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future

The Real Reason Some Nonprofits Stink at “Digital” (And Why It Is Getting Worse)

Dilbert vagueness plan

Within some organizations, “going digital” is causing more problems than it’s solving. This isn’t because of the people who work in digital. It’s because of the people who don’t.

I’ve posted briefly on the dangers of separating “digital” and “marketing,” but this topic arose quite explicitly on the very first day of the annual MuseumNext conference last month and was inspired by a presentation from museum pro, Koven J. Smith. (Sidenote to make good on a promise:  the slides from my keynote at MuseumNext are available here.)  Though the seeds of this article blossomed at a museum-oriented conference, the threat is relevant for many nonprofit organizations and businesses in general.

“Are you saying that ideally nobody in museums should have “digital” in their title?” one person asked in regard to a point in Koven’s talk. He paused for barely a moment. “Yes,” he stated simply.

This idea was a small part of his argument (check out more of his rich thought-fuel here), but I think he’s onto something big…something that I observe everyday in my work with well-intentioned nonprofit organizations: We are breeding a culture of misunderstanding around the important role of “digital” in the future of our organizations and, frankly, it imperils the vibrancy of the very future that we are trying to ensure. “Digital” has been allowed to become an “other” (i.e. “not within my scope of work” and/or “something I don’t ‘get’”) for certain individuals in certain organizations, and, like most “others,” digital (as a concept) is misunderstood, abused, and used as a scapegoat for an organization’s cultural and structural shortcomings.

Dramatic? Maybe…but until we solve this issue, how can organizations steeped in these misunderstandings remain relevant and thrive in the future? Here’s why conceptually separating “digital” – as the rest of the organization understands it – is a problem that is making it harder for nonprofits to succeed.

 

1) It constantly reaffirms that “digital” is about platforms or technological skillsets and not about people (and it actually IS all about people)

Digital marketing and marketing are one in the same – they are both about people and behavior. Likewise, digital fundraising and fundraising are synonymous in successful organizations. Again, they are both about people and behavior. Digital touch can be as powerful in inspiring audiences as physical touch.  “Digital” is a way of communicating and connecting, not “knowing java” or “mastering Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm.” Sure, those skills may have value in the digital world, but they aren’t the point of “being digital.” Communication goals on real-time, digital platforms should serve the exact same purpose and mission as the rest of the institution.

An online donor is still a donor. For visitor-serving organizations, a website visitor is still a visitor (a person connecting with your brand and mission). The difference is the platform (“connection point”), and the goal is the same as “in real life.”  Digital – when it is used with audiences – IS “real life” and organizations will benefit from treating it as such.

 

2) Believing “digital” is about technology instead of people and behavior breeds a desire to simply translate real life to the digital realm (and that is generally a bad idea and waste of resources)

This, too, was a very popular topic of conversation amongst the thought leaders at MuseumNext: The very real-time nature of digital platforms necessitates different behaviors online than would take place in similar offline situations. For instance, a businessman may not check out your collections (if you’re a museum, for instance) at 10am in his pajamas “IRL.”  But, he can do so digitally…and that changes how we need to think about collections, engagement, social care, image rights, accessibility, membership retention, donor cultivation, and donor discovery. It’s not a one-way track wherein we simply “copy and paste” what’s onsite onto the web. That’s not engaging and it misses opportunities. If we didn’t deeply believe that “digital” was aligned more closely with technological skillsets than brand strategy, then we probably wouldn’t still be making these mistakes (i.e. posting our collections to the web or starting a simple blog, patting ourselves on the back for it, and wondering why nobody engages with it.)

 

3) It excuses leaders for being out of touch with the market (which is a glaring sign of bad leadership)

To paraphrase another point made at MuseumNext: It’s okay (and maybe even cute) if your grandmother doesn’t know what Twitter is or how exactly it is used. It’s absolutely NOT okay for today’s leaders, fundraisers, curators, and administrators to not be minimally facile with Twitter, Facebook and basic platforms or means of modern day engagement. Ignorance isn’t cute. It makes you less qualified for your job.

A basic facility with engagement platforms doesn’t mean everyone needs to be tweeting up a storm 24/7 – but if someone claiming a position of influence or leadership doesn’t understand what Twitter is, its benefit as a social force, or how people use it, then you’re dealing with a willfully ignorant, disconnected person. Good tip for organizations whose solvency depends on making connections with the market: Don’t hire people who live in holes.

