Audience Insights: Organizations Overlook the Most Important Clues

Clues for increased satisfaction and visitation are often right under the noses of cultural organizations. I frequently hear executive leaders Read more

Do Expansions Increase Long-Term Attendance? (DATA)

Sometimes it feels like nearly every cultural organization is taking on a major expansion project. But do these projects Read more

Over 60% of Recent Visitors Attended Cultural Organizations As Children (DATA)

You may have guessed it was true – but here’s why this statistic matters. The idea that those who visit Read more

Cultural Organizations: It Is Time To Get Real About Failures

Hey cultural organizations! Do you know what we don’t do often enough? Talk about our failures. It’s a huge, Read more

How Annual Timeframes Hurt Cultural Organizations

Some cultural executives still aim for short-term attendance spikes at the expense of long-term financial solvency – and they Read more

Special Exhibits vs. Permanent Collections (DATA)

Special exhibits don’t do what many cultural organizations think that they do. If fact, they often do the opposite. Read more

Community Engagement

People, Planet, Profit: Checks and Balances for Cultural Organizations

It’s a time of change and evaluation for cultural organizations – and that’s a good thing.

The societal current condition in the United States is bringing to light several challenging – and likely incredibly beneficial – fundamental questions about cultural organizations, including who we are and what we stand for. Are these necessarily the same questions that we would have chosen to confront at this moment of our own accord? Probably not…but, confronting these (perhaps inconvenient) challenges may be long overdue for many cultural executives and board members.

As I wrote last week: We’re not political organizations – but we are social and cultural organizations – and we exist in the prevailing context of what is happening in the world around us. Negative substitution of the historic visitor is taking its slow toll on attendance numbers, and visitor confidence is low right now. (I know, I know: Select organizations are experiencing modest upticks in attendance – but, in general, these modest increases are not keeping pace with population growth. Adjusting for population growth can be a bummer that can turn our “increased attendance party” into a “pity party.”)

It’s time for a check-up. It’s time to ask ourselves some difficult questions in order to make sure that our organizations are prepared to tackle strategic issues that may or may not confront our organizations during periods of change. It’s time to make sure that we are prepared.

Enter: Colleen (hi there) and some brief thought-fuel informed from conversations with colleagues over the last few weeks as we revisit visitor-serving organization basics, explore strategic plans, and challenge fundamental questions at a moment in time when knowing who your organization is and what it stands for is critical.

 

The triple bottom lines for cultural organizations

In order for us visitor-serving organizations to “work,” we generally need to master three, key areas that serve as our triple bottom lines as nonprofit organizations: People (community), Planet (mission), and Profit (or, more accurately, revenues). Our success depends upon all three of these core areas of people, planet, and profit, and we’re only as strong as our weakest core area. Each “bottom line” category may spawn some interesting – and likely beneficial – strategic conversations:

 

 

Profit (Revenue)

Revenue aids your organization in cultivating visitation and building community, and is necessary for investments in your mission. Hold the cringe, mission-focused folks! If we cannot keep our doors open and be financially sustainable, then we cannot fulfill our purpose. Revenues make it possible for us to pursue our missions. We need to care about solvency. Some organizations are more dependent on the gate while others are more dependent on grants and government funding. Regardless of how your organization keeps its lights on, less money usually means less mission delivery.

Questions to consider: What if grants and government funding become less available? Does your organization have enough market appeal and business strategy to exist on its own? After all, the market determines our success, regardless of how we keep our doors open. Are we approaching access opportunities in a way that is most beneficial to our solvency? It’s an important time for organizations to understand access basics and reconsider their engagement funnels. In a simplified nutshell: Likely visitors attend your organization by paying your optimal admission price; likely supporters visit by way of membership or donor groups; and lower-income and other under-served audiences visit by virtue of your organization’s investment in targeted access programs.

Relevant context: Contemplating these opportunities and how they relate to your organization (for starters), can help channel discussions about how your organization keeps itself afloat. While nothing has happened yet, funding from NEA, NEH and other government-supported sources may be in peril. Additionally, US-based institutions may benefit by remembering the difficult situation recently faced by many museums in Europe when austerity measures reduced government funding. While we may not ultimately lose significant funding and government support as a sector, it would be irresponsible to not consider these possibilities and what they would mean for our organizations. No matter how your organization keeps its doors open (admission revenues, donations, government or foundation funding, endowment dividends, etc.), now is a good time to do a check-in and play the “what if?” game.

 

People (Community)

People keep our doors open and also make our missions possible, as many organizations have missions that revolve around people and communities. The need to be welcoming has never been greater for cultural organizations because our historic audiences are leaving the market at a higher rate than they are being replaced (a phenomenon called negative substitution of the historic visitor). Many organization types are confronting challenging negative attitude affinities, meaning that people don’t feel that these types of organizations may be “places for people like them.”

Questions to consider: Who and what matters most to our organizations? Whose opinion do we care about: Emerging audiences upon whom our future depends, or the sensitivities of unlikely visitors who might be put-off by science or culture? How do we mobilize people and communities to serve our missions – and, when it comes to cultivating communities during periods of conflict and social division, what roles do we play? At our core, cultural organizations are hubs of human connection. That is our superpower. To what extent do we nurture our community and provide a space for discussion, and to what extent do we avoid this very role for fear of polarization? Is inaction also an action? It appears to be. Do we truly welcome all, or do we welcome only certain audiences? It’s time to be honest about this.

Relevant US context: It’s been reported that we are currently a nation divided and hate crimes have increased. Now may be a time when cultural organizations are called upon to stand up for emerging audiences, and, in the process, cultivate them as attendees and supporters. Some organizations are already defending communities, though those are still tending to be the organizations whose participation is logical (i.e. the Holocaust Museum). If social polarization continues, it may be likely that all kinds of visitor-serving organizations will need to fight harder against appearing unwelcoming.

Ours has perhaps become a Protest-of-the-Day society where a pithy hashtag defines the movement of the moment as folks figure out how to organize to make their stances known. This risks reaction – or, even worse, inaction – from cultural organizations frightened by the perceived risks of audience alienation. However, what we sometimes fail to recognize is that our efforts to remain impartial may be discordant with our missions – and may risk alienating the very people most likely to engage with our organizations. Consider the below data from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study that organizes the US public’s intent to visit a cultural organization by their belief that climate change is mostly due to man made activities.:

What these data suggest is that a person who strongly believes in the science indicating man’s role in climate change is 1.76x more likely to visit a cultural organization in the relative near-term than someone who denies man’s role as a primary contributor to climate change. In fact, the data suggest that persons who don’t believe that man is responsible for climate change are generally less likely visitors to cultural enterprise – which makes sense: If one doesn’t believe in man’s role in climate change – or even in the science of climate change – then why would one waste their time and money visiting a natural history museum, aquarium, zoo, science center, or science museum where science plays a central role in the organization’s mission and programming?

We live in an era of incredible personalization, and this increasingly means self-selection. Significant portions of the public choose to engage with activities and information sources that conform to their existing worldview. As the public becomes less omnivorous in its consumptions, organizations risk becoming unappetizing to people by choosing the bland middle ground.

 

Planet (Mission)

Our missions are the reason for our existence. They motivate people to visit and support, and they also bring people together. Nearly all cultural organizations have missions that revolve around people (educate, inspire), and some also go beyond this to include messages of conservation or preservation. Having a mission doesn’t just make us feel good. Organizations that highlight their missions financially outperform those marketing primarily as attractions. An organization being perceived as “walking its talk” is critical for success.

Questions to consider: What are we doing to make the world better? How? Will we have the courage to take a stand for our missions? To what extent are we willing to honor our missions, and what trade-offs are we willing to accept to defend our missions? Will we have trouble with our board? Will would-be donors be upset if we pursue our missions? Will our board members support our mission even if it contravenes their personal or professional preferences? (Which, of course, begs the question of if we should have board members who disagree with our mission in the first place?) Do we have any conflicts of interest that fly in the face of our mission? How can we resolve these conflicts?

Relevant US context: Science and culture are being politicized. Though we are not political organizations, there are choices to be made that may risk politicization. Some things that we protect and cherish as part of our missions may be threatened by government actions, including access to the arts, climate, oceans, animal species extinction, and even fundamental aspects of education. Nonprofit organizations have missions, and it will be important for organizations to have honest conversations at a board and leadership level about dedication to the mission.

 

For organizations to thrive, they need to have all three elements of people, planet, and profit in-check. Much of the change that could be triggered by possible policy changes would have been inevitable. Cultural organizations need to reach new audiences. In an increasingly transparent world, we need to be asking hard questions. These challenges and changes may not be “bad” at all! To the contrary, if anything, these changes may simply speed up the necessary evolution of the visitor-serving industry.

Again, it all comes back to people, planet, and profit. To quote School House Rock talking about our three-ring government, “Everybody’s act is part of the show and no one’s job is more important. The audience is kinda like the country, you know, keeping an eye on their performance.” Regardless of your political leanings and policy preferences, now is a good time to take a look at how your organization manages its people, planet, and profit – the checks and balances that ensure your future vitality.

