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Marketing

3 Market Changes That Have Completely Altered the Role of Marketing in Nonprofit Organizations

Word of mouth cartoon

 

Gone are the days of marketing from the inside-out…When the exhibits teams would decide on the new attraction and leave it to the marketing team to get folks in the door. Now, in order to remain relevant and solvent, nonprofit organizations must market from the outside-in.

The increasing importance of the role of technology in our lives has brought about several changes in how the market interacts with organizations, raised the stakes in brand communication (with a new emphasis on accessibility and transparency), and even altered how we maintain our own personal relationships. This era of stakeholder (donor and constituent) empowerment has also changed the way that smart, sustainable organizations operate on the whole…not just how they “market.”

The old, inside-out method of marketing: Nonprofit boards of directors, exhibits teams, program executives or other content gatekeepers decide on the next, big feature or program for an organization – often based solely on “experiential intuition” and supported by little or no market data.  In other words, the “Someone Important – a would-be expert – just decides” method of content development.

Once the decision is made, marketing teams are notified of the content and charged with the task of bringing people in the door to see/experience the content that this important person/committee likes. It’s a self-protecting system for higher-ups and other departments: If people didn’t come, it was the marketing department’s fault.

The new, necessary outside-in method of marketing: Organizations actively listen to their audiences and collect market data to determine what kind of content the organization’s visitors and supporters want. Instead of marketing and PR teams responding to executive committees alone, things are increasingly the other way around: Marketing folks are the experts on your audience and they work with decision-makers to determine which programs will engage the maximum audience (and, in turn, attendant revenues). Instead of being informed of what to “sell,” marketing teams within the most successful organizations that IMPACTS works with (nonprofit and for-profit clients alike) are brought on board in the earliest phases of the content development process to lend voice to the market’s preferences.

Here are three, critical evolutionary changes that serve as key reasons why organizations benefit by “marketing” from the outside-in:

 

1. There is an increased emphasis on product and experience (mostly, because you cannot hide it if people do not like your product or service)

How many times have you looked at your on-staff social media pro and asked urgently, “How can we increase our Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews?!” (Some CEOs even ask me this with the assumption that the answer lies in somehow “mastering” social media sites!) Your social media pro can’t increase your peer review ratings on their own because peer reviews are a result of audience experiences with your product or service. Marketers can frame the experience, provide critical clarification, and manage customer service on public platforms after the event, but you cannot sweet-talk your way out of several already-posted negative peer reviews harping on the same product or service downfall. In today’s world of transparency with the increased importance of word of mouth validation, smart organizations increasingly understand that sometimes maintaining support and affinity is dependent upon listening to audiences and then changing the product.

Increasingly, organizations are finding that they should not just have special exhibits – they should aim to have special exhibits and permanent collections that people want. (I’ll put extra emphasis on permanent collections because we can trace “Blockbuster Suicide”  to many of the financial perils currently faced by many museums).

 

2. Welcome to the age of the empowered constituent/supporter (and the increased need for audience interaction and participation)

Thanks in large part to the real-time nature of social media and digital platforms, today’s audiences are armed with vast amounts of real-time information. So much information, in fact, that audiences prefer to make decisions on their own or with the help of peer review sources (the value of which is on the rise). Indeed, if your organization isn’t particularly attune to the market (or chooses to selectively ignore potentially negative feedback as “anomalistic”), then there is an excellent chance that your audience may have more “visitor intelligence” than you do.

The role of the curator is evolving, and people now prefer to experience and interact rather than to be told what to do/think. We are seeing an increase in audience participation and crowdsourced exhibits. With these trends possibly re-defining the staid reputation of museums and other visitor-serving organizations, the “come to this because I told you so” method of thinking about marketing doesn’t work as well. It’s an outdated, inside-out approach to cultivating visitors. Today, organizations build stronger affinity when they articulate the value for the visitor (i.e. “What’s in it for the audience?”) rather than messages wherein the only apparent “gain” is the admission revenue (i.e. “What’s in it for the organization?”).  And, really, the “Because I say it will make you smarter” rationale doesn’t cut it as a major component of the value proposition.

Simply put, in order to articulate value to your visitor, you have to know your visitor now more than ever before.

 

3. Nonprofits sometimes determine importance, but the market always determines relevance (and organizations that misunderstand this now experience expedited financial strife)

I’ve written about this before, but it’s worth repeating: As highly-credible topic-experts and trusted authorities, nonprofits often are able to declare “importance.” However, if the market isn’t interested in your area of expertise or does not find it salient in their lives, they may deem your “importance” to be irrelevant. All too often, nonprofits generally misunderstand the role of the public as the ultimate arbiters of an organization’s relevance…and how much they need supporters and diversified revenue streams simply to stay afloat.