Tough love moment (which I’ll admit may be funny because I’m an energetic, camp counselor type): I’m talking to you, people who say “digital just isn’t my thing” and write it off as something that isn’t worth your time to minimally understand. You sound stupid. Personally, finance isn’t my innate passion – but I’m a professional, functioning adult and, as such, I make an effort to understand the basics of how the world around me works.   There are no excuses for choosing ignorance and disconnection – especially for people in the nonprofit realm who often claim “education” and “engagement” as their raisons d’être.

 

4) It makes digital teams a dumping ground for nebulous projects

Koven Smith MuseumNext It’s difficult to read, but Koven‘s slide references a quote that was made jokingly, but may be indicative of a larger point: “If my co-workers say, ‘I don’t get this,’ it’s automatically in the digital department.”

When the digital department becomes a dumping ground for all things tech-oriented, an opportunity is lost. “Digital” is not necessarily the same as “IT.” Again, it’s about people, strategy, engagement, and utilizing new platforms in creative ways. When “digital” devolves into a language that certain employees cannot speak or a thing that they’re allowed not to understand, they become more removed from the world that we live in. That excuses and further cultivates an out-of-touch team… and that could be deadly for the future of your organization.

Does this mean everyone needs to run out and learn code? Again, no. Not even a little bit. But join the conversation and start thinking more strategically about organizational goals and creative engagement. It’s okay if you don’t know CSS (of course), but understand what the CSS is trying to achieve.

5) It silos marketers from content (which makes it harder to make connections to audiences)

“Digital” often resides somewhere around marketing within organizations – and that’s good! But if “digital” is considered too much of an “other,” then it forces web engagement teams to operate on their own. Social media is an every-department job, and often, creative engagement is as well. Marketers have no connective content without the aid of other departments. Basically, if we conceptually divide “digital” from the strategic functions of the organization, then we lose the very benefit of being “digital” – creating connections to people and creating meaning that will inspire a desired behavior (e.g. donation, visitation, participating in a beach clean-up, etc.).

 

Basically, when people in organizations stubbornly section out “digital” as something associated simply with technological skillsets, they are admitting to being out of touch with the very people that they are trying to serve. (P.S. Museum visitors and most bigger nonprofit donors for other kinds of organizations profile as “super-connected” with broadband access at home, work, and/or on mobile). When it comes to the inevitable pace of innovation, there is no comfort in yesterday.

If you don’t care to “get” digital, then get out of the way. Your organization is trying to effectively serve a social mission and it has important work to do.  

 

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Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Community Engagement, Education, Leadership, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Public Service Motivation, Social Change, Social Media, Technology, The Future, Words of Wisdom 1 Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

At-a-Glance Updates:

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

 

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

At-a-Glance Updates:

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

 

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

At-a-Glance Updates:

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

 

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

At-a-Glance Updates:

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

 

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

At-a-Glance Updates:

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

 

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

At-a-Glance Updates:

  • Hire young folks as managers- or staying relevant may be a bit harder…
  • Understand there are things to learn- They operate differently sometimes.
  • Know that the way everything operates is changing- And will change even more with Generation Z.
Posted on by colleendilen in Generation Y, Leadership, Management, Museums, Nonprofits, Public Management, Public Service Motivation, Social Change, Social Media, Technology, The Future, Words of Wisdom 2 Comments

Museums May Need a Social Media Mentality Makeover to Keep up With For-Profits

Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to sit in on two separate events pertaining to the role of social media in the world of location-based environments. One conference focused on social media in museums and historic sites. The other focused on social media in the for-profit world of location-based experiences. Here’s what happened: The museum folks discussed the fear of radical trust and user-generated content, while the for-profit folks only spoke with excitement about the opportunities user-generated content provides that sector.

Nonprofits started with the edge in social media over for-profit companies. If our attitude doesn’t evolve (like our business practices regarding social media did), then many nervous museums may fall behind quickly while our for-profit counterparts take the lead on social media innovation.

 

The Museum Attitude:

“We live in a golden age of the flowering of amateur experts” – Lee Raine, Pew Internet & American Life Project, as quoted during conference AASLH.

