Audience Insights: Organizations Overlook the Most Important Clues

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Do Expansions Increase Long-Term Attendance? (DATA)

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

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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

Adapt or Die. New Rulings on Social Media in the Workplace and What They Mean for Nonprofit Organizations.

Dilbert Social Media Fear

It’s no secret that some nonprofit organizations have been defensive about allowing folks to interact or “contribute” to the organization’s reputation or area of expertise online. (This terror is the basis of recent discussions regarding radical trust, for instance.) And, in a way, the terror makes sense from more traditionally minded members of the workplace – nonprofit organizations are heavily scrutinized and already have many stakeholders as it is (board members, constituents, donors). Understandably, (though perhaps inexcusably) social media and online engagement may be scary-to-the-point-of-suppression for those who don’t fully understand how it has changed the way that we communicate, connect with one another, and access information.

Some organizations have tried to exert control by putting forth aggressive social media policies. In fact, a nonprofit organization is the opening case study in this week’s The New York Time’s article summarizing recent court rulings concerning social media policies.

These recent rulings do not indicate that social media policies are a bad idea; rather, they suggest that social media policies that aim too strongly or aggressively to limit freedom of speech (and then use these policies to take away jobs) are a bad idea.  But, in reality, organizations too ignorant to understand the role of social media in society may be doomed to confront significantly larger problems than disgruntled, chatty staff members. Assuredly bad though that may be, developing a reputation for a lack of transparency and suffering from the negative word of mouth that inevitably results from stifled and contrived social media communications is likely to jeopardize an organization’s relevance in the competitive market much more quickly than a Negative Nancy with a Twitter account.

Here are some key take-aways from the article regarding rulings:

  • Recent rulings by the National Labor Relations Board “generally tell companies that it is illegal to adopt broad social media policies — like bans on “disrespectful” comments or posts that criticize the employer — if those policies discourage workers from exercising their right to communicate with one another with the aim of improving wages, benefits or working conditions.”
  • “But the agency has also found that it is permissible for employers to act against a lone worker ranting on the Internet.”
  • The agency has pushed companies such as General Motors, Target and Costco to rewrite their social media rules.
  • National Labor Relations Board officials “say they are merely adapting the provisions of the National Labor Relations Act, enacted in 1935, to the 21st century workplace.”

 

The critical take-aways for nonprofit organizations from these recent ruling are less tactical and more strategic and conceptual – and absolutely necessary. Here are four guiding principles that nonprofit organizations may benefit by adopting:
 

1) Stop being scared of social media

Web and social media are the public’s number one method of accessing information – and social media plays a leading role in driving the decision to visit a museum or other visitor-serving organization. Social media is critical to increasing online reputation, which directly aids in long-term financial solvency. An organization that runs from social media, or tries too hard to control it rather than contemplating how the organization may benefit from digital communications, may risk speedy irrelevance. For quote-lovers, a harsh reality of being a leader may be summarized here: “You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable.” The world moves. Times change. Social media is here and it’s important.  Embrace it. Or, if you prefer photo quotes, this one may be more inspiring…

 seth godin quote

2) Consider what your social media policy is supposed to do

Not all social media policies are stifling. In fact, having a smart social media policy is wise for nonprofit organizations. Effective social media policies should:

  • Provide staff members with the tools and information required for them to optimally communicate with/about the organization. Chances are your employees actually want to help your organization succeed online. Show them how they can do that.
  • Outline expectations for social media interactions, etc. Have an organizational Code of Conduct? This is a good time to remind folks that these rules apply offline and online.
  • State that leaders are open to feedback…and encourage team members to channel thoughts that may reflect negatively on the organization to higher-ups who intend to listen and work to find viable solutions instead of broadcasting their critiques to the less specifically-concerned web.
  • Remind staff members that negative posts about the organization indeed reflect poorly on the organization. Again, chances are that your employees are actually out to elevate the organization and its mission.
  • Underscore items that staff members truly should not communicate. For example, if members of your organization have security clearances or work with sensitive or confidential information, restrictions concerning the disclosure of this information should be clearly articulated. In other words, be detailed about what is okay to share and what is off-limits.
  • Encourage social sharing. Let staff members know that positive word of mouth marketing has an impact on promulgating your mission. If staff members believe in your cause, encourage them to share it personally.

 

3) Understand that staff member satisfaction (now more than ever) strongly affects the reputation of your organization and, ultimately, your success.

It may require a bit of a change in the minds of executive leaders, but thanks to the increased use of social media, staff members are also critical stakeholders in much the same way as are donors, board members and other constituents. It’s been vogue for some time now for leaders to issue generic platitudes along the lines of “Our most important resource is our people,” but this sentiment, while arguably always true, is now on display to the world.  Smart organizations know how to leverage these most valuable resources.  Staff members are your behind-the-scenes evangelists – the people whom the world looks to for the “inside scoop” about how your organization functions. What is best for them is – increasingly often – also best for you and your organization. Understanding this is critical for creating a successful social media strategy. As recent rulings indicate, dealing with lone perpetrators who conduct real offenses on social media may be actionable by punishment…but don’t assume that all staff members are “out to get you,” or cannot be relied upon to promulgate positive, personal messages. If you don’t trust your online audience, online audiences will not trust you. The same rule applies in this day and age for employees. More to the point, if you lack sincerity in declaring the importance of your people, then be prepared for your people and constituents alike to rightfully judge you harshly.

