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Know Your Own Bone’s 15 Most Popular Posts of 2011

After playing with a bunch of pictures from this year, I’m going the “goofy face during a presentation” route.  The world has enough pictures of stuffy presenters, doesn’t it? Thanks for making 2011 great, readers!

Happy New Year!

As 2011 draws to a close, I’ve been doing that all-too-typical “blogger thing” wherein I look back at all of the posts collected here and all of the terrific museum, nonprofit, and social technology professionals that I’ve had the opportunity to meet over the last year. I continue to be amazed by the power of social media to bring people together around ideas in an effort to bring an industry together and propel a whole sector forward.

It has been a very big year for me. I earned my masters degree (MPA) in Nonprofit Management and started working for an innovative company that supports nonprofits in a big way. My love for social media and online engagement has found a terrific home with this company specializing in predictive technology. I moved from Los Angeles to Chicago (It’s freezing here), but I travel very often and I spend more days visiting zoo, aquarium, and museum clients than I spend in my own bed. I would not change a thing.  I’ve been blessed with publications, speaking engagements, and a terrific network of thought leaders. I am truly lucky to be immersed in such a powerful online community and to have such thought-provoking readers. It has been a big year for Know Your Own Bone, too. Starting it’s third year, this blog has more readership than ever, great circulation, and a talented tribe of readers and subscribers from the nonprofit, museum, and marketing world. Thanks for reading and being those folks, folks! To wrap up the calendar year, I’d like to share the fifteen most popular posts from 2011. 

 

1. 38 Ways Zoos and Aquariums are Engaging Audiences Through Social Technology

“Check out some of the classic, creative, charming, and kooky ways that zoos and aquariums are using social technology to make waves in their communities and beyond. I created this list in preparation for a talk at the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Mid-Year Meeting.” (March 10, 2011)

 

2. You Have To Be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable- One Line Lessons in Leadership 

Though I know that I shouldn’t be, I’m always a bit surprised when more “personal” posts turn out to get the most readership and circulation.  ”Here are my  favorite one-liner lessons/quotes on leadership from professors in graduate school.” (May 4, 2011)

 

3. Personal Branding for Museum Directors- A Look At Two Industry Leaders

“Here are two, stellar examples of museum CEOs with terrific personal brands. Both of these museum directors use their personal brands to their- and their institution’s- advantage…and they do it in different ways.” (December 12, 2011)

 

4. What Facebook’s Changes Mean for Visitor Serving Organizations

“Mark Zuckerberg has explained that Facebook is about to roll out some big changes and new features in the next few weeks. These big changes will affect how brands interact with people online, and change up the way that museums are connecting with the public. Here’s what Facebook’s changes mean for  museums and visitor serving organizations.” (September 26, 2011)

 

5. Curator 2.0- The New Duties of an Evolving Job 

“The occupation of curator was recently ranked one of The 50 Best Careers of 2011 by U.S. News and World Report. While we may find this true over the course of the next year, one thing becomes more and more certain as we continually embrace the information age: the role of the museum curator is changing.” (January 13, 2011)

 

6. On Nonprofits, Detroit, and Doing the Hardest Thing

I only wrote two posts with a personal bent this year and they both made this list! (Note to self: good lesson for 2012…) “The nonprofit sector is generally both under-respected and fiercely important. Like the city of Detroit, It’s worth more than the reputation that we bestow upon it. Aside from being unfairly judged, nonprofit work and the city of Detroit have a lot in common. Most importantly, they represent “the hardest thing.”‘ (February 8, 2011)

 

7. Social Media and Museum Fundraising: 3 Easy Ways to Jump-Start a Relationship

“Social media informs. It educates. It creates connections….So why aren’t fundraisers getting with these new tools like the marketers? Here are three easy, low-resource ways that social media can help museum development departments build connections and keep a pulse on donor engagement.” (April 26, 2011)

 

8. Barriers for Adopting Social Media: Radical Trust 

This post presents a case study that comes up frequently in my line of work.  ”In order for social media to be effective, institutions must place a great deal of trust in their online audiences. Here’s how the Shedd Aquarium displayed radical trust in order to win the hearts of online audiences in what could have otherwise been a PR crisis.” (July 5, 2011)

 

9. The Key to Modern Day Marketing- Is Your Museum Using Free Agents?

“Changes in the way we communicate and build networks due to social technology, combined with the growing influence of Generation Y in the workplace, have created a new force to be recognized by your organizations marketing and development departments: free agents. Is your organization utilizing these connected individuals?” (February 1, 2011)

 

10. Millennials and Social Media: Why Nonprofits Need Them to Survive

“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 John Racanelli’s AZA keynote, Millennials and social media – both separately and combined- provide some not-so-secret sauce for moving organizations forward. Here’s how.” (November 14, 2011)

 

11. 4 Valueable Resources for Museum Futurists. No… Right Now-ists.

“If nurturing nonprofit networks creates high-impact nonprofits, then certainly nurturing nonprofiteer networks leads to even higher-impact nonprofits. On that note, these are four basic online resources for arming museum professionals with the social technology tools needed to embrace new media and encourage both social capital and sector innovation. ” (February 16, 2011)

 

12. We Can’t Keep Our Mouths Shut

“Generation Y. Millennials. Generation “Me.” The Obama Generation. However you identify these 20-somethings working in your museum, one thing’s for sure: We function differently than older generations in the workplace.” This article on the benefit of Generation Y in the museum workplace was written and published in the American Association of Museums May/June issue of Museum Magazine. Special thanks to Editor and Chief, Susan Breitkopf, for contacting me and also to Sushannah O’Donnell of AAM for her terrific edits. (May 12, 2011)

 

13. Nonprofit Management: 3 Ways Social Media Builds High-Impacts Museums

“Social technology plays a leading role in helping organizations meet more than half of the critical and famous ‘six practices of high-impact nonprofits’ outlined by Crutchfield and McLeod Grant in their celebrated Forces for Good. Chances are, social media will continue to evolve so that we can even better utilize social media to take on these critical functions to strengthen nonprofit organizations. Here’s how.” (March 1, 2011)

 

14. Barriers to Adopting Social Media: Uncertainty

“Adopting social strategies- such as taking on innovative social media initiatives- requires tackling an amount of uncertainty. Here are 5 things that you need to know when developing and carrying out a social media strategy for a zoo, aquarium, or museum. Featuring cartoons by Tom Fishburne. ” (August 8, 2011)

 

15. 6 Reasons Why Your Organization Needs a Social Media Hub

“A hub is a place where social media links are directed and content is aggregated. Not to mention, having a hub is resourceful and it makes achieving online goals a whole lot easier. Here are six ways that your organization will benefit from having a social media hub.” (October 10, 2011)

Posted on by colleendilen in Blogging, Community Engagement, Generation Y, Leadership, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Change, Social Media 5 Comments

30 Creative Ways Museums are Celebrating the Holidays Through Social Media

Happy holidays, everyone! This is a great time of the year for zoos, aquariums and museums online. There’s an opportunity to engage with timely, intimate content that already has a personal connection with audiences. It’s also a time to be with loved ones- and zoos, aquariums, and museums are places that people can go with the folks that they care about. There are wins all around.

