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aquariums

A Cure For Point of Reference Sensitivity: Why Visitor Satisfaction For Your Nonprofit Is Lower Than It Could Be

opinion_of_our_productIMPACTS data indicate that visitors to zoos, aquariums and museums (and other visitor-serving organizations such as historical sites, theaters, symphonies, etc.) who have never previously visited any other like organization rate their experiences 18.1% higher in terms of overall satisfaction and 14.8% higher in terms of value for cost of admission than visitors who had previously visited any other zoo, aquarium, museum, etc. Further, as the number and frequency of one’s visits increases, a visitor’s level of satisfaction and perceived cost for value of admission tends to decrease.

This is just fine if your art museum (for instance) is the first art museum that your every guest has ever visited, but it has a host of potential repercussions on your organization’s bottom line (like tackling a social mission and achieving long-term financial sustainability) if you’re the second art museum someone visits. Or third, or fourth, or fifth….

This phenomenon is known as “Point of Reference Sensitivity” and suggests that the market’s expectations are being constantly reframed by recent experiences. In short, as the market gains familiarity with an experience, it becomes increasingly harder to “impress” the market.

So, what can be done to minimize the deleterious effects of Point of Reference Sensitivity? [I will henceforth refer to Point of Reference Sensitivity as “PoRS” because a) that’s just the kind of relationship that we’ve developed and b) it sounds a bit like a disease, which may be appropriate.] PoRS is an important consideration for visitor-serving organizations with regard to key performance indicators, and not even the very best visitor-serving organizations in the world are immune to its negative effects. The commonality of PoRS, however, does not mean that it is unimportant to your own organization’s reputational performance. Just because many other organizations suffer from PoRS doesn’t “even the playing field.” The market – not other organizations – are the ultimate arbiters of your organization’s success…and data suggest that despite your best efforts (great exhibits, well-trained staff, thoughtful access programs), you are still likely to experience a decline in satisfaction over time from a sizable portion of your audience simply because folks visited other organizations before they walked in your door.

The good news is that strategic prioritization and effective PR/communications practices may provide both prophylaxis and remedy against even the most stubborn case of PoRS.

What causes PoRS in visitors?

Qualitative research related to these findings suggest that PoRS may be due, in part, to a “been there, done that” mentality that tends to accompany repeat visitation to “like” organizations. The research suggests that this sentiment stems from a perceptual belief that “like” organizations (think of one zoo compared to another zoo, or one art museum compared to another art museum) share an elemental “sameness” that challenges the market’s ability to differentiate the unique attributes of individual organizations. Further exacerbating PoRS is the premium that we tend to psychologically ascribe to “firsts” – first love, first car, first baseball game, first kiss. When someone first visits a zoo, it may be the first time that they have ever seen live animals up close, but upon visiting a second zoo, there is a loss of “newness of experience.” There may be other factors that contribute to PoRS: Perhaps the first zoo visited is in an individual’s hometown and is a point of civic pride. Perhaps the newness of the experience is matched with a memory of sharing the experience with a favorite friend or family member, thus creating a unique, personal remembrance that is difficult to duplicate and impossible to top.

How is PoRS hurting your organization?

Reputation is a leading driver of visitation, and reviews from trusted resources (such as word of mouth recommendations from friends, peer review sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor, and even social media) are the strongest contributing factors to building your reputation (12.85x greater than any paid advertising channel). Aside from the more obvious impacts of lower guest satisfaction metrics and potential declines in the likelihood of repeat visitation, PoRS may also affect your organization’s word of mouth value. This may result in securing fewer visitors, fewer opportunities to cultivate donors with affinity for your organization, and fewer evangelists to amplify and promulgate your organization’s mission.

How can your organization overcome PoRS?

Data based on visitor feedback suggest that the solution may be very simple in theory: Be more unique. One way to do this is to utilize social media and other communication resources to underscore what differentiates your organization as a unique experience. Focusing more on your mission – as opposed to your existence as a “destination” – may help. An emphasis on mission-related content may allow your organization to increase its relevance beyond being a visitor-serving destination on real-time, online platforms by more actively defining the public perception of your museum. If your organization can cultivate a reputation as “more than just a visitor-serving organization” prior to a guest’s arrival, then your organization may also improve its satisfaction-related metrics.

It seems that our mothers were onto something – “You’re judged by the company that you keep.” PoRS is particularly insidious amongst the perceptual middle ranks of visitor-serving organizations – those places that are so “destination-focused” in their communications that they end up positioning themselves as “just another museum” (or zoo, or aquarium, or botanical garden, etc.) The overcome may be in elevating your organization from the sameness of a sector by differentiating not only your experience, but by the means by which you achieve your mission (the impacts that you have and the differences that you make).

