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The Top 5 Mistakes Nonprofits Make When Attempting to Engage Celebrities

Michael Phelps has started his own nonprofit focused on growing the sport of swimming and promoting healthy and active lives.

The Olympics have long come to an end and America has a whole new set of heroes and celebrities with newfound fame and glory. As a marketer, it was almost impossible to watch the Olympics without contemplating the celebrity, ubiquitous sponsorships, and nonstop social media involved in this worldwide event. Perhaps it is because of all this marketing and public relations excitement that celebrity sponsorship seems to be top-of-mind for many of the organizations that I am working with right now.

Though I focus the bulk of my efforts serving the nonprofit realm, my colleagues at IMPACTS do a significant amount of work with the entertainment industry. Operating in both the entertainment and nonprofit sectors comes in handy when these worlds collide. And, when it comes to nonprofits asking for celebrity endorsement or spokespeople, the two worlds often crash! We see a lot of nonprofits going about things all wrong…

Want to know how to increase your chances of getting noticed? Here are five mistakes that nonprofits often make when reaching out to celebrities and what you need to understand when considering your ask:

 

1) Understand that being a nonprofit is not unique.

When asked why they think celebrities will consider taking part in an event, many nonprofit folks seem to respond, “because it’s a good deed. We are a nonprofit!” I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your organization is probably not the only one asking for a celebrity’s time and energy in the name of social good.

Many big celebrities receive several requests for services each day. This includes requests for pro bono work from nonprofit organizations, asks for appearances at reduced rates, requests for time and even for donations. Nonprofits generally over-estimate the uniqueness of the opportunity for a celebrity to align him/herself with a social mission. Celebrities can do this without your nonprofit (many simply start their own foundations or nonprofits). This needs to be understood in order for your nonprofit to make a compelling ask.

 

2) Immediately articulate the return on investment in terms that matter most to the celebrity (not to you).

When reaching out, come knowing the details and exactly why your mission fits with the celebrity’s mission and overall brand persona. Don’t lead with the “charity” card, lead with the “fit” card (though charity might be an element of that). Ask yourself, “how can we help the celebrity do what they care about?”

One of the biggest mistakes that nonprofits make is assuming that A and B are the same circle. (“How could this celebrity not care about youth homelessness?!”) Even if a celebrity – or any person, for that matter – cares deeply about your cause, they are not your nonprofit. They have their own story, connections, and attitudes toward the cause. Successful organizations will do diligent research, find out where passions cross, and make an ask or create an event that caters to that unique focus. They make sure there’s a good fit so they can make the right ask.

 

3) Do not overestimate locality.

In the connected world that we live in today, celebrities don’t “belong” to any single place. In fact, they often strive to be a global brand. Understand that when asking a celebrity to do a hometown event, you should do your research to be sure that the celebrity actually is actively involved with or maintains connections to that town. While having the “hometown” card (or a similar location-based affinity card) in your hand may be helpful, don’t overestimate it as a driving indicator of fit.

 

4) Know that your nonprofit lends credibility, not reach.

Many (mostly larger) nonprofits misunderstand what they bring to the table by trying to bait celebrities with statistics on reach. If you try to encourage engagement by saying, “our museum has 1.5 million visitors annually,” to a celebrity who had 4.5 million people see their movie last weekend alone, then something is wrong. Already, Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte has sponsorship deals with Speedo, Gatorade, Gillette and Nissan that place him at the center of their respective global marketing campaigns…not to mention 1.1 million eager Twitter followers of his own!  Celebrities have reach. That’s likely a large part of the reason why you are contacting them in the first place.   Moreover, they often are “handled” by their own Dream Team (of sorts) of A-List PR and marketing experts.

However, many nonprofits do have something that can be extremely valuable to a celebrity that isn’t always capitalized on by the organization when making an ask – credibility. Celebrities that align themselves with authoritative nonprofits choose to align their respective brands with reputable, trusted endorsers. For celebrities with causes that they greatly care about, this can be a big driver of engagement. In sum, understand that reach is what your brand is getting and authority and credibility can be a powerful thing that your brand is giving.

 

5) Make it easy to say “yes” and understand that if you are requesting their skill set, you should offer to pay them.

While time is indeed money, asking a celebrity to work for free is still different than requesting an appearance. For instance, if you want to hold a concert with a well-known musician and sell tickets as a fundraiser, you should generally expect to pay the talent. In a few instances that I’ve witnessed, the celebrity has declined the fee and/or donated back the fee. However, even if they don’t demonstrate such largesse, nonprofits must understand that it is not their right to a celebrity’s free talent.

Also, it is critical to understand that big celebrities get many, many requests (paid, unpaid, nonprofit, for-profit) every day. In order to be considered, you must have your ask well articulated. A celebrity’s publicist is not your nonprofit’s party-planning committee and they don’t want to be. Make it easy for the celebrity to say “yes.” If you come in having done your research and knowing exactly what you want and what you can offer in return, you’re saving time and increasing the likelihood of engagement.

 

In sum, do your research, be thoughtful in your ask and approach, and don’t overestimate the power of any potential surface fit (your status as a nonprofit or your location, for example). Like attracting donors, you need to know what drives the person and not just want their brand is, but what the celebrity wants their brand to be. Have an idea of how you can help the person get there.

Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Words of Wisdom 1 Comment

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 colleendilen in Big ideas, Branding, Community Engagement, Generation Y, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Media, Technology, The Future Leave a comment

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 colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, Technology 3 Comments

5 Smart Reasons Why Nonprofit Organizations Should Not Hire Social Media Positions Based on Klout Scores

There continues to be buzz about the value of Klout scores in assessing social media savvy. There are even some organizations hiring (or not hiring) potential social media and online community managers based upon their Klout score. But using a Klout score as a lazy man’s cheat-sheet to assess social media savvy is really not-so-savvy at all. In fact, for nonprofit organizations – in which building a tribe of engaged online evangelists is critical – making hiring decisions based on a high Klout score may result in an inability to efficiently reach your target audience.

What is a Klout score? Klout is a website that attempts to measure social influence on a scale of one to 100 taking into account a (somewhat ambiguous) algorithm regarding the reach, amplification, and influence of an individual’s social network. Twenty is the average Klout score. A score greater than 50 indicates that you are in the 95% percentile of social media influencers. Klout seems to constantly tweak their algorithms as they are aware of the issues outlined below. However, there may still be a long way to go before one number can summarize and combine exactly what individuals, for-profit companies, nonprofits, and other organizations want from a social media manager. In particular, the metrics that make up a high Klout score are off for nonprofit organizations…

The metrics measured through Klout scores are not the most important measurements for nonprofit organizations- or any organization whose financial solvency depends upon an engaged, targeted crowd. In fact, the metrics and overall number are downright distracting.  In order for your organization to achieve the most success on social media, you’re going to need to hire a person who is…

  • knowledgeable and perceived as “expert” in the area of your social mission
  • can connect effectively with your target demographic
  • posts quality, mission-related content
  • is perceived favorably online, and
  • has some real-life “klout” outside of the online space

Here’s how taking Klout scores too seriously and relying on them exclusively (or even too heavily) could possibly land you the complete opposite type of what should be your ideal online community manager:

 

1) Having expertise or area of focus on social media will land you a lower Klout score – but you want someone who can form a targeted tribe of highly engaged individuals and contribute to your brand’s credibility online.

Klout scores are necessarily lower for people who are focused or have an area of expertise online because a smaller number than the general population will have interest in this area of focus. However, these focused evangelists may be the kind of people with whom you actually want to associate in order to lend reputation and credibility to your brand online. I’ll bore you all for a moment with a marketing 101 lesson from our college days: it is important to have a target audience, and organizational resources are better spent engaging folks who are likely to interact with your brand rather than sharing a smattering of information-vomit to the general, broad population. You just get more bang for your buck when your dollars are going toward engaging the right person at the right time with the right message. This is still – if not even more – true and difficult on social media (a platform supporting broad, public communication…but with users who demand individualized attention). Klout scores generally reward folks who are good at reaching more people while communicating about very broad topics. Don’t get me wrong: this is a good thing to be able to do. However, just like your number of social media followers doesn’t matter for your nonprofit, appealing to the masses by contributing to the crowd doesn’t matter nearly so much as cultivating a tribe of highly engaged individuals.

As a very focused communicator regarding nonprofit marketing, I run into this problem with my own Klout score. I’ve noticed that the more focused I am on nonprofit marketing in my communications, the more my Klout score drops and my Traackr score for nonprofit marketing rises (Traackr is another site attempting to measure influence, except Traackr does it by industry or focus area). For instance, at this very moment, I have a Klout score of 51 (In the 95th percentile, but low for me), and I’m listed as the third most influential voice online regarding nonprofit marketing (my highest listing so far). Coincidence? Nope. Not to mention, the bulk of my Klout score comes from my personal Facebook page, where I post the typical, unfocused splattering of information that makes up most personal Facebook pages. Bottom line: one measurement system awards me for expertise, the other for being random and broad.

The more focused and expert I become, the more my Klout goes down… but my “bread is buttered” with a targeted audience. I bet your organization’s is, too.

 

2) Frequent posters and online noise-makers are often rewarded with high Klout scores – but your organization needs someone who can contribute and interact thoughtfully online without inundating or alienating your audience.

Klout scores award quantity over quality. In his post, “Klout is Broken” Adriaan Pelzer found that a person can obtain a high Klout score simply by tweeting a lot. In fact, the more you tweet anything, the higher your Klout score. And perhaps the biggest kicker: bots (automatic twitter profiles that are computer-run) can achieve very high Klout scores. This very idea flies in the face of best practices for creating an engaged audience that is likely to translate into a visit or a donation for a nonprofit organization. Data suggests that these best practices may be especially true for marketing to millennials.

 

3) Klout Scores are not indicative of positive influence or actual, online public perception – and you want your organization to be perceived as an expert, positive social force with a significant mission.

Let’s revisit Adriaan Pelzer’s experiment. He found that more tweets resulted in more followers, but many of the followers were bots themselves. In other words, if your organization has calculated a monetary value for each Twitter follower, your organization is living on false hope because these may not all be real people. Does this mean that people with high Klout scores just have a bunch of bots following them? Absolutely not. But it does mean that the more you tweet, the more you increase your Klout score, and, in turn, the more bots are likely to be following you.  However, bots will not be donating to your organization or paying your museum a visit.

