This is especially true for museums. For one,  audience-inspiring stories often stem from inside operations, such as conservation, horticulture, and life sciences departments, not to mention anecdotes and lessons from  floor staff, interpreters, docents and ongoing programs. The opportunity that social technology affords museums in spreading their mission of educating visitors cannot be ignored. Social technology helps educational initiatives transcend museum walls, and even the most common social media sites offer opportunities to engage different types of learners.

But the issue extends beyond the notion that social media helps nonprofits and museums better fulfill their missions. Social technology can (and soon enough, in everyday life, will be) used to make nonprofits stronger organizations overall. In preparation for their 2007 book, Forces for Good, Leslie R. Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant examined twelve of the nation’s most impactful and successful nonprofit organizations. They pieced their findings together and outlined six practices of high-impact nonprofits: inspire evangelists, nurture nonprofit networks, share leadership, advocate and serve, make markets work, and master the art of adaptation.   Today, social technology plays a leading role in helping organizations to meet more than half of the critical six practices of high-impact nonprofits. And chances are, social media will continue to evolve so that we can even better utilize social media to take on these critical functions.

1. Inspiring Evangelists. Successful organizations turn outsiders into insiders in order to help spread a message. Evangelists often have a personal connection to an organization’s cause and they cultivate their own networks to support the cause. This effort helps build the organization’s overall community. Successful organizations open the door to outsiders and seek to communicate with them and creating meaningful experiences. Because being social is at the heart of social media, sites help to efficiently create conversation and cultivate evangelists. In the world of social media, we call these evangelist outsiders free agents. It’s no wonder we’ve developed have our own term for online evangelists in the last four years;  the Internet makes it easier than ever to connect with causes- and to connect with people who support your causes.

2. Nurturing Nonprofit Networks. According to Crutchfield and Grant’s research, successful charities recognize that strengthening their organization involves also strengthening the sector and sharing information. The notion that a good nonprofit tries to put itself out of business is at least conceptually true. A step forward in innovative educational outreach for one museum is a step forward for the power of informal learning for everyone.  Social media makes it easier to grow the pie and share knowledge. Several significant online resources are free to everyone. If one museum has developed a new exhibit that has been shown to have educational value, it’s easy for museum professionals to share the information. In fact, the blogosphere is great for information-share and overall sector-strengthening. Information sharing not only strengthens museums overall, but it helps to develop individual leadership. And we need strong and knowledgeable leadership for this evolving industry. As a related side, here are some of my favorite, basic resources for individual museum professional development.

3. Mastering the Art of Adaptation. Social media not only facilitates the development of this organizational skill (adaptation), but having good social media requires it. Forces for Good shares a cycle for adapting to change: listen, experiment and innovate, evaluate and learn, modify. This is the exact approach that is advocated (yes, for lean start-ups, but similarly) for developing social media strategies. In order to be effective on social media, folks representing museums and other nonprofit organizations must listen, try new things, and take note of how audiences respond to those initiatives. Moreover, mastering adaptation involves balancing bureaucracy and creativity. As museums embrace social media, they find themselves both hungry for online engagement but also apprehensive of it. Radical trust is an issue for museums. Taking on social media mimics the organizational process of adopting change, mostly because adapting to social media is a big change for many institutions. The cycle never ends. In order to be taking full advantage of social media, organizations must be constantly listening, testing, and fixing. They must be constantly adapting.

Nonprofits are moving forward in utilizing social to aid in the final three practices of high-impact nonprofits as well.

  • Advocating and serving. Crutchfield and Grant found that high-impact nonprofits both provide their own services and advocate for policy reform. It’s no surprise that social media is a good tool for building awareness and spreading a message. In fact, Planned Parenthood is a good example of an organization tapping into networks to support policy advocacy.
  • Sharing Leadership. “Great nonprofit leaders share power,” Crunchfield and Grant write. Social media can help share information in order to educate professionals and cultivate leaders. It prepares professionals for the sharing of leadership, and empowers them to create their own professional voice through their personal brands.
  • Making Markets Work. Social media can help nonprofit and for-profit partners connect to create collaborations that financially aid nonprofits and lend a reputation for promoting social good to for-profits. One way that museums leverage the market is by selling admission. In this case, social media really does work as a true marketing force, and online tools and mobile applications can help visitors purchase admission remotely.

Social media is a key resource for museums that want to develop nonprofit management techniques to help raise their organization above the rest. However, this will not be the case for long. Before we know it, those organizations that have not tapped into online networks to strengthen their museum will be far behind. Using social media to actively and consciously cultivate sustainability and long-term impact will be commonplace. At some point we may find that online engagement through social technology is not just a smart business move, but a matter of long-term nonprofit survival.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 1 Comment

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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