As stakeholders for visitor-serving organizations, we tend to believe that the entities that we serve (or support, or visit) are unique and superlative.  Our challenge – and, indeed, our opportunity – is to similarly articulate these differences to our visitors so that they, too, consider us as more than a place. What makes your organization unique is probably not the artifacts that you house, the collections that you keep, or the building within which you keep them. What makes you unique is the outcomes that you achieve by fulfilling your mission… and communicating these outcomes is the best defense against a nasty case of PoRS.

 

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Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Exhibits, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Change, Social Media, Words of Wisdom 1 Comment

Information Overload: How Case Study Envy Stifles Nonprofit Success

whatever competition does

Between numerous conferences, written reports, podcasts and other resources, nonprofits should have no problem accessing an abundance of industry case studies. And smart organizations actively seek them out in order to appropriately consider precedents. However, too many nonprofits seem to distract themselves from opportunities by making inappropriate comparisons between other organizations and their own. They risk the loss of their own identity when they become too easily seduced by the (alleged) successes of others.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the nonprofit industry – one with an innate value for transparency and a culture that celebrates collaborative knowledge transfer – is so often easily misled by these “success studies.” Arguably, nonprofits are the most communicative of any business sector.  Due to a culture of sharing, organizational risk aversion, and a very mature business model, there isn’t a lot of “secret sauce” in the nonprofit space.

“So how can nonprofits be considered laggards when it comes to building effective ‘business’ strategies?! We’re in constant dialogue. We listen to one another!”

Well, maybe that’s the problem.

Having a lot of information is good. Not taking the time to develop a culture of thinking about it critically is bad. While sharing experiences certainly has undeniable advantages and can positively inform organizational strategies, I’ve noticed a detrimental trend in how nonprofit organizations discuss the operations of perceived industry leaders whom they’d like to emulate. Namely, nonprofits seem increasingly less able to differentiate between models and examples, and this confusion creates unrealistic expectations that may hinder the success of organizations.

When considering case studies and the operations of other nonprofit organizations, it may help to keep in mind the following four items:

1) Many singularly successful organizations are terrible models

IMPACTS collects intelligence concerning 224 visitor-serving organizations in the United States. Data indicate that the US public overwhelmingly considers the Monterey Bay Aquarium to be the “best aquarium in the world.” Increasingly, we hear organizations (and not just aquariums) attempting to emulate the Monterey Bay Aquarium in the hopes of similarly increasing their own reputations, securing their financial futures, maximizing audience engagement, etc.

(I am exploring the category of aquariums (again) because the aquarium industry has a clear, defined market leader. Museums, symphonies and zoos have tighter “line ups” with greater variance in public opinion concerning which is the “best.”)

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a wonderful example of a world-class organization achieving enviable business and mission successes…but, as far as being easily replicated, it is a terrible model. Consider: The Monterey Bay Aquarium is the dominant – and near exclusive – major attraction in a very popular coastal destination.  It is led by one of the most influential leaders in the global conservation community.  It opened its doors unburdened by debt or other financing obligations. The lists of singular superlatives associated with the Monterey Bay Aquarium could go on…but, I think that you get my point. While it is easy to identify the attributes and practices that make the Monterey Bay Aquarium an acknowledged market leader, it is very difficult to duplicate these conditions.

Do other organizations also have some of these things? You bet. Do they have all of them? No. Similarly, your organization likely has its own, unique conditions. (Monterey is the example I am using here to make a point. It is not the only organization with unique conditions and the promise or potential of a successful enterprise).

(Uh oh! I feel a bad analogy coming on…) Other organizations cannot reasonably expect to copy the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “recipe for success” because they aren’t working with the same ingredients (or, for that matter, the same kitchen and same executive chef). Organizations have their own unique ingredients (and kitchens and chefs), and they have to optimize those to best respond to their own unique opportunities.

 

2) But organizations can provide helpful examples

Continuing with my horrible “recipe for success” analogy, if you spot an admired market leader that shares some of the same ingredients as your organization, noting how they successfully utilize these ingredients may help your organization cook up an equally tasty dish. In fact, if you add on to the case study by contemplating and incorporating your own unique advantages, you may end up with something even better (for you) than your would-be model.

For instance, although Monterey Bay Aquarium is a terrible model (again, in the sense that they – like many other organizations- aren’t replicable), their ability to experiment and take on unique initiatives in creative ways provides several examples that may benefit the balance of the museum and nonprofit industry. Examples may be broad and deal with the evolution of best practices, or serve as case studies for engaging the market.

As an aside: Question case studies. Sharing case studies (especially in conference settings) is frequently a way that organizations pat themselves on their own backs, but just because a case study was shared doesn’t mean that the initiative aided in securing donations, getting people in the door, or increasing brand reputation. There are some gemstones, but there’s also a lot of hot air out there. Be wise enough to tell the difference.  (People regularly ask me what are some of the biggest differences that I observe in my work with both for-profit and nonprofit clients.  Easy!  Whereas the nonprofit case studies presented to industry colleagues are invariably sunshine-filled, self-congratulatory success stories, the vast majority of case studies that I observe being presented in the for-profit world are cautionary tales of woe, struggle, and failure.  I don’t know what to make of this dichotomy, but I think it is interesting).
 