I was delighted to listen in and take part in the American Association for State and Local History’s (AASLH) online conference session on Thursday, “What’s Radical about Radical Trust?” It focused on the confidence museums have (or don’t have) in empowering/ collaborating with online communities. The session was exciting! The panelists attempted to make opportunities related to social media understandable to nonprofit professionals on the conference. Panelists shared success stories their institutions had experienced through crowdsourcing and the utilization of social media. However, all the while panelists asked questions like, “Do you have a policy on user-generated content?” and “Do you think user-generated content is a threat?” There was great concern about the sharing of opinion verses knowledge on museum blogs and interactive sites. This is why radical trust is considered “radical.” What does user-generated content mean for the authoritative voice of the museum?

 

The For-Profit Attitude:

“People are awesome!” – Scott Trowbridge (Disney Imagineer) & Dave Cobb (Thinkwell)

Later that day, I headed to Thinkwell in Burbank for Social Media Week- Los Angeles to attend a session called “The Online/Offline Future of Social Media: Multidimensional Engagement Across Digital and Physical Environments.” Panelists included Disney Imagineers, Thinkwell staff, representatives from 42 Entertainment and Village Voice Media. This session seemed to pick up where the AASLH conference left off– but from a different perspective. It started with the idea of authorship and authority, and spun into an exciting, high-energy panelist discussion about the bright future of engaging audiences through storytelling. These mindsets fill in the gaps and outshine some of the hesitancy surrounding museums’ social media mentality. Here’s how for-profit folks are thinking about social media and the merging of online/offline environments:

  • Sharing authorship does not mean giving it up. People still want expertise, Susan Bonds of 42 Entertainment insisted at the session. Without expertise, it’s hard to follow the story. And creating and engaging visitors in a story is a shared goal in both location-based entertainment companies and nonprofit museums. Giving up complete authorship doesn’t have to threaten the authority of the institution. It’s not “losing” control, but changing up the system of control. If museums are turning into cultural centers and increasingly becoming places for dialogue, learning, and conversation, then social interactions (real or virtual) with other visitors/users can be thought of as an extension of successful community engagement, rather than a threat to museum authority.
  • Accept that visitors will be using new media and ask, “How can I integrate this?” I think museums are doing this, but reinforcing the “How can I integrate this?” question helps create insertion points for visitors to discover to connect with the institution, and helps to create a more multidimensional experience. Quite simply, your visitors will be texting, tweeting, and checking in on foursquare at your museum. This isn’t a nuisance, it’s an opportunity to remain relevant and to reinforce your mission.
  • Add layers of experience. Some of the negatives of using social media- as brainstormed by AASLH conference participants- included that it was intangible (what if you create social experience on-site?), there was a risk of appearing less professional (perhaps this makes your museum more accessible and builds community relationships), and a large amount of staff time is spent vetting responses (how much do you/should you really vet responses?). For-profit location-based counterparts, however, have turned these negatives into positives or found ways to use them to their advantage. This is innovation. And to stay on top of social media, we need to go one step further than just listing pros and cons; we need to change the cons into pros and utilize them to add positive layers of experience to museum visits.
  • Social media and online worlds mean physical places need to be more magical. There’s probably less incentive to visit the museum when you can stay at home and get the same information on your computer. At first I scuffed at the word “magical” as it was being used by Disney Imagineers on the panel. Museums don’t have magic; we have science. But science, I think, can function a lot like magic in that it creates a spark of interest. Thinkwell is creating and exhibit for the Fernbank Natural History Museum that is an interactive recreation of Georgia’s ecological and environmental zones. These kind of  themed exhibits aren’t new at all– but consider that this exhibit is driven almost solely by experience? The exhibit, he said, doesn’t even have signs or touchscreens. It has guides for parents so they can lead the way. This helps build community and social capital. This, I would argue, has the potential to be pretty magical. And it’s not something you could experience on a computer screen.
  • The best (not worst) insight and information-share comes from users. The AASLH session made it clear that social media was a valuable tool, but panelists and participants spoke a lot about vetting and monitoring user responses, deciding what does/does not get shared publicly, and the issue of authority. The tone seemed to be that social media is good, but museums need to supervise and be careful. The Social Media Week session, on the other hand, praised social media and told nonstop stories about this-and-that cool thing that companies were doing to create a fusion between online and offline worlds. The tone at this event was that visitors/guests come up with the best ideas. While there are certainly issues to be discussed regarding museums and the possible evolution of their authoritative voice in the merging of online and offline worlds, there could be value in simply switching the way we think about user-generated content. There’s likely more value and innovation to be had if we think of our visitors as willing and eager contributors, and not threats.
Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Community Engagement, Exhibits, Museums, Nonprofits, Social Media, Technology, The Future 4 Comments