We are seeing a lot of the expected annoucements online being pushed through social media: reminders that the gift shop has something for everyone on your holiday list, friendly reminders that memberships make great gifts, promotions for holiday programs, and some of those end-of-the-year requests for donations. But there has also been a lot of more creative online engagement this holiday season as well! In fact, I found that often, the museums that had taken on more creative initiatives this holiday season really went for it and took on more than one fun project (hence some repeats in this list). It’s clear that the organizations that took the time to think about engaging audiences this season really capitalized on the potential during this time of year!  Here are 31 ways that zoos, aquariums, and museums are engaging audiences online this holiday season.

Interestingly, I keep tabs on an even mix of zoos, aquariums, and museums.. but aquariums really had a lot going on this season! Getting this post via email? I suggest clicking here to see all of the great videos posted.

1) Turns out Santa takes breaks from managing elves to hang out in the fish tanks of aquariums. The photo above was shared on Facebook by the California Academy of Sciences.

2)   This year, museums have produced some downright silly, touching, and artistic holiday videos. Haven’t laughed yet today? Check out the holiday video below (complete with puppets AND the aquarium’s CEO) by the National Aquarium. My other favorites include this classy video by Museo Guggenheim Bilbao and this nice video by the South Australian Museum. I love that it has an intimate feeling about it with staff members presenting artifacts throughout the museum. Oh, and this holiday video makes me laugh from the Saint Louis Zoo, too!

3) The Smithsonian wants to know: which Santa is the scariest? My vote was for the Wild-Eyed Santa… but A Santa Hold-Up is a tad alarming.

4)   The Tennessee Aquarium highlighted a six-armed Bat Star (typically with five arms) that looks like the star of David. Simple and sweet.

5)   Can a person die of cute-overload? Presenting: San Diego Zoo’s Special Moments of 2011:

6) Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is rocking the holidays on social media– especially in regard to making santa accessible. They conducted a live chat from the museum with him the week before Christmas.

7) The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis also has spunky YouTube interviews with Santa. Spoiler: his favorite cookie? Chocolate chip.  And his favorite reindeer? Olive, obviously.

8) An important aspect of being part of a community is sharing the love and promoting other things that bring out the holiday spirit. So I need to include the Exploratorium’s cool blog post and informal interview video about Weaver’s Winter Wonderland.

9) The Contemporary Jewish Museum is using Flickr to highlight one picture for each day of Hanukkah 2011. It is simple and rather lovely.

10) Speaking of Hanukkah and the Contemporary Jewish Museum… they want to know:

11) Check out the Wreath-cycled challenge conducted by the Shedd Aquarium! Facebook fans could vote for their favorite wreath created by local K-12 classrooms made entirely out of recycled materials.

12) Okay. This one is random. The Museum of Science, Boston has created cup holders (perfect for this cold, holiday season) to promote their Pompeii exhibit. The cup holders change color when they get hot, which is cool… but there’s something about the seriousness, attempted silence, and scrappiness of this Facebook video that makes it kind of funny and rather charming.

13) How fun is this? The Shelburne Museum shows us how to print holiday cards on their 1954 Heidelberg Press:

14) Who doesn’t love Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Herbie Hippocampus? He’s in the holiday spirit and spunky as always.

15) There were LOTS of create-and-send your own holiday e-card options from zoos, aquariums, and museums this year. Some examples: Monterey Bay Aquarium, Woodland Park Zoo, and the Chicago Zoological Society.

16) On a related note, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art lets you tap into high-resolution pictures available without restriction so that you can make your own holiday card. Three cheers for image accessibility and sharing!

17) Georgia Aquarium staff conducted a surprise attack holiday dance party on site:

18) They also have a Singing Holiday Grouper:

19) The Smithsonian shared mistletoe facts from one of their botanists.

20) Museums represent! The Museum of Science, Boston asked Facebook fans to vote for them as their favorite gingerbread house. You can vote for the New England Aquarium’s gingerbread house, too. Eek. Stiff competition.

21) The Tennessee Aquarium took members on an expedition to Antarctica this holiday season. That’s cool, right? It’s cooler that they are reporting back with videos from the adventure.

22) A twist on the traditional donation request, the St. Louis Zoo is sharing and promoting an Animal Wish List this holiday season.

23) Love the pictures and little story about Ollie the Otter’s First Snowman from the Aquarium of the Pacific.

24) Simple and sweet, the Art Institute of Chicago says Happy Hanukkah.

25) To celebrate the new year, the Newseum will ask online audiences to vote for the best headline written this year through Facebook.

26) The Victoria and Albert Museum showed off photos of their  stunning Christmas Tree by Studio Roso

27) The Henry Ford has a blog category for weddings and a sweet post and slide show of a “winter-wonderful” wedding.

28) The Shelburne Museum hosted a Brick House Holiday Party for museum members and captured the experience on Flickr.

29) Did you know that the Statue of Liberty has inspired a Hanukkah lamp? I know that now, thanks to the Skirball Cultural Center.  And while we’re at it, who doesn’t want a delicious latke recipe?

30) Santa visited the Shedd Aquarium’s sea otters and, of course, gave them a big disk of fish paste. Yummm…

Do you have more examples to share? Post them in the comments section to contribute to the list!

*A little reminder in holiday good spirit: If you use or reprint this post, please give proper attribution to Know Your Own Bone. Similarly, if you use this post as a significant lead for an article that you are writing yourself, please be kind and show some love.  Happy holidays!

Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Media, Technology 4 Comments

Why Your Organization Needs You to Build a Personal Brand

If you’re reading this, then you’re probably the kind of person who already knows that professional resumes have transcended the boundaries of a sheet of paper. They’ve transcended beyond our LinkedIn profiles and seeped into everything that we do… because much of what we do (and what happens in the world) is online.  Information about you is online whether you put it there yourself or not. There are pipl and spokeo profiles that can give the heebie-jeebies even to people who are quite certain that they do not exist in an online space… and those are just online white pages. Combine that with industry news, social media profiles, and public records… and someone can find out a good amount about you and your interests.  Think you can benefit by NOT being online? That may indicate that you have not done anything worthy of recognition within your industry- and that’s not usually a positive perception either.  You very likely exist online and therefore already have an online reputation (a lack of an online presence says something, too). You can let that reputation go unchecked or you can manage it. Many people argue that you should manage it- and for very good reasons. If you’re a museum or nonprofit professional, there’s another good reason to manage your personal brand:

Because during this particular time of social media evolution and frequent Facebook change-ups, your organization needs you to have a personal brand.