Also, (and again, despite Klout’s constant tweaking of the algorithm) Klout scores still don’t effectively measure perceived reputation or how “expert” someone might be. Controversial folks and celebrities often have high Klout scores but the thoughts and sentiments that are being retweeted, shared, or discussed online may not be entirely positive. One could selectively argue that it’s okay not to have entirely positive sentiment regarding your brand – it makes for conversation and opportunities for engagement. However, keep in mind that when you see a Klout score, it is based on an algorithm and not based on public perception or online credibility.

 

4) Klout Scores have (very little to absolutely) nothing to do with offline influence – and online influence needs to be part of a bigger package in order to secure actual donors, visitors, and supporters.

This has been called the “Warren Buffet Problem” and Klout itself has acknowledged that for someone like Warren Buffet to have a low score is a failure. One writer jokes that, based on his low score, Buffet might be passed over for an investment banking position … It’s funny because if hiring organizations are ignorant, it may just be true. Nonprofit CEOs, academic leaders, and folks in high executive leadership positions: think of your own mentors, most influential board members, and important donors. They likely don’t have a high Klout score but I’ll bet you that you’d consider them much more influential and relevant to your organization than a random person with a high Klout score.

The circulating screen shot that launched the “Warren Buffett Problem” discussion in regard to Klout scores.

It should be noted that, even if you’re not a frequent, broad tweeter, being famous will generally land you a high Klout score because you likely have many followers, already have an audience that knows you, and many people will be willing to spread your message. In this sense, Klout scores do have to do with offline influence, but this may be a side effect of the system.

 

5) Klout Scores can be easily manipulated and, thus, are not true measurements of capability.

Yes. There are seemingly countless ways to manipulate your Klout score.

At the end of the day, Technology blogger Diego Basch may have summed up Klout scores the best: “It’s simply a game that measures how good you are at it. Your Klout score measures how good you are at getting a high Klout score.”

 

Hiring managers may find themselves with a problem on their hands if they use Klout scores as a significant factor when hiring for a social media (or any other kind of) position because Klout does not measure the kind of engagement that necessarily makes for the best nonprofit community manager. But a high Klout score is not at all indicative of a bad community manager either. It’s simply a distraction.

Hiring someone who cares about their Klout score may even be a good thing in some cases. For instance, one social media manager for one of the client organizations I serve very frequently tweets and retweets her personal account (and those of her friends) from the organization’s account, which has a significant following. It’s pretty clear if not downright obvious that she’s doing this to increase her Klout score and improve her own online influence… but this may actually be benefitting the organization because she has a particularly strong, broad following in the geographic region where she and the organization are located. She has a great Twitter tone and she takes to the platform quite naturally. Not to mention, her offline “crew” seem to be engaged with the organization. Or perhaps her being associated with the organization drives their engagement? Either way, this symbiotic relationship works out well. She’s an evangelist who helps lend her personal brand to the organization – which is more than good. It’s smart.

Even if you don’t know much about assessing social media behaviors and creating online communities, please do your organization a favor and not hire an important resource based on something as relatively meaningless as a Klout score. Even as Klout continues to tweak and make changes, follow this number too closely and you’ll  likely end up with someone who has the wrong skill set to engage targeted audiences with quality content and perceived expertise.

 

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Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, Technology, Words of Wisdom Leave a comment

5 Critical Nonprofit PR Strategy Tips for Marketing to Millennials (DATA)

Last week I had the honor of speaking about how to market to millennials at the 30th Annual California Travel Summit in Sacramento, California.

There is a lot of information out there on millennials: how we behave and communicate, what we value, what motivates us, and countless articles with tips about how to interact with this generation in the workplace. One thing is for sure: at about 90 million strong, this generation is the largest in human history and will someday – extremely soon – make up the very vast majority of our institutions’ stakeholders, constituents, customers, staff members and supporters.

Millennials are often defined as folks born between around 1980 and 1995. “True Millennials” – those born between 1981 and 1989 who are included in every millennial definitional timeframe and make up a majority of existing millennial data – are at a critical age for the economy. They are between 23 and 31 years old with the youngest of them graduating college and developing the habits that will carry them through adulthood, and the oldest taking up leadership positions in organizations around the globe. These “kids” are not kids anymore; they are emerging as your primary audience, and understanding this demographic no longer means “preparing for the future.” The future is already upon us.

Qualitatively, I’m beginning to find that when I write an article or present a speaking engagement with the words “millennial” or “generation Y” in the title, the audience, attendees, and evangelists for these forums tend to be millennials themselves. Yes, we have a reputation of entitlement and believing we are important, but will organizations really wait for millennials to infiltrate the highest leadership positions before prioritizing engagement with this enormous audience? In other words, will generational turnover need to fully occur before certain nonprofit organizations pay attention to this demographic? If this is the case, than these organizations – and thus their worthy, social causes – will arrive too late to the “business solvency” game and risk becoming quickly irrelevant.

Here are five critical insights into the millennial mindset (and increasingly, the general public’s mindset) that should be integrated into an organization’s public relations strategy:

 

Millennials are public service motivated so right now it is cool to be kind. Nonprofits often have social missions, and now is the time to play that up and differentiate yourself from for-profit competition.

Members of Generation Y are increasingly sector agnostic; just being a nonprofit doesn’t necessarily give your organization a competitive boost in the “do good” category. With the rise of corporate social responsibility, and trust, transparency and communication reigning as general best business practices, for-profit companies are increasingly adopting “values” that have traditionally been associated (or hoped to be associated with) the nonprofit sector. If you’ve got a mission, flaunt it. Data suggests that it will help you maintain organizational solvency in the long run – both with millennials and with the evolving public at large.