3) If you aspire to replicate a model, you jeopardize your relevance

If a similar organization with the same brand equities that you strive to achieve already exists (i.e. if you have a true model), then your organization is probably less relevant and you may be cannibalizing the market and unnecessarily dividing the resources needed to efficiently tackle the shared social mission.

However, a “conceptual model organization” that exists in another market could be a valuable tool – provided that two conditions are met: 1) You understand how this organization (its positioning, reputation and resources) differs from yours and you create a plan for optimizing these same areas uniquely for your own equities; and 2) You understand that successful organizations evolve to meet market needs and opportunities. What was true and a “best practice” yesterday may not necessarily serve as a suitable precedent for tomorrow. Your model will change its operations over time (especially if it is a good model), and you will likely need to change yours, too. Frequently, the best things that a “conceptual model organization” can be are thought provoking and inspirational – its practices may not be transitively applicable. 
 

4) Making nonprofit best practices the basis of your business strategy is a bad strategy

Another disadvantage of the “sharing” nature of the nonprofit industry is that organizations often become more caught up with what other organizations are doing than paying any attention to their markets – which (decidedly unlike the behaviors of other nonprofits) is directly correlated to their financial and social success. (Read: It doesn’t matter at all how many other nonprofits are utilizing social media. What matters is that the market is utilizing social media as its single most influential, go-to source of information.)

Think it’s great that your nonprofit is almost at the industry average for email open rates? Congratulations on being almost mediocre. (Tough love? Maybe. But think about it: You won’t catch successful for-profit companies celebrating benchmark victories…so why do we allow ourselves to frame averageness as “achievement?”) We can do better than simply keeping up with the Vastly-Underperforming-And-Almost-Broke Joneses. It’s important to be marketing your nonprofit and creating programs for the folks that actually matter – not to keep company with peer organizations (a large portion of which may be flailing).

My advice to nonprofits with one eye on their neighbors: Take what you can from case studies as applicable, but don’t get caught up in becoming another organization.  Gosh darnit:

Be yourself oscar wilde

(Full disclosure: As the Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS, I work with the Monterey Bay Aquarium…and, for that matter, with a number of other aquariums, museums, performing arts organizations, zoos and similar visitor-serving enterprise. The reason that I reference the Monterey Bay Aquarium as a specific example is two-fold: (1) Data compellingly indicate its public perception as “best in class,” and thus a natural topic for case study; and (2) It is a frequently cited aspirational “model” suggested to me by other aquariums – as well as several other types of visitor-serving organizations – when they reference a third-party entity.)

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

 

Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Branding, Leadership, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Words of Wisdom 6 Comments

A Hint for the Future of Museums: Europe is Looking to US Aquariums

In my line of work (developing predictive data) and my spot in that line (analyzing and applying data on behalf of organizations equally concerned with social and fiscal bottom lines), opportunity often comes from keeping a pulse on the market. Along these lines, I’ve recently experienced shifts in my professional world that may be illustrative of the future of museums and the broader nonprofit community.

"7 hours and 57 minutes until I am officially based out of Chicago AND London! Let's do this!"

“7 hours, 57 minutes until I’m officially based out of Chicago AND London! Let’s do this!” (4/1/13)

In April, I officially joined the ranks of part-time expatriates (and long-haul commuters) when IMPACTS asked me to help open our London office while also maintaining a “home base” in Chicago.  Preparations for our London office enabled me to hire a Digital Marketing Manager to provide additional support to our projects, and also challenged me to be more thoughtful about how I could focus my efforts to best serve our clients.  A few months removed from my hop across the pond, I’ve been reliably asked two questions from colleagues, other museum professionals and even friends and family – the answers to which are closely related and may provide interesting insight to the museum industry:

1) Why London?

The obvious answer: proximity. I am in London largely because it is an accessible base for much of the work that IMPACTS is currently performing on behalf of visitor-serving organizations (e.g. museums) throughout the Americas, Europe and the Middle East.

The more interesting answer: market demand in Europe for the American nonprofit business model. You read that right! Any quick glance at the news tells stories of shifting economies that have created an unprecedented struggle for many of Europe’s most treasured museums.  While not-too-long ago many of the elite European institutions might have politely sneered at the suggestion of adopting a more “American model” of doing business (especially “nonprofit business!”), these sentiments are quickly shifting.

The “American model” (as it is colloquially referred to in my dealings) is a euphemism for a visitor-serving business that doesn’t rely on government support (or grants or endowments) and, instead, is a market-driven enterprise whose success hinges on engaging a diverse, sustainable constituency.

In other words, many of the world’s greatest museums – the ones that we Americans revere and admire with a distant and mysterious “otherness” – are looking to U.S. visitor-serving organizations as sources of inspiration, innovation and know-how when it comes to reinventing their business models to best respond to their current economic conditions.

2) Why do you spend so much time working with aquariums?