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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

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

Visitor Confidence Is In Decline For US Cultural Organizations (DATA)

An index specifically measuring confidence of likely visitors to cultural organizations? We’ve got that and, all things considered, it’s probably time to share it.

Alright, folks. Things are about to get particularly “math-y” up in here. Follow me, fellow nerds (or people who care at all about visitation to cultural organizations), because I’ve got some good news (a new metric), and some not-great news (what that metric indicates right now).

The Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) is a measure of US consumer confidence, which, in turn, is a measure of how the market perceives both the US economy and their personal finances. The metric is a pretty big deal. The process of quantifying consumer confidence involves querying members of the market about their current and near-term savings and spending intentions. In general, if market members are confident about the state of both the overall economy and their personal finances, then they tend to spend more (and, thus, save less). If persons are less confident about the economy and their finances, then they tend to indicate intentions to save more and spend less. The Consumer Confidence Index has become an important economic indicator, and has shown general alignment to actual economic performance. For example, consumer confidence often increases as the economy grows.

Several years ago, a client that operates several prominent visitor-serving organizations tasked IMPACTS to develop a similar metric as a measure of visitor confidence with a specific emphasis on high-propensity visitors. For not-regular KYOB readers: High-propensity visitors are those market members with the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood of visiting cultural organizations. Not only are these people the lifeblood of our organizations in terms of visitation, they are also critical to the sustained vitality of our organizations as they are the trusted sources who promulgate word-of-mouth endorsements to other potential visitors. Because likely visitors drive the cultural market, the attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors of likely visitors provide early insight into the overall “cultural economy.”

Technically, the metric isn’t “new” as we’ve been collecting data related to it since the start of 2012, but this is the first time that I’ve had the opportunity to write about it – or even felt a compelling urge to do so because it ebbs and flows with limited volatility. At least until the fall of 2016 it was trending upward. Until November 2016, there wasn’t much to report in terms of this metric except that visitor confidence was generally observed to be in a steady ascent over time.

 

The High-Propensity Visitor Confidence Index (HPVCI)

The HPVCI is a measure of high-propensity visitors’ sentiment concerning their participation in the cultural economy. Similar to the Consumer Confidence Index, IMPACTS developed a survey to quantify measures of broad market perceptions of the cultural sector and also individual prospective visitor intentions. These measures contemplated both immediate and near-term perceptions and intentions. Inputs informing the overall metric include macro measures relating to sector perceptions (e.g. attitudes about the overall perceived value of museums, zoos, aquariums, and the performing arts), and more specific measures concerning intentions to visit a cultural organization within a defined duration. The High-Propensity Visitor Confidence Index (HPVCI) quantifies these measures as a composite value, whereby the measure of January 2012 equals 100.0. (In other words, January 2012 was set as the index benchmark, and consequent months measure performance relative to the benchmark.) As a point of comparative reference, the chart below indicates both the monthly CCI and HPVCI for the three-year duration spanning January 2014 through January 2017. The CCI for January 2017 was 111.8, and the HPVCI was 92.8. During the indicated three-year duration, the average monthly CCI was 95.2 and the average monthly HPVCI was 103.0.

This chart is shared above, but let’s put it here again to avoid a “scroll up” situation:

What is interesting – and potentially alarming – for cultural organizations is the recent trend line indicating a 15.9% decline in HPVCI in the last four months (from 110.4 in September 2016 to 92.8 in January 2017). Indeed, the January HPVCI of 92.8 is the lowest observed HPVCI since the metric’s inception in January 2012.

 

Why this decline is alarming

Any measure that suggests a decline in usage or perceptions amongst our most key audiences is troubling. Also, the severity of the decline seems notable. During the analyzed three-year duration, the HPVCI has been largely stable with only modest observed peaks and valleys…until most recently. While the CCI includes representative market members from all demographic cohorts, high-propensity visitors tend to have higher educational attainment levels and higher household income levels than the overall US population. They are a more homogeneous, generally stable population, and, as such, may be less susceptible to short-term economic volatility. This makes it all the more concerning that this highly educated, financially secure audience has recently signaled declining confidence in terms of their intentions to visit cultural organizations. (Note: The CCI went down in January, too.)

Another reason why we should be concerned is because there is a lack of unique visitation to cultural organizations right now. We are especially dependent upon the “historic visitor” subset of the high-propensity visitor audience – and that subset tends to be the most educated and/or earning the highest incomes of this group. In general – and in spite of overall US population growth – the number of unique visitors to US cultural organizations has remained relatively stable over the past decade, which is a symptom of negative substitution of the historic visitor. “Unique visitation” is the measure of the number of individual persons who annually visit an organization, and differs from total annual visitation as individuals may visit more than once. For example, 100,000 unique visitors each visiting an organization two times would result in a total visitation of 200,000. In many instances, attendance to cultural organizations is not keeping pace with overall US population growth. This places an increasing burden on a finite number of people (i.e. the people in this metric) to “keep up the numbers.”

 

Why the HPVCI may be in decline

It’s time to acknowledge the elephant in the website article: There was a presidential election that coincides with the observed decline in the HPVCI. Like the CCI, the HPVCI measures perceptions related to the present situation and expectations. These data suggest that people with higher educational attainment levels have relatively low visitor confidence right now. During the election, news sources touted that education wars have replaced the culture wars and it’s worth noting that highly educated folks tend to be liberal. TIME even suggests that the newly inaugurated President has declared war on science. When we organize the HPVCI numbers by educational attainment, it’s clear to see that those high-propensity visitors with the most education are reporting the lowest confidence values. While all educational attainment cohorts indicated lower HPVCI from December 2016 to January 2017, the steepest declines were reported among the most educated persons.

This finding suggests that high-propensity visitors aren’t feeling so warm and fuzzy about a future visiting cultural organizations right now. In fact, people don’t seem to be feeling very warm and fuzzy in general. The American Psychological Association recently published a study indicating that the majority of Americans – both Democrats and Republicans alike – reported that the 2016 US presidential election was a very or somewhat significant source of stress. The study reveals that election-related stress is bipartisan, and bridges ethnic, racial, and age gaps. Moreover, it indicates that social media – the increasingly dominant means by which our HPVs are acquiring information – is a contributor to the observed election season stresses and anxieties.

So, it should come as no surprise that our high-propensity visitors – who are 1.43x more likely to vote than the average eligible voter, and who are relying on social media as an information source at a rate 1.45x greater than the balance of the US population – are stressed. And this, of course, stands to impact their outlook right now.

Also, there has been a lot of recent press concerning possible funding cuts to the arts that have the likely impact of negatively affecting perceptions of the “state of our state.” These types of doomsday stories may support lessened views on the outlook for our cultural economy. If the market believes that the cultural world is imperiled, it is not a huge leap to consider that some might instead choose to invest their discretionary time and dollars in competing enterprise or imagine doing something else – other than visiting – in the future.

 

So what?

The data suggest that the recent events have shaken the confidence of our most likely visitors – and we have an obligation to both acknowledge and respond to our surroundings to provide comfort, assurance, and a non-partisan sanctuary for the same values and ideals that underpin our missions. Organizations that highlight their missions perform the best financially. Last week, The Museum of Modern Art highlighted works by artists from Muslim-majority nations.  Parts of the mission statement of The Museum of Modern Art read that “…The Museum of Modern Art recognizes that modern and contemporary art transcend national boundaries and…seeks to create a dialogue between the established and the experimental, the past and the present, in an environment that is responsive to the issues of modern and contemporary art, while being accessible to a public that ranges from scholars to young children.”

Displaying art from Muslim-majority nations is not in itself a political statement – it is making good on the promise of MoMA’s mission statement.  Keeping promises builds confidence. MoMA is practicing its mission, not engaging in activism. We’re not political organizations – but we are social and cultural organizations – and we exist in the prevailing context of the United States right now regardless of political preference.

A possible “So what?” may be to stop pretending to be impartial observers and live up to our missions. Confidence may be in decline because we’ve been less responsive to opportunity. We may not be serving as the gathering spaces and treasured places of connectivity that our likely visitors need us to be right now. Where museums stand on issues, what they support, and who runs them (and what those people stand for) can be confusing during this divided time. While some organizations are taking stands when called upon (too many to link to, but not enough to carry sector perception), others are going above and beyond to avoid the conversation. For every MoMA making headlines in The New York Times about honoring their mission, there seems to be another organization also making the New York Times headlines that begs more questions about trust and who makes important decisions within cultural organizations. Sure, we can be places of sanctuary – but are simply being places of sanctuary and institutional (increasingly contrived) silence good enough right now? I’m not sure. We’re being called upon to know ourselves right now – the trouble is that many organizations simply don’t. That’s a big issue, and for many organizations, it’s a board issue.

Standing for absolutely nothing when called upon to take a position isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring. I’m not suggesting that all visitor-serving organizations turn to curatorial activism – nor do these data claim (let alone does the US tax code) support such a stand. I’m also not suggesting that organizations stand on a specific side of the political divide! That’s not necessary and that’s not what this is about. These data simply show that our most likely supporters aren’t feeling confident about participating in our cultural economy right now. That’s a problem – but it also calls upon us to be heroes and shine when our visitors need us most. It’s our time to flex our superpower muscles and serve as hubs of human connection, education, and inspiration for our communities and our neighbors. THAT could be where we stand, if we make the decision to do so – and that’s not political. It’s mission-serving. Let’s up the integrity ante in the way that works best for each organization. The market is demanding it of us.