When we forget this, we get caught up and sidetracked by things like Judith Dobrzynski’s recent “High Culture Goes Hands-On” article in the New York Times. We forget that at the end of the day, we need to attract attendees, members, donors, and supporters…and that a museum that is closed cannot serve its social mission.

Due to the speedy share rate of vast amounts of information, we now live in a time when irrelevant messages are easily drowned out by other priorities – and even more-relevant “noise!” This may possibly expedite financial woe for organizations unwilling to consider the wants and needs of their audiences.

We must keep up or get left behind. We must evolve (like every other being, entity, or industry that has ever existed) or risk extinction. Increasingly, a big part of our evolution is discontinuing old habits of marketing from the inside-out, and instead keeping tabs on the market so that we may contemplate the best ways to operate from the outside-in.

 

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, Community Engagement, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, Words of Wisdom 5 Comments

5 Key Reasons Why Social Media Strategies Are Different Than Traditional Marketing Strategies

Company achievements

Social media and web-based platforms function differently than “traditional” marketing/PR platforms. While this may be obvious to some, I work closely with many experienced executive leaders who have been formally trained (and then formally practiced) more traditional marketing and communication methods. Perhaps the differences between digital and other forms of communication is something that some leaders are hesitant to acknowledge because the dramatic changes hearkened by the digital revolution might suggest that years of experience are somehow suddenly less relevant  – but I know several brave leaders who have spoken up on behalf of their years of experience doing what has historically worked…until now.

Why IS marketing and communications on social media and web-based platforms so different than marketing on NON-web-based platforms? Why don’t the same rules apply as they have for decades? Why are the lessons from the classic MBA canon (like the Harvard Business Review staple of Chester Burger’s How To Meet The Press) so outdated?  And how could key aspects of entire marketing curricula at the prestigious universities that were attended by our best and most accomplished nonprofit leaders be considered increasingly irrelevant? Surely, marketing is still marketing…

Indeed, marketing is still marketing. But times have changed (and are rapidly changing). The importance of social media in an organization’s business strategy is undeniable. We have a new platform that didn’t exist in the past – and it has changed a whole heck of a lot about how organizations “do” Communications…  perhaps because it has so drastically changed how the market views Communications.

1) Social media is not advertising. It is a different, more effective beast.

Social media is more influential than other forms of “traditional” communication when it comes to spreading your message. To explain, reviews from trusted resources (including channels such as social media and word of mouth testimonials) have a value 12.85 times greater than paid media (broadcast, radio, and other types of traditional advertising). Therefore, there’s no amount of paid advertising that can realistically overcome a deficiency of earned media. Thanks to the real-time, public nature of the web, marketing and PR have been supercharged and we are now able to maximize this other half of the messaging model. Though this model has always existed, word of mouth tended to resist scale and relied largely on one-to-one or one-to-many interactions.  The dawning of the digital age has introduced unprecedented scaling capabilities to many of our communications – where once we had Siskel and Ebert (two people speaking to many), we now have Rotten Tomatoes (many people speaking to many). Because of the introduction of scale – borne largely of digital technologies – earned media and reviews from trusted sources have never been so accessible, obtainable, contemporarily relevant, and critical for an organization to succeed.

 

2) Social media disproportionally influences market behavior

Digital platforms like web, mobile, and social media currently have the highest efficacy among marketing channels in terms of overall, weighted value (contemplative of the market’s perceived trust, and reach and amplification capability of various communication channels). This is especially true compared to more “traditional” channels such as radio and printed materials. In fact, the weighted values attributed to these channels have experienced dramatic decreases even in the last year! Instead, folks are looking to social and web-based platforms to acquire the intelligence to inform their decision-making processes – and these platforms play a significant role as the go-to source for information on leisure activities (salient if you are a museum), especially among those most likely to attend a visitor-serving nonprofit.

 

3) Social media involves evolving technologies and platforms

Unlike largely “fixed,” static media such as print and radio, the mechanisms by which digital messages are delivered and the context within which individual members of the market receive these messages is constantly in-flux. Social media and digital communications depend on rapid innovation, changing platforms, and evolving social mentalities that sink or swim in real-time. They require a strategic flexibility to succeed, and often necessitate experimentation in order to understand how to best reach particular audiences through online engagement. The classic marketing texts of the past remained relevant for decades because – arguably until now – organizations could have one spokesperson, they did have the time to prepare responses before meeting the press, and they could leave a lot more behind closed doors.

 

4) Online engagement necessitates perceived accessibility in order for organizations to succeed

The alarmingly condescending-in-hindsight, stilted tone of past marketing and PR campaigns has gone by the wayside in the age of social media. In essence, the world has become more transparent and people want to know more about the brands that they support – nonprofits included! In the past, organizations could often divulge only what they wished, but now organizations must answer straightforward questions posed on public platforms in real-time, or watch their reputation and consumer-base shrink… also in real-time. In short, this change challenges the way that many in the past have been taught to “communicate with the press.” In today’s world, organizations communicate directly with the public. And they need to be likeable and relatable.