It’s true. I do find myself increasingly spending more time and energy working closely with aquariums. Here’s the end-game: We have an interest in aquariums because they are often cited by our clients as best-in-class practitioners of the “American model.” (Stick with me, other-types-of-museum folks. I’ll connect the dots…)

IMPACTS works with nearly every form of visitor-serving organization from art museums and symphonies to science centers and botanical gardens, and there’s one thing that we’ve found to be generally true: The market-driven practices developed by aquariums may have the greatest impact and “usability” for exalting the entire visitor-serving industry.  While the role of aquariums as models may seem surprising to many of America’s most venerable museums, the relative esteem with which U.S. aquariums are internationally regarded evidences itself in my work on a daily basis. In fact, the European organizations (including many art museums) that I work with have less interest in the “best practices” of American art museums and, increasingly, more interest in those of American aquariums.

Here’s why.  There are two conditions that make U.S. aquariums of particular interest to the global museum and visitor-serving industry:

 

A) The U.S. aquarium business model is motivated by market demand (and not overly dependent on grants, endowments, or government funding)

This is not to say that aquariums do not seek to obtain grants or secure government appropriations – but, as a group, the chart below indicates that aquariums tend to rely least on contributed and dividend revenues when compared to other types of visitor-serving organizations:

IMPACTS Visitor Serving Organization Earned Revenue

Theoretically, if government funding were to cease on a macro-level tomorrow, aquariums (as well as select museums, theaters, science centers and other more self-reliant organizations) may have the greatest chance of keeping their doors open long-term.

Also, after evaluating a representative sample of 224 U.S.-based visitor-serving organizations, aquariums generally have the smallest endowments relative to their annual operating budgets – perhaps suggesting that aquariums must be particularly attuned to the market since they have less “cushion” in their revenue streams. We see outcomes of this market responsiveness all the time: While some museums are hiring extra grantwriters and expanding their lobbying efforts for funding, many aquariums are hiring social media and online community managers because they understand that digital engagement helps drive attendance. Of course, smart museums also realize this and are hiring these kinds of people, too – but as the chart below illustrates, the lack of a “safety net” places a particular financial imperative on aquariums to be responsive to market opportunities:

IMPACTS - Visitor Serving organization endowment backstop

 

B) Many aquariums regularly invest in active, global, social missions that extend beyond education and research

I can hear you now: “But all museums aim to change the world!” I know. This does not mean that other missions are any less important – simply that many organizations with which I work consider aquariums to be at an interesting intersection between topic expertise and “right now” relevance…particularly when it comes to prominent, controversial issues such as climate change and other environmental topics. In short, while the social missions and operations of aquariums tackle education and research (two critical items that are also common among other, select visitor-serving organizations), they also take up the battle of ocean conservation. The initiatives attendant to this addition are particularly timely, global, and live in a rather elusive “save the world” space.

It’s a seemingly at-odds and extreme combination:  Aquariums may be considered among the most “for profit” of organizations in that they rely heavily on earned revenues, but they also aim to be among the most globally impactful among organizations pursuing active, social missions.

 

I “go deep” in my work with aquariums because helping them evolve and perfect their business model to remain solvent in both fiscal and social terms provides the lessons that help other organizations achieve their similarly aspirational ideals.

I’m intentionally speaking in terms of sector generalities – not all zoos rely on government funding, not every museum lives on its endowment, and, for that matter, not all aquariums are truly bringing their A-game to the “save the ocean” effort. The organizations operating with the objectives of being both market-relevant AND “big mission-serving” (aquarium or not) may be our best models for the future of museums. They can survive on their own, and they can do it while serving a very large-scale social mission.

 

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

Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Leadership, Management, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Public Service Motivation, Social Change, The Future, Words of Wisdom 3 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

The 40 Most Viewed YouTube Videos from US Zoos, Aquariums and Museums

This post contains 20 embedded YouTube Videos. If you are receiving this article via email, please consider visiting this article on Know Your Own Bone in  order to play the videos. 

Social media video sites such as YouTube and Vimeo can be critical tools for nonprofits looking to encourage engagement regarding their mission and brand. This is no different for zoos, aquariums, and museums (ZAMs). In fact, with the double bottom line of spreading a mission and “pushing the gate,” these videos aim to serve a dual function. With the rise of Pinterest and a Facebook shifting its focus to prioritize engaging content, it seems as though we may be at a turning point with the way that we use social media. In other words, ZAMS may find themselves producing more and more organic and/or creative, timely videos than they have in the past.  We may be in the midst of this trend. Just check out the creative online initiatives that ZAMs took up for the 2011 holiday season.