To lovers of science, culture, and informal learning who are reading this not because you run a cultural organization, but because you love one: Now is truly the time to do what you do – to visit and support those organizations and special places that inspire you most during times of potential anxiety, stress, and transition.

In the words of the Avett Brothers, it may be time for organizations to decide what to be and go be it. 

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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

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

The Visitor Engagement Cycle for Cultural Organizations

Securing visitation comes down to increasing reputation offsite and satisfaction onsite. Here’s how it works.

If your organization aims to increase onsite visitation (and whose doesn’t?), then it’s important to understand the basics of the visitor engagement cycle. This week’s KYOB Fast Facts video is a brief overview of the cycle. At IMPACTS, we have a lot of data that inform this cycle…and nearly every post on KYOB applies somewhere in the cycle. While I’ve shared aspects of the cycle before, it occurs to me that I have not shared its overview on Know Your Own Bone. With that in mind, here we are!

For those of you who aren’t into videos, I’ve included a brief write up below. That said, I suggest watching the video as it gives an animated overview that I think summarizes the cycle quite nicely.

There are two primary aspects of the engagement cycle: offsite connection and onsite relevance. The cycle is just that – a cycle. Here’s how it goes, folks!

 

1) Offsite connection increases reputation

(which motivates a visit)

We could start anywhere in the cycle, but it seems to make the most sense to start from the point of view of somebody considering a visit to a cultural organization. I’ve written (and even made a video) about this part of the cycle several times before – particularly because it underscores why social media is so dang important for securing visitation.

In order to get someone in the door, then we need to know what motivates the visitation decision-making process. With help from IMPACTS and the discretionary decision-making model informed by the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study, it’s clear to see that reputation is a top-five motivator for visitation. This is true among the US composite market, but also among high-propensity visitors (i.e. those folks who profile as our target audiences). In fact, for high-propensity visitors, reputation is second only to schedule as a factor in their decision-making process.

As a fun fact: In Western Europe, reputation is the top driver of visitation by a long shot. This implies that folks in Western Europe would be willing (and do) make time to visit organizations that they’d like to attend. Here in the US, we’re more likely to take the day off work and then fill it with an activity or two that is of interest rather than taking a day off specifically to visit a cultural organization.

 

Great! Reputation is a top motivator for visitation. Now you may be wondering, “ What goes into reputation?” It’s a good question. According to the model of diffusion, two things feed into reputation: The first is called the coefficient of innovation (or, things that you pay to say about yourself). The second thing that goes into reputation is called the coefficient of imitation (or, things that others say about you). This includes word of mouth endorsements, social media, earned media, and peer review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor.

What others say about you is 12.85x more important in driving your reputation than things that you pay to say about yourself. Yes, organizations need to market, but, more than that, they benefit by communicating and facilitating the sharing of other’s positive experience and perceptions.

When we connect with audiences offsite, we increase our reputation, and, as we now know, reputation is a top motivator for visitation.

 

2) Onsite relevance increases visitor satisfaction

(which motivates endorsement)

Now let’s say that we’ve secured a visit. (Woohoo!) Now what? The goal now is to increase visitor satisfaction. It may seem obvious, but high onsite satisfaction values correlate with a greater intent to revisit within a shorter duration, as you can see in this data from IMPACTS:

If you’re wondering what aspects of the visitor experience contribute to higher levels of satisfaction, there’s a breakdown here. (Yes, we “math”-ed it. Because data.) Hint: Education it not unimportant, but entertainment value matters most when it comes to onsite engagement.

We also uncovered the single most reliable way to increase onsite visitor satisfaction – and it has nothing to do with fancy new wings. Within cultural organizations, we often forget our greatest superpower: The power of “with.”  Who people are with is often more important than what they see (with > what). After all, cultural organizations really are all about people. I could keep going on data-informed ways to increase onsite satisfaction, but my point here is that increasing satisfaction is the goal of onsite engagement.

When visitors have an onsite experience that feels relevant to them, it increases satisfaction, and, thus, their likelihood to provide positive endorsements. And we just covered the importance of positive endorsements! They fuel offsite connection, which increases reputation and leads to a visit, which increases satisfaction and leads to endorsement.

 

3) Offsite connection increases reputation again

(which motivates revisitation and/or a visit from a friend)

 

It’s a lovely cycle and it looks like the above image. To get the cycle right, organizations must aim for connective communications that increase their reputations, and relevant onsite experiences that increase satisfaction.

 

Offsite connection is every bit as important as onsite relevance – and we need them both to feed the fire for ongoing visitation. It’s difficult – if not impossible – to discuss getting people in the door without acknowledging the realities of this cycle. This concept is a critical driver of conversations for me and my colleagues at IMPACTS – and I hope that it is helpful to you and your organization as well.

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution 4 Comments

Negative Substitution: Why Cultural Organizations Must Better Engage New Audiences FAST (DATA)

Fewer and fewer people look, act, and think like “historic” attendees to visitor-serving organizations. Here’s how many fewer.

As we dive more fully into 2017, I wanted to take a moment to discuss negative substitution and take a deeper dive into how it is affecting cultural organizations. The bad news is that negative substitution of historic visitors is taking place for mission-driven, visitor-serving organizations (museums, theaters, symphonies and orchestras, science centers, botanic gardens, etc.). The good news is that the first step to evolution may be acknowledging our changing market. On that note, let’s do this…

 

Negative substitution is urgent

Negative substitution is a phenomenon occurring globally wherein the number of people who profile as historic visitors leaving the market outpaces the number of people who profile as historic visitors entering the market. It’s the driving reason for the decline in attendance to museums, zoos, aquariums, performing arts entities, and other visitor-serving organizations. Negative substitution is taking place because the market is growing more diverse, while perceptions of cultural organizations as being places for a certain kind of person have remained largely static. Simply, when there are fewer people in the market who profile as historic visitors year-over-year, and also growth in the number people who profile as “nontraditional audiences” year-over-year, the market potential risks fewer-and-fewer visitors over time.

The data below is an aggregate of all museum types that we monitor at IMPACTS (224 of them) crossed with visitation information from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study of (currently) over 108,000 people. It includes museums related to art, history, and science, children’s museums, historic sites, performing art organizations, zoos, aquariums, and botanic gardens. The negative substitution rate for museums shows that for every one historic visitor who leaves the US market (by way of death, relocation, or migration), they are being replaced by only 0.948 of a person (by way of birth, relocation, or immigration). This may not sound impressive – but this is actually a huge difference.

Think of it this way: An organization with a stable attendance of 1,000,000 visitors may keep doing everything right by their current audiences (e.g. marketing, developing exhibits, etc.), and then might reasonably expect to engage 948,000 future visitors…and then 899,000 visitors…and then progressively fewer yet visitors over time absent interdiction. And they will be doing everything right by their current audiences!

 

In order to overcome negative substitution, we need to do a better job at attracting two, general audiences that do not visit cultural organizations at representative rates relative to their market size: millennials and not-white people (bluntly). Keep in mind, these are not entirely different audiences as millennials are the largest generation in human history and nearly half of us are of different racial and ethnic backgrounds than traditional historic visitors. Moreover, as sick as we may be of discussing it, data suggest that organizations must do a much better job at attracting and retaining millennial audiences. Negative substitution rates for different types of visitor-serving organizations generally correlate with attitude affinities – or to what degree the public perceives that an organization is “for people like me.” Though I will be referencing them later, you can learn more about different attitude affinities for different organization types in this post.

 

Overcoming negative substitution means changing the profile of the historic visitor to cultural organizations

Or rather, we need to evolve to be perceived as more welcoming to different types of people than our “traditional” visitor. Negative substitution suggests that, if we keep on keeping on attracting people that look and behave like our current audiences, we’ll slowly decline in visitation over time. Sure, we need to evolve to meet the changing expectations of historic audiences by honoring market trends of personalization, connectivity, and transparency. More than that, we need to do a better job at attracting different types of people and making them our regular attendees. (And not simply our “super special one-off-program” attendees.) We need to change up the very profile of the type of person who wants to visit a cultural organization.

Isn’t it funny that many museums are only now realizing the importance of data-informed decision-making…all the while focusing primarily on audience research that risks yielding deleterious long-term consequences by emphasizing the very programs and budget allocations that support negative substitution in the first place? To reach new audiences, we need to get smarter about market research and attracting the people who we want to visit but don’t yet attend. The people who we need to start attracting are not yet on our email lists and, by definition, aren’t onsite to fill out surveys. (Yes, Colleen. It’s… hilarious.)

The change that we need to carry out is a big deal – and we are (however slowly) progressing on the whole! In the history of museums and cultural organizations, this kind of shift has never been so urgent. Today, with evolving demographics and imperiled government funding, engaging emerging audiences matters more to our missions and financial solvency than ever before. And, indeed, many organizations are implementing new strategies to cultivate and attract new audiences. Successful organizations are changing up how we approach change.