 

4) Know and accept that your “internal” culture is external

Like the merging of personal and professional realms that increasingly seems to be occurring in society today, the line has also dissolved between what happens inside of your organization and what happens outside of it.  Recent rulings indicate that there isn’t “protection” for organizations on this front. In fact, nonprofits and businesses alike may do themselves a grave disservice by ignoring the connection between internal culture and how that culture is perceived externally. Anything your organization says or does to upset staff members may indeed be held against you. And – in the age of social media and the desire for transparent organizations – perhaps it should be. This is not a reason to be scared of staff members. Instead, it is a reason to empower them and pay attention to them. Organizations may benefit by paying extra attention to their internal cultures because if the culture or morale is negative, chances are that connected staff members may have communicated this fact on social media. Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be hurtful to the organization. Perhaps the employee felt that they had nowhere else to go.  Regardless of the rationale, their communications regarding their grievances have been deemed a reasonable exercise of their First Amendment rights. The best way to prevent an unfortunate airing of an organization’s dirty laundry is to prevent it happening in the first place. Maintain a positive, supportive culture internally and give staff a safe forum to discuss key workplace issues. If “lone workers” promulgate unfair, inaccurate, or inappropriate messages, deal with those situations individually. And, chances are, if you are truly cultivating a positive culture, those “lone workers” will indeed be “lone workers.”

 

These recent rulings are indicative of the fact that society at large is still adjusting to how to adapt to social media and the changes in communication that it brings. Down the road, other rulings may be inevitable as society tests the limits of social media and online behavior. As new legal regulations develop, intelligent organizations will continue to adapt.

If your nonprofit has a social media policy with “blanket” rules for behavior on social media, you haven’t done anything wrong. But it is your responsibility to evolve and stay legally ahead-of-the-game. If your organization’s policy is too broad, now may be the time to open it back up and write in more details or discuss appropriate repercussions for violating the policy. And when you close the policy and roll out the changes, understand that you may not be closing it for good. And understand that that is okay.

 

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!

*Photo credits to mediabistro.com and Venspired.com

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 4 Comments

Social Media: The Every-Department Job in Nonprofit Organizations


So, this “Internet” thing? It’s here to stay. It’s perhaps a hefty statement, but in this age of increased transparency and digital communication, your marketing team may well be the single most valuable department in your organization. (I’ll explain…)

Marketers aren’t increasingly important because they are necessarily smarter or have more talent than do the valuable resources in your organization’s other departments. It’s because the job of the communications, marketing and public relations professional has evolved from being a single funnel to media outlets streamlining promotional messages on behalf of an organization, to serving as several funnels to different, targeted demographics based on content from several different departments in a manner that achieves an organization’s long-term goals. Today, great marketers in visitor-serving organizations show the world how every other department shines. (And when they do it well, they shine, too)

It’s no secret: As I’ve said before, social media does not belong to the marketing department. It’s critical to open up communications between your marketing department and other departments. Your organization will need all of these connections in order to succeed in attracting visitors, building affinity for your brand, connecting people to your cause, and securing donors. Consider this. Here are six critical keys to social media success, and all six rely on cooperation with other departments:

 

1. Killer content (Marketing needs Education)

Engaging content is the key to success in social media. Content is currency. Engaging content keeps organizations top-of-mind and increases reputation – a key driver of visitation. It keeps your nonprofit in folks’ Facebook newsfeeds and gets you re-tweeted, shared and liked. It increases your reach and online audience. Content drives interaction, which drives affinity, which drives support. Arguably the best place to find this engaging mission-related content is from your organization’s scientists, educators, and interpreters. They are natural suppliers of fun-facts – they can uniquely tell you when behind-the-scenes activities take place, and they generally provide the “wow factor” for education-based content.  Moreover, because many members of this department are public-facing, they already know what visitors consider interesting. Without the Education Department, marketers would have nothing to share except updates on their morning meeting about media ad buys… and, fortunately, they know better than to tweet about that!

 

2. Community management (Marketing needs Visitor Services)

Did you know that 42% of individuals using social media expect answers to the questions that they ask online within one hour? This is often made difficult because many nonprofit organizations (and shockingly, several museums) still “go dark” on the weekends (typically, the busiest times for museums)! Social media is increasingly a platform for customer service – and timeliness counts. Marketers must rely on an organization’s Visitor Service team in order to provide important information regarding pressing customer service questions.  We call this “social care” and it is critical online. Nielsen has released their 2012 Social Media Report . Take a look at some of their findings:

 

3. Cultivation of evangelists and supporters (Marketing needs Fundraising)

I just lied for consistency purposes. In reality, Fundraising needs Marketing. Online giving continues to grow by 13.1% year over year, and online giving currently accounts for 6.3% of total giving. BUT organizations do a disservice when they assume that online giving is the only type of giving strongly connected to marketing. Web platforms and social media are the single most powerful marketing channels used for obtaining information – including gaining information for making visitation or giving decisions. Even if someone gives in-person, over the phone, or by mail, chances are that the connection was strengthened by digital communications. Marketing and Fundraising Departments can (and should!) work together to make lists of potential evangelists who are likely to spread the organization’s message, and social media can help identify folks with an existing affinity for the organization with the inclination and/or propensity to become members or donors. I’ll be so bold as to highlight an increasingly-relevant truism: Marketers don’t need fundraisers to be successful at marketing, but fundraisers need marketers to be successful at fundraising. In my experience, “old-fashioned” fundraisers hate this…but, generally, when you take stock of the current condition, “old-fashioned” fundraisers aren’t succeeding right now.

 

4. Unique initiatives (Marketing needs Exhibits)

This ties back to killer content. Exhibits teams have access to important, exclusive information that can pique online interest. They know when there’s a big, wrapped mystery being delivered on the loading dock, which animals are giving birth, why exhibits are placed where they are, and (like their colleagues in the Education Department) they know a nice bit about how people learn. Most importantly, they can facilitate unique initiatives like online animal-baby naming contests and help arrange special programs/experiences that can be value-adds as prizes for online engagement (Related note: Please don’t offer discounts over social media. The short-term, “subsidized” bump in engagement has significant, long-term, negative consequences for nonprofit organizations.) Exhibits teams can help allow for open authority opportunities that increase reputation, open conversation and “make everyone a curator.”

 

5. Ability to experiment (Marketing needs Executive Leadership)

Social media and online engagement best practices and measurements evolve, so goals need to evolve, too. For instance, most of the museums that I work with don’t have a real budget for Facebook aside from human capital or full-time equivalents (read: someone’s time). However, Facebook’s recent changes to Edgerank (Facebook’s status-delivering algorithm) have made the platform more pay-to-play with promoted posts and sponsored stories. Now, organizations would be wise to consider that maximizing engagement on Facebook may require a sustained monetary investment. It also makes compelling content from various departments even more important.  In sum, social media isn’t about evolution…it’s about revolution.  Changes are nonstop, big and fast. Leaders need to embrace the inevitability of change.

