Special Exhibits vs. Permanent Collections (DATA)

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Eight Realities To Help You Become A Data-Informed Cultural Organization

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A Quarter of Likely Visitors to Cultural Organizations Are In One Age Bracket (DATA)

Nearly 25% of potential attendees to visitor-serving organizations fall into one, ten-year age bracket. Which generation has the greatest Read more

People Trust Museums More Than Newspapers. Here Is Why That Matters Right Now (DATA)

Actually, it always matters. But data lend particular insight into an important role that audiences want museums to play Read more

The Top Seven Macro Trends Impacting Cultural Organizations

These seven macro trends are driving the market for visitor-serving organizations. Big data helps spot market trends. The data that Read more

The Three Most Overlooked Marketing Realities For Cultural Organizations

These three marketing realities for cultural organizations may be the most urgent – and also the most overlooked. This Read more

Community Engagement

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

According to Visitors, THIS is the Best Part About Going to a Museum (Hint: It’s Not The Exhibits)

When it comes to “the best thing about visiting a zoo, aquarium or museum,” visitors indicate that having a shared experience with friends and family is most important.

I’m pleased to have the opportunity to share a tidbit of data uncovered by IMPACTS Research & Development (the company for which I work, folks)! The data below was first published by the National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study (NAAU) and, since April 2011, it has been re-confirmed in six, separate, proprietary studies on behalf of various visitor-serving organizations with which we work. The image below shows unprompted responses to the question and are displayed with the index value for each response. The bottom line? People don’t go to a museum to see the newest exhibit… people go to a museum to see the newest exhibit with people they care about.

Of course, museum marketers are selling an experience, but the trick may be for museum marketers to understand that they are selling a personal experience.

The “with > what” mentality may turn the museum industry’s self-perception on its head. Traditionally, museums (especially certain kinds, such as art and history museums, for example) may be perceived as quiet places preserved in the past and shielded by silence and white walls.  Museums have been seen as intellectual spaces with curators serving as great academic gatekeepers. The ‘museum experience,’ to those of us involved in creating and shaping it, often revolves around the exhibits, the artifacts, the collection…and it is about those things. For visitors, however, the experience is more than an intellectual quest; it revolves around the entirety of the experience and the company attending with the visitor.

This does not mean that the “what” isn’t important. I frequently write about the evolving role of the curator; how in the information age, everyone is a curator and how – particularly for engaging Millennials – highlighting your curator is less important than ever. Although accessibility and self-curation are becoming increasingly important, having and promoting these artifacts and collections can certainly  inspire visitation. They are the things (“whats”)  that people come with their loved ones to see. In other words, the  “with” here may not be as strong without the existence of the  museum’s “what.” (…Did you follow me there?)

Take a look at a visitor serving organization that has shared the love…  To be a museum marketer and miss this critical half of the equation for visitor motivation is a major loss. In fact, institutions that miss this will be limited, especially as the information age continues to reveal increased communication based on public sharing and online brand identity. So who is already onto this information?  To name an example that I’ve referenced before, Monterey Bay Aquarium used the “with” to promote their “what” in their extremely successful Share the Love campaign. The aquarium  got creative and pulled out all the stops with this campaign, and their concept of “sharing the love” – or sharing the experience of visiting the aquarium –  was a hit.  (Notice the  silhouettes, which allow viewers to place themselves into the pictures and videos for the campaign!)

Moreover, there’s empirical evidence that members of Generation Y may be particularly receptive to marketing messages that promote sharing visitor experiences. In particular, Millennials seek existential experiences.  Sometimes this young demographic gets a bad rep for moving conversation online (“Get off of Facebook and go hang out outside”), but this demographic is actually upping the demand when it comes to in-person experiences as well.

In my line of work, this kind of data on visitor motivation  informs significant decisions regarding discounts, exhibit cycles,  reaching new audiences, and long-term planning (to name a few broad areas…). I look forward to delving further into some of the the implications of these findings in the upcoming weeks. Be sure to check back!

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 7 Comments

Millennials and Social Media: Why Nonprofits Need Them to Survive

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Use us to help your organization spread its social mission.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

At-a-Glance Updates:

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

 

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

At-a-Glance Updates:

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

 

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

At-a-Glance Updates:

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

 

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

At-a-Glance Updates:

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

 

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

At-a-Glance Updates:

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

 

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

At-a-Glance Updates:

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

How Regional Associations May Be Models for Museums of The Future

Folks engaging and learning from one another at last week's CAM Conference in Pasadena, or a peek into the future?

I’ve noticed that a great deal of my favorite resources come from national, regional, or local associations. This makes sense to me. Professional and organizational development is their thing, right? But if you think about the role that these associations play in their communities, it doesn’t seem much of a stretch to conclude that the museum of the future is a regional association.