An online reputation is often called a personal brand. For many people– especially nonprofit professionals who do not work in marketing– the idea of having a personal “brand” feels somehow insincere or contrived. It’s not. In fact, the best personal brands are authentic and transparent.  Personal branding means knowing what people are saying about you, being diligent and conscientious, and helping to paint an accurate picture online.

And (contrary to a possible knee-jerk misconception associated with the word “brand”), personal brands aren’t always self-serving. In fact, when it comes to museum and cultural nonprofit professionals, developing and maintaining a strong, personal brand can be an incredible asset for your institution.  Professionals with strong personal brands carry their social missions into their online identities and can be incredible assets for telling the kinds of stories that spawn change. 

Thanks in large part to the rise of social media, the traditionally-stark line between peoples’ “personal” and “professional” lives has become blurry online. Last week, I gave an overview of some museum professionals who are successful in not only representing their museums in an online space, but in moving those organizations forward in online engagement through their own personal brands.  Though we always represent the institutions for which we work, some museum professionals go beyond merely “spreading the word” about their cause by actively blogging, tweeting, and engaging audiences online to strengthen both their own and their institution’s brand. There are a lot of great resources out there to help you establish a personal brand. But why do it? Here are four, important ways that personal branding and becoming engaged online helps strengthen your organization in the long run:

 

1. Personal branding increases your organization’s reputation, a key discretionary motivator for visitors. Through a recent, large-scale study on museum awareness, attitudes and usage, IMPACTS has found that perceptions of a museum’s reputation plays a very important role in whether or not a visitor will decide to attend a zoo, aquarium, or museum (ZAM). In fact, reputation is a top-five influencer for the U.S. composite and it is one of the top-two driving motivators for the average high propensity visitor at a ZAM. In sum, managing a ZAM’s reputation is critical to achieving visitation and reaching the organization’s financial bottom-line. A good way to increase an organization’s positive reputation is to align it with someone who already has a positive reputation. The brands strengthen and lend credibility to one another. Let’s give a written fist-bump to a side-step of the transitive property here: if a person working for a nonprofit is perceived to have talent, then the nonprofit is perceived to have talent.  A goal of personal branding is to manage your online reputation and paint yourself (ergo, your organization) in the best light possible. Brand management is reputation management.

 

2. Personal branding allows the organization to reach more targeted audiences with increased credibility. ZAMs have high propensity visitors. That is, people who are most likely to visit… and they have relatively specific profiles. All nonprofits have these specified audiences and it is up to the organization to know who these people are, where to find them, and what these people like to do so that they can be most effectively engaged. Effective, broader marketing strategies target these high propensity visitors. However, maintaining a personal brand alongside the institution allows you to engage other audiences or more closely target a subset of your high propensity visitor. This may be an audience of industry professionals (if you’re the CEO), an audience of history buffs (if you’re a curator), an audience of mommy blogging friends (if you’re a mommy-blogging PR rep), or an audience of Gen Y socialites (if you’re the well-connected visitor services intern)… You catch my drift. In other words, building a personal brand allows you to connect more personal friend-circles with the things that excite you about your profession. In this way, professionals are important evangelists for the causes for which they work. Word of mouth marketing is powerful, and positive messages to the inner-circles in which professionals are personally involved allows the organization to reach a targeted group with more built-in credibility.

 

3. Personal branding increases opportunities for transparency and provides an alternate avenue for engaging storytelling. Just look at how some top CEOs are using Twitter; they do it with their own style and authenticity… and that’s why it works. They lend a tone and message to their organization. This can be an especially terrific asset if your organization has a more formal, less-personal informational Twitter account. Tweeting about your day-to-day life (to an extent… too much of this looks solipsistic real fast…) shows folks online that the organization’s leader is a living, breathing, relatable human being with hopes, dreams, desires, a sense of humor, and sometimes-terrible spelling skills. A professional with an online presence can also be an avenue for telling engaging, personal stories. Putting a face, or a storyteller, to a story can make a big difference. A quick favor to branded professionals who engage on their organization’s Facebook wall: disclose your relationship with the nonprofit in your comment, or it looks like you are playing us as fools. Love always, the online community who will chalk up “untrustworthy” points for organizations that try to play us (whether they mean to or not). 

 

4. Personal branding can inspire earned media. Twitter users are three times more likely than other social media platform users to be critics (think Yelp reviewers) or creators (think mommy bloggers). From that perspective alone, personal branding with relation to your organization has a huge benefit: instead of one, faceless account Tweeting for a cause, online advocates can tweet from their personal accounts, increasing opportunities for earned media. This is strongly connected to reaching new audiences and increasing reputation. Earned media often functions like word of mouth marketing— it is media for which the organization did not have a monetary transaction. It is often organic and timely. Having advocates online, whether they work for the nonprofit or not, creates opportunities for securing earned media. Branded professionals can be seen as go-tos for information on cause-related information. This happens organically and it can be heaven for the organization if online employees are advocates of the mission… but it can backfire faster than the Formula Rossa roller coaster  at Ferrari World with staff members who may be online and are unaware of the important role that they play in word of mouth marketing for the organization. (A solution here? a social media policy).  In sum, earned media is an important aim for online engagement, and developing a personal brand can help your organization increase the likelihood of spreading word of its mission and inspiring this kind of media.

 

What can museum professionals do to get started on a personal brand? There are a lot of terrific resources out there. This isn’t even the tip of the iceberg, but it sure is a good place to start:

Posted on by colleendilen in Blogging, Branding, Community Engagement, Leadership, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Media, The Future, Words of Wisdom 3 Comments

Personal Branding and Museum Directors: A Look at Two Industry Leaders

There are plenty of benefits to having a personal brand, just as there are incredible benefits to hiring someone who has a personal brand. It allows you to be a thought leader, have a voice, and necessitates keeping a pulse on the online community, social trends, and evolving communication methods.  Perhaps most importantly, though, having a personal brand allows you to be a better storyteller. CEOs with strong personal brands carry their social missions into their online identities and can be incredible assets for telling the kinds of stories that spawn change. They become spirited leaders of not only an organization, but of a cause. And the person, the organization, the cause, and the constituents are all beneficiaries in this personal-branding-for-social-change love-fest.