 

Also – and much more importantly – executive leadership buy-in is a key element to creative engagement. The best, most-famous examples of online engagement in museums (think Museum of Science and Industry’s Month at the Museum, or Indianapolis Museum of Art’s Online Dashboard, or museum directors betting artwork on the superbowl) required not only permission, but a willingness on leadership’s part to take on these initiatives.  To take engagement to the next level, marketers need to understand that yesterday’s “how-to” manual is already obsolete. To have permission to innovate better practices in this rapidly evolving space, marketers need to be talking to leadership.

 

6. Human Tone (Marketing needs Human Resources)

Social media policies are best practices in organizations. In the digital era, folks want to know the people behind the computer screens. This also means that audiences can be drawn to staff members with their own online brands. These brands and real-life experts can be very helpful for organizations seeking to increase their respective reputations. Here are some famous ones in the museum world.  However, organizations also risk having folks say inappropriate things online, share private information about an organization, and occasionally display less-than-awesome online behavior. The Human Resources Department plays a critical role in managing staff members’ online behaviors – they are a marketer’s “safe harbor.”

 

We do our organizations a grave disservice when we shrug and call communications – and especially social media – “Marketing’s job.” Increasingly, social media is everyone’s job (at least parts of it).  Successful organizations understand the need for everyone to participate in the overall communications effort. Marketers don’t merely communicate, they collaborate.  We aren’t solely about content, we’re about connection.  And, the best amongst us understand that we can’t do it alone.  Our success – indeed, the success of our organization – is a product of giving EVERYONE in the organization doing the most important job.  We’re all marketers.

 

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!

 

Photo edit based on meme by KSB

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Social Media: The Every-Department Job in Nonprofit Organizations

Two Critical Reasons To Target Your Fundraising & Nonprofit PR Strategy Toward Millennials (DATA)

It seems as if everyday I’m seeing another “best-in-class” organization announce a smart, new nonprofit PR strategy designed to better engage millennials. Millennials are the largest generation in human history, and represent the second-largest demographic in terms of buying power. Millennials also think and communicate very differently than their generational predecessors – and, accordingly, require different marketing and communication strategies.

There has never been a better time to have a public service mission because millennials are (relatively speaking) optimistic about their financial futures, and they consider themselves to be particularly generous. Data concerning millennial perceptions point toward two, informative reasons to target Gen Y with marketing and fundraising efforts:

 

1) Millennials are less worried about their families’ financial futures than are older generations, making them beneficial comparative targets for fundraising and marketing efforts.

Chalk it up to unique characteristics of Gen Y or the general optimism of youth, but millennials are not only less worried about the financial futures of their families than older individuals, but they are less worried than they were in 2008. Older individuals, however, are more worried. This suggests that there’s an opportunity to cultivate affinity with this demographic, as they may perceive themselves as being able to support your nonprofit in the future if they cannot support you right now.

While millennials certainly are feeling the effects of being the “screwed generation,” data suggests that we remain optimistic about our long-term futures…even more so than folks who could be considered “less screwed.” And, while millennials are spending more than they earn, they are still spending (and, thus, could be supporting nonprofit charitable causes if engaged adequately).

Regardless of whether members of this demographic have the money right now to make up your major donors (some do!), they believe that they will – and they are rather confident about it. Engage this demographic now so that the payoff will be there later. When they get the money (if they don’t have it already), make sure that your organization is top-of-mind and a quality relationship is already intact.

 

 2) Millennials consider themselves to be particularly generous compared to the self-perception of older individuals, presenting a potential opportunity for organizations to tap into Gen Y’s sense of self.

When IMPACTS pulled this data, the company CEO called me and asked, “On a scale of one-to-ten, how generous do you consider yourself to be?” I said eight. He burst out laughing and said, “and so do all of your buddies!”

Perhaps I should be embarrassed, but I’ll own up to the truth behind that finding! The self-perceived generosity of “my buddies” has been stable over the last few years – and it’s rather high! It is especially high compared to the dip in self-perceived generosity that older individuals have experienced.

This is good news for museums and nonprofit organizations because this data suggests that generosity is built into our own self-perception. We think of ourselves as “giving” people.  Conceptually, giving to nonprofit organizations fits nicely with our own personal brands. It’s our job as nonprofiteers to match up the desire to be generous with social missions. Marketing your nonprofit and targeting engagement initiatives toward members of Gen Y will pay off in the future (if it hasn’t already) – but engagement needs to start now. Increasingly, nonprofit organizations’ “bread is buttered” by this new, enormous demographic.

 

Given this (and other compelling) data, doesn’t it seem silly that any organization would continue to exclusively target their efforts toward individuals who are more financially “worried” and consider themselves to be less generous than those who make up a significantly larger, more optimistic generation?

 

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, Fundraising, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Two Critical Reasons To Target Your Fundraising & Nonprofit PR Strategy Toward Millennials (DATA)

How Generation Y is Changing Museum and Nonprofit Membership Structures (DATA)

Looking for a copy of the address that I delivered at the Iowa Museum Association Conference last week? You can find it here.

Millennials (folks roughly between the ages of 18 and 33) are the largest generational segment of the U.S. population. This generation has different values and mindsets than those of the generations that preceded them – and they are far too large in number for museums and nonprofit organizations to ignore. Organizations that are not marketing to millennials are not only missing an opportunity to reach a new audience, but failing to engage the audience that will increasingly dictate their organization’s operations for the next 40 years (at least).

But it isn’t just marketing departments that have begun incorporating changes to appeal to Millennials. The changes must be incorporated into a larger community relations and nonprofit PR strategy. Because online engagement is increasingly critical for buy-in among all generations, it must be applied not only to marketing, but also to fundraising. Membership teams, in particular, will need to re-work their operations and offerings in order to sustain and grow their number of supporters. In fact, IMPACTS has already uncovered the need for museums to revise how they tell the story of membership benefits.