 

5) Social media is real-time and 24/7

Though it was historically done more passively, brands have always been building relationships in real-time – even while the CEO or other appointed spokesperson was off the clock. People have spread valuable word of mouth messages at cocktail parties and talked shop on the back nine of a golf course for generations. However, from a broad public perspective, it was generally understood that an organization’s “real people” were not accessible outside of the historic “nine to five” workday. Today, the real-time nature of digital platforms have made organizations accessible at all hours and in all situations. And the public especially utilizes these platforms during moments of crisis – the very times when organizations in the past may have been particularly grateful for the ability to remain silent as they got their PR ducks in a row.  Moreover, organizations are expected to respond to inquiries on social media platforms in real time. 42% of individuals using social media expect answers to questions that they ask online within one hour. Unlike traditional media that runs as per a schedule and a plan, social media requires active management and necessitates the implementation of real-time PR strategies…all day. Every day.

 

Are all of the marketing (and even broad strategy) baseline best practices taught in MBA courses of the past and cultivated for decades becoming completely irrelevant? Of course not. However, societal and technological evolution may find these long-time graduates and folks “with X years of experience in the industry” challenging themselves to re-purpose their experiences to better apply to today’s marketing environment.  In fact, I’d propose that perhaps those seasoned individuals willing to embrace social media and digital engagement may be our greatest industry assets in adapting strategies to best suit evolving technologies. Many of the marketing best practices of the past are directly at-odds with today’s practices, and leaders who can evolve their own thinking may be the most successful in leading their organizations into the future. 

 

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 Branding, Community Engagement, Leadership, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Media, The Future 3 Comments

Trust Your Audience: Data Debunks Nonprofit Social Media Fears

the scream

Despite the myriad good reasons to be using social media (including data indicating social media’s leading role in motivating visitation and donor support), some nonprofit organizations and museums have been hesitant to open content-related communications to online audiences. They wonder: What if someone posts something bad about us? What if they use our Facebook page to promulgate viewpoints that are contrary to our mission or practices? What if they say something inaccurate on our expert page?

Data suggests that fears regarding radical trust may be largely unfounded and/or dramatically over-emphasized. Why? Because there is proof that people do not believe everything that they read online. Though this may sound axiomatic or silly to some (“Of course people don’t believe everything that they read online!”), organizations that don’t trust their online audiences to make informed, intelligent assessments often cite this doubt as a justification to not embrace open authority. Simply put, many organizations are frightened by social media and the means by which it empowers online audiences to express their respective points of view – which may be negative about the nonprofit, factually incorrect, or even “irrational.”

The data concerning this reticence to trust is quite clear: Organizations that instinctively move to limit communications - or react to a crisis only when standing on the sidelines is simply no longer an option – are failing their constituents. Here are three things to consider regarding reticence to engage on social media due to fears of opening authority to others:

 

1. Data suggests that social media is used by the public to gather information to form opinions… and not as a tool to dictate facts

Online audiences visit your social media sites to assess how you react and engage with the public in order to determine their level of personal affinity with your organization. They want to make their own decisions about what they think about your posts…and, similarly, they consider comments from others (and your responses to these comments) as key components of their information-gathering process.

Consider data from IMPACTS regarding the general public’s trust of various marketing channels and note the level of trust that the public ascribes to social media:

IMPACTS- Trust in Marketing Channels

I’ve posted this data before highlighting the reach, amplification, trust and overall weighted-values of various information channels. It may well be the single most “expensive to acquire” data freely available to nonprofit organizations on Know Your Own Bone. (Read: I hope that you’ll please take advantage of this free-to-you information that was originally funded by for-profit clients. After all, that’s why I write!)

This data indicates the public’s relatively low trust in social media when compared to other information channels with higher publication thresholds (e.g. newspapers) and “traceable,” credible endorsers (e.g. word of mouth). While the findings suggest that social media is, overall, the most powerful channel as a source for information, it additionally indicates that the public understands that there are some crazy people on social media.

Online audiences do not believe that other fans typing on Facebook walls are writing truisms in stone. While these comments may exist for the world to see, what is more important is how organizations react to these comments…

 

2. Online interactions establish relevance and transparency… and may clarify negative comments that organizations fear

As described previously, online audiences referencing your website and social media platforms are making decisions about how to feel about your organization. It is important that you are transparent, trustworthy, and authentically engage with these potential online evangelists. Some may even test you like this little lady did in her post on the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s Facebook page…

Smithsonian Facebook Comment

This interaction demonstrates the importance of responding to comments and interactions on your social sites – even, at times, when “negative” comments strike. If the museum hadn’t responded, the public may have perceived that the museum does not pay attention to online audiences, so why bother engaging? Worse yet, such perceived indifference may have actually inspired additional negative sentiment. At the very least, not-yet visitors to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History may consider that perhaps the museum is indeed “really boring” without having uncovered that feedback from this user was not sincere.