The California Association of Museums shared their new strategic plan during the CAM Conference in Pasadena last week. When Phil Kohlmetz, the CAM President was speaking, he mostly used the future tense, describing what the organization will be because the plan is in its first of five years. But in actuality, he was pointing out how the association has adjusted and arranged priorities to strengthen what it actually is. During their presentation, I thought simply, “If all cultural organizations adopted these areas of focus, then every cultural organization would be a high-impact organization.” Take a look at the focus areas that make up CAM’s strategic alignment:

  • Build capacity
  • Heighten advocacy
  • Foster community

Perhaps national and regional associations, being connector organizations made up of individuals who can maintain a day-to-day bird’s-eye view of the industry, are terrific models for museums’ strategic futures. Even if they didn’t take up any new practices or adjust to the times, the past and present function of associations may be similar to museum functions of the future.

Looking at attributes that make up national and regional associations reveals that what associations are now, and what museums may be in the future, may be close to the same thing. As such, examining the goals and operations of associations may be a helpful exercise for nonprofits preparing for the future.

National and regional associations actively have aimed to:

  • … Exist as connectors. Between every session at the CAM conference, the organization provided an opportunity for networking and building connections. They put on breakfasts, lunches, even an ice cream social! The Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) actively conducts meet-ups to get folks connected. Associations bring in different speakers and writers to offer different opportunities to connect, and, like a museum, they bring in people eager to learn and explore. Like museums and other cultural organizations, associations aim to get people to interact and learn from one another.
  • …Create horizontal professional communities. Most associations that I’ve come across have committees. The American Association of Museum’s (AAM) committees are the first to come to my mind as an example- probably because they have so many of them. Within these committees, folks are invited to engage equally and contribute to the conversation. Organizations are becoming less vertical (hierarchical) and more horizontal in the way that they operate. They are welcoming more voices when making important decisions and they are working more often in groups. National and regional associations have been putting like-minded folks in groups for years in order to support one another and help come up with industry solutions.
  • …Cultivate professional development and encourage skill-building. The nonprofit sector is notorious for ducking out on providing employees with professional development opportunities. For associations, professional development and skill building is front and center. It’s not a surprise: cultural nonprofits that follow the lead of investing time and energy into their people will develop stronger, more valuable people and build a more successful organization.
  • …Share resources and strengthen their communities. Museums and cultural organizations aim to educate in order to build more vibrant, healthy communities. The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) invested the time and energy to develop a format for online engagement during their 2010 annual meeting. The organization realized the location barrier that existed; not everyone can be in Oklahoma City, but everyone at a cultural organization could likely benefit from involvement in the conference. They paid attention to issues threatening their ability to share quality resources, and they employed new media solutions to create an interactive platform to keep the information flowing, and people conversing. Speaking of which, most associations have the benefit of being able to…
  • …Pay attention. They have a macro-view of the community they serve and industry needs. If you have your eyes open to things happening in the outside world, then you are better able to adjust. Moreover, you’re more likely to see changes coming and ensure that you’re organization doesn’t get left behind.
  • …Create a hub. Do you remember a few years back when marketers would do whatever it took not to link to another webpage? The fear seemed to be that if the web user clicked on something else, they’d leave your page. There’s no way to know if they’d come back. At the CAM conference, Maria Gilbert of The Getty said simply, “create a hub.” Make your website (or your people) the go-to for desired information, and folks will come back. Regional associations have been creating hubs long before the boom of online engagement.
  • …Welcome evangelists. Like me, because they know that if I can find a way to get to the CAM conference, I’ll likely learn something and share it with my friends and networks. Similarly, many associations give out fellowships or scholarships that allow young professionals and students to attend events. This is a great idea because young people are using social media the most to create online content. Cultural nonprofits (and public sector entities) should do this too. Know who your evangelists are and make it easy for them to help you spread your message– online or otherwise.
  • …Master the market. What I mean by this, really, is that they function based off of traditional utility functions. This isn’t new for museums, which do the same thing. They produce goods and services that are desired by a population, and they make a portion of their revenue from “selling” their product to donors. This is worth attention, because an organization that does not utilize the market or work to sustain itself would be a bad example of an organization to mimic.

Perhaps association organizations are museums that are not place-based or artifact-based, but people-based. That may be the reason why some of their traditional functions serve as good models for future cultural nonprofit operations. As society continues to evolve to be more social (or anti-social, depending on what you think about online communications) and participatory, the traditional practices of association organizations become even better models. Perhaps they aren’t ideal (how do you incorporate ‘place’?), but they may be a cheat-sheet about how to think about the future.