 

The Experience Economy is an article written in 1998 by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore that describes the evolution of business economies. In it, Pine and Gilmore predict that the upcoming economy after the current service economy will be the experience economy: an economy wherein businesses must create memorable events for customers and the memory itself becomes the product.  There are arguments and data to support that if this truly is the next economy, them the millennial mindset is spearheading it.

But the customer experience does not start and stop when a visitor walks through the door and into a visitor-serving organization. It starts long before (on social media, TripAdvisor, when they call your organization for directions or try to reach you on Twitter) and doesn’t end unless the visitor wants it to end at some point (you must be continually accessible on platforms to facilitate engagement even after the visit is over). For organizations that are successful in engaging millennials, these things will not be considered an “added bonus,” but a continual best practice. Consistent, personal interactionsare key to engaging this crowd.

 

There’s so much information out there and we only have so many hours in the day. A.O.A.D.D. was coined by Pew Research in regard to millennials, but this “disorder” is thought to be age defying. Millennials have been called “multi-tasking machines.” Keep this in mind when constructing your marketing message or even composing your Facebook statuses.

As we move to a more visual web, pictures may be key. The analytics firm, Simply Measured, found a 65% aggregate increase in engagement for pictures and videos posted on Facebook Pages. Why? Pictures don’t require a click or quick skim of dense content in order to be accessed.

 

Millennials came of age with social technology. The oldest of us had email in junior high school. Millennials don’t know very much of a world without computers, and data shows that we don’t have that “social media is making us all less connected” mentality that some members of older generations occasionally espouse. In fact, Millennials think technology offers them a way to actually grow closer to friends and family. In addition to the facts above, it’s been uncovered that:

  • 33% of Millennials are more likely to buy a product if it has a Facebook Page compared to 17% of non-millennials.
  • 43% of 18-24 year olds say texting is just as meaningful as an actual conversation with someone over the phone.
  • 47% of Millennials (versus 28% of members of other generations) say that their lives feel richer when they are connected to people through social media.

In other words, the connections that Millennials are making to brands and to one another online are real. Organizations will benefit by understanding this and taking it seriously.

 

Warholism is a term associated with millennials thanks to Tina Wells, CEO of Buzz Marketing.  Warholism is “the unending quest for fame and the desire to attract attention by any means.” According to Wells, millennials are using social media platforms such as YouTube and Facebook to achieve stardom. The lesson for organizations looking to inspire engagement with millennials? Help them be famous. Let them participate. Allow them to have input. Let them be an active part of your marketing and PR plan.

In terms of current trends, a big part of this is knowing how to say thank you. Recently, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese individually thanked 4,800 fans who liked a Facebook status by listing each of them in a 6:42 minute song. Or take a lesson from AT&T who created 500 custom YouTube videos to thank its 2 million fans. Does your organization need to do something like this? Probably not. But allowing your evangelists to be a part of your presence is a good best practice for engaging millennials – and getting creative online usually helps.

 

I have posted my presentation with more information from the California Travel Summit on Slideshare, which includes data from IMPACTS regarding the reach, trust, and amplification current marketing channels. Have questions, comments, suggestions, or items to add? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Generation Y, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Service Motivation, Social Media, Technology, The Future 3 Comments

Why Offering Discounts Through Social Media Is Bad Business for Nonprofit Organizations

There’s significant data compiled by multiple sources indicating that “getting discounts” is the top reason why people engage with an organization’s social media channels. So it seems logical that if you want to bump your number of fans and followers, offering discounts is a surefire way to go. And it works – if your sole measure of success is chasing these types of (perhaps less meaningful) metrics. But, before you go crazy with the discount offers on Facebook and Twitter just to get your “likes” up, here’s another thing that’s true: Offering discounts through social media channels cultivates a “market addiction” that will have long-term, negative consequences on the health of your organization.

I recently wrote a post called “Death by Curation” within which I shared data indicating the non-sustainable cycle that museums enter when they must rely on new, progressively more expensive “special” exhibits in the hopes of achieving attendance spikes (what has since been referred to by a reader of this blog as “Blockbuster Suicide”). In many ways, offering discounts creates a similarly vicious cycle whereby a visitor-serving organization finds itself realizing a diminishing return on the value of its visitation.

When an organization provides discounts through social media it trains their online audience to do two not-so-awesome things:

 

1) Your community expects more discounts

Here’s where your organization breeds an online audience of addicts accepting discounts…and, strangely enough, becomes addicted to offering discounts itself. Posting a discount to attract more likes on Facebook (or to get people to engage with a social media competition, etc.) will very likely result in a bump in likes and engagement. But know that in doing this, you are verifying that your social media channel is a source for discounts. Discounting for “likes” attracts low-level engagers (they are liking you for your discount, not your mission), and prevailing wisdoms increasingly suggest that your number of social media followers doesn’t matter. It is far better for your brand and bottom line to have 100 fans who share and interact with your content to create a meaningful relationship, than to have 1,000 fans who never share your message and liked you just for the discount.