 

How negative substitution is affecting organization types

While the overall negative substitution rate for museums is 0.948 people entering for every one person who leaves the market, we are able to further parse the negative substitution rates of specific types of cultural organizations. Here’s a sample of them and some notes that may contribute to the negative substitution rates of each visitor-serving type. Let’s go backward from those with the lowest negative substitution rates to those with the biggest opportunity.

Zoos: Among visitor-serving organizations, zoos are suffering least from negative substitution. This is true even amidst increasing discussions about animal care and welfare. Like aquariums (discussed next), zoos may more easily deliver on the promise of awe and wonder without facing some of the perceived intellectual intimidation that may be attendant to a science or art museum visit. Moreover (and interestingly), lexical analysis of data reveals that being outside may play a role in reducing negative attitude affinities for zoos. Conceptually, it makes sense: Being outside may feel more like a park or public area than being within the walls of an institution. Also, like aquariums, having the added “so what?” of conservation and the protection of animals provides an added level of reputational equity that works in this type of organization’s favor.

Aquariums: Aquariums are also suffering notably less than the museum industry average. That said, negative substitution is never a good thing – and there’s still important work to be done. A reason for these higher (comparatively) values may be that aquariums are among the types of visitor-serving organizations that are most dependent upon the market. Relatively speaking, as a sector, aquariums generally have the lowest levels of government support, the smallest endowments, and many have also emphasized their nonprofit-y conservation mission that engenders additional support. (Generally, this helps aquariums – and any organization that particularly highlights its mission.) Aquariums also may be able to capture awe and wonder without as big a risk of the perceived intimidation factor that may burden other content types.

History museums: History museums are a wee bit above the museum negative substitution average of 0.948:1.000. History organizations tend to rely most heavily on stories (or, talking about history) than other types of organizations that are perceived to revolve around specific, individual artworks or exhibits. While visitor-serving organizations are increasingly understanding the importance of creative storytelling in an effort to create relevance and resonance with visitors, history organizations may have storytelling most definitionally embedded within their reputational DNA. Storytelling and providing relevant, personalized connections are critical today – and this is also an area where history organizations have the ability to shine.

Art museums: Art museums fall just below the industry negative substitution average. Like science museums (discussed next), art museums may have distinct, perceived reputational barriers that may contribute to negative attitude affinities – or, people thinking they simply “aren’t places for people like me.” As the stern forefathers of “don’t touch,” “stay behind the line,” and “quiet, please” cultural engagement, it’s worth noting that art museums may have been starting from a rather uninviting place. With that in mind, this number still isn’t “good,” but it does show hope and acknowledge that there has likely been meaningful progress made by art museums in responding to these new market realities.

Science museums and science centers: Science museums and science centers are put together in this data because the market largely does not distinguish between science centers and science museums. I could (and likely will) write an entire post with more data on why the science museum/center market has higher negative substitution rates than the museum average and some possible superpowers for combating it, but here’s a very brief run-down:

Interestingly, among visitor-serving organizations, science centers/museums tend to be viewed comparatively as places to visit with children. While this was probably a good thing when millennials – the largest generation in US history – were the kids, it’s not great news now that millennial women are reproducing at the slowest rate in US history. Simply put, millennials are having fewer children (or no children), and they are having their children later in their lives – when they are more advanced in their careers and leisure time is particularly precious. If you’re an organization that has the public perception of being a place primarily for children, your market size is likely shrinking.

Moreover, like art museums, “science” content may be viewed as intimidating for nontraditional visitors. There may be a perceived content “language barrier” that contributes to folks thinking that science museums/centers “aren’t for people like me.” Science is a big topic with a lot of specialties! One can see how someone who doesn’t know much about the accessibility of science centers/museums might be intimidated. (Heck, even folks who DO know about the accessibility of science centers/museums may feel this way!) Combine this with the perception that these are places where you take your kids, and potential visitors may fear a “Dad looks dumb” situation.

Orchestras: Exhibit-based cultural organizations are far from the only cultural organization type in the market or included in the mentioned overall “museum” negative substitution number. Performance-based organizations are every bit as critical for a robust and vibrant cultural community. Unfortunately, orchestras (and symphonies, which have similar negative substitution rates) may be facing particular challenges in today’s world where folks can do many things at once. In fact, data suggest that multi-tasking is how many people like to enjoy music as well. But don’t write this high negative substitution rate off immediately on content disinterest or the menace of the modern world! Some performance-based organizations simply have not yet evolved to meet the desires of millennials (a critical audience!), and have instead chosen to “age” alongside their historic visitors.

Some symphonies and orchestras are mixing things up and trying out new programs – and that may be the key to their future. Certainly, among the visitor-serving organizations shown here, orchestras have the greatest need to reach new audiences – and fast. That doesn’t mean that they (or any other organization type) can’t do it. It means that some may have a longer ways to go.

Remember: Though 0.948 is the industry average, it’s still bad news.  There are no “winners” or “losers” here – but rather a look into the reality of the mission-driven, visitor-serving sector and some of the challenges facing both individual organization types, and also our industry as a whole. To change up these perceptions, we need all hands on deck. Our long-term vitality and relevance may be on the line.

 

Negative substitution correlates with attitude affinities

Interestingly – and unsurprisingly – negative substitution rates correlate with negative attitude affinities. Attitude affinities quantify how welcome and comfortable people feel at an organization. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the “ranking” of negative attitude affinities among the organization types mentioned (shown below) is a similar “ranking” as is the severity of negative substitution – with the exception of science centers and science museums. Being perceived as places “for kids” plays a large role in driving negative substitution for science museums and science centers, but it benefits these types of organizations as being perceived as relatively welcoming. There’s simply less perceived incentive to visit a science center/science museum if you don’t have small children – and fewer people do.

The data below comes from IMPACTS and the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study – and it is a summary of this data previously discussed on Know Your Own Bone. In short, it shows what percentage of people in the U.S. market do not feel like an organization type is a place for someone “like them.” How that is interpreted is in the eyes of the respondent. While data suggest that it may correlate with educational attainment (and, relatedly, with household income), it certainly does not correlate with an organization’s admission price.

Nearly four out of 10 people don’t feel like art museums or history museums are “places for people like me.” Just over three out of 10 people feel this way about science museums and science centers. Only about two in 10 people feel that an aquarium or zoo is “not for someone like me,” and almost five out of 10 people feel this way about orchestras. Again, you can read more about this data and attitude affinities here.

 

Within our industry, some tend to think of targeting “historic” audiences as the safe bet and cultivating new audiences as a secondary goal to be pursued “when funding becomes available.” This is short-sighted step on a long, slow march into obsolescence. The market is crawling with potential visitors – and they are ripe for cultivation if and when we decide to think outside of our outdated box.

The need to cultivate new audiences as regular attendees is critical for our long-term survival. The first step to overcoming negative substitution may be acknowledging this. Let’s take this information and welcome new folks through the door – not only because our world needs it right now, but because we do, too.

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

How Imaginary Lines Drawn by Cultural Organizations Hold Them Back

We can make “rules” about what applies to our industry – but our potential visitors and supporters don’t have to follow them. And when they don’t, it’s our own loss.

What matters more: The imaginary lines that we draw from within our organizations, or public perception? Recent events got me thinking a little bit harder about some internal industry reasoning that may have made perfect sense in the past, but may not quite fit the world in which we live today.

 

1) Organizations can create a narrative, but the market decides its validity

It’s hard not to feel for the Saint Louis Art Museum right now. For those who haven’t been following along, an American painting has historically served as a backdrop during the inaugural luncheon at which members of Congress host the newly elected president. George Caleb Bingham’s “The Verdict of the People” is the chosen painting for Trump’s inauguration – and the Saint Louis Art Museum has agreed to loan out the painting. The publicity that Saint Louis Art Museum has received has – on the whole – not been particularly awesome. A Change.org petition has been put up in protest of the museum’s decision, and there’s a lot of notable media coverage on the topic.

George Caleb Bingham’s “The Verdict of the People” (1854–55).

What is interesting to me is the museum’s (in my opinion, completely rational) statement on the situation, and the questions that it raises about museums today. The Washington Post describes museum director Brent R. Benjamin’s response as follows:

“’When the U.S. Senate asks the St. Louis Art Museum to be part of the inauguration, we consider that an honor,’ said Benjamin. The decision, he says, wasn’t controversial; the museum was simply honoring its pre-election commitment to a bipartisan congressional committee. ‘We take no position either on candidates for public office or individuals who hold public office,’ he says. The museum will incur no costs for shipping and securing the painting during its Washington sojourn, though critics of the museum point out that the painting is particularly popular with local audiences, and rarely travels, so its absence isn’t without local impact.”