In order to keep a pulse on YouTube views and subscribers in the ZAM community, I have compiled the “most viewed” videos from several institutions, which I chose by popular vote and visitation. While there are several similarities among the list in terms of type of videos with significant viewership, there is no magic formula for a popular video. I have compiled viewership information from twenty leading zoos, aquariums and museums. Here are the ZAMs that I monitored, in order of their number of subscribers (with links to respective YouTube channels):

Method: How did I decide this list? Recently, 10best.com held an open, online voting competition which allowed web users to vote for their top-ten favorite zoos, aquariums, and museums. I included #1 – #5 from the list of zoo, aquarium, and museum winners. Because this competition can be easily rigged by stakeholders, I also included a few of the most visited US museums that are recognized globally (MET, MoMA, ect), and I also added the San Diego Zoo and WCS in order to represent the highest-visitation zoos. I only recorded the top two most-viewed videos for each institution to prevent one organization from dominating this list and to provide a more inclusive overview. A thing to keep in mind while viewing these videos: while YouTube views provide an indication of the spread and share of a message/video, an institution’s subscribers (or, self-identified folks signing up to be kept in the loop on that organization’s video happenings), indicate a higher level of evangelism than views alone. In other words, subscribers (above) are a better score-keeper for folks looking to “rank” these organizations.The following article features YouTube videos from the organizations on this list based upon this methodology- It is not inclusive of all ZAMs and does not necessarily represent the ZAMs with the most views.

Of these institutions, chosen by popular vote and visitation, here is a countdown the YouTube videos that had the most views as of Sunday, March 4th, 2012: 

20. Tour the Georgia Aquarium (110,855 views)

Promotional video for the Georgia Aquarium

19.Primordial Soup with Julia Child at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (119,627 views)

“Julia Child cooks up a batch of primordial soup and explains how these simple ingredients produce amino acids – the building blocks of life. This video played in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Life in The Universe gallery from 1976 until the gallery closed.”

18. Stadivari Violin, “The Antonius,” Played by Eric Grossman at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (127,659 views)

This video features Eric Grossman performing the chaconne from JS Bach’s Partita no. 2 in D minor on a violin made by Antonio Stradivari in 1717.

17. A Day at Shedd Aquarium (146,026 views)

Promotional and informational video regarding a trip to the Aquarium. “Charting your course to a fabulous day at Shedd can be smooth sailing! We want to make it easy for you to plan your visit. From ticket prices to directions to daily dive times, visit www.sheddaquarium.org to connect you to all the information you need to come face-to-fins with the fun stuff.”

16. Fantasea at Shedd Aquarium (164,404 views)

Official trailer for “Fantasea” which premiered in October of 2009 at Shedd Aquarium. “Dolphins soar, belugas dance, and penguins parade in Fantasea, the new aquatic show at Shedd”

15. Cute Baby Sea Otters at Monterey Bay (223,852 views)

This video of baby sea otters at Monterey Bay Aquarium discusses the Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation Program.

14. Seahorses Mating from the National Aquarium (233,026 views)

“Did you know it’s the male seahorse that becomes pregnant and delivers the baby seahorses? See how the female transfers the eggs to the male!” This risqué video was created as a Valentines Day promotion for special couple’s packages in 2011.

13. Pallas Cats at the Prospect Park Zoo (246,351 views)

“They may look like the fattest felines you’ve ever seen, but the Prospect Park Zoo’s new pair of Pallas cats, Nicholas and Alexandra, aren’t full on lasagna—they’re built for the chilly climate of central Asia.”

12. Freshwater Otter Plays the Piano at Monterey Bay Aquarium (254,925 views)

“Dua, an Asian small-clawed otter at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, plays the piano as a behind-the-scenes enrichment. This activity was created to give Dua something interesting to do and extend his feeding time, while showing off his species dexterity.”

11. Tim Burton MOMA Spot (270,928 views)

Promotion for the Tim Burton exhibit on view at MoMA November 22, 2009-April 26, 2010

10. Beco’s Tub Toy at the Columbus Zoo (276,898 views)

“So what kind of toy do you give a 600 pound baby elephant? How about a 2-foot round blue plastic ball? Enrichment items such as Boomer balls are commonplace in zoos today. These toys and activities add variety and exercise to the animals lives and help to encourage their natural behaviors. As for Beco and his Boomer Ball that enrichment has double benefits it also helps mom Phoebe get a break from looking after 600 pounds of bouncing baby elephant energy.”

9. Jell-O Enrichment for Squirrel Monkeys at the Bronx Zoo (332,503 views)


“In the Bronx Zoos Monkey House, squirrel monkeys receive a holiday treat unlike anything they’ve seen-or felt-before. Keepers offer them Jell-O with blueberries, a jiggly concoction that immediately stimulates their foraging instincts.”

8. Kookaburra Calls at the Cincinnati Zoo (416,869 views)

“The Kookaburra has one of the most identifiable calls of all birds. The Cincinnati Zoo has one trained for its Wings of Wonder bird show, to call on cue.”