For most cultural nonprofits, there’s an un-tapped opportunity to build credibility, authenticity, and infiltrate your story with a professional demographic… and that opportunity lies in nonprofit’s CEO or a public-facing department leader. 

Personal branding– also connection with brands and building networks online- -are big for the Gen Y crowd, but most nonprofit CEOs are not Millennials (yet…although I think this may take longer than Tierney’s proposed decade to occur due to merging nonprofits, late-retiring boomers, and other reasons). Folks build a personal brand to engage, to network, and to establish credibility as a thought leader. It makes sense that some of the biggest tech CEOs have personal brands like Mark Cuban (of too much to name), Marc Andreessen (of Ning), Craig Newmark (of Craigslist), and Guy Kawasaki (of Alltop). A large portion of their work takes place online, but increasingly, a large and important portion of all nonprofits’ work will take place online in the form of storytelling, online engagement, and building transparency- an already- important public attribute.  We can learn from these tech and social industry leaders and their brand management. I’d say that they are good places to start, but museums already have some professionals with well established web presences.

An interesting thing about working in museums is that they have different departments and different opportunities for engagement. For some institutions, the leader in the online space is not the CEO at all. Here’s a very (very) select and diverse group of professionals with clear personal brands, and who successfully bridge personal and professional to be advocates for their museums. Their tribes range in size, they have different tones, and they appeal to different folks. Here are a few:

In many situations, professionals who run social media or have tech roles within the museum are social tech savvy, so keeping an eye on them can be a cheat-sheet for current happenings. So where are the museum directors? I’m glad you asked. Here are two, stellar examples of museum CEOs with terrific personal brands. Both of the museum directors below use their personal brands to their- and their institution’s- advantage.. and they do it in different ways.

 

Nina Simon (@ninaksimon)- Director of the Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz

Leveraging thought leadership to build community and elevate the museum. It’s no surprise that many (if not most) of the professionals online keeping updated blogs and personal brands are consultants and writers. This makes sense, as consultants’ credibility often depends upon their symbolic capital. Nina Simon was a writer and consultant before taking up her relatively new position as Director of the Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz. Her blog, Museum 2.0, has thousands of dedicated readers and her book, The Participatory Museum, is a hit. The Smithsonian has called her a “Museum Visionary”, and with cause– just check out her projects and publications! The coolest thing about Nina Simon’s career is that it happened in large part because of her deciding to establish a web presence. In fact, she credits her blog for much of her career path and success. Here’s (a few of) the many things that Nina Simon did right that leveraged her brand (and reputation) in the long run:

  • Nina Simon built a brand
  • She carved out a timely niche (participatory museum experiences)
  • She became an expert (the expert, arguably) in her niche
  • She built a strong community and made herself known as the go-to person for her niche
  • She embraced multiple online platforms, utilizing Twitter, Blogging, Facebook, and became involved in various committees and online communities
  • She became the Director of the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz
  • She told everyone
  • Now all of her followers and communities have this museum on their radar and the museum gets to benefit from the symbolic capital of having an established thought leader and author leading their institution (and their brand).
In one of my personal favorite posts by Nina Simon, she says that getting hired for her was a matter of “what you want, how aggressive you are, and what ideas you can offer.” It’s the ideas and aggressiveness that have and continue to set Nina apart from the crowd.

 

Max Anderson (@MaxAndersonUSA)- Director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art (until January)

Being the face of an institution reinventing online engagement and making it a priority. Max Anderson was named CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 2006. This last October, he announced that he was leaving IMA and moving to Dallas to head up the Dallas Museum of Art (effective January 9, 2012). Anderson was the Director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art for only five and a half years– but those were particularly good years for the museum and online initiatives. In fact, under Anderson’s watch, the IMA was credited with significantly pushing social technology forward for museums and the larger nonprofit industry. For a moment, let’s forget the fact that Max Anderson added over $30 million to IMA’s endowment through gifts and pledges and more than doubled museum attendance…and focus on the topic at hand, here: the man has a web presence. Perhaps they are related. Most importantly, he led the way as the museum took up three initiatives that arguably changed the world of museums and social media:
  1. Anderson led IMA in creating its famous IMA Dashboard in 2007. This initiative was well-timed and has gained significant and much deserved recognition for leading the way for online organizational transparency in all sectors.
  2. After receiving a suggestion from blogger, Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes, on Twitter, Anderson promptly bet famous works of art on the 2010 Superbowl… through his personal Twitter account. The initiative displays the importance of listening to an online audience, acting quickly, and well… just being cool. Unfortunately, the Colts lost the Superbowl, but the IMA held up their end of the bargain: they lent Turner’s The Fifth Plague of Egypt, 1800 to the New Orleans Museum of Art for three months. We’ve all looked to this as a great example of online engagement and local community cultivation ever since. And now these bets are becoming tradition.
  3. Artbabble is a community that showcases video art content in high quality format from a variety of sources and perspectives. It was created so others will join in spreading the world of art through video– and it’s working. The initiative now has over 30 museum partners throughout the world and a cool, online-friendly tagline: Babble on.

Max Anderson not only aided his museum through his own personal brand, but he gained recognition for the institution as an online community-building leader during his time at IMA. He was an advocate of social technology and information-share. Here’s a bit of what Max Anderson did right to help create and elevate his brand:

  • He came into IMA as the Director
  • He realized the potential value of online engagement relatively early (he’d dappled with some online information-share initiatives in the past)
  • He supported efforts to engage online communities through new initiatives
  • He used social media himself (fearlessly, in the case betting artwork on the Superbowl)
  • He  made information about himself and IMA accessible
  • He encouraged IMA to take up initiatives in the online space and made a (good) example out of the institution

 

Both Nina Simon and Maxwell Anderson are considered thought leaders in the area of museums and social media. And in fact, by very large measure, both of their successes stem from their personal/professional involvement in the online space. Through this involvement, both Simon and Anderson have moved their organizations forward and propelled them into the future… through two relatively different approaches.

Want to figure out how to take the first step in branding yourself as a museum professional? There are a lot of resources out there to help– but I’ll post some of my very favorites on Thursday (December 8th) to help get you started and outline some basics.

In the meantime, please comment and share examples of your favorite museum and nonprofit directors (or department leaders) involved in community engagement. There are some great examples out there and I’d love to hear your favorites.

*Photo credit

Posted on by colleendilen in Arts, Blogging, Branding, Community Engagement, Leadership, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, The Future 2 Comments

Millennials and Social Media: Why Nonprofits Need Them to Survive

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Use us to help your organization spread its social mission.