The decision may bear public perception or reputational impacts for the museum – ones that could easily swing from the positive to the negative depending on one’s own point of view. This has me thinking: Can an organization in today’s world (a world that increasingly values transparency, connectivity, and blurs traditional personal/professional lines) claim to not be held accountable for taking a position, while taking an action that supports a position? I believe that this may have been possible in the past (“This is a professional honor!”) Today, though? I’m not so sure…

It strikes me that the museum has taken a very rational intellectual position on a matter that risks irrational perceptions because it is an actual happening. How and to what extent this will affect the museum’s reputational equities will only be seen over a period of time. Maybe it won’t be negative – perhaps status quo is the worst possibility: the museum may risk being seen as an organization denying the emerging role of museums as places for discussion and conversation in a changing world. Though it may make good, intellectual sense that the museum has made such a nonpartisan statement, the statement on the action may matter less to the public than the action itself.

This recent happening got me thinking about the many other ways that some cultural organizations cross their fingers and hope with all their intellectual might that the same lines they say and think exist actually exist in real life for their constituents.

In what other ways is the world changing and we are “making rules” that our potential visitors and supporters simply don’t acknowledge? Where do we create “intellectual lines” that may actually be hurting us? Here are a few others that come to mind…

 

2) Industry definitions and classifications do not necessarily matter to the market

Within the cultural industry, we do a lot of intellectual line-drawing. My first full-time job out of college was working with a totally bomb science center in Seattle and I thank my lucky stars every day for that work-horse, passion-driven, bottom-of-the-totem-pole, deeply nerdy, frustrating, frantic, wonderful job. (I even got to voice a television commercial and felt like a star!) If there’s one thing that was reinforced to me seemingly every day it was that “We are not a museum. We are a SCIENCE CENTER.” (This is not unique to the science center where I worked. Science centers and science museums often attend or prioritize entirely different association conferences!) Imagine my surprise when I got to IMPACTS and came across data that instead suggested: The market does not reliably distinguish between science centers and science museums.

Uh oh.

It’s true. While some folks may be able to distinguish the nuance that differentiates these respective experiences, the data indicate that the overwhelming majority of visitors simply don’t sit around contemplating organization type classifications. We found that when members of the public were asked to identify their favorite science center, many would reference a science museum. Similarly, when we asked the public to name the science museum that they’d most recently attended, many would identify a science center. Though they are based on intellectual distinctions, some lines that we draw are often imaginary to the public – which raises the question: Do these lines even matter? Or worse, do they hold us back?

Moreover, how the industry classifies its own organizations – and how much case studies, data, models and examples apply (or don’t apply) to the groups – can be similarly imaginary. What do data indicate is the most top-of-mind science museum or science center in the US? The National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution.

“WHAT?! That’s a history museum!” Nope. Not according to the market.

Here’s why this is important: When cultural executives “that doesn’t apply to me” industry trends, it’s usually because they’ve drawn imaginary, defensive lines to protect themselves from facing uncomfortable realities. It doesn’t matter how much a science center, for instance, hopes that The National Air and Space Museum isn’t in its competitive set. According to the market, it is… and the market matters for our survival. (This is but one example of an imaginary line that we draw –it also happens between orchestras vs. symphonies, encyclopedic vs. contemporary art museums, and so many other types of organizations.)

 

3) The hybridization of experiences affects all organizations

The phenomenon of point of reference sensitivity elevates the call to action for organizations to communicate their singular experiences and missions. Some organizations are doing an excellent job, and they come to be known as a kind of “gold standard” for their type of cultural organization. However, organizations shifting their content offerings and being “more than a museum” (for example) are having an affect on the market. The experiences historically attendant to visitor-serving organizations are evolving to include non-traditional content. This happening blurs historic perceptions of what comprises a particular “type” of visitor-serving organization.

For example, some aquariums feature rain forests – once the historical province of conservatories and botanical gardens. Some children’s museums have civil rights exhibits – once the province of history museums and historic sites. Some science museums feature aquatic life – once the province of aquariums. Some orchestras have vocalists – once the province of theaters or operas. These hybridizations, consolidations, and integrations of experiences were initially theorized to broaden appeal and expand the market. Indeed, it certainly helps to increase elements of surprise and perceptions of providing a unique experience when these elements fit cohesively into an organization’s mission.

Increasingly, hybridization is the norm – not the exception. This compounds previously discussed challenges regarding the historic perceptions of what defines and/or distinguishes any specific type of enterprise (e.g. science center v. science museum). More importantly, if the distinction matters less to the public, perhaps it ought not matter so much to us.

 

4) It is not that nothing applies to us, but that most everything does

When we draw imaginary lines within our industry or organizations – from our classifications to our insistence that potentially polarizing actions “don’t count” – perhaps we are purposefully making a choice to be blind to the new world in which we live. Today, it’s the market that is the ultimate arbiter of our successes.

Question: Who wins in the lexicon game of “Museum vs. Center vs. Academy vs. Discovery Hub vs. Other Magic Words That We Think Make Us Special?”

Answer: Whoever provides the most unique, satisfying, connective and meaningful experience.

Don’t get me wrong – the words that we use certainly matter to the market… but our actions matter more. When we focus on imaginary lines and forget that we can determine importance but the market determines relevance, we risk allowing parsed, internal definitions to overrule prevailing public sentiments. We risk creating “exemptions” based on an internal distinction that the market does not recognize.

Today’s truth may be that it’s not that “that doesn’t apply to me” – it’s that everything does. Market trends play an important role in how organizations need to operate in order to achieve success. The key is to ask hard questions and consider that Babe Ruth was onto something when he said that, “Yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games.”

We are playing a new game – but we don’t make the rules.

We offer expert-informed suggestions. The market decides if we’re playing ball.

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment

Growing Competitor for Visitation to Cultural Organizations: The Couch (DATA)

During their free time, would people rather go out or stay in? Here’s what cultural organizations need to know about the growing “couch contingent” audience.

Organizations tend to believe that other cultural organizations and destinations are their primary forms of competition for visitation. For folks who want to go out in the first place, this is often the case. But what about those folks who would rather not get out of their PJs?

Data suggests that even people who profile as high-propensity visitors are increasingly preferring to stay home as opposed to going out. High-propensity visitors are folks who demonstrate the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood of visiting a cultural organization – such as a museum, zoo, aquarium, botanic garden, or performing arts entity, for instance. The first requirement for somebody to visit an organization, however, is that they leave the house. Let’s break down some of what we know about the people who do – and don’t – want to do that.

 

How do people prefer to spend their free time during a week off of work or school?

This data is from IMPACTS and the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study, which consists of now over 106,000 individuals residing in the United States. “HPV” stands for “high-propensity visitor” and is cut for those who would be likely organization attendees. Depending on where your organization is located and if you tend to attract a majority of local audiences or tourists may influence your immediate reactions to the data.

You’ll notice that about half of the US composite market wants to stay in or around their home (‘staycation’ and ‘stay home’ preferences.), but that ‘stay home’ contingent isn’t going to visit you. Or at least, they would prefer not to. And – remember – just because people are traveling doesn’t necessarily mean that they are going to visit the museum (or symphony, theater, zoo, aquarium, or another type of cultural organization).

For organizations trying to engage locals – a particularly fickle audience for most cultural organizations regardless of city – this “staycation” number is good to see. The “travel and stay overnight with friends and family” number is also important as it relates to local audiences. Word of mouth endorsements and reviews from trusted resources play a big role in visitation. Engaging local supporters means that there may be a higher likelihood that those friends and family members will bring their visitors to your organization.

For those organizations that depend heavily on local audiences, the nearly 50% of folks that prefer to travel out of the area may be of interest. After all, if they are leaving your market, they aren’t visiting.

For all of us, that “stay home” number isn’t great. Simply put, 24.4% of the US composite would simply prefer to stay home than go out. Yikes!

 

How do people prefer to spend a free weekend?

But Americans don’t tend to have (or take) tons of vacation time. What about how people prefer to spend their weekend? There’s a little bit of good news here for cultural organizations when it comes to ‘staycation’ preference, but mostly it’s a point for Netflix…

Almost HALF of the US composite prefers to stay home rather than travel or explore their city. Of course, the ‘staycation’ numbers go up, and this is a good thing for many organizations – but those ‘stay home’ numbers are alarming!

For those wondering, “How are high-propensity visitors a part of the couch contingent?! I thought they profile as likely visitors!” They do profile as folks who would be interesting in visiting. They simply prefer the couch. (To be a likely visitor does not mean that the thing that you want to do most is necessarily visit a museum, for instance. And having propensity to visit doesn’t mean that they even will visit – it means that there’s potential to be motivated to visit. Simply, an organization may not have hit the right chord yet.) High-propensity visitors in the ‘stay home’ category are still potential visitors – but they need to be made aware of the opportunity and better motivated to go out in the first place. These individuals may know, for instance, that they’d like to binge watch Stranger Things. They may NOT yet know of what is going on at your organization. High-propensity visitors in this category are a marketing and communications opportunity. (We’ll talk about this more a bit later when we discuss what folks are actually doing when they stay home.)

 

How has the preference for staying home grown over time?

Has the ‘stay home’ group consistently made up the same percentage of the population in recent years? In other words, how has the percentage of folks who prefer to stay home changed over time? Let’s look at the change for free time preference during a week off of school or work.

