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Free Agents

Nonprofit Management: 3 Ways That Social Media Builds High-Impact Museums

The Exploratorium is one of the twleve organizations identified by Crutchfield and Grant that displays all six practices of high-impact nonprofits.

Nonprofits risk missing out on several opportunities when they entertain the mindset that social media belongs to the marketing department. This is especially true for museums. For one,  audience-inspiring stories often stem from inside operations, such as conservation, horticulture, and life sciences departments, not to mention anecdotes and lessons from  floor staff, interpreters, docents and ongoing programs. The opportunity that social technology affords museums in spreading their mission of educating visitors cannot be ignored. Social technology helps educational initiatives transcend museum walls, and even the most common social media sites offer opportunities to engage different types of learners.

But the issue extends beyond the notion that social media helps nonprofits and museums better fulfill their missions. Social technology can (and soon enough, in everyday life, will be) used to make nonprofits stronger organizations overall. In preparation for their 2007 book, Forces for Good, Leslie R. Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant examined twelve of the nation’s most impactful and successful nonprofit organizations. They pieced their findings together and outlined six practices of high-impact nonprofits: inspire evangelists, nurture nonprofit networks, share leadership, advocate and serve, make markets work, and master the art of adaptation.   Today, social technology plays a leading role in helping organizations to meet more than half of the critical six practices of high-impact nonprofits. And chances are, social media will continue to evolve so that we can even better utilize social media to take on these critical functions.

1. Inspiring Evangelists. Successful organizations turn outsiders into insiders in order to help spread a message. Evangelists often have a personal connection to an organization’s cause and they cultivate their own networks to support the cause. This effort helps build the organization’s overall community. Successful organizations open the door to outsiders and seek to communicate with them and creating meaningful experiences. Because being social is at the heart of social media, sites help to efficiently create conversation and cultivate evangelists. In the world of social media, we call these evangelist outsiders free agents. It’s no wonder we’ve developed have our own term for online evangelists in the last four years;  the Internet makes it easier than ever to connect with causes- and to connect with people who support your causes.

2. Nurturing Nonprofit Networks. According to Crutchfield and Grant’s research, successful charities recognize that strengthening their organization involves also strengthening the sector and sharing information. The notion that a good nonprofit tries to put itself out of business is at least conceptually true. A step forward in innovative educational outreach for one museum is a step forward for the power of informal learning for everyone.  Social media makes it easier to grow the pie and share knowledge. Several significant online resources are free to everyone. If one museum has developed a new exhibit that has been shown to have educational value, it’s easy for museum professionals to share the information. In fact, the blogosphere is great for information-share and overall sector-strengthening. Information sharing not only strengthens museums overall, but it helps to develop individual leadership. And we need strong and knowledgeable leadership for this evolving industry. As a related side, here are some of my favorite, basic resources for individual museum professional development.

3. Mastering the Art of Adaptation. Social media not only facilitates the development of this organizational skill (adaptation), but having good social media requires it. Forces for Good shares a cycle for adapting to change: listen, experiment and innovate, evaluate and learn, modify. This is the exact approach that is advocated (yes, for lean start-ups, but similarly) for developing social media strategies. In order to be effective on social media, folks representing museums and other nonprofit organizations must listen, try new things, and take note of how audiences respond to those initiatives. Moreover, mastering adaptation involves balancing bureaucracy and creativity. As museums embrace social media, they find themselves both hungry for online engagement but also apprehensive of it. Radical trust is an issue for museums. Taking on social media mimics the organizational process of adopting change, mostly because adapting to social media is a big change for many institutions. The cycle never ends. In order to be taking full advantage of social media, organizations must be constantly listening, testing, and fixing. They must be constantly adapting.

Nonprofits are moving forward in utilizing social to aid in the final three practices of high-impact nonprofits as well.

  • Advocating and serving. Crutchfield and Grant found that high-impact nonprofits both provide their own services and advocate for policy reform. It’s no surprise that social media is a good tool for building awareness and spreading a message. In fact, Planned Parenthood is a good example of an organization tapping into networks to support policy advocacy.
  • Sharing Leadership. “Great nonprofit leaders share power,” Crunchfield and Grant write. Social media can help share information in order to educate professionals and cultivate leaders. It prepares professionals for the sharing of leadership, and empowers them to create their own professional voice through their personal brands.
  • Making Markets Work. Social media can help nonprofit and for-profit partners connect to create collaborations that financially aid nonprofits and lend a reputation for promoting social good to for-profits. One way that museums leverage the market is by selling admission. In this case, social media really does work as a true marketing force, and online tools and mobile applications can help visitors purchase admission remotely.

Social media is a key resource for museums that want to develop nonprofit management techniques to help raise their organization above the rest. However, this will not be the case for long. Before we know it, those organizations that have not tapped into online networks to strengthen their museum will be far behind. Using social media to actively and consciously cultivate sustainability and long-term impact will be commonplace. At some point we may find that online engagement through social technology is not just a smart business move, but a matter of long-term nonprofit survival.