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

Posted on by colleendilen in Generation Y, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Service Motivation, Social Change, Social Media, Technology, The Future 5 Comments

The Four “T”s of Online Engagement

I recently  had the opportunity to give a presentation to folks at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and members of the Monterey community  on The Best of the Best of Online Engagement. (Big thanks to the aquarium for being great hosts!)  Though I have shared similar versions of this presentation before, my prep got me thinking about easy, “cheat sheet” ways to tie together not only these terrific examples of online engagement, but nearly all successful initiatives in this arena.

I came up with four elements that make for a successful social media initiative and overall mindset. None of these necessities are new or unique. In fact, they are the opposite: tried-and-true elements that make up a successful social media mindset and have been proven to position organizations to better reach online engagement goals. The “cheat sheet” part? They are presented as four “T”s.

It may also be the cheesiest part, but don’t judge. Mneumonic devices can be helpful, folks say… and to be missing even one of these elements in your engagement strategy could really cut your organization short of reaching its engagement potential. So make sure that your organization has integrated these things to develop a strong foundation, and then move forward from there.

 

Transparency

First thing’s first, and the first thing is absolutely transparency (or perceived transparency). That is, providing enough content to tell behind-the-scenes stories and give folks a peek though the alternative entrance. Transparency is achieved through the content that is shared. This content must be ongoing, often organic (not planned in advance), and portray a sense of honesty. Trust is built online through transparency, which challenges the way that we traditionally think about marketing. Traditionally, marketers would go out of their way to hide flaws. While it’s still not a good idea to scream every internal  issue from the rooftops, sharing select, relevant PR issues (before they come up on their own), is a good idea. In other words, if your organization is taking a risk- trying something new, publicising the birth of an animal with a high mortality rate, or doing something that might garner negative attention later- let your online audience know what you are up to.  Show them that you are taking that risk. When you engage in radical trust, the trust is often returned.

 

Timeliness

This has two parts to it: being timely in your responses to community members, and taking on timely initiatives. Being timely in responding to community members is simple and boils down to answering questions on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms as quickly as possible. Don’t make people wait. If someone asks a question or posts a comment related to public relations (as opposed to admission price, parking, etc) it is just as important to respond in a timely manner- if not more important. Aim for a few hours (4 max, with exceptions for overnight). People will notice a silence online if you don’t respond. That silence is particularly awkward if you wait longer than 24 hours.

When dealing with a particular online initiative, “timeliness” means taking into account the broader context of the world (or your demographic) at large during the time of the project. Often, the most successful online strategies capitalize on things that are happening in the world around us. Take, for example, The National Constitution Center’s Address America project.  This initiative took place in the time leading up to Barak Obama’s Inaugural Address. The timing of the initiative lent relevance and buy-in to the project.

 

Touchability

Or, accessibility. Successful online engagement minds don’t just post information directly to social media outlets. They filter it through a sort-of “touchability” lens so that folks can relate. As we know- especially in zoos, aquariums, and museums- some content is important, but dense. (This is true for nearly all nonprofits, especially those with messages regarding legislation which can make certain people “check-out” quickly). Online, it is important to have simple messages that can be understood immediately, or people won’t read the content. A few organizations that I work with have expressed frustration with this, commenting that people will post comments on the nonprofit’s blog without reading anything more than the title of the post- and completely miss the point. If your headline is something that is meaningful to people, then they are more likely to listen. In fact, if your content OR initiative are relevant and “touchable” to an audience, then it is more likely to be digested and shared. When coming up with an online engagement strategy, make it about your online audience- not about your organization.

 

Tone

Be human. Also, show and don’t just tell. On Facebook, users engage with brands as if they are their friends. Embrace this (read: be very careful of excessive “hard sells”). Would you be friends with someone who could not stop talking about how your giving them money would make you a good person. I sure wouldn’t. It would be exhausting. Not to mention, that’s not a functional relationship. The folks who like you on Facebook will engage with your brand in exchange for relevant information- and a product that they feel fulfills a purpose for them. Don’t tell them to donate or visit too often- show them why they should donate or visit. Being “human” about it will help. We all know that there is someone behind the computer screen. Be transparent (circling back to T #1) and have personality. We have seen time and again that tone makes a big difference. If you take on a human voice, people will be more drawn to your organization as well as your initiative.

 

So print this out– or even just jot down these four words and put them on the online engagement team’s whiteboard. If you are the only person running social media for your organization, you can jot it on a post-it and put it above your desk (that’s what I do!). Whatever floats your boat. Regardless, I hope that these four Ts put words to the things that you already knew to be effective in online community management or pointed out something new to help your move forward.

Have items to contribute to the list? I’d love to hear from you. (extra points if your additions start with T!)

Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits 2 Comments

6 Reasons Why Your Organization Needs a Social Media Hub

My line of work involves writing a fair amount of Diagnostic Audits for the terrific zoos, aquariums, and museums with which I have the opportunity to work. This involves making assessments about social media and online engagement strategies. Very often, I find myself recommending the creation and execution of an effective “hub” to help organizations achieve their online engagement goals. I’m always amazed how many organizations don’t have an online home to help them drive website visitors to the organization’s desired social media outcome.

A hub is an important part of an online communication strategy. The hub serves as a landing page for engaging content (stories, videos, anecdotes, etc). The hub functions much like a blog– It is critical for community building and, unlike most websites for visitor serving organizations, it must be updated constantly. Some organizations merge website and blog formats successfully by integrating their hub directly into their website. The hub is a place where social media links are directed and content is aggregated. Not to mention, having a hub is resourceful and it makes achieving online goals a whole lot easier.

Here are six ways that your organization will benefit from having a social media hub:

 

1. The hub provides a consistent home for engaging content. A hub is a site where you aggregate all of your engaging content including embedded YouTube videos, favorite photos, articles about earned media that the organization picked up throughout the week, animal updates (if you are a zoo or aquarium), volunteer anecdotes, and short stories about that crazy-huge load of fish food that just came in on the loading dock yesterday. Putting all of this information in one place allows an organization to tell an ongoing, cohesive story; the story of the behind-the-scenes life of the organization. This backstage pass is more than a useful tool for coordination and potential visitor intrigue, it also increases the perception of an organization’s transparency– and transparency and honesty are cited as essential values for success in online public relations. In short, setting up this hub is putting your organization in a better situation to avoid (and if needed, address) a PR crisis. To reference one of the very best examples of this (again), here is how the Shedd Aquarium utilized their hub to not only avoid a crisis, but to get into the hearts of their online community after the death of a dolphin calf.