It’s increased. In fact, it’s increased quite a bit since 2011! There has been a 17.3% increase in the desire to stay home vs. go out for the US composite! Yes, if given a week of vacation time, there’s been growth in the number of people who don’t want to “go on” vacation! They would rather stay home!

What about the change in people who would rather stay home over the weekend?

Yikes! Those with the preference to stay home over the weekend has grown 19.4% for the US composite since 2011.

There are a couple of reasons for the increased desire to stay home. The first is rather obvious: home is comfortable – and you can be more “connected” to others while staying home than ever before. In the past, it wasn’t as easy to be home and still be social – and chat, text, message, tweet, and snap with others.

The second reason is more compelling: There simply are fewer reasons to change out of your pajamas in the first place. In the past, we had to leave home to do our banking, grocery shopping, visit the pharmacy, go get the movies that we wanted to stay home and watch, and purchase gifts. Today, we can do all of that from home. If the only reason to get out of the house is to go to the science museum, for instance, than the science museum needs to be a more compelling reason to put on pants than it was in the past. People may go out less because there’s less reason to go out – and thus the motivations to leave one’s cozy living room must be more compelling.

 

 

What do people do when they stay home? (The good news)

What are these people doing when they stay home?! We asked the folks who reported preferring to stay home what they actually report doing when they stay home.  Here are the percentages of respondents who reported doing each of these activities when they last stayed home.

How is this good news, you ask? People who stay home are still connected to the world and thus, visitor-serving organizations can (and should) aim to reach them. Those who prefer to stay home browse the web, watch TV and sporting events, have friends over, host parties… There are still opportunities to reach these audiences via social media, advertisements, and word of mouth endorsements. (Social media and word of mouth endorsements are particularly powerful in motivating visitation).

There’s an opportunity to “reach this market where they are,” as 33.4% of high-propensity visitors profile as having visitation potential over the weekend, but need stronger motivation. While organizations that highlight their missions outperform those marketing primarily as attractions, there’s a critical opportunity to use ad servers to make sure that targeted audience members get compelling place-based messages. Ads to these audience members still need a “so what?” take-away, but entertainment value is the biggest driver of overall satisfaction, and the goal of reaching this, particular behavioral demographic is to let folks know that they need to have this fun, unique experience in person.

 

The “couch contingent” is growing more and more powerful, and that may strengthen the superpower of cultural organizations as facilitators of shared experiences. We live in a connected world. It may be easy to look at this data and think, “Stay home to watch TV and browse the web?! What is the world coming to?!” However, it’s also important to realize the power of the in-person that exists within this same world. The path forward is not in scoffing at change, but in realizing that it may give our experiences new meaning. Smart organizations can use this information to better target and determine messaging and adapt to our changing world.

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Growing Competitor for Visitation to Cultural Organizations: The Couch (DATA)

Two Ways Organizations Adapt to Change (And Which Brings Long-Term Success)

Organizations tend to approach trends in one of two ways – but only one makes for greater odds of long-term success.

Many organizations are doing their best to create new programs for emerging audiences. But, while many try, some organizations just do a better job attracting and retaining new audiences than others. So, what gives? The key may be in in how organizations update their strategies.

When it comes to adapting to trends and organizational evolution, most entities fall into one of two camps. Today’s Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video takes a look at these two “strategy approaches.” While organizations need to both “add on” programs and also “integrate” cultural changes – the organizations that prioritize and do one of these first seem to have the greatest opportunities for success, in my experience and those of my colleagues at IMPACTS.

Generally, organizations tend to adapt to market changes in one of two ways: They “add on” to incorporate changes, or they “integrate” them. Let’s take a look at each approach with the context of the need for organizations to better engage millennials, for instance. (Oof! Millennials! I picked an example that you’re probably sick of – but it’s precisely for that reason that it is a great example for underscoring the differences between “add on” and “integrate” strategy approaches. Moreover – and just to be a broken record while I have your attention- lack of millennial engagement truly is a huge problem for the visitor-serving industry.)

Identifying trends is critical for organization. Trends are not fads. Here’s an overview of the important differences between fads and trends.  Trends are data-backed behaviors that “solve a problem” or make life easier for the market – and trends grow stronger over time. In order for organizations to become sustainable in the long-term, it’s critical that they adapt to trends. Web-based engagement, evidence-based medicine, and the use of mobile devices are examples of trends. In order to reach millennials, an organization must be aware of trends in the market and the need to evolve.

 

Which type of strategy approach does your organization take?

 

STRATEGY APPROACH 1:

THE ADD-ON ORGANIZATION

An “add on” organization jumps in and “adds on” to current operations with things that they think might be on-trend (or, in our example, that might engage millennials). This type of organization may develop an evening program that allows for cocktails after-hours. They might increase investments in spiffy online engagement tactics, build mobile applications, and hire more social media community managers as an “add on” to the marketing department. From a content perspective, they might make a reference to trigger 90s nostalgia, or put up signs to use a hashtag on Instagram. In the right circumstances, each of these can be a smart idea!

An “add on” organization can often move more swiftly than an “integrate” organization (We’ll dive into “integrate” organizations more in a moment). After all, this type of organization isn’t necessarily embracing a cultural shift to reach this audience. These organizations are taking swift inventory, seeing where they can get funding, and creating one-off programs and positions to fill the trend-based need. Because “add on” organizations add on programs, positions, and tactics without generally considering the whole of the organization (after all, we need to reach millennials and we need to do it now), there isn’t often much strategic contemplation that goes into these programs beyond the department deploying the program or hiring the position. Unfortunately, these “add ons” are at particular risk of being the result of Case Study Envy. The success of “add on” programs is hard to realistically assess, as these types of programs seem to have the highest likelihood of being the visitor-serving industry’s fools gold.

All types of organizations can fall in the “add on” category! Generally, “add-on” organizations tend to be those that have larger endowments and more government funding within the world of visitor-serving organizations – such as art museums (which have both the largest endowments and the greatest government support among cultural organization types). While there’s certainly an incentive to “get it right” with programs, mistakes and bad investments resulting from one-off programs or “add on” initiatives aren’t as immediately felt within the organization as in, say, an aquarium – the type of organization that is generally more reliant on the market for success. (That said, certainly not all art museums are “add on” organizations! This is an “industry average” example.)

 

STRATEGY APPROACH 2:

THE INTEGRATE ORGANIZATION

An “integrate” organization, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily add – they edit first. To reach millennials, an “integrate” organization might look at its content according to trends and make transparency, personalization, and connectivity embedded cornerstones within the organization. This is the type of organization that looks at trends and realizes that “millennial talk” is code for “the way the entire market is increasingly moving and thinking” talk. An “integrate” organization thinks in terms of overall strategy and organizational culture first – and tactics and one-off programs second.

This type of organization might “edit” by taking a deeper look at engagement and maybe moving some social media experts to development instead of marketing. These are the types of organizations that have audience engagement-dedicated leaders that may have a connection to the marketing department, but they know that they must exist outside of departmental silos in order to be effective.

Integrate organizations often appear slower moving than “add on” organizations from the outside. After all, an “integrate” organization may still be getting its programming ducks in a row while an “add on” organization is hosting a themed cocktail event for young professionals wherein it is proud to be launching its newest mobile application. Movement matters – and that often takes a bit longer for “integrate” organizations.

 

WHICH APPROACH TENDS TO YIELD GREATER LONG-TERM SUCCESS?

At IMPACTS, we have the opportunity to work with a broad range of cultural organizations – and we’ve noticed the difference in these approaches. We’ve had enough of both types of clients to know which approach sticks. (Also, a glimpse at the 990s of specific organizations or even loosely following museum and cultural organization-related news regarding those organizations falling on hard times can serve as a spoiler.)

Both the “add on” and the “integrate” strategies can work for reaching new audiences and organizations generally need to do both, but the organizations that “integrate” first have the greatest opportunities for long-term success. Simply, if organizations don’t integrate changes into their culture, then they may face difficulties effectively “adding on” because there isn’t a foundation for these changes. When the mobile application is out of style and the cocktail event is over, there is no “so what?” for engagement because long-term strategies and cultural shifts haven’t caught up yet for the organization on the whole. (Here’s an example: Many organizations have cocktail events to get millennials in the door, but few have created the types of membership programs that millennials actually want, so this demographic comes in the door, but may not have a desired “next level” of engagement available to them.) Organizations are not likely to “one-off program” themselves to success. It’s not a sustainable strategy – it’s an onslaught of disjointed, “sounds like a good idea in this silo” tactics.

This is NOT to say that targeted programs aren’t critical and strategic – they can be, for sure! In fact, they are  necessary for cultivating new audiences and increasing engagement! The key is to thoughtfully integrate, and then add on as appropriate.

If you suspect that you are an “add on” organization and you’re wondering how to more strategically incorporate change, read this post on a simple framework for cultivating new audiences. We need to integrate changing values into our operations and then add on initiatives and programs that have more sticking power. For an organization to ultimately succeed long-term, there must be a strategic foundation upon which we build our programs.

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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

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

A Simple Framework For Cultivating New Audiences For Cultural Organizations

Because it is difficult to “one-off program” ourselves into long-term solvency.