What do you think? Can museums of the future learn a thing or two from national and regional association organizations? Please weigh in with your thoughts.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment

The Classics: 3 Ways Museums Have Paved the Way in Online Transparency

It’s not breaking news: nearly all networked nonprofits have to grapple with issues regarding radical trust. Museums (those places inspiring real-life wonder… through research and factual evidence) arguably have the greatest cause for concern. We are enjoying an era of increased conversation, information sharing, and valued sincerity. While there’s real risk that, when given the opportunity, folks will weigh-in on a museum’s site with less-than-factual arguments and write negative comments, the benefits of transparency– such as loyalty, trust, and relationship-building– far outweigh the losses.

One of my favorite books on social media (also not new and breaking news) is The Networked Nonprofit by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine. I know that many of my broader nonprofit-oriented readers are more than familiar with this book. The museum community? I’m not as sure. But museums play an important role in this book– and outside of it– as drivers of online engagement and brand transparency. The last example is not from the book, but it’s just as popular and serves as a great example of an institution’s understanding of social media. Here are three well-known examples of museums paving the way in online transparency– and not just for the museum industry.

1. That time when the Indianapolis Museum of Art starting putting their Organizational Dashboard on their Homepage. It started in 2007 and it was genius. …At least I think so. You can still see the ongoing stats on a designated webpage. This initiative does not shy away from the truth; while it can serve to boast success in mission-oriented activities such as educational tour participation and the number of works on view, it also displays some potentially not-always-so-great numbers such as energy consumption. While the size of the IMA’s endowment can be uncovered in the organization’s Form 990, placing it front and center makes this could-be threatening information easily accessible. Though the endowment amount below reads $315,100,000, the organization is still seeking funds from donors– and they can see this number without looking for it. Putting these numbers up not only demonstrates transparency, but also trust in the general public. The IMA trusts that potential visitors will understand and accept these numbers which can be perceived as are high, low, or just right in the eye of the beholder. It encourages an understanding of the nonprofit sector and the organization itself. Instead of shying away or putting up barriers, this action embraces engagement, shares struggles and successes, and lets everyone in one the process of building up the institution.

2. The thing I’ll call Night at the Museum: Battle of Strategic Transparency. The Smithsonian Institution has not only opened it’s doors and made their online engagement efforts visible, but they have invited us in by creating the Smithsonian Commons. This effort began to take place in 2008. Here’s the vision for the commons shared by Michael Edson, the Director of Web and New Media Strategy. Before 2008, however, the Smithsonian Institution conducted strategic online efforts behind closed doors (like most similar, though arguably smaller, institutions). Transparency came with a new president: G. Wayne Clough, thus in some sense proving the importance of having upper-level buy-in in order to align initiatives toward organizational transparency. Since then, The Smithsonian Institution has helped paved the road to museum online transparency by putting it all out there: Here’s their Web and New Media Strategy.

The Smithsonian Institutions shares their New Learning Model via Wikispaces and shares their engagement strategy with online communities.

3. All that stuff that the Brooklyn Museum is doing… and not doing… with social media. Okay… yes. The Brooklyn Museum is mentioned in The Networked Nonprofit. They are highlighted for their 2008 crowd-sourcing experiment, “Click! A Crowd-Curated Exhibition” in which the museum put out an open call for photographs and web visitors ranked images to help choose which would be in the show, “Changing Faces of Brooklyn.” This museum is a leader of online engagement, but the museum has just recently made quite a stir in regard to online transparency. In early November, the museum announced on their blog that their online strategy for the 1stfans program was not having the desired effect, and as a result, the museum discontinued its Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr groups in favor of utilizing meetup.com.  Why so bold and important? Because in this age of social media, there’s a lot of pressure to get moving online. The Brooklyn Museum’s action reminds us that social media is important in building community, but it cannot solve all problems– and when it’s not working for a certain project, then it’s just not working. Social media and online engagement is still an experiment in a sense, but one thing is certain: it provides an opportunity to listen and learn. The Brooklyn Museum learned that their 1stfan efforts weren’t working, and they reacted accordingly and in the best interest of the institution. They were transparent in sharing the purpose of the switch, and they demonstrated loyalty to their mission– and shared their lessons with the greater community.

As shown above, the Brooklyn Museum's Twitter Art Feed communications were not working well for them. The museum openly changed its strategy to better fit its needs. And they explained their reasoning.

It’s been said over and over that nonprofits jump-started many of the online engagement efforts that are common practice in public and private sectors alike. Museums, though (predominately) nonprofits, can relate to private organizations in that they offer goods and services to an individuals who will benefit directly from those goods–as opposed to solely benefiting a third-party. This fact puts museums at an arguable advantage for stepping up to the plate and taking risks regarding radical trust and organizational transparency. They must master both direct sales and fundraising, and they must manage customer experiences and social missions. Museums can learn from both nonprofit and private sector practices, but in the examples above, the opposite has taken place; museums have stepped forward to take on transparency practices that prove powerful lessons for both private and nonprofit organizations.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on The Classics: 3 Ways Museums Have Paved the Way in Online Transparency