 

2. The hub provides an opportunity for the coordination and curation of stories.The hub is also a place of coordination. The hub is a single site where links are directed for compelling content and, like a typical blog, content is tagged and categorized. Though a compelling hub is constantly updated (about once or twice each weekday), folks need not be overwhelmed by content. Site visitors who are only interested in, say, an art museum’s Modern collection, need only to click on the “Modern Art” tag to see posts related to that topic. The hub is not only a place to tell the organization’s larger day-to-day, behind-the-scenes story, but a place where visitors can turn to find the stories related to their area of interest. Coordinating and cleaning up the hub with tags decreases the energy that someone needs to spend on the site in order to find out information that is important to them. It decreases barriers to potential buy-in.

 

3. The hub is an easy, go-to place for real and potential visitors and evangelists. The hub, if used consistently, can be established as a reliable place for information that is easy for readers to follow. It becomes a go-to site for real-time information (as opposed to closing times and driving directions). If the hub is in a blog format, people can put it in their preferred blog reader, or sign up for updates, or — much more commonly– folks can bookmark the site as a quick resource for timely and engaging information.  This site is helpful for people who want to know what is going on, but don’t want to scroll back through several days of Facebook status updates to find the information that they seek.  A hub doesn’t have missing information on unique happenings. It makes it easier for real and potential visitors to remain “in the loop.”

 

4. The hub allows you to direct messaging so it aligns with your social media goals. One of the most important elements of an online engagement strategy (and of managing your social media expectations) is having a clear goal or a clear reason to be using social media. Popular goals for social media include things like: spreading conservation messaging, educating the public on the value of x, increasing the reputation and credibility of the organization, reaching underserved audiences, accessing a younger demographic and– most commonly– driving attendance. The benefit of a hub is that you are linking people who have self-identified themselves as interested in your organization’s content to a single site, and you can control the messaging on that site. If it’s about getting people in the door, make sure there’s a banner about your newest exhibit. Include messaging about why right now is the best time to visit. You’ve channeled folks to one place… make sure that one place has the messaging to help you achieve your goal.

 

5. The hub also allows you to direct links so that you can better achieve your social media goals. Much like you can control the messaging on the hub, you can also control the link path on the hub. It’s simple but important: link folks to where you want them to go, and adjust your messaging to make them want to go there. If your goal is to increase attendance, link to the online ticket purchasing page of your website. Make it easy for your goals and the visitor’s goals to correspond by coordinating messaging and links.

 

6.  The hub increases site visitation and the possibility of earned media… and it only gets better from there. Because social media channels are all directed toward content on the hub, the hub becomes an easy go-to place with (hopefully) a good amount of visitation. The more people visit the hub, the more people have the opportunity to share content from the hub with their friends and online community. The more people share this content, the greater the opportunity for people to write about or review your organization, contributing to the development of word of mouth marketing regarding the organization.  When more people visit the website and write positive articles, glowing reviews, or even share a Facebook link, the organization may experience an increase in perceived credibility and expertise. This perception elevates the organization’s reputation- and reputation is frequently a key driver of attendance to visitor serving organizations.

 

In sum, a hub is a critical way to harness interest in your organization. Without a hub, social media channels link out to YouTube, Flickr, Facebook statuses that are hard for interested parties to reference over time, various portions of an evolving website that may only be accessible for a few weeks, and other places. A hub gives an organization the opportunity to coordinate content, better meet social media goals, and tell a more compelling story online.

Posted on by colleendilen in Blogging, Branding, Community Engagement, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Media, Words of Wisdom 8 Comments

What Facebook’s Changes Mean for Museums and Visitor Serving Organizations

With over 800 million users, Facebook is moving its focus from growth to engagement. This means big changes that will necessitate an evolution of how museums and visitor serving organizations think about engaging folks on Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg explained on Thursday at the f8 Developer Conference in San Fransisco that Facebook is about to roll out some big changes and new features in the next few weeks. Some of these changes (like the Ticker on our right sidebar, for instance), are upon us already.  More changes, including the public launch of Facebook’s new and famous Timeline, are on the way. These big changes will affect how brands interact with people online, and change-up the way that museums are connecting with the public. Here’s what Facebook’s new changes mean for  museums and visitor serving organizations:

 

1. The focus on social applications means that content is (still) king– but with a way, WAY fancier throne:  Because Facebook is turning its focus to engagement, organizations and brands with high levels of creativity are most likely to be organically rewarded and shared by users. One of the biggest changes that Facebook is launching is Timeline. The aim of Timeline is to tell the story of a person’s life through past and present Facebook content. Facebook is branding it as an online scrapbook of your life. In sum (and in my own words), it is a very intense, longer profile that aggregates past statuses, comments, and Facebook activity, and makes it public. You can check out a video preview of the feature here. Though some folks are already giddy about how much they like Timeline, others are already warning folks about  privacy, noise, and the potential inundation that users will likely feel from brands– specifically, those that are Facebook’s partners like Spotify and Netflix– which will play big roles in Facebook’s changes. At f8, Zuckerberg was explicit about two, key goals of Facebook’s changes: to help folks fill out their Timeline by helping them to share important information, and to help people discover new things. That second point sounds like a good thing for all brands on Facebook. It also sounds like there will be a lot of noise and competition for prime spots on Facebook users’ Timelines.

Brands come into play in the Apps feature of Timeline. This is a new part of your profile where users can add apps to share what movies they’ve watched, what music they are listening to, etc. This is also the prime real estate that ZAMs will be going for with apps. Experts are predicting that the apps that survive and get shared will be those that are the most engaging. That is, they inspire conversation and provide compelling content. Unlike joining Facebook and just aiming for “likes,” organizations are going to need to get active. Rising above the noise won’t be easy, but there’s one thing that everyone seems to agree upon: “Your content is going to need to be absolutely amazing.”

There’s another incentive to put even more creative energy into creating compelling content: boring brands will have low visibility, and may not be seen at all. People will be able to “vote up” and “vote down” the importance of actions on their Timeline. Over time, Facebook will pick up the pattern and automatically vote up or down content that fits the user’s patterns. Recently, we could see notifications like, “Jessica likes The Field Museum.” Already, however, this information is often reduced to a coming up in the Ticker (small, ongoing, right hand feed) if it comes up at all. If the Field Museum doesn’t have an engaging presence on Facebook, then the Museum’s content will be “voted down” and won’t make it very far– let alone onto a person’s Timeline. The new goal of Facebook is for people to share and interact with more content. If your organization isn’t providing this content, it’s not going to be shared easily. But that’s not all that bad news for nonprofits! Nonprofits are often considered masters of storytelling. Joe Green, the president of Causes.com is already excited about the potential for these Facebook changes to bring us one step closer to changing the world for the better.

