Potential museum visitors access information about the organization and decide if they want to visit by using web-based sites such as a museum’s website, social media platforms, and peer-review sites over more “traditional” forms of advertising. In fact, when comparing how folks get their information about leisure activities, it’s not even close: web and mobile platforms (including social media) are disproportionately influencing your museum’s visitation and attendance.
The following data indicates how the American public accesses information in order to make visitation decisions regarding leisure activities – such as the decision to go to a visitor-serving organization. This data has been compiled by IMPACTS Research & Development (the company for which I work) based on information from the National Awareness, Attitudes & Usage Study - the largest survey of the American public concerning visitor-serving organizations heretofore conducted in the United States. HPV stands for “high propensity visitor” and indicates persons in the United States with the demographic, psychographic and behavioral attributes typically suggestive of a likely visitor to a zoo, aquarium, museum, botanic garden, historic site, or other VSO. In short, HPVs are high-potential museum-goers.
The categories above were determined by how the American public itself identified information channels and categories. Here’s an explanation of what they mean:
Web + mobile: This category refers not only to the organization’s web and mobile platforms (its “sovereign” content) but also information found on other websites – including mobile websites – that pertain to the information being sought regarding the VSO. For example, this would include information found on nytimes.com – but exclude the print edition of The New York Times as this information channel has been separately quantified within the “Newspapers (print)” category.
WOM: This stands for “word of mouth” and represents person-to-person testimonials and social media. Here, we are acceding to the market’s definition of WOM. The data indicates that they believe that social media functions as a form of testimony and/or endorsement (potentially both positive and negative). Since the market regards social media as a form of WOM, it has been so categorized accordingly.
Peer review web + mobile: This refers to TripAdvisor and Yelp (and the respective mobile web/apps for each), and other platforms with similar peer-reviewed content. “Peer review web + mobile” is considered separately from WOM because, again, this is consistent with the market’s perception and use of the informational channel. The market separately distinguishes social media and WOM from peer review sites because the former is perceived as “point-to-point/person-to-person” while the latter is perceived as a repository/aggregator. In other words, for people seeking information, WOM is a review meant for “my” consideration, while a peer review is meant for general consideration. One is personal; one is general.
For this very reason, strong WOM will generally outweigh a peer review on Yelp, TripAdvisor, or a similar peer review site. In other words, a person will generally be more likely to give consideration to a positive recommendation from a friend on Facebook than a one-star review from someone that they do not know on TripAdvisor. However, the reach of a peer review makes it functionally impossible to counter every negative peer review with a positive, first-person endorsement. It takes both attention to word of mouth marketing/social media AND peer review sites in order for an organization to maximize its endorsement opportunity.
Museums must prioritize web and social media… and make sure they have adequate resources and support to manage online communities. When it comes to annual budgeting for marketing, many museums allocate “last year’s budget plus five percent” to the effort without assessing how methods of communication and accessing information have changed. Time and time again, organizations say, “we cannot afford to hire a full-time social media person.” All too often, these are the same organizations that think nothing of spending $40,000 per year for glossy brochures and collateral materials…which, data indicates, have 11.5x LESS value as an information channel than does word of mouth marketing and social media to high propensity visitors– and 7.8x LESS value as an information channel than peer review sites. Increasingly, organizations that experience visitor growth will be those that have social media and online community management support… Stunning how growth flatlines when nothing changes, isn’t it? (said with a smile). We see this all the time. Growth depends upon adjustment according to timely awareness, attitude, and usage data.
Museums cannot “buy” their way to prosperity (as they may have once thought more brochures meant more business). According to the Bass Model, the initial sale of something depends upon the number of people interested in a product (called the coefficient of innovation, or “P”). Advertising represents “P.” However, all other sales are based upon the number of folks drawn to the product after seeing friends use the product (Coefficient of imitation, or “Q”). Word of mouth marketing represents “Q.” According to IMPACTS data, “Q” (Word of mouth) is 12.85x that of “P”(Advertising). In other words, word of mouth marketing has 12.85x more power than traditional advertising. So, while who a person visits with matters more than what they visit, so too does word of mouth matter more than advertising. Of course, both advertising and WOM work together to maximize marketing opportunity. Advertising is not unimportant. However, no pragmatic amount of advertising can reliably overcome lousy WOM and not-so-great peer reviews.
Two points of clarity on the data so that it is not “used for wrong”: 1) The slide above is not intended to be an all-inclusive means of indicating information channels. Instead, it quantifies the relative proportion and influence of the indicated information channels when compared to one another. 2) The data indicates how HPVs and the total American population access information about VSOs and leisure activities in order to make visitation decisions. It does NOT intend to make budgeting recommendations or take into account how much money should mathematically be spent in each category (i.e.- 3.8x more for Travel magazines than printed brochures), though a good application of this data may be in considering an organization’s marketing and communications investment by media channel.