I can hear the rumbling now: Some of you are thinking, “But we’ve used discounts to attract more likes and it worked” (i.e. it generated more likes). Over time, however, these low-level engagers will stop following you if you do not continue to offer discounts. That is, after all, the reason why they followed you in the first place…and you have shown them that, yes, you will post discounts on social media. This is the start of the addiction: In order to keep these likes, you need to offer more discounts.

Try this: Simply stop offering discounts. Over the course of a few months, your number of likes will go down (because these people only liked you for the discount, not your awesome, socially conscious content). They were not actual evangelists – and cultivating real evangelists to build a strong online community is the whole point of social media. You want folks who actually care about what you’re doing and will amplify your message (not the “we are offering a discount” message – which is the content that, unfortunately, frequently gets the most shares and perpetuates this cycle).

 

2) Perhaps more importantly, your community waits for discounts

Here’s where becoming an addict takes a toll on the organization’s health. Data indicates that offering coupons on social media channels – even once – causes people to postpone their visits or wait until you offer another discount before visiting you again. Worse yet, the new discount generally needs to be perceived as a “better” offer (i.e. an even greater discount) to motivate a new visit. This observation is consistent with many aspects of discount pricing psychology, whereby a stable discount is perceptually worth “less” over time. In other words, the 20% discount that motivated your market to visit last month will likely have a diminishing impact when re-deployed. Next time, to achieve the same outcome, your organization may have to offer a 35% discount…and then a 50% discount, etc. You see where I’m going with this…

Here is the debunking of another popular misnomer that some organization’s use to justify their discount tactics: You are not necessarily capturing new visitation with discounts. In fact, data from the company for which I work suggests that the folks using your discount were likely to visit anyway…and pay full price! This is a classic example of an ill-advised discounting strategy “leaving money on the table.”

To compound matters, instead of hastening the re-visitation cycle, the “waiting for a discount” phenomena may actually increase the interval between visits for many visitors. The average museum-going person visits a zoo, aquarium, or museum once every 19 months. If you offer a discount, while you may not attract a larger volume of visitation to your organization, you may accelerate your audience’s re-visitation cycle on a one-time basis. This sounds great…until you realize the significant downsides to this happening: Your audience just visited your organization without paying the full price that they were actually willing to pay and they likely won’t visit your organization again for (on average) another 19 months. On top of all this, IMPACTS data illustrates that the steeper the discount, the less likely visitors are to value your product and return in a shorter time period.

Think of it this way: A visitor coming to your museum in May 2012 would likely visit again in December 2013 (i.e. in 19 months). Let’s say that you offer them a discount that motivates them to visit in October 2013. Now, you’ve linked their intentions to visit to a discount offer…and decoupled it from what should be their primary motivation – your content! And, by doing so, you’ve created an environment where content as a motivator has become secondary to “the deal.” In other words, you will have moved your market from a 19-month visitation cycle to a visitation cycle dependent on an ever-increasing discount. Can your organization afford to keep motivating visitation in this way?

So, how do museums get addicted to discounts, too? Well, we sometimes confuse the response (i.e. a visit) to the stimuli (i.e. a discount) with efficacy. Once a discount has been offered to motivate a visit, we regularly witness the market “holding out” for another discount before visiting again. And what are museums doing while the market waits for this new discount? Sadly, often times the answer is that they are panicking.

If you run a museum, you’ve probably spent some time in this uncomfortable space – we observe the market’s behavior (or, in this case, their lack of behavior), and begin to get anxious because attendance numbers are down. What’s a quick fix to ease the pain of low visitation? Another discount! So we offer this discount…and, in the process, reward the market for holding out for the discount to begin with. This is the insidious thing about many discounting strategies: They actually train your audience to withhold their regular engagement, and then reward them for their constraint. We feed their addiction and, in turn, we become addicted ourselves to the short-term remedy that is “an offer they can’t refuse.”

Like most addictive – but ultimately deleterious – items, there is no denying that discounts “work” – provided that your sole measure of the effectiveness of a discount is its ability to generate a short-term spike in visitation. But, once the intoxicating high of a crowded gallery has passed, very often all that we’re left with is a nasty hangover. My advice to museums and nonprofit organizations contemplating a broad discount strategy on social media: Just say no!

 

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Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, Technology, Words of Wisdom 6 Comments

Four Critical Reasons Why Nonprofit Organizations Must Not “Go Dark” on Social Media on Weekends

It is important for nonprofit organizations to maintain a presence on social media and manage their communities online. In fact, social media is the most influential and fastest growing marketing channel – with particular benefits in regard to targeting audiences (reach) and spreading messages (amplification). But those benefits only apply if you “do it right.” That is, you build your organization’s reputation by aiming for transparency, touchability, tone and timeliness in your online communications. Let’s talk about timeliness.

While banks and post offices may reliably post narrow hours of operations, most nonprofit organizations depend on the evenings and weekends to maximize their engagement.  For many nonprofits – especially visitor-serving organizations such as museums, zoos and aquariums – the evenings and weekends are times when many constituents may be most likely to engage with your brand. By “going dark” on the weekends and evenings (or only posting and monitoring social media when someone is in the office), an organization risks ignoring its audience at the precise moments when they may be most apt to communicate, and leaves the organization particularly vulnerable to negative brand sentiment or a possible PR crisis. 