This week’s fast fact video (A Simple, Guiding Framework for Cultivating New Audiences) aims to cover a big, important topic in a simple, straightforward way. It provides a data-informed framework for how to approach the task of reaching new audiences and cultivating them into regular attendees.

Cultural organizations need to turn new and emerging audiences into regular attendees – and fast. Negative substitution of the historic visitor has created a situation wherein we are losing visitors faster than we are cultivating new ones. Specifically, we have a rather serious millennial engagement problem and – on a related note  – we need to get better at welcoming folks of different racial and ethnic backgrounds than the historic visitor. These problems are urgent and, if we haven’t started cultivating these audiences yet, it’s already going to be difficult to catch up.

So, how can we best approach this important task of engaging new audiences and cultivating them as regular attendees? Well, it’s certainly going to take more effort than slowly chipping away at the issue with one-off engagement programs. It will involve a hard look at what we do and a culture shift  – and looking into some real answers in order to be effective.

At IMPACTS, we use a data-informed framework that we call MAPS. There’s a good amount of data and analysis that fills in this framework, but sharing its outline can help any organization think more strategically about the proper steps for cultivating new audiences. The framework is equally applicable to all organizations regardless of size, city, or operating budget.

This week’s video summarizes the concept nicely, and in a way that can easily be shared in classrooms and meetings for contemplation. That said, I know that some of you “just want the goods,” so I’ve briefly outlined the framework below, which I’ve written about here and spoken about it more in-depth here. That said, this framework is really worth thinking about rather than breezing through.

“Yeah, yeah! Figure out access barriers… blah blah.” NOPE. Pause, please. I’m writing and speaking about this framework because cultural organizations are not carrying out these important steps. Cultural organizations are trying to tackle our industry’s biggest challenge by minimally investing in blind, “we think this might be right” one-off programs – and it’s not working.

Here’s a framework that can be used to help reach young professionals, teens, people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, or any other key demographic in the market today.

 

MAPS FRAMEWORK

 

M = MISSION

The first action item is to underscore your MISSION. That’s the “M” that starts us off. Data suggest that cultural organizations highlighting their missions outperform those marketing primarily as attractions. Here’s the data. Underscoring your mission also usually involves creating compelling stories and differentiating your organization from others.

Highlighting your mission underscores that your organization “walks its talk” and helps build your organization’s reputation – and reputation is a top-five motivator of visitation among high-propensity visitors and the composite market alike. The market is increasingly sector agnostic, meaning folks care more about what you do than they care about your tax status. In sum, your organization’s “so what?” matters. Your mission can help push past some of the noise in today’s world, and draw some positive attention to what you are trying to do and accomplish.

 

A= ACCESS

“A” stands for understanding ACCESS opportunities and barriers. Often, leaders will assume that they have identified – without data- why a certain demographic is or is not visiting an organization. In order to reach new audiences, research and second-guessing assumptions are in order. It’s difficult to reach people when we don’t know with certainty why they aren’t coming and what they want. To figure this out, we need to look at market research – not audience research. Asking about current and historic audiences helps us learn about current audiences and what they like – but that’s not the primary problem for our industry. Successful programs that reach new, not-attending audiences are necessarily dependent upon knowing the true logistical and perceptual barriers of people who are NOT already visiting your organization. They are not members of your audience yet. 

There are a lot of myths to bust about how cultural organizations approach “access.” Simply, here’s how access works. And, critically, admission is not an affordable access program. Also, admission price is not a primary barrier to visitation.  The following data is from IMPACTS and the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study of 104,000 adults and counting (i.e. it is currently and constantly in-market). We asked folks who reported interest in visiting a cultural organization, but who hadn’t visited in the last two years, “Why not?” Here’s the data from the U.S. composite market. Check it out:

Take a look at how low “cost” is as a barrier – specifically for high-propensity visitors! Moreover, schedule is the top driver of visitation that our industry somehow never talks about. Don’t use this data as a cheat. This is big data. In order to create effective programs, we need to conduct market research on the target audience that you are trying to engage and obtain the real, data-informed reasons why they aren’t visiting our organization so that we can aid in removing true barriers. (Hint: Don’t overlook the role of attitude affinities.)

 

P = PERSONALIZED PROGRAMS

Once you’ve understood your access opportunities, creating PERSONALIZED PROGRAMS helps put them into play. That’s the “P” in the MAPS framework. This means understanding that one-size fits all experiences don’t always work – and, likely, your organization is trying to reach several different audiences. Lumping “underserved audiences” together and trying to create catchall programs is not an effective move.

Personalization is increasingly important for cultural organizations. Think about it: Every time you log onto social media or browse the web, ads and statuses that show up are based on an algorithm that is specifically designed to match your interest. That said, though the world is spending more time on screens, personal interactions on site between visitors and staff members are the most reliable way to increase a visitor’s overall satisfaction. When trying to target audiences, it’s important to make sure that we have programs that fit their needs and wants. For example, here’s how millennials are changing up membership structures.

 

S= SHARED EXPERIENCES

Finally, the “S” of the framework stands for facilitating SHARED EXPERIENCES. Data suggest that who visitors are with is more important than what they see when it comes to the best thing about a visit to a cultural organization. It’s important to provide opportunities for connection so that these engaged, new audiences are inspired to share their positive experiences. Remember, cultural organizations are about people, not things. At our best, we are hubs of human connection – and the organizations that thrive are the ones that embrace this superpower.

 

SHARED EXPERIENCES increase overall satisfaction and reputation-related metrics, feeding back into the MISSION category – and this continues the framework on a cycle. Considering mission, access, programs, and sharing creates a cycle that helps cultural organizations help others – and also help themselves. It’s time that we make the large-scale shifts necessary for engaging new audiences an important part of our culture, rather than a thing that we invest in “if we can get the grant.” The fact of the matter is that the market is decreasing in historic visitors and increasing in younger and more diverse audiences, who we are not engaging with cultural organizations at representative rates. We wait to “get the grant” at our own risk. We’re not going to “one-off program” our way out of this big problem. It’s time that we embrace it.

 

I hope that you’ll allow this data-informed framework to help you carry out the important work of cultivating new audiences for your organization.

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 4 Comments

The Power of Different Social Media Platforms for Organizations (DATA)

You’ll want to update your online engagement strategy accordingly.

Be active on social media.

It took a lot of work and the encouragement of numerous thought leaders, and I’m glad to say that this is becoming a no-brainer among cultural executives. Social media plays a major role in securing visitors to cultural organizations. Online engagement is critical for the success of nearly all organizations and companies, but we cultural organizations often come down with some pretty serious cases of “that doesn’t apply to me,” so it always helps to see the data cut for attendees to visitor-serving organizations. (Amiright? You guys can count on me.)

This post explores the data-informed “power” of specific social media channels today, as determined by the market.

As I mentioned in a recent post, IMPACTS is working on a social media metric that goes beyond thinking about vanity metrics such as likes, comments, and shares – numbers that are good to have at high levels, but have variable impacts on our bottom lines of financial solvency or mission execution. We are working to create a metric that really digs into the power of social media to inspire true engagement – or, to increase interest in an organization or inspire someone to act in the interest of the organization (visit, donate, recommend, sign up, etc.). IMPACTS has developed such a metric and we are currently testing it with a client. (I am excited about this and I cannot wait to share more!). Essentially, it aligns social media posts with increased favorability of organizations, increased intent to visit, etc. – real engagement and real changes in perception. This will surprise exactly no one who works in social media, but social media truly plays a role in motivating folks to act in the interests of our organizations. Today, I want to share one, small-but-mighty aspect of the information that we worked through and monitor for the metric.

Before we get to the “new” data, I want to take a moment to discuss why thinking about specific social media channels is important – and that means reminding you that social media is the leading information source for high-propensity visitors and the US composite market alike. I’ve written and spoken about this before, but to keep things simple, I’ll insert this reminder from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study:

 

Moreover, high-propensity visitors are “super-connected” with connection to the web at home, at work, and on a mobile device.

Social media is a big deal for organizations and companies. And I think that organizations are finally “getting it.” That’s an important first step in a “relevance requirement” battle that seems to be slowly coming to resolution. To move forward, though, we need to understand that not all social media channels are equally influential at any given time.

Let’s dive in…

First, let us take a look at relative social media timeshare.

This data considers the comparative context of time spent on specific social media platforms. It comes from the media consumption and usage data collected as part of the ongoing National Awareness, Attitude & Usage Study (with a sample size of over 104,000…and counting!) It has been quantified using index values as a means of indicating relative proportionality – which is perfect means of contemplating timeshare.

Most social media time is spent on Facebook – by a long shot. As you can see, the US composite spends 9.74x more time on Facebook than LinkedIn or Pinterest, 4.53x more time on Facebook than Twitter, 3.53x more time on Facebook than Instagram, and 2.87x more time on Facebook than Snapchat. And yes, folks, Snapchat is the runner up to Facebook in terms of timeshare. And yes, it’s a platform that consists of sharing seconds worth of bite-sized content.

 

Next, let us look at how many people are using these platforms.

This data considers simply how many users are on each platform worldwide each month. This is straightforward! The data comes from the platforms themselves and their self-reported number of users.