7. Otter Pups Swim Lesson at the Columbus Zoo (667,013 views)

“Otter pups arent born with any innate knowledge of how to swim or handle themselves in the water. And since otters depend on water to survive, mom has to teach her babies how to be as home in the water as they are on land. In March, Audrey, the Zoos North American river otter female, gave birth to three healthy male pups. At around 30 days old, the pups are strong enough to begin their swimming lessons although sometimes, theyre not the most enthusiastic students much like kids everywhere.”

6. Voice Piece for Soprano & Wish Tree at MoMA. Summer 2010 by Yoko Ono (802,659 views)

A video of Yoko Ono performing in conjunction with the exhibition Contemporary Art from the Collection at the Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition was on view through May 9, 2011.

5. Cheetah Sets Record at Cincinnati Zoo (812,604 views)

“Many have asked why our cheetah only averaged 36.5 mph. This was a run based on time, not top speed. A sprinter can be faster than another but if he stumbles and doesn’t finish it doesn’t matter. There is a cheetah in South Africa, Zaza who will be doing the same thing in October to try to beat Sarah. The cheetahs are starting from zero, not full speed because that’s how the previous time of 6.19 seconds was set. The previous rules also stated that the record was based on 3 runs, so even though we are sure Sarah can run faster we don’t get a redo. People have also commented on the lure not being far enough ahead, if the lure gets to far away the cheetah will stop, not wasting energy on something it can’t catch.”

4. Baby Hippo Ballet at the San Diego Zoo (888,474 views)

This video is simple, organic, short, and has an outstanding number of views. The popularity of this view may illustrate that simplicity (without too many bells and whistles) can go a long way.

3. Baby Elephant Born at the San Diego Safari Park (923,340 views)

On March 11, 2007 17-year-old African elephant Litsemba gave birth at the Safari Park. This video shows the little guy and features commentary from staff experts.

2. Science Bulletin: Whales Give Dolphins a Lift from the American Museum of Natural History (1,559,880 views)

This video is also from the American Museum of Natural History. “Many species interact in the wild, most often as predator and prey. But recent encounters between humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins reveal a playful side to interspecies interaction. In two different locations in Hawaii, scientists watched as dolphins “rode” the heads of whales: the whales lifted the dolphins up and out of the water, and then the dolphins slid back down.”

1. The Known Universe by the American Museum of Natural History (9,856,645 views)

This video by the American Museum of Natural History takes viewers from the Himalayas through our atmosphere and the inky black of space to the afterglow of the Big Bang. Every star, planet, and quasar seen in the film is possible because of the world’s most complete four-dimensional map of the universe, the Digital Universe Atlas that is maintained and updated by astrophysicists at the American Museum of Natural History. This film was created by the Museum as part of an exhibition,  The film, created by the Museum, is part of an exhibition: Visions of the Cosmos: From the Milky Ocean to an Evolving Universe, at the Rubin Museum of Art in Manhattan

Most Viewed YouTube Videos from US Zoos, Aquariums and Museums: #21 through #40

21.  Moving the U-505 Submarine. Museum of Science and Industry- 107, 841 views. Over several days, the team guided the U-505 submarine 1,000 feet to its new home. From the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago

22. September 11 FAA Closure of US AirspaceSmithsonian National Air and Space Museum – 99,037 views. This animation was created by NASA using FAA air traffic control data from September 11, 2001. It shows the rapid grounding of air traffic across the US, and redirection of incoming international traffic, in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

23. Sharks Invade Georgia Aquarium. Georgia Aquarium – 86,544 views. A video celebrating the Aquarium’s new sand tiger sharks.

24. The Harvesters. Metropolitan Museum of Art – 83,823 views. Metropolitan Museum staff members discuss The Harvesters (19.164) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder with producer Christopher Noey.

25. See what wonders await you at the National AquariumNational Aquarium – 78,518 views. Promotional video of the Aquarium experience.

26. Ford Model T Assembly Line. The Henry Ford Museum – 64,472 views. Opens with shields and running boards being positioned and secured, followed by views of Highland Park workers on the assembly line assembling the Ford Model T. Includes crane lowering chassis to body, securing the fenders, installing the radiator, placing the hood, installing and filling the gas tank, assembling the dash, and attaching wheels and tires. Close-ups of engine, transmission, starting button, and generator. In closing, a Model T is driven on a deeply rutted road.

27. Jellyfish Gallery Video Preview. Newport Aquarium, Cincinnati – 38,861 views. The Jellyfish Gallery contains eight tanks containing hundreds of these amazing creatures, as well as new, fun interactive elements and state-of-the-art displays.

28. The Hope Diamond. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History – 34,584 views. “45.52 carats – The Hope Diamond–the world’s largest deep blue diamond–is more than a billion years old. It formed deep within the Earth and was carried by a volcanic eruption to the surface in what is now India. In 1958, Harry Winston donated the Hope Diamond to the Museum, and it now belongs to the people of the United States.”

29. QuadricycleThe Henry Ford Museum – 28,108 views. A video of a man riding a quadricycle in Greenfield Village.

30. MEanderthal. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History – 22,511 views “Try morphing yourself backward in time with MEanderthal, the Smithsonian Institution’s first-ever mobile app. You might be surprised when you see your face transformed into the face of an early human.”