Ignoring your online community for any extended period of time is likely to have a detrimental effect on your brand. And, at the very least, it “leaves money on the table” because you are failing to capitalize on an opportunity to engage online evangelists – a critically important constituency with the power to credibly re-communicate your messaging. Viewed in the worst light, it leaves you voiceless, powerless and ignorant of your reputation for 76% of the week (all hours of the week except the traditional eight hours when a social media manager is “in the office”). This is a big miss. In fact, it’s borderline negligent.

Does this mean that all organizations must have somebody sitting and exclusively watching social media channels like a hawk all week and throughout the night? Absolutely not. It simply means that organizations should aim to respond to social media inquiries within an average of 4 hours (to demonstrate accessibility and transparency) regardless of the day of the week, and post content outside of working hours and on weekends so as to remain top-of-mind.

Here are four, important points to consider regarding the value of social media and weekend social media activity:

 

1. No amount of advertising can make up for a lack of social and earned media.

When an organization goes dark on the weekends, that organization is missing an opportunity to engage audiences and secure reviews from trusted sources. Social media is a great creator of these trusted reviews, which carry significant weight with regard to promulgating messages.

The Bass Model below illustrates the bottom-line of the mathematical equation measuring paid media (Coefficient of innovation) and reviews from trusted sources (Coefficient of imitation). The take-away is clear: reviews from trusted resources (word of mouth, social media, peer reviews) are 12.85 times more powerful in the market than paid media. Therefore, there is no practical amount of paid media that can overcome a deficiency of social media interactions, peer reviews, and resulting earned media. Considering buying another billboard on the highway? Instead, why not pay your social media community manager a bit more and make sure you are managing your community throughout the weekend? (As a side, data suggests that buying billboard space may not be the best use of marketing funds anyway.)

 

2) Weekends may be a particularly important time for your audience to connect and engage

There’s a whole host of data from several entities boasting the best and worst times to post on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. While there has been a bit of debate about the generic “best” time to post across all industries, it has been shown that organizations that post outside of business hours have 20% higher engagement rates on Facebook than organizations that do NOT post outside of traditional business hours.

Saturday has been dubbed the best day of the week to share on Pinterest. Saturday has also been cited as the best day of the week to post on Facebook… But let’s not get carried away. To make matters more confusing than they already are in the always-evolving world of social media, bitly just released data that displays particularly low click through rates on Facebook and Twitter over the weekends. The unfortunate bottom line for organizations looking for a magical, cheat-sheet timeframe to post on social media? It doesn’t exist (yet). That timeframe depends on the industry, and it depends on the behavior of your organization’s demographic on Facebook.

There is no “one size fits all solution.” The best way to determine an individual optimization strategy for your organization is to simply test it yourself. Try out times and content and see what yields the highest amplification, conversation, and applause rates. Your own experience with your organization’s unique content will be most useful in determining this timeframe.

 

3) “Going dark” makes your organization passive on social media and leaves a gaping hole in reputation management

If you’re like most visitor-serving organizations, you have the most visitation on the weekends. “Going dark” is generally never a good idea on social media as it leaves your viral, online community unmanaged. If something happens on Saturday and someone posts an alienating, inappropriate, or untrue comment that is not addressed, the brand could already suffer significant reputation damage by Sunday. But going dark during this particularly critical timeframe for your organization’s business is bad practice. Again, if you’re like most visitor-serving organizations, you get the most pictures and comments over the weekends from visitors. It is important to respond to and thank these guests for both their support and their online engagement. The nature of social media emphasizes real-time reactions and ongoing accessibility.

When writing up Diagnostic Audits for nonprofit, visitor-serving clients concerning their social media practices, I’ve encountered some urgent comments left by potential weekend visitors that were left unanswered and resulted in a decline in the organization’s online sentiment for that month (and a decline in overall reputation). I have seen frantic visitors wondering if the museum is open – which has caused others to ask the similar questions. (“Why wouldn’t you be open? Does this person know something that I don’t know? I’m not coming today.”) Perhaps the most painful examples are those wherein an inappropriate or untrue comment is left unaddressed over the weekend that calls into question the transparency of the organization and diminishes trust in the entity (someone accuses the organization for acting politically or engaging in activity that is at-odds with their mission – and the organization has posted too-little information on the topic for others to weigh-in in the organization’s favor).  If you’re a zoo or aquarium and somebody asks you on Facebook if one of your animals is still alive or if a certain creature is “alright” (even if it’s out of the blue), it’s important to be present to answer the question. Immediately.

Prioritizing a practice to “not go dark” on the weekends is an important risk-management practice, and allows organizations to play an active role in its reputation management.  (Aren’t we all sick and tired of always “putting out fires” on Monday?)

 

4) Posting over the weekend allows you to remain top-of-mind as a weekend destination (if you are a visitor-serving organization)

This is simple. The weekend is a popular time for leisure activities (as is likely mirrored in your visitation trends). Posting something to enter your supporters’ newsfeeds during this leisure time mindset simply keeps your organization top-of- mind. If you’re a visitor-serving organization only posting between 9am and 5pm on weekdays, then you are entering people’s newsfeeds at a time that folks likely couldn’t visit you, even if they wanted to (IMPACTS has uncovered that schedule is a key driver of visitation). Are most of the people who see the clever photo that you posted to your organization’s Facebook page going to shut their laptop, funnel their kids in the car, and visit you immediately? No, probably not. But they might chuckle and think (in their moment of downtime), “Gee, I haven’t been there in a while…” and start planning their next visit.

