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Community Engagement

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

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