While conducting research on behalf of a prominent visitor serving organization (VSO) with a conservation-related mission, IMPACTS uncovered an interesting finding. We asked respondents a series of questions related to identifying what they consider to be the primary benefits of membership to the organization.  Once compiled, we found that sorting frequency of mention and strength of conviction information uncovered a telling divide between potential members above and below age 35.

Free admission was the pronounced, primary benefit of membership for both age groups. However, benefits two–through–five on the lists do not have any additional commonalities. Moreover, the type of benefits are very different.

Extant data indicate that members of Generation Y are public service motivated and appreciate a feeling of belonging and connectedness with one another and with a cause. This is consistent with the responses gathered from millennials in the data above. Instead of being interested in the more “transactional perks” of membership, this generation desires a feeling of connectedness with a broader social good.

Because members of Generation Y want different things from museum membership than generations before them, museums will need to adapt how they are selling memberships – or at least work to increase connectivity-to-a-cause vibes. Would a person considering membership to your organization feel that they are “making a positive impact” more than simply receiving “advance notice of upcoming activities?” Museums and visitor serving organizations must sell memberships by focusing more on their public services and social responsibilities than the traditional, more transactional benefits that motivated membership in the past.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, Millennials, Sector Evolution, Trends 7 Comments

The Millennials Are Here: 5 Facts Nonprofits and Businesses Need to Know

Ever since it became irrefutably clear that Generation Y (or Millennials, commonly defined as those born between roughly 1980 and late 1990s) would outnumber the vaunted baby boomer generation, nonprofits and for-profit businesses alike have been talking about the need to prepare their respective organizations for this massive population bubble. When data emerged that members of Gen Y might think and communicate differently than the generations that preceded them, organizations kept talking. “The millennials will be coming soon,” they said. Indeed, many less-prepared organizations are still saying it…

The fact is: The millennials aren’t coming.  They’re here now.  And the time has finally come when organizations will start to sink or swim based on how effectively they engage this demographic.

I am a Millennial. For better or worse, my colleagues at IMPACTS will quickly confess that I embody nearly all of the general characteristics that define my generation (I’m an over-educated, hierarchy-denying, collaborative, public service motivated, “super special,” connected, social media addicted, perhaps-a-bit-professionally-high-maintenance, optimistic, parent-loving, digital native). Despite all this, I seem to have slipped into a rare space: I’m a member of Gen Y who works almost exclusively with the baby boomer leadership of multiple organizations. In this way, I like to think of myself as an ambassador for my species.

And I think it’s a strange place to be. Though it’s in me as well, I cringe when I see members of Gen Y break the chain of command and grab the CEO of a large organization in the hallway just to bowl him over with handfuls of underdeveloped ideas. By the same token, I feel uneasy when boomer leaders dismiss those same Gen Y “idea nuggets.” Or worse, when they imply that millennials “are just like my kids. And my kids don’t run my organization.”

Take it from a millennial: Gen Y can be insufferable at times. But, yes, they do and will run your organization.  It’s not necessarily because they are smarter, faster, better or wiser than other generations. It’s simply because they are bigger. Much bigger.

Here are five fast facts that nonprofit and business leaders must embrace in order to effectively manage, market and operate their organizations:

 

1) Millennials represent the single largest generation in human history.

Until Gen Y came along, baby boomers represented the largest generational demographic in the United States. However, millennials aren’t nicknamed the “Echo Boomers” for nothing. At nearly 90 million strong, millennials have baby boomers outnumbered by an estimated 20 million people. As boomers age, the divide will continue to grow. This statistic alone should be more than enough to make executive leaders pause to consider the future of their organizations, but there’s more to this quick fact that should inform organizational development and a marketing or PR strategy: Millennials are not only the largest, but also the most educated, underemployed, optimistic, plugged-in, nonreligious, and democratic generation in human history. These characteristics will meld to affect how your organization engages constituents, donors, and customers.

 

2) Millennials are the first-ever generation that will run America for at least 40 years straight.

Millennials who have children are not having as many of them as their baby boomer parents. Moreover, Gen X (which is only roughly half the size of Gen Y) has neither the volume nor is actively having enough children to indicate the coming of another large generation. Simply put, America’s birth-over-death rate is not increasing. What this means is that – unlike the position of the baby boomers who had more children and at a younger age – millennials will remain the largest generational demographic in the United States for a much longer period of time than the baby boomers. Due to their size and the current birth-over-death rate, IMPACTS data indicates that Gen Y will remain the largest generation in existence for the next 40 years (at minimum).

This is significant information from the standpoint of an executive leader. Nonprofit organizations and businesses may be tempted to invest resources in cultivating members of other generations (or even in learning the values of Generation Z as they come of age) – and this may be a good idea at times – but no generation within the next four decades will have the size and potential buying power to influence your organization more than Gen Y.

 

3) There are more millennials in the U.S. than any other age group.

Though many organizations still prefer to consider millennials to be a demographic that will “someday” affect them, millennials already make up the largest living population cohort in the United States. If you want to generally aim marketing efforts to engage only one demographic, Gen Y has the most targets. Moreover, the youngest of this age group are forming personal consumer habits as individuals. The oldest of this generation are having children and shaping the consumer behaviors of their families. In other words, right now is a good time to pay attention to these folks.

 

4) Millennials will have the largest buying power in the U.S. by 2017.

Millennials are predicted to surpass baby boomers in buying power by 2017. If your organization is not already strong in the habit of marketing to millennials, you may be operating at a loss until this new way of thinking becomes ingrained in your strategy.

While knowing that Gen Y will reign supreme in buying power by 2017 is critical, organizations may also benefit to pause and consider that, right now, millennials are a very close second to baby boomers in current buying power. Organizations often get misled and mistakenly focus their engagement efforts on the “next generation” of buying power in purely chronological terms (i.e. Generation X). But because Gen Y is twice the size of Gen X, its sheer numbers dwarf the market potential of its nearest elders. When considering your organization’s programs and audiences with regard to resource allocation, this may be important to keep in mind right now.