31.  Month at the Museum Finalist: Kate McGroarty. Museum of Science and Industry- 18,545 views. This was Kate’s original audition video for the museum’s first, famous Month at The Museum initiative.

32. Tree Kangaroo Feeding. Saint Louis Zoo -18,132 views. In this soundless video, “Zookeepers use target training with Matschie’s tree kangaroos Kasbeth and her 1 ½ year old son Teptep. The ‘roos are given treats when they touch their nose to the object on the end of the target. Training is enrichment for the animals and gives the keepers the opportunity to observe each animal closely.”

33. Tree Kangeroo JoeySaint Louis Zoo – 16,684 views. “A little Zoo present has popped up just in time to give a pounce of holiday cheer! “Nokopo” (pronounced NOH-koh-poh), a female Matschie’s tree kangaroo joey, has begun poking her head out from within her mother’s pouch at their habitat in Emerson Children’s Zoo at the Saint Louis Zoo in December, 2010.”

34. Lego Master Builder at Work. Children’s Museum of Indianapolis – 14,713 views. Speed video. of builders creating a castle for The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis traveling exhibit – Lego Castle Adventures. The museum’s second most popular video is similar.

35. A King is Born. Newport Aquarium, Cincinnati – 13,303 views. “After the announcement of three new Gentoo chicks last month, Newport Aquarium revealed another hatching: a King penguin chick was hatched at the Aquarium. Making it noteworthy, this King chick is a second-generation Newport Aquarium penguin. Its parents were both born at the Aquarium four years ago.”

36. Polar Slide. Phoenix Zoo – 4,938 views. ” 200 Feet of Excitement. The Phoenix Zoo and Summit Adventure Systems bring you simulated snow technology created by Neveplast in Italy. The surface is used by professional skiers and snowboarders in Europe to train in the off-season. We are the first zoo in the world to have this technology and we’re very excited about it! The Polar Slide is fun for all ages! It’ll have you and your kids smiling the entire way down the 200 foot track!”

37. Bear. Oklahoma City Zoo - 3,428 views. Promotional video to visit the bears at the Oklahoma City Zoo.

38. Lion. Oklahoma City Zoo – 3,385 views. Promotional video to visit lions at the Oklahoma City Zoo.

39. Journey Tribute Band. Children’s Museum of Indianapolis – 2,343 views. ” Frontiers, the nation’s top Journey Tribute Band, helped us kick off our rockin’ summer at the opening of Rock Stars, Cars, and Guitars!”

40. Meerkat PSA. Phoenix Zoo -1,846 views. “A little Zoo present has popped up just in time to give a pounce of holiday cheer! “Nokopo” (pronounced NOH-koh-poh), a female Matschie’s tree kangaroo joey, has begun poking her head out from within her mother’s pouch at their habitat in Emerson Children’s Zoo at the Saint Louis Zoo in December, 2010. “

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Education, Exhibits, Generation Y, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, The Future 7 Comments

Top 8 Tips for Museums and Nonprofits to Engage Millennials in 2012

Last week, Tina Wells wrote an article titled, Top 10 Generation Y Trends for 2012. Her predictions draw upon topics that research has already discovered to be true of Generation Y: our public service motivation, social connectedness, and technological savvy, to name a few. And thankfully, she graciously leaves out some of our more… well… negative qualities identified in the workplace and beyond.   Her article provides insight to logical next-steps for how organizations can best connect with Millennials in 2012. Actually, nearly all of these things were even true throughout 2011.  Here’s How Tina’s predictions translate to the ZAM (zoo, aquarium, museum) and greater nonprofit world.  If organizations can move forward in these arenas, 2012 Just might be the year for Millennials and museums

 

1. Tap into our conscious consumption by selling your Admission. Wells points out that Millennials are still consuming- but we consume products that support philanthropic causes. Gone are the days of covering up good deeds and “disguised” learning. Helping out philanthropic causes is cool in our book. If your zoo or aquarium is rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing animals, tell us. If your museum is bringing informal art lessons to areas of our community that are underserved, let us know.  Studies have shown that we care about “doing good” and are the most  socially aware consumers in society to date.  This is good news for nonprofits that offer admission, as those funds funnel back and often help fuel the organization’s philanthropic initiatives. Remind us of this to attract potential Gen Y visitors.

 

2. Capitalize on the experience of visiting the museum or being involved with the nonprofit. Millennials care about positive and unique experiences. Wells argues that, “ the real winners in Millennial marketing will understand how important it is to this demographic to have ‘once in a lifetime experiences.’” Marketers don’t need to sell life-altering, move-to-Africa-for-three-years experiences to capitalize on this. It’s simply a matter of understanding what makes up the unique experience of visiting a museum or cultural center. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s extremely successful Share the Love campaign realized that quite often, it’s the experience of visiting the aquarium and who you are with that matters most. The key motivator for visitation was a shared experience with loved ones. This campaign appealed to all generations through several methods, but the bottom line of this campaign may be critical for connecting with Millennials: sell the experience. Show Gen Y why this particular time and place is unique and important and what it means to them, personally.