Posted on by colleendilen in Book Reviews, Branding, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, Technology, The Future 1 Comment

How Planned Parenthood Used Social Media to Create a Win-Win Situation for their Cause

Over the weekend alone, more than 357,000 people signed Planned Parenthood’s online open letter to Congress to oppose the recent vote from the House of Representatives to bar federal funding for the organization. Planned Parenthood utilized social media to help reposition themselves from a “losing” situation (facing cuts in federal funding) to more of a win-win situation (garnering public support and raising awareness and passion for their cause).

Nonprofits rock at using social media because it supports storytelling, inspires personal connections, and heightens the transparency required to attract donors. It does these things better, and at less of a cost, than a Superbowl ad (or most any ad, for that matter). But there’s an ongoing tension between social media and its ability to have a direct, positive monetary impact for organizations. Like so many actions in the world of nonprofits, it’s hard to monetize and determine the ROI of the effort in terms of dollars.

Planned Parenthood has created a win-win situation: If Planned Parenthood succeeds in overcoming the recent vote to bar federal funding for the organization, then they will have a monetary benefit that resulted from online engagement efforts (they kept funding that might otherwise be lost). But if hundreds of thousands of social media users signing an open letter causes no change in government action, Planned Parenthood still wins. They’ve managed to create a compelling call to action that got their cause into the newsfeed of millions of people in an urgent and compelling way that folks are likely to remember. These people are potential donors with a new reason to contribute. If Planned Parenthood inspires government funding or not, it was still a huge success to summon potential donors who may give money to the organization, should the cuts go through. If your nonprofit organization is going to lose federal funding (which is almost never a “win”), it probably doesn’t hurt to capture hundreds of thousands of hearts in the process.

For better or worse, this case illustrates some interesting ideas about how people relate to causes via social media. Here are some observations that may have led to the organization’s online success:

 

1. Planned Parenthood’s open letter made it easy to be an evangelist for a cause. Signing the letter takes less than a minute and the letter may have received a lot of attention for that very reason. It made caring about a cause easy and it let people think that they were doing something extremely significant. And they actually were, indeed, becoming evangelists for something significant. Public service and social causes are growing increasingly important to us as consumers (read: supporters and donors), which also may have aided in inspiring thousands to sign the letter. This is over-simplified, but here’s the point:  making the letter easy to sign made it easy for people to do something “good,” and because that’s cool and you are cool when you support social change, people want to share that they support it. Result? Lots and lots of easy evangelists.

 

2. The call to action wasn’t the most important one. It was the most urgent. The call to action isn’t for monetary support, though that would be more active and likely have a bigger impact than adding your name to a letter that may or may not be considered significant in the eyes of officials. Although I hope that it is, it’s not a stretch to see how this online letter might not be taken too seriously. Case in point? The Facebook group called “We Hate the New Facebook, so STOP CHANGING IT!!!” has 1.5 million fans. Not even Facebook cares to listen to the group and it’s on their own platform. Like the Planned Parenthood letter, there’s no threatening action here to make leaders think these people care all too much when it comes down to it. The letter and its support could easily be written off as something that may have more to do with exposure than passionate belief that funds formally allocated to Planned Parenthood shouldn’t go somewhere else.  Putting your name on an online letter is something, but it’s far from the most active thing that Planned Parenthood could ask their supporters to do. In fact, Planned Parenthood didn’t seem to ask for active donations at all in their I Stand with Planned Parenthood campaign. Was that the right move? Maybe. Maybe not.

 

3. Planned Parenthood has cultivated 400,000+ emotional investors just online. That’s a lot of potential passion and a lot of visibility. The above points are far from proving on any level that the social media push was not a great idea for the organization. In fact, though it likely wasn’t the primary goal, Planned Parenthood succeeded in creating a large-scale spread of the most valued kind of marketing: word of mouth. Facebook is interesting territory for marketers. It’s a great way to create conversation and spread your message. However, it is a relatively closed network compared to, say, Twitter- where statements can be searched and seen by anyone. To expand your fan-following on Facebook, you need to get other people to spread your message so that it comes up on the newsfeeds of the users’ networks. Planned Parenthood mastered this by sending a follow-up email to each person who signed up for the open letter with a prominent button asking you to make the message your Facebook status.  It was easy and it worked. It’s likely that all 400,000+ supporters knew about Planned Parenthood before coming across the letter, but now those supports have done three valuable things:

  1. learned more about the organization, assuming they read the letter they signed
  2. took action to support the cause (emotional investment)
  3. and many stated their support publicly (solidifying their emotional support and integrating it into their online identity).

 

4. What Planned Parenthood does next, counts. The organization has built incredible momentum and Planned Parenthood will likely have to do something to harness that momentum before it dwindles. If you’re a museum person, this is the same problem that the Museum of Science and Industry faced after they chose their Month at the Museum winner. How do you keep people engaged for the main event? In this case, how do you get these people to stick around to see if Planned Parenthood gets federal funding? More importantly, how can you utilize this momentum to get people to help support the organization financially if it doesn’t…. or even if it does? There’s a lot of potential here, and there’s a lot that nonprofit organizations can learn about the role of social media in advocacy through what happens next.