Facebook takes the lead again. This likely surprises exactly no one. While Tumblr does not make up a competitive portion of social media timeshare, it has the second highest number of monthly users. The number of monthly Twitter users compared to other platforms may be surprising to some.

 

Finally, let us put these two pieces of information together to determine the relative “power” of each of these channels.

These data are drawn from the two charts above to create a kind of composite index value chart to help compare the “power” of these channels. When we consider how many people are using each platform alongside the amount of time spent on each platform, we are better able to develop optimal online engagement strategies and best allocate our resources. Take a look…

“WHOA! Holy Facebook!” would be an appropriate reaction to this chart. Facebook is a nearly 11x more “powerful” platform than Instagram – the runner-up social media platform when it comes to quantifying relative power. From a broad market perspective, Facebook is a whopping 139x more powerful than LinkedIn. Instagram is 2.68x more powerful than Tumblr, and Snapchat is 1.54x more powerful than Twitter. Is your organization considering this when executing its digital engagement plan? Here are some important notes and best practices that relate to these data:

 

1) We must meet audiences where they are

If we ignore this information and try to promulgate our content on platforms that aren’t being used by audiences, we only hurt ourselves. It doesn’t matter how great your content is if you’re screaming it into an empty room. Remember, your organization may determine importance, but the market determines relevance. The market decides what platforms to use for what reasons – we can simply choose to be there or not.

This information is critical for devising an effective social media strategy and allocating limited resources. These data help us let go of what is ineffective and and make better use of our time. Are you spending more time on Twitter than Facebook because you’ve always spent more time on Twitter, or because that’s the best use of your time? These data inform how we can potentially expand engagement and better “meet the market where it is.” These data inform us of the comparative number of attendees at each platform’s house party and how long they are there so that we aren’t that person at the party hanging out in the corner talking to themselves. Nonprofits tend to have limited time and resources. This information can help organizations get the most bang for their buck.

 

2) It is not simply SOCIAL MEDIA. Platforms matter

Facebook is really, really important. Every once and a while on a cycle, there will be buzz that tons of people are suddenly leaving Facebook and Facebook just isn’t the thing anymore. That’s not a thing. Use of social media platforms ebb and flow sometimes but Facebook is still over 15x more powerful than Snapchat – a platform that is gaining momentum and that has been dramaticized as a threat to Facebook’s relevance. There’s no excuse not to prioritize Facebook. Period. Social media is important, and when we talk about social media, Facebook is a large portion of that definition in itself.

That said, different audiences use different platforms for different reasons. These platforms have different functions, benefits, strengths, and weaknesses. It’s important to consider your organization’s goals with this information. Don’t get me wrong: This isn’t intended as a convenient “out” for thinking critically about what platforms your organizations is currently engaging audiences upon and why. It’s the opposite: We must take this information into account in order to develop effective strategies – but we must not treat every social media channel as if it is that same. They are not the same.

 

3) This is not a social media plan in itself

This information should inform your overall strategy, but your overall strategy must consider more than this information. Are you on the right platforms for sharing your message? How much time will it require to effectively take up a new platform? What is your organization trying to achieve through social media? You don’t need to be on all of these platforms. Which platforms you should be on depend on your goals and what you can successfully maintain. This said, the data are rather clear that it’s not the wisest move to, say, invest significant time in Snapchat at the expense of Facebook – at least without having a clear rationale for favoring Snapchat and choosing to compromise engagement on Facebook.

When in doubt: Figure out how much time you need to do Facebook well and then work from there. Often, content created for Facebook can be repurposed to fit in well on other platforms. Are you on the right platforms for your audiences, your content, and what you hope to accomplish? These are the critical questions to ask yourself before your organization decides how to invest it’s time and resources.

The data are not necessarily the underpinning of a social media plan. Instead, they are information to help inform an effective social media engagement strategy mindful of the allocation of resources necessary to achieve your goals.

 

4) People do not generally log on to a platform for your content alone

Oof. You guys are going to love this about as much as you love it when I remind you that not all people want to visit cultural organizations  – even if (especially if) they have free admission. Here goes: Yes, we take a lot of time and care in determining our online content – as we should. That said, unless folks are higher in the engagement continuum (i.e. they are already actively planning a visit or considering a donation because your organization became top-of-mind in that moment by some other method), mass audiences likely aren’t logging onto Facebook everyday only to see your content. Instead, your organization’s content becomes one of the many, many messages that a person receives on that social media platform.

This underscores the importance of telling compelling stories, working to maintain relevance, and understanding that connection – not content – is king. It’s not enough to simply “be on” Facebook. Your organization needs to put passion in it. Social media channels can be important places to show how your organization walks its talk. Another big part of this is understanding that, in order to create a social media strategy that helps your organization actually meet any goals at all, you need to know your brand.

 

 

Yes, social media is important. It’s so important, in fact, that we do our organizations a disservice when we leave it at that. It’s important for cultural executives to know how and why social media is so important for the solvency of their organizations – and it’s important to hire and value talent who can build relationships via online platforms and who understand who your organization is and what it is aiming to accomplish. These connectors help make your organization come to life every bit as much as onsite educators, docents, and curators. In fact, without good community managers, it would be difficult for your organization to secure optimal visitation and support. Having talented people who work in engagement – both onsite and offsite/online – is increasingly critical for an organization’s success. It’s a good idea to give these people working in your organization some cupcakes.

Online engagement is real engagement. Let’s make sure that we don’t lose sight of that – and that we do our best to expand our audiences so that we may best fulfill our missions.

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment

Cultural Organizations: People (Not Things) Matter Most

This may be the most important sentence for the evolution of visitor-serving organizations.

This post is a short one, but it’s an important one to me – and for cultural organizations, too, I believe. As many have noticed, I took last Wednesday off of posting KYOB. It was the day after the United States presidential election and, needless to say, there were some other things on peoples’ minds…

This video is a plea for cultural organizations to wake up.

This week’s Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video is my rallying cry I hope that you’ll take a moment to watch the video and think about the message. Regular Know Your Own Bone readers likely have this sentence engrained into their brains. And if I could contribute one sentence to leave as my cultural organization legacy that has the potential to deeply change cultural organizations for the better, this would be it:

Your organization can determine importance, but the market determines relevance.

 

That sentence is so much more meaningful and important than it may sound when you first hear it…

It is the basis of nearly every myth-bust on Know Your Own Bone. Essentially, it’s quite common that cultural organizations will declare that something (some content or issue, for instance) is important. However, if nobody cares about that “important” thing, then it’s difficult – if not impossible – to educate, inspire, or initiate support. As a well-educated and sometimes erudite sector, we’re used to knowing things and being expert about things. And we are experts. But just because we are fascinated by a topic doesn’t mean that the market cares about it – or knows enough to care about it yet.

 

Relevance reigns

It doesn’t matter how loudly an organization shouts that something – an issue or some content, for instance – is important. If the market doesn’t understand the relevance of that issue or content, then that issue or content may as well not matter at all. Nobody hears it. Or they do, but it has no “so what?” to make it meaningful.

Connectivity is king in today’s world. To fulfill our missions, we need to build a bridge. We need to cultivate relevance, and we need to bring value. After all, our organizations cannot exist without the support of visitors and donors. Our task, then, is to help connect people to things. If we think something is important but we haven’t established its relevance, then it is not likely that the market will listen. We haven’t created a reason for them to listen by establishing a connection to that issue.

 

We think we are about things. We are not. We are about people. At our best, we are hubs of human connection.

Data suggest that who people are with is by far and away more important to our audiences than what they see onsite. With > What.  We are connectors and facilitators of shared experiences. It is one of our superpowers, and yet we often throw this away in favor of esoteric, distancing content. Our industry still most values those who specialize in content over those who specialize in connection.  What good is content without connection? 

The idea that the market determines relevance is NOT a “dumbing down” of cultural organizations. The market expects us to be experts. Instead, it means finally realizing that people matter in executing our missions.

It’s our audiences that matter most in our organization’s survival. After all, they pay admission, become members, spread word-of-mouth endorsements, and make donations. On top of that, our missions to educate and inspire revolve around human beings as well. Why, then, do so many cultural organizations believe themselves to be about things rather than human beings?

There are universities that may more willingly employ those leaders who stubbornly insist upon cherishing their own one-way interest in objects or content. Museums, however, have missions to connect people and things… To show how and why things matter. How have we so lost our way that misunderstanding this seems to be the primary barrier within cultural organizations – and is even the basis of layoffs at times?

And when I encourage organizations to consider “human beings,” I mean “human beings” – not solely erudite, cultural gatekeepers that scoff at content that inspires engagement among the not-as-expertly-erudite. These gatekeepers can be helpful influencers to underscore our topic expertise, but are our missions to “educate and inspire the already topic-educated and inspired?”

We can be as loud as we want about scholarly ideas, but if we don’t cultivate connection among people, then there’s nobody to visit, to donate, to educate, or to inspire at all. Again: Organizations may determine importance, but the market determines relevance. We can pitch that something should matter to people, but we don’t decide. They do.

People matter most for both our missions and our solvency.

Let’s start acting that way.

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 4 Comments