 

5) After the 2012 election, millennials will largely determine the outcomes of the following six presidential elections and the public policy priorities that will affect your organization.

If you’re not a millennial, the 2012 presidential election will be an important one for you – whether you realize it or not.  Again, due to Gen Y’s size and the ever-dwindling numbers of traditionalists and boomers, millennials will largely determine the outcomes of the following six presidential elections. Will all other generations still have an equal vote? Of course. But because they make up the largest generational demographic within the population by such a large measure, the outcomes will be determined by millennials. Or rather, it will become impossible for a candidate to win an election without appealing to millennial values.

Think about that for a moment: If you’re operating an aquarium or a zoo, might evolving generational sentiments concerning captive animals pose an existential threat to your current business should new legislation restrict the capture and/or breeding of certain species?  How would a significant overhaul of the tax code – one that dramatically limits or eliminates the tax-related benefits of charitable contributions – impact your organization’s business model?  For an already platform agnostic generation used to consuming content on their iPads, how would the deregulation of broadcast airwaves and bandwidth affect the viability of a live audience-supported performing arts venue?  Yes – Millennials will elect Presidents…but, perhaps more importantly, they will set the legislative agendas and public policies for the next many decades.

 

Many folks – millennials included – may find these facts terrifying, but they are true and inevitable. Though how we react to them is up to us, one thing is for sure: organizations that do not work to appeal to and engage with millennials may have a difficult time not only remaining relevant, but, indeed, surviving. Your more traditional consumers just won’t be calling all the shots anymore.

In fact, they already aren’t.

 

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Millennials, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

Open Authority: 3 Reasons Why You Need To Incorporate it Into Your Nonprofit PR Strategy

Incorporating an “open authority mindset” into your nonprofit’s PR strategy may be increasingly critical for remaining relevant, cultivating evangelists, and achieving your social mission. Here’s why. 

The Smithsonian New Learning Model is based upon open authority

For museums and information-based nonprofits, giving up control of authority can be a challenge in this day and age…but we already know this. Museum and nonprofit communities have focused energy on discussing radical trust, or the confidence (or lack thereof) that any structured organization has in empowering online communities.  Best practice evolution dictates that a successful PR strategy must no longer dwell on self-focused radical trust. Instead, we must look outward to mirror organizational best practices and incorporate open authority.

Radical trust is an “us problem” and thus, it is irrelevant to our constituents and potential donors.  It deals with the confidence that organization leaders have had (or haven’t had) in opening up their brands to contributions from online communities. Yes, it’s an issue to be named, but it’s not a solution.  Open authority is the goal – and it focuses on neither organization nor constituent, but both as one. And achieving this goal may be critical to organizational success.

What is Open Authority?

Open authority is a new model in museum authority proposed by Lori Byrd Phillips in which a museum’s authority is (as it sounds) opened up to broader audiences and created with help from the public on open platforms.

Open authority is what’s happening with the merging of museums (places of authority) and the open web, which allows for the location-independent contribution of information and “outside authority.” In a nutshell (in my own words): museums and information-based nonprofits may be forced to embrace the spread of authority. Organizations that embrace this model may reap the benefits of remaining top of mind, maintaining long-term relevance, and may better pursue their social missions.

Examples of Open Authority in Action

  • Wikipedia: At the time she proposed this model, Lori Byrd Phillips was the Wikipedian in Residence at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and was therefore specializing in an open platform that is perhaps the easiest example of open authority. On Wikipedia, folks from the open web weigh-in, make changes, and lend their own knowledge to topics. But open authority is not just about engaging off-site. In October of 2010, the Brooklyn Museum included Wikipedia into their exhibition on women and pop art, Seductive Subversion. The museum offered iPads throughout the gallery, and encouraged visitors to check out Wikipedia pages on artists featured in the exhibition. This was a collaborative effort between the museum and the open web, as museum employees joined the Wikipedia community to edit and fill out pages prior to the exhibition. This melding of information displayed the Brooklyn Museum’s willingness to “open authority” to the public and integrate that knowledge into their brand. Here’s the cool thing: within the exhibit, Wikipedia was actively consulted. Of the 32,000 visitors to the exhibition, there were roughly 12,000 sessions of one or more visitors consulting Wikipedia pages on the iPads. They were used for an average of 10 minutes at a time with an average viewing of 11.18 articles.

 

  • Crowd-curation: But open authority doesn’t exist solely on Wikipedia, either.  Now, Lori Byrd Phillips and the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis are conducting an interactive program called 100 Toys (And Their Stories) That Define Our Childhood in which online audiences can vote for their favorite childhood toys in order to unveil a ranking of popular winners. In other words, the public is creating an authoritative list – and the museum is facilitating its creation.

 

Here are 3 important reasons to immediately integrate open authority into Your PR strategy mindset:

 

1. It helps you achieve your social mission while heightening credibility and increasing reputation, which is a key driver for visitation.

Eric S. Raymond summarized his “the Cathedral and the Bazaar” theory on open source software with this quote: “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” Getting more eyes on problems helped solve them more effectively and efficiently. This is the entire premise behind the celebrated open wiki for web and new media strategy by the Smithsonian Institution. On the site, the SI explains, “we have really smart people here, but compared to the community of external experts we’re a tiny, tiny group.” Opening up authority is likely to make your organization more – not less – authoritative because you are channeling all experts, not only those on staff. This may serve to increase credibility and reputation – a driver of attendance to visitor serving organizations.

2. It allows your organization to connect with Millennials by personally engaging them with your brand… while showing the importance of your mission.