 

2. Building up the “walled garden” means organizations will need to broaden their marketing strategy– AND celebrate evangelists. Facebook is already a “walled garden” (term from Fast Company), meaning that it is a closed network. Because people are gatekeepers of their own friends and the organizations with which they engage, information doesn’t just go from outside, inward to you. (In other words, if neither you nor your friends are fans of Adidas, their messaging won’t make it into your newsfeed). Recently, the obstacle for organizations has been attracting new evangelists to engage with their brand. This is only going to become more important… because the walls on the “walled garden” are growing taller.

Netflix, Spotify, and other Facebook partners will be automatically integrated into users’ App section of their profile. This means that Facebook is pulling more partners inward for users. Organizations will have to compete with these already-integrated social apps and will need a broader marketing strategy in order to attract attention and infiltrate folks’ Timeline.

While it will be important to “go broad” with a social media strategy, evangelists will also be more important than ever. This is because they are the people who will be most likely to prioritize your brand within the “walled garden.” They will “vote up” your brand’s messaging and incorporate pictures of their family at your museum in their Timeline. I will guess (if I may be so bold), that as it gets harder to penetrate users’ profiles in a significant way, the word of mouth marketing value of organizations that pass through the gate will be higher.

 

3. Increasing “passive sharing” means ZAMs must become a part of other people’s stories (through their own openness). There will be more brand sharing on Facebook, but it will be harder to be a brand that makes an impression in a meaningful way that is likely to result in earned media or word of mouth marketing opportunities. In the words of Todd Wasserman in Mashable’s recent article, brands will have to integrate into users’ “digital autobiography.” There will be a mix of direct and passive sharing that will likely change the way that people think about brands in their day-to-day lives. Throughout his presentation at f8, Mark Zuckerberg spoke under the context that we all (Facebook users) want to share everything with our friends. And though that seems strange, perhaps he’s onto something… The guy has a pretty good track record. He says, ” The future is heading for a greater openness.”

I think museums are visitor serving organizations are heading in the same direction. We’ve seen time and time again that transparency pays off when it comes to online engagement. I’ll argue that a key to being a nonprofit organization (or any kind of company) that survives in an online sphere is proving that they are out to achieve something good and worthy– and being transparent about it. That’s easy for nonprofits! They have a bottom line of achieving a social mission. Our task, then, is letting that social mission shine through engaging content and compelling storytelling that allows people to relate, react, and interact– not only with the organization, but with one other. Visitor serving organizations will need to go social with their social missions online. If you ask me, it’s something that I believe we can do– and perhaps were made to do.

What’s the take-away? That everything that is already important for ZAMs and visitor serving organizations existing online will be even more important and those who are not up-to-speed risk falling away. Creative content, storytelling, transparency, and inspiring evangelists are already critical for a successful online identity that achieves a specific goal (say, increasing attendance by elevating reputation). They will all become even more important, and the organizations that are falling behind in these arenas risk dropping out of the game of online marketing.  It seems to be true: the more things change, the more they stay the same… even in the reality of online engagement.

Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, Technology 2 Comments

A Marathon Course for Online Engagement in Visitor Serving Organizations

I am currently training for the Chicago Marathon. As a total newbie to this whole “running” business (I’m not worthy of using the word in relation to myself without quotations yet), I’m learning an awful lot about training, timing, pacing myself, and creating a plan for the course. As I run through the woods in the Midwest, fighting off mosquitos and hoping that a selection from my holidays playlist isn’t the next song on my iPod (try running to I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas… in September. It throws you off a bit), I often find myself thinking about the parallels of this journey, and how zoos, aquariums, and museums engage audiences online. …Yes, I think about these things in my free time.

As it turns out, the metaphor of a marathon might be a useful way to think about engaging folks in an online space. This is especially true when contemplating how ZAMs should approach online engagement on the more popular social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter. In this metaphor, individual online advocates are the runners. , The course is the path to effective online engagement that ends in getting people through the door, and it is the organization’s job to put on the event and get runners across the finish line.

1. Recruiting runners to enroll in your marathon: securing positive earned media and organic (not sponsored) reviews. This process involves inspiring folks to become your Facebook fan or Twitter follower so that they can step up to the marathon starting line and engage with your brand through updates and all of that compelling content that organizations work so hard to create. This is a hard task, and of course it is critical (or why be on Facebook?). The best way to do this is to recruit runners to enroll through word of mouth marketing. This can be done most easily by folks who are already advocates (have already completed the marathon. See #7). Luckily, tools like positive reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp can inspire visitation if a potential “runner” is out-of-market or does not personally know an individual who has experienced the institution.

2. Developing a training program to help runners make it through: achieving Facebook “likes.” The parallel between online engagement and running a marathon crossed my mind while presenting social media best practices to an aquarium client. During our discussion on Facebook, a member of the marketing team asked me, “What do ‘likes’ mean? Should we celebrate these?” It’s a good question. The answer, I would say, is that on a social media platform, a “like” on Facebook means that someone has enrolled for your organization’s engagement “marathon” by signing up for a training program… and it’s the role of the aquarium (or other visitor service entity) to help get potential finishers in shape. A “like” means that someone has clicked on your Facebook page and self-identified as a potential visitor or advocate. That person has given your organization the “OK” to appear in their newsfeed and engage them on a daily basis. They have taken the first step and opened up to your organization, and now the ZAM must rise to the occasion and facilitate the connection. However, it’s important to remember that signing up for the training program does not mean that a runner will eventually finish the marathon or even get to the starting line. Also, many “runners” who aren’t enrolled in the training program (not following your organization) will complete the marathon. In other words, “likes” are not the most important form of measurement for online engagement. In fact, sometimes they can be a distraction.

3. Treating runners at aid stations: inspiring connection through organic, behind-the-scenes content. This is super important! These are the surveys, fun facts, photos, videos, blog posts, behind-the-scenes snippets, anecdotes, jokes, contests and data that ZAMs share with fans and followers to make them see the organization in their newsfeed and think, “Hey! That’s cool!” This is how organizations keep engagement going, and build upon this engagement so that the organization can “connect” with potential visitors who are compelled by the organization’s social mission (or, just want to see that exhibit in person). Here’s what I’m learning in my training: aid-stations are incredibly important. I know, personally, that I cannot run a marathon without water, or perhaps some lemon-lime Gatorade. Most runners cannot finish a marathon, or even a half marathon, comfortably without aid. Similarly, it is much harder for friends and followers to engage with your organization online without aid (read: relevant content). This is also the area in which I do the most work and the area in which ZAMs and other nonprofit organizations struggle the most. The secrets here aren’t tough (but every organization seems to struggle with them): be human, be transparent, be real (don’t over-plan) and listen to what your audience is saying.