Combine this with the tip above and you’re advocating a product in which Millennials see innate value (a unique experience) and reinforcing that this unique experience supports the public good (a consumption motivator).  Museums that do this effectively will rule the school in 2012.

 

3. In marketing communications with Millennials, get to the point and do it quickly. Instanity  (a term that Tina Wells coined) refers to Gen Y’s “insane focus on having everything now.” Technology has come a long way in the last ten years and processes that took hours then (or weren’t possible) are almost instantaneous now- like snapping a photo and sharing it with the world via social media. Also, Millennials have segmented engagement, meaning that there are seemingly a million tidbits of information fighting for folks’ attention. When communicating critical messages to Gen Y, content is still king, but make that content known and make it known quickly. “The incredible story of our 18th century XYZ” isn’t going to cut it as an engaging story or link title, and is not likely to get much traffic. Tell stories, but make sure that they are timely, organic, and accessible in tone.

 

4. Create exhibits that are technology-based and aim for social initatives. Here’s why: First, Millennials generally have a severe and permanent case of “Technoholism.” As Wells points out, we are “completely consumed by technology.” Technological endeavours are more natural life occurences to Millennials than they are rare feats of intelligence and innovation. (Remember: the oldest among us were hooked up to America Online by middle school). We expect technology and we are generally pretty good at using it- especially to connect with our friends and curate experiences (see point #5).

Second, we are consequently better at using technology as a general group than our elders. Also, Teens and Tweens are “swapping up” their gadgets with their parents, who are less crazed about having the latest and greatest new tech items, Wells reports. If you are developing a new exhibit using the latest technologies, please keep the Millennial audience in mind.

 

5. Let everyone be a curator (and understand that your own curator is less important). Curators are no longer the celebrity rockstars of the museum world… the visitors now hold that title. This shift from revolving around the business to revolving around the consumer has taken place throughout the business world, but the role of (and even the word) “curator” has experienced a particularly speedy evolution over the last year. Millennials have played a big role in this cultural shift… and this generation’s “Warholism” is likely to keep rocking the boat. Wells explains that Millennials know that fame is easily attainable in this day and age. Moreover, Wells predicts that Millennials will be continually less intrigued by celebrities over time. What does this mean for museums? Having knowledgeable, academically-celebrated staff may be extremely important for content accuracy and other functions… but for this over-educated generation, your celebrated curator’s “celebrity” isn’t the key to increasing reputation. That key is in appealing to us personally and lending control and content creation to the people.

 

6. Take audiences behind the scenes physically and virtually to show Millennials “how the cake is made.” This tip has been tried and tested over the last few years and is more a current and lasting reality than a prediction for the future. Taking audiences behind the scenes with engaging content is a common best-practice for organizations on social media. But it’s a good best practice off-line, too. According to Tina’s article, Gen Y is more interested in the process of making a cake than, say, buying a cake. Would we buy-in to the process of “visiting the museum or cultural center” or putting exhibits and programs together? Signs point to “yes.” And this will likely be an easier task for museums than other businesses that can show “behind the scenes” (“Our office dog Rex says ‘Good Morning!’”) but cannot as easily take audiences there (“Come see this Duchamp in person now that you’ve seen the process of acquisition”).

 

7. Put your collection online and make resources sharable. The Millennial culture is not about “owning” information as much as “renting and sharing” information. Wells uses Spotify to illustrate this Gen Y trend.  She points out that Millennials are committed to the music that they love, but they don’t want to buy it. They’d rather rent it and share it with their friends. There may be a lesson here for museums as guardians of private content.  Information is more valuable to this generation when it can be shared. From the point of the museum, this isn’t a bad thing. Sharing museum content often means sharing inspiration and an educational resource that aids in fulfilling the museum’s mission.  From a marketing perspective, it means improving the museum’s reputation as a credible source for information.

 

8. Tap into our desire for “profitable purpose” by making it personal to get donations. We’re public service motivated and we’re likely to respond to face-to-face requests for donations from nonprofits.  This point wraps up many of the points above.  “Millennials want to feel a personal connection to the brands they’re supporting,” Wells reports. These potential donors don’t want to just give their money (when engaged), we want to give our hearts. This sounds simple, but it means that nonprofit organizations will need to be aware of the needs and desires of this generation and work hard to appeal to them by connecting to potential Gen Y donors and engaging them personally through experiences, interactions, and effective storytelling. Oh- and for smaller gifts, let us give them online. 

 

*The photo above is based on a picture by Lance Iversen of Generation Y professionals enjoying the popular Nightlife program at the  California Academy of Sciences

Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Branding, Community Engagement, Generation Y, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Uncategorized 4 Comments

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

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