Open authority plays on many of the best practices for marketing to Millennials – your next generation of stakeholders, visitors, donors, and constituents. Open authority creates buy-in and allows audiences to participate. And while contributing, audiences become better acquainted with your mission. For instance, if you are an aquarium promoting conservation and allowing others to contribute tips for living a green lifestyle, then you are allowing participants to be evangelists for your cause and personally align themselves with your mission. And we Millennials like that. Consider the following statistics:

  • 66% of millennials will recommend products/services if the company is socially responsible
  • 83% of millennials will trust a company if it is more socially/environmentally responsible
  • 74% of millennials are more likely to pay attention to a company’s message if the company has a deep commitment to a cause

An open authority mindset is critical for connecting with millennials. Start building those connections now.

3. It leverages online participation in order to raise awareness of and amplify your social mission.

Anyone can contribute in the era of the open web. It’s not a matter of “if,” but a matter of “how” people will use this opportunity to connect with other individuals and spread messages virally. Everyone can have his or her 15 minutes of fame in this day and age. ZAMs and other nonprofits will benefit by leveraging these 15 minutes of fame by offering folks opportunities to contribute to the museum’s authority. Let people share your message – especially since word of mouth and social media are particularly effective marketing tools. Give them a productive way to lend knowledge online and they just might take you up on it. If they do, your own organization stands to benefit in the long run.

Issues regarding radical trust will not evaporate – nor should they. However, focusing on open authority instead of the self-oriented issue of radical trust is likely to take us farther as a sector. Open authority looks outward and focuses on how to, indeed, “open authority” to the public.

A good leader knows that he cannot do it all, and must receive help from his team to reach his goals. So, too, must museums and nonprofits increasingly work with their team of the broader community in order to best remain relevant, maintain financial support, and pursue their social missions.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on Open Authority: 3 Reasons Why You Need To Incorporate it Into Your Nonprofit PR Strategy

The Importance of Social Media in Driving People to Your Museum or Visitor-Serving Nonprofit (DATA)

There’s a lot of conversation about the ROI of social media and confusion about how to explain its importance to executive leaders. Need help? Here’s some data behind how social media drives attendance to visitor-serving organizations (zoos, aquariums, museums, botanic gardens, theaters, etc). The research provided here is courtesy of IMPACTS.

It’s as easy as 1-2-3 (or, rather, the transitive property in mathematics):

1. Reputation is a major motivator of intent to visit

The above data indicates the index value (i.e. the relative importance) of select factors (“utilities”) that influence the market’s decision to visit a visitor-serving organization (VSO).  The way to consider this data is that utilities with index values greater than 100.0 bear a proportionally greater “weight” in terms of how the market makes its visitation decisions.  In other words, a factor such as “schedule” with an index value of 203.5 is roughly 2x more influential in the decision-making process for a high-propensity visitor than is a factor such as cost with an index value of 100.4.

The US Composite data represents the overall US population. The High-Propensity Visitor (HPV) data shows the index value for folks who possess the demographic, psychographic and behavioral attributes that make them most likely to visit a VSO.  In other words, by collecting data about actual visitors to VSOs, it is possible to develop a “profile” of the types of people who are most likely to visit a zoo, aquarium, or museum.  In the end, every individual organization will have its own, specific list of weighted utilities that indicate the attributes of its visitors – but for the purpose of this example, the HPV utilities and index values indicated here are an average for all likely US visitors to visitor-serving organizations.

It is clear to see that for the overall US population and high-propensity visitors alike how important “reputation” is to your market’s overall decision-making process.  In fact, only “schedule” rates higher in terms of influence on your market.  (“Schedule” summarizes not just factors such as your hours of operation, but also factors such as how your offerings align with considerations such as school and work schedules.  It may sound obvious, but if your organization isn’t conveniently accessible for your audience during its preferred days and hours, then you are risking your visitation potential.) And, while special events are an important driver for the US composite market, they are less influential to the HPVs (which represent the market segment where VSOs may benefit by targeting the majority of their marketing efforts).

2. Social media drives reputation

So we know that reputation is a major driver of visitation. But, what, mathematically, comprises your reputation? The answer is a little bit paid media (e.g. advertising) and a lot bit of reviews from trusted sources (particularly word of mouth and earned media – both of which are often facilitated or made entirely possible by social media). In fact, reviews from trusted resources are 12.85 times more influential in terms of your organization’s reputation than is the advertising that comes out of your budget.

3. Thus, social media is a driver of visitation

Social media and online engagement positively contribute to your bottom line by enhancing your reputation, which is a significant driver of visitation.  Critically, it is almost impossible for an organization to quickly and efficiently overcome negative reputation perceptions.  So, not only do social media and other forms of online engagement help boost your bottom line, they are also wonderful risk mitigation tools that keep you connected to your audience.

Interested in updates regarding nonprofit marketing and best practices for online engagement? Check out my Facebook page!

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 4 Comments

Reach, Trust & Amplification: The Importance of Social Media in Nonprofit Marketing (STUDY)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to share recent IMPACTS data (collected in real-time through the end of last month) regarding the comparative importance of different marketing channels. The key finding? Data indicates that social media is the fastest growing and most influential marketing channel.

A few weeks ago, I shared data indicating that websites and mobile platforms – followed by word of mouth, social media, and peer review sites – play a disproportionate role in encouraging visitation decisions to visitor-serving organizations compared to more traditional marketing mediums such as radio and print media. With the help of coworkers at IMPACTS, I’ve drilled deeper into available data in order to answer the question of how these platforms play a role in the current marketing world. To do this, we looked at these mediums through three parameters: reach, trust, and amplification. Then, we calculated the weighted influence of these parameters to assess the overall value of each channel.

We measured the following information channels/marketing mediums:

  • Web – an organization’s website or an online news site, for instance
  • Social media – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, and other social networking sites
  • Word of mouth (WOM) – Person-to-person sharing of information
  • Email – Good ol’ email.
  •  Mobile web – web accessed via mobile device or mobile platform
  • Peer review web – TripAdvisor, Yelp, and other online review sites
  • Television – both commercial and public broadcasts, news programming, information acquired through television
  • Radio – both satellite and terrestrial programming
  • Newspaper (print)– Any newspaper source in print (content accessed online are included in the “web” category. In other words, the print edition of The New York Times falls within the “newspaper” category, whereas content accessed via nytimes.com would be considered a “web” resource.)
  • Periodicals and magazines (print) – Magazines and periodicals in hardcopy (again, online versions are included in the “web” category)
  • Direct mail – That stuff that physically arrives to your home/office and clutters your countertop
  • Other print – Brochures, flyers, other informational, printed material
  • Other – billboards, bus signs, posters, etc.
Take a look at our findings below and consider how your organization values these channels. Do your organizational priorities match the public perception and actual use of these marketing channels? Click on the graphs below to pull up larger images.