 

As a side for museum-focused folks out there (and others!), Planned Parenthood isn’t the only organization that risks losing funding. There are some scary anti-museum amendments being considered by Congress for FY 2011. While reading about Planned Parenthood, it’s hard not to wonder what the online museum community would do if a severe anti-museum amendment threatened the industry that we both care about fiercely, and that supplies jobs to fellow museum aficionados. Nonprofit organizations in general can learn a lot by watching and supporting Planned Parenthood’s efforts right now. Particularly with regard to the evolving tool of social media which will likely play a growing and important role in advocacy, enagement, and summoning public support to create and realize change.

Please weigh-in with comments about lessons you are taking away from the situation and interesting tidbits that may help shape how nonprofits can use social tools to cultivate political support.

Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Education, Management, Marketing, Nonprofit Marketing, Social Change, Social Media, Technology, The Future, Uncategorized 2 Comments

The Key to Modern Day Marketing: Is Your Museum Utilizing Free Agents?

It’s no surprise that business practices, and especially marketing strategies, are evolving due to current changes in the way people operate and communicate. We didn’t have Facebook ten years ago- now organizations that are not cultivating online networks are doomed to fall behind in building brand loyalty and summoning the benefits of organizational transparency.

These changes, combined with the growing influence of Generation Y in the workplace, have created a new force to be recognized by your organization’s marketing and development departments: free agents.

Who and what are free agents? I’ll tap into The Networked Nonprofit for my favorite definition: Free agents are individuals working outside of organizations to organize, mobilize, raise funds, and communicate with constituents for a cause. They are generally comfortable with and adept at using social media. Bloggers are free agents, influential tweeters are free agents, and your tech-savvy and socially-connected nephew who believes in your organization is a free agent, too. They are social citizens dedicated to a cause. Though not all free agents are members of Generation Y, Millennials have grown up communicating and creating networks on the internet. They have a tribe to tap into when they want to spread an important message or highlight a cause. I’ve argued before that this is a good reason why museums and nonprofits should hire candidates with personal brands: they have a network. They can help you reach people.

Why your organization needs free agents. Free agents are connected individuals who care about your organization’s cause, and their network is likely to consist of similarly-minded people who are also likely to care about your cause. Free agents not only spread awareness of your organization, but they increase morale, and may even put together events or programs to benefit your organization. For instance, a free agent may have a party in which all proceeds go to a certain organization. Though they do not work for the museum or cultural nonprofit, free agents will champion your organizations message simply because they have a network and they believe in your cause.

  • A little example of a free agent in action. The American Association of Museums runs The Museum Assessment Program. It is a wildly affordable program for small and mid-size museums that helps strengthen operations, improve planning, and better serve communities through a process of self study and peer review. Applications are due by February 18, 2011. I do not work for AAM and nobody is paying me to let you all know about this seemingly-awesome resource (if you didn’t know about it already). I am writing about MAP because I support the program’s mission and I know that quite a few of you work for organizations that might benefit from MAP. I am playing the role of a light free agent for AAM because I, personally, think this program is really cool. But free agents can play more active roles as well. I might host a meet-up to discuss the benefits of MAP with museum professionals, or ask my blogger friends to spread the word, or run a marathon and raise funds for AAM to take another mid-sized museum into the program. It is not unusual for free agents to do these things.

How free agents work. Because free agents are internet-savvy folks who are independent of the organization, they are hard to control. In fact, an important part of utilizing free agents is understanding two key concepts:

  1. You cannot control free agents. It’s important to work with free agents, but treating free agents as if they work for you is a speedy way to lose a free agent. This is particularly bad news if the free agent you are working with has gone to great lengths to cultivate excitement around your museum or program. This also connects well to my second point.
  2. Free agents will come and go. Many free agents are members of Generation Y, and this generation is loyal to causes but feels skeptical about long-term loyalty to an organization. While free agents may come and go, remember to keep the door open in case they want to return to promote your organization.

Why free agents are good for your social media mentality. Certain thought leaders in the advertising field have argued that you don’t need a social media strategy (hint: It’s about values and people, not the tool). Working with free agents requires an openness and eagerness on the part of the institution. The fact that you cannot control or plan for free agents (aside from making yourself accessible) helps put museum professionals in a good place: focusing on community and values instead of trying to make rules about using social media. And “rules” have a way of fuzzing things up when it comes to brand transparency.

In sum, keep the door open for free agents. While nothing replaces face-to-face communication, it’s easy for professionals (especially members of older generations who are particularly unfamiliar with social media) to underestimate the value of online networks in helping an organization to reach marketing and fundraising goals. It may seem particularly strange to be encouraged to devote time and energy to cultivating young, sometimes still-unproven professionals. But try ignoring young professionals who are looking to support your organization, and you may find yourself slapping your forehead and (just for laughs) relating to this scene from Pretty Woman.

*Image based on photo from tremendousnews.com

Posted on by colleendilen in Blogging, Branding, Community Engagement, Generation Y, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Change, Social Media, Technology, The Future 2 Comments