4. Completing a half marathon: Securing an on-site visit. If we were marathon course-planning slackers, we’d stop here. We’ve accomplished an awesome goal: we secured a visitor– perhaps a whole family! This is not a small thing.We’ve contributed to the double-bottom-line of a nonprofit organization by both inspiring (hopefully) an individual with the organization’s social mission and also by contributing to the organization’s financial bottom line in the form of admission.  But there’s still a long way to go to really help runners reach their full marathon-running potential. It would be a disservice to think about the online engagement process as ending here. We are only halfway done!

5. Breaking out the goo around mile 17: providing avenues for half-marathoners to share their experiences, and facilitating and rewarding this sharing. This is a bit like #3 and it is equally important. Compelling content comes back into play in this part of the journey, but it relies more heavily on interactions. This is where word of mouth marketing is at its best. Encourage visitors to share their stories and experiences, celebrate their pictures, videos, and anecdotes. Remind them, if you can, to post about positive experiences on Yelp and TripAdvisor. During mile 17, runners should be actively recruiting runners for the marathon, and the organization should be facilitating this recruitment by continuing to inspire connections with online audiences by rewarding interaction and sharing visitor stories.

6. Finishing the marathon: A past visitor inspiring new visitors to come to the organization. When positive reviews from trusted sources (friends who have been to the organization before or credible earned media sources) inspire more people to visit, then the marathon is complete, in a way. Engaging content has been utilized beyond simply the clicks that it secures. For this reason and many others, it is silly to place too much weight on the number of clicks that a particular piece of content receives. For instance, a YouTube video may receive only 100 views, but if that video inspires those people to visit, and those people share their experiences through word of mouth marketing (online or in-person) and inspire more visits, then those mere 100 clicks have significant worth… far more than the weight that we typically put on the concept of only 100 clicks. However, this does not mean that every bit of content is a success in engaging audiences. It is critical to listen to online communities and create content that is most inspiring to your audiences. Or, content that you notice receives a response.

7. Placing in the marathon: The original visitor becoming a member, donor, or long-time advocate for the organization. Okay, in a real marathon, not everyone can place. But we nonprofit-folk try to be optimistic. The goal in this particular marathon is to get everyone to win, beat their own PR, place in their age-group– however you’d like to see it. This occurs when online and on-site engagement are so high, or personal buy-in is established so well, that the visitor or evangelists carries out an activity that strengthens the long-term bottom lines of the institution. The development of these folks is most frequently the aim for online engagement. Like any good marathon, if runners have fun, they’ll want to run it again. Thus, alongside this track, it is critical to continue to engage communities online. This especially includes members, donors, and advocates of the organization.

Good luck to all of you nonprofiteer marathoners out there running races this season! And also to all of you online-engagement-marathon planners! We’re rooting for you! And, if you happen to be in Chicago on October 9th, root for me. I’ll take all the support that I can get! See you on the course, folks!

Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Leadership, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Media, Technology 3 Comments

The 3 Worst “Best” Tools for Moving the Nonprofit Sector Forward


Nonprofits exist in that hard-to-reach spot between government reach and the for-profit sector motive. Nonprofits need to meet two bottom lines (financial and social) and prove that they are making progress toward a social mission– a proof-point that is not always easy to measure. There are long hours, generally low wages, and a reputation for “safe” business practices and slow-moving changes. All of this combines to prove that one thing’s for sure: it’s not the easiest sector to work in, let alone help evolve.

When it comes to working in the nonprofit sector, there are certain practices that we generally just accept to be part of the way that nonprofits operate. Why do we do that? Here are three “tools” and “advantages” that we accept as common practice and we pat ourselves on the back by abiding by them… but they might require some rethinking.

 

1. Charity Navigator

Why this discourages sector evolution: Organization ratings, resources upon which donors often make giving decisions, punish organizations that take risks. For instance, ratings
are low for organizations that challenge the traditionally low salaries prevalent in the nonprofit sector. Charity Navigator ratings are based on organizational efficiency and organizational capacity. While it is indeed true that efficient organizations are those that spend less to raise more, the measure of organizational efficiency is based upon how well organizational expenses match percentages designated by Charity Navigator. While these quick-and-easy rankings may seem like a fair cheat-sheet for potential donors looking to give to a responsible organization, they also overlook important details and organizational priorities. As long as ranking like these exist and are promoted to potential donors, nonprofit organizations will be forced to adhere to these percentages, limiting their ability to think outside of the box without financial repercussions in the form of potential lost donors due to low ratings.

 

2. An ex for-profit CEO-

Why this discourages sector evolution: ”Nonprofits need to run like businesses” is a poisonous motto that can be detrimental to achieving a social mission.  No doubt about it, some of the very best nonprofit CEOs have backgrounds leading for-profit companies (and certainly don’t necessarily maintain that mindset). Professionals with a for-profit background often have an innovative mindset that is invaluable to nonprofit organizations- but not always. As stated in an interesting article by Bill Landsberg in The International Journal of Not-For-Profit Law, “For-profit strategies can become the nonprofit’s downfall by undermining its mission, culture, and public image. In effort to save its bottom line, the modern nonprofit risks losing its soul.” The saying, “nonprofits need to run like businesses” ignores the definition of the sector, the unique challenges that it faces, and the multiple stakeholders that these organizations must always appease. The stakes for success in a for-profit are not the same as in a nonprofit. Looking to a for-profit CEO to run a nonprofit organization is a smart move only if that CEO maintains the qualities that are ideal for the position, regardless of the former sector in which he or she worked.

 

3. A big list of foundation grants to be completed

Why this discourages sector evolution: Nonprofits focus a disproportionate amount of time and energy on securing grants from foundations, which discounts the urgency of developing innovative practices for securing private and corporate donors. Foundations account for only 10-15% of philanthropic dollars, but they receive a significant amount of attention from nonprofit organizations. Foundations are required to give away 5% of their endowment each year, and individual and family foundations gave away $45.7 billion in 2010. This is not chump change! However, this large sum of money is deceiving because significantly more philanthropic dollars come from other forms of giving. Putting all (or more than a few) of your creative fundraising minds behind applying for foundation grants distracts nonprofits from being creative in securing donations in other ways– that are more likely to pay off.

Posted on by colleendilen in Leadership, Management, Marketing, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Public Service Motivation, Social Change, Words of Wisdom 5 Comments