 

1. Reach

This parameter quantifies the relative efficacy of each channel in terms of that channel’s ability to expose an individual or household to a message within any defined duration. In other words, we’re trying to understand how effective any medium is at “reaching” an overall population (or, for that matter, a targeted audience such as women aged 35-54, etc.)

As you can see above, in terms of “reach,” websites are the primary channels used by the market to acquire information. An interesting item of note here is the growth in the importance of web/mobile platforms (web, mobile web, peer review web, and social media) compared to the June 2011 baseline data. In fact, every defined marketing channel that was NOT web or mobile-based (except word of mouth, which is the only channel based on person-to-person interaction) experienced a decline within the past year in terms of its reach.

 

2. Trust

This parameter quantifies how credible these channels are perceived to be as information sources. In this metric, we still see traditional, printed materials leading the way. We sometimes refer to this as the “Publication Effect” – there has been an observed tendency for the market to “believe” information obtained via mediums with higher barriers to publication (e.g. newspapers and magazines) than those with relatively easy publication thresholds (e.g. online forums). And, this perception may be reality. Not only do more traditional publishers employ “credibility protectors” such as fact-checkers, researchers and editors, the physical nature of the medium tends to imply a certain level of gravitas that a more ephemeral medium simply cannot achieve.

Still, the web and mobile platforms have generally displayed the most positive change in terms of being identified as trustworthy sources of information, and I expect for this trend to continue as more traditional publishers develop increasingly robust online presences.

Self-published content such as direct mail are among the least trusted sources of information. (Interesting finding: Upon reviewing data from previous years, we know that the trust value of direct mail tends to further plummet during election seasons when mailboxes are littered with campaign propaganda – and we may reasonably expect this in the upcoming seasons.) Other printed materials (e.g. brochures) are also considered to be comparatively untrustworthy sources of information.

This data should be of considerable note to nonprofit organizations (or any company) spending a significant portion of their budget on printed materials while largely ignoring its online reputation – especially if the organization could alternatively invest an equivalent amount to hire a resource to manage its online engagement and social media platforms.

This data is particularly intriguing to me because it illustrates a very unique moment in terms of the evolution of marketing and information-share. Perhaps the way that we think of printed materials such as direct mail will someday soon join payphones, Polaroid pictures, Blockbuster video stores, road maps and telephone books in the pantheon of obsolescence.

 

3. Amplification

Amplification quantifies the re-distribution potential of the respective information channel. Marketers should care about amplification because this measure potentially indicates the amount of “marketing bang” that an organization will get for its buck – a particularly relevant item for cash-strapped nonprofits. This parameter measures how likely folks are to share these marketing channels with others. In my line of work, we sometimes refer to an information channel’s amplification value as its “sneeze factor” – how many other people can we infect with this message? (Quick apology to health-related nonprofiteers reading this post!)

As you can see, web and mobile-based sites generally have higher amplification rates and are easier to share than more traditional marketing channels. This seems sensible. It is, of course, easier to forward an email than it is to share a radio spot with a friend… but some interesting habits of the general population and how they use/relate to these channels emerge in these numbers. For instance, when compared to other printed information sources such as newspapers and direct mail, we generally find a higher amplification rate for magazines because they often have much higher production values (i.e. look and feel “nicer”). Because of this, magazines are more likely than other printed channels to occupy a spot on the coffee table until the next month’s issue arrives. During that time, friends coming over may see these magazines, flip through their pages, and presto! The magazine as an information channel has achieved amplification.

Unfortunately for many museums and nonprofits spending large amounts of money on printed materials, less substantial brochures do not have the same fate and are tucked away in private spaces or ultimately land in the trash before they can be amplified.

Though high in credibility value, word of mouth has a low amplification rate because it is difficult to reproduce and scale an in-person interaction.

 

4. Overall Value

The overall value represents the weighted, relative values of these information channels after collectively considering the reach, trust and amplification metrics. The results here may be stunning in their comparative value – especially for marketing traditionalists or web and social media “nonbelievers.” All of the web and mobile-based information sources experienced growth from June 2011 to March 2012 (i.e. web, social media, mobile web, and peer review web). No other media channels experienced growth. Email also experienced a decline, and though this is indeed a medium that is dependent upon the web, it does not represent a “living” platform with rotating, changeable content and thus functions differently than social media, peer review web, etc.

Social media is an enormously important component of your overall marketing and communication strategy. In fact, data suggests that it is the most important channel to engage your users and constituents. The overall value of social media increased 49.2% from June 2011 to March 2012. This is (quite obviously) the most significant change observed across the quantified information channels.

This data serves as yet another reminder of the recent, rapid evolution in the ways that people communicate, spread information, and find value in marketing messages. This is more than just anecdotal word on the street; it is compelling evidence of the way that our society behaves. CEOs and managers slow to “believe” in the power of online platforms and social media may need to lower the printed brochure in their hands, put away the flyers, and move their communications into the present.

Findings such as these present the contemporary nonprofit organization with a handful of basic choices: Relevant or obsolete? Solvent or destitute? Growth or regression? More or less? And, perhaps most importantly over time: Life or death?

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 9 Comments

Death by Curation: Why the Special Exhibit Isn’t So Special Anymore (CASE STUDY)

Museums often develop a cycle wherein they rely heavily on visitation from special exhibits – rather than their permanent collections – in order to meet their basic, annual goals. This is a case of “death by curation” – bringing in bigger and bigger exhibits in order to keep the lights on. Museums often fail to recognize that the best part of the museum experience, according to visitors and substantial data, is who folks visit and interact with instead of what they see. Understanding that a museum visit is more about people than it is about objects can help museums break the vicious cycle of “death by curation,” and help them develop more sustainable business practices.