 

Simply put, going dark is a “you” customer service problem, not a problem that should be borne by your constituents. Allow them to ask questions and communicate with you at the time that works best for them – regardless of the time and date. This will create optimal engagement rates and maintain the greatest chances of capturing evangelists.

It may take a bit of extra time “outside of the office” to post content and remain accessible during the weekends, but it will be well worth the effort. Regardless of when you post, it is critical that you do not “go dark” and leave your online audiences hanging. Also remember: content is still king. What you post (whenever you post) matters and will affect your engagement rates.

 

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Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, Words of Wisdom 7 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 colleendilen in Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, Technology, The Future 9 Comments

The Early Adopter Phase on Pinterest is Coming to an End (or, 5 Reasons for Museums to Get on Pinterest Right Now)

Pinterest  is a virtual pinboard and social photo-sharing site that allows folks to organize and curate theme-based collections (boards) of pictures and images (pins). The site’s mission statement says it all: “to connect everyone in the world through things they find interesting.” Though the site launched in March of 2010, this social platform has experienced incredible growth throughout the last few months. And one thing’s for sure: it’s worth paying some attention – especially if you are a zoo, aquarium, museum (ZAM), or cultural center with high potential for visual engagement.

Nonprofits will benefit by getting on Pinterest right now. It’s late enough in the platform’s development for us to have indication that it’s worth these organizations’ often-limited resources, but it’s soon enough that ZAMs have not “missed the boat” in getting on Pinterest. Also, this platform may have some tremendous word of mouth benefits. While the boom of folks and organizations getting on Pinterest may indicate that the “early adopter” phase is coming to an end in the next few months (if it hasn’t happened already), it’s important for ZAMs – in particular – to be there. Why? Here are five reasons why your organization should consider developing a presence on Pinterest – and doing it soon.

 

1) Pinterest is big and it’s getting bigger very quickly.

With 2.2 million active daily users and 12 million active monthly users, Pinterest is now the third most-used social media platform in the United States. It ranks in after Facebook and Twitter, and before LinkedIn (by over 18 million views in the month of February 2012 alone). The platform experienced an increase in total unique visitors of 2,702.2% since May 2011, and its usership continues to grow. With 91% of all adults who are online using social media regularly, social media platforms – especially the most popular ones that communicate directly with museums audiences – are a smart place for museums to be.

Social media platforms are one of the primary and most powerful methods used by potential visitors to gather information and make visitation decisions. As the third most-used social media site, ignoring Pinterest means missing an opportunity to be present with a steadily growing online audience. There are 12 million active monthly users on Pinterest (so far). A part of your audience is already here… and might be looking for you.

 

2) Pinterest serves multiple functions that have a positive impact on your museum’s bottom lines.

Cultural nonprofits generally have two, key goals: to spread their message in order to educate, inspire, or ignite some form of positive change, and to meet a financial bottom line (i.e. to attract visitors, members, and donors to remain economically sustainable). Pinterest can help do both of these things by effectively and creatively reaching people online.

For instance, Pinterest allows for organization’s to build personal relevance with audiences. This kind of personal sharing done by Pinterest users can have high word of mouth marketing value – and this can drive qualified traffic to conversion sites. Pinterest allows users to express themselves with pictures and images that are relevant to their lives. Content produced and pinned by ZAMs has the capability of being repinned and integrated into user’s boards – which are often personal with high word of mouth value. In fact, Pinterest creates more referral traffic than double that of Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn combined, and a new study shows that Pinterest creates more referral traffic than Twitter. Simply put:  Pinterest will get you more clicks to your website (if that’s where your pins link), than Twitter will bring to your website. Moreover, Pinterest is engaging and retaining users 2-3 times more efficiently than Twitter did at a similar time in its history. This is important, because conversion sites (ticket buying and membership purchasing pages) are often accessed through an organization’s homepage… and Pinterest can help get you those qualified clicks by referring Pinterest users to your webpage or social media hub.

…and they ARE often generally qualified clicks. Pinterest – simple as the concept may seem – functions as a tool to allow potential visitors to self-identify with the organization. In other words, individuals who pin photos from your venue or repin your pins are actively identifying themselves as fans of your organization or your organization’s offerings. Pinterest also can appeal to audiences that are at different stages of engagement with the museum. Here’s how (adapted from Mashable):

  • Potential advocates and influencers repin and share your organization’s links and images on Pinterest. This serves as a form of online product recommendation or a review.
  • Near-future visitors may be using your content as a bookmarking or online wishlist function, allowing them to share and remember things that they’d like to do in the future.
  • Immediate visitors, or those interested in visiting in very short order, may conduct a targeted online search for your museum on Pinterest in order to do a bit of research and assess the organization before scooping up the family – or grabbing their partner’s hand – and heading out the door.
  • Long term/future visitors who take their time making visitation decisions may be using Pinterest much like window-shoppers; they’re scoping out the photos and visual offerings of museums in order to make a decision to visit (or not to visit) in the future.

In sum, Pinterest functions as a widely used tool that allows ZAMs to spread your museum’s message, remain top of mind, and increase your organization’s relevance on a steadily growing, online platform among real and potential visitors.

 

3) Pinterest’s (current) frequent users represent a powerful social demographic that many ZAMs are trying to target: The potential (now and future) moms of America.