 

The Myth of the Special Exhibit Strategy

It’s no secret that a true blockbuster exhibit can boost a museum’s attendance to record levels. However, a “blockbuster” is rare, and the fact that these blockbusters spike attendance so dramatically is an important finding: Blockbusters are anomalies – NOT the basis of a sustainable plan.

We know the story well: a museum decides to host an exhibit and develops exhibit-related messaging to promote visitation to the exhibit. The museum sees a spike in attendance, which dips when the exhibit closes. The museum wants to hit these high numbers again so it hosts a “bigger” exhibit and hopes for the same visitation spike.

This is the beginning of a costly, ineffective cycle. Here are two misbeliefs that perpetuate this less-than-sustainable practice:

1. The museum comes to believe that it cannot motivate visitation without rotating increasingly “blockbuster” exhibits. And, by doing this, museums train their audiences only to visit when there is a new exhibit. Thus, they risk curating themselves into unsustainable business practices.

2. If the museum is successful with this strategy of rotating blockbuster exhibits, then the exhibits grow grander (it’s hard to keep improving on a “blockbuster” – have you ever known a sequel to cost less than the original?), and the attendant costs grow at unsustainable rates…but become conceptually necessary for the museum to keep their lights on.

What of the hopeful thought that visitors to blockbuster exhibits will become regular museum-goers? It is largely a myth. An IMPACTS study of five art museums – each hosting a “blockbuster” exhibit between years 2007-2010, found that only 21.8% of visitors to the exhibit saw the “majority or entirety” of the museum experience. And, of those persons visiting the sampled art museums during the same time period, 50.5% indicated experiencing “only” the special exhibition. This data indicates that these special exhibit visitors are not seeing your permanent collections and, thus, are missing an opportunity to connect with your museum and become true evangelists.

Even members, whom museums often assume are more connected to their permanent collections than the general public, have been trained to respond almost exclusively to “blockbuster” stimuli. To wit: The National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study recently completed in April 2011 indicates that of lapsed museum members with an intent to renew their memberships, 88.6% state that they will renew their memberships “when they next visit.” Of these same lapsed members, 62.5% indicate that they will defer their next visit “until there is a new exhibit.” In other words, museums have trained even their closest constituents to wait for these expensive exhibits in order to justify their return visit.

 

Case Study

I like to think of this as a sort of “Pavlov for the museum world” – except instead of inspiring behavior with a bell, we’ve decided to provide Monet, Mondrian and Picasso as stimuli. This is all perhaps well and good…but it isn’t sustainable.

Consider the 20-year attendance history of a museum client of IMPACTS (the company for which I work). Can you spot the “blockbuster” year?

In this example (which I selected because it is representative of the experience of many museums), the “blockbuster” exhibit of year 2004 resulted in a 47.6% spike in visitation. But, what is perhaps most telling is how quickly – post-blockbuster – the client’s annual visitation returned to its average level. Does this suggest that the client shouldn’t pursue another blockbuster? Well, they did. But, not with the expected results.

Let’s consider the same chart again – this time with the special exhibits costs by year also indicated:

Still drunk with success from their blockbuster exhibit in year 2004, this museum went to the “tried” (but, not necessarily, “true”) blockbuster formula in year 2009. As you can see, in terms of visitation, history decidedly did NOT repeat itself. This where it becomes additionally important to acknowledge that “expensive does not a blockbuster make.”(See the domestic box office receipts of “John Carter” for recent proof).

Another fun fact that will surprise absolutely no one in the museum world – audiences are fickle! Their preferences shift quickly and they become increasingly hard to please. In fact, first-time-ever museum visitors rate their overall satisfaction 19.1% higher than persons who have previously visited any other museum. In my business, we call this “point of reference sensitivity” – the market’s expectations, perceptions and tolerances are constantly shifting and being re-framed by its experiences. Think about it yourself: The FIRST kiss goodnight – a forever memory! The hundredth kiss goodnight – (still sweet, but) been there, done that.

 

Break the Cycle: Invest in People and Interactions

Knowing that who a visitor comes with is the best part of visiting a museum provides power for museums to break this cycle.

Instead of relying on the rotation of expensive exhibits, many successful museums instead invest in their frontline people and provide them with the tools to facilitate interactions that dramatically improve the visitor experience. Improving the visitor experience increases positive word of mouth that, in turn, brings more people through the door. Importantly, reviews from trusted resources (e.g. WOM) tend to not only inspire visitation, they also have the positive benefit of decreasing the amount of time between visits. In other words, people who have a better experience are more likely to come back again sooner.

The power of with > what has other positive financial implications for museums. If the institution focuses on increasing the overall experience (which, again, is a motivator in and of itself – as opposed to the “one-off effect” of gaining a single visit with a new exhibit), then the museum’s value-for-cost perception increases. In other words, it allows the museum to charge more money for admission without alienating audiences because these audiences are willing to pay a premium for a positive experience.

(For you mission-driven folks shaking your head about how this potentially excludes underserved audiences, this is where your accessibility programs will shine. It allows them to be more effective and increases their perceptual value as well.)

This isn’t to say that new content and engaging exhibits are not critical to a museum’s success. It is to say, though, that times are changing. To sustain both in terms of economics and relevance, museums must evolve from organizations that are mostly about “us” (what we have is special and you’re lucky to see it), to organizations that are primarily concerned about “them” – the visitors.

Like it or not, the market is the ultimate arbiter of a museum’s success. Those of us with academic pedigree, years of experience, and technical expertise may well be in a position to declare “importance,” but it is the market that reserves the absolute right to determine relevance. In other words, while curators still largely design the ballots, it is the general public who cast the votes. And, in the race to sustain a relationship with the museum-going public, the returns are in and the special exhibit isn’t so special anymore.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 11 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Implications:

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

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

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

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, IMPACTS Data, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 11 Comments