There are a lot of great reasons why museums often aim to target moms in addition to other demographics. To name a few, moms in the US spend 2.1 trillion dollars each year and they control 85% of household income. A staggeringly high 79% of moms identify themselves as being active on social media on a daily basis. Also, individuals in this demographic trust one another and frequently look to other active “mommy bloggers” or mommy social media users to make purchasing decisions or recommendations. In other words, turning moms into museum/cultural center evangelists has the potential to not only “drive the gate,” but to inspire entire families of ocean advocates, scientists-in-training, little (and big) anthropologists, creative thinkers, art lovers and musicians-in-the-making. We already know that who folks visit a museum with is more important than what they see. Targeting moms has terrific real and emotional potential for long-term engagement and becoming part of a family tradition and perhaps making museum-going a way-of-life.

This audience is on Pinterest: As of the end of February of this year, 68.2% of Pinterest users were women- and half of all Pinterest users have children. Women between age 25 and 44 make up 49.5% of all Pinterest users.  These are America’s moms and future moms- and engaging these ladies may have significant payoff for museums and cultural nonprofits.

And this audience is “into” museum sweet-spots:  ZAMs may be in a better position to integrate this platform than giant corporations because museums – by their very nature of existing to educate, inspire, and tell stories – produce some innately “pin-able” content. Here are some of the most popular board themes according to a recent study by JRMetrics:

  • Arts & Crafts, as a theme, takes the lead as the most popular theme on Pinterest – making up 12.4% of all boards. An art museum may pin pointillism crafts. Science centers, zoos and aquariums may feature “green” crafts or projects that can help families save energy. The possibilities are perhaps as endless as staff creativity.
  • Food is one of the most popular pin board themes on Pinterest, comprising 10.5% of all boards across the platform. It is also the fastest growing theme and predicted to trump fashion-themed boards on Pinterest in the near future in terms of frequency of pinning and board creation. This is good news for aquariums pushing sustainable seafood, science centers hoping to share information about nutritional science, and even location-based historic sites that may have some recipes that represent a taste of the times.
  •  Inspiration/Education makes up 9% of all Pinterest boards. This category may be a no-brainer for creative ZAMs with a social message.
  • Travel, as a theme,  makes up 1.9% of all pin boards. In fact, “Favorite Places & Spaces” is the sixth most-popular pin board name. If your museums or cultural center looking to also function as a travel destination (or, a destinations that folks visit when they travel for other reasons), this theme also plays to an area of potential strength.
Create pins that fit into these categories and they’ll be much more likely to be shared and repinned.

 

4) Pinterest makes people curators – and that concept has a museum association.

ZAMs often have  plenty of stunning visual content attendant to the positive social message they share. Moreover, these kinds of informal learning environments allow for visitors to take their own pictures and tell the story of your museum as it relates to their own lives – so the stories are coming from both the organization and from visitors alike.

The word “curation” may be a loaded one in our field and its definition (or rather, who does it and what that means) seems to be in a critical stage of evolution. As social technology puts the power of information in online users’ hands, we’re seeing more and more experiments around crowd curation in museums. Pinterest allows people to be curators of collections and its popularity may be a sign for museums who are reluctant to let go of the traditional “curation control” and experiment with radical trust. Forbes has featured stories about The Rise and Rise of Pinterest and Our Love of Digital Curation.

Pinterest also encourages sharing and accessibility – areas where ZAMs could perhaps use some reputational TLC. Attendant to this “pro,” however, are discussions related to the online accessibility of collections in regard to copyright issues and putting collections online. It should be noted that Pinterest just changed their policies –including their copyright policy and pin etiquette – so that they were more fitting for the uses of this growing platform. They are worth checking out.

 

5) Now is the time to get on Pinterest. (Read: Don’t wait) 

To put it simply, as more and more folks get involved on Pinterest, the likelihood that you will be organically searched increases. If you’re not there, you’ve missed a powerful engagement opportunity. It’s worth noting again that individuals utilize social media platforms to gather information in order to make visitation decisions. Several large corporations and important entities are thriving on Pinterest. Nonprofits are on Pinterest. President Obama is on Pinterest. SeaWorld just created a Pinterest account. For a fitting platform in a world that’s all about relevance and remaining top-of-mind among the “noise,” this is not a time to be (visually) silent.

While Pinterest is still evolving as a platform and we are not certain what the future will hold in terms of audience engagement in the long run, this platform may very well be worth the time and energy to set up and maintain. At least, signs are pointing that way. It’s true that Pinterest may not be for every organization (This infographic may help you decide, though it lacks information on the relevance/efficacy of the platform within the industry.) But the outlook is good for the visually engaging world of zoos, aquariums, and museums …So collect your favorite photos, set up some Pinterest share tabs on your pages, and start listening, measuring, and providing content for real and potential visitors, members, and donors to pin. Show the world that museums are not places of the past, but instead indicators of the future. In short, now is the time to be ahead of (or at least on) the curve.

I’m also keeping tabs on museums and libraries on Pinterest, as well as zoos and aquariums on Pinterest. Have ZAMs to add? Tweet at me (@cdilly) or leave a comment below. Better yet, post it on my brand new Facebook wall and let other folks know! I’ll be sure to update accordingly.

Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, Technology, The Future 7 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 colleendilen in Exhibits, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, The Future, Words of Wisdom 11 Comments