Nonprofit leaders need not fear comments such as the one above because being an “online organization” allows for both social media users and the nonprofit to uncover information that may aid other users in determining their level of trust in these communications.

 

3. Online interactions provide constructive feedback that, if acted upon, may position your nonprofit to evolve and thrive

While some executive leaders may claim to fear comments from less educated audiences than their own employed “experts” posting on social platforms, many may actually be concerned about receiving plain old negative feedback that stakeholders might observe on these same sites. They may fear that these critiques might then resurface in board rooms or donor conversations.

Avoiding feedback by denying a platform for conversation is rejecting low-hanging fruit to aid in the improvement of the organization. For executive leaders or marketing managers for which this is the case, well, you may have bigger issues within your organization than not being active on social media.

As the world changes (new technologies arise, new generations take the lead…), organizations confront numerous challenges. Often, the severity of these changes is correlated with how quickly the organization can evolve and adapt in alignment with changing constituent and stakeholder needs. Organizations that fear feedback may already know that they are behind the times. The solution to this is not to back away, but, rather, to consider embracing the insight that social media interactions may provide for your organization.

Leaders may be surprised how positively a simple, “Thank you for your feedback. We hear you and we’re getting started on fixing that by…!” resonates with online audience members with thoughtful, informative gripes (provided, of course, that you indeed start to address issues that arise and further complaints do not surface that may indicate insincerity). Also, executives and managers may breathe a little more easily knowing that – if a comment is legitimate – your organization probably (hopefully?) has the knowledge required to respond to thoughtful, negative feedback in a considered and helpful manner.

All this is not intended to suggest that negative comments do not have the ability to impact your brand. Instead, it suggests that organizations who fail to actively engage their audiences, do not respond to interactions, and adopt a “hear no evil” position when confronted by a challenging comment are doing themselves a grave disservice by not treating these moments as important customer service (and audience engagement) opportunities. In the end, if an organization rightfully considers thoughtful, negative comments as opportunities to listen, obtain feedback, and improve, and if the public is already considering the veracity of fan comments, what plausible excuse remains for an organization to fear social media?

You can’t argue with crazy. And, you can’t argue with facts. The public has figured this out. Isn’t it time that nonprofit organizations catch-up with the public when it comes to the ways and means by which we communicate with our constituents?

Barely a few weeks removed from our nation’s most recent Inauguration, please excuse me as I play off of arguably the most famous inaugural address in our history to drive an important point home for nonprofit executive leaders: When it comes to social media, perhaps the only thing that we have to fear is fear itself.

 

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 Blogging, Branding, Community Engagement, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Media, Words of Wisdom 3 Comments

Why Offering Discounts Through Social Media Is Bad Business for Nonprofit Organizations

There’s significant data compiled by multiple sources indicating that “getting discounts” is the top reason why people engage with an organization’s social media channels. So it seems logical that if you want to bump your number of fans and followers, offering discounts is a surefire way to go. And it works – if your sole measure of success is chasing these types of (perhaps less meaningful) metrics. But, before you go crazy with the discount offers on Facebook and Twitter just to get your “likes” up, here’s another thing that’s true: Offering discounts through social media channels cultivates a “market addiction” that will have long-term, negative consequences on the health of your organization.

I recently wrote a post called “Death by Curation” within which I shared data indicating the non-sustainable cycle that museums enter when they must rely on new, progressively more expensive “special” exhibits in the hopes of achieving attendance spikes (what has since been referred to by a reader of this blog as “Blockbuster Suicide”). In many ways, offering discounts creates a similarly vicious cycle whereby a visitor-serving organization finds itself realizing a diminishing return on the value of its visitation.

When an organization provides discounts through social media it trains their online audience to do two not-so-awesome things:

 

1) Your community expects more discounts

Here’s where your organization breeds an online audience of addicts accepting discounts…and, strangely enough, becomes addicted to offering discounts itself. Posting a discount to attract more likes on Facebook (or to get people to engage with a social media competition, etc.) will very likely result in a bump in likes and engagement. But know that in doing this, you are verifying that your social media channel is a source for discounts. Discounting for “likes” attracts low-level engagers (they are liking you for your discount, not your mission), and prevailing wisdoms increasingly suggest that your number of social media followers doesn’t matter. It is far better for your brand and bottom line to have 100 fans who share and interact with your content to create a meaningful relationship, than to have 1,000 fans who never share your message and liked you just for the discount.

I can hear the rumbling now: Some of you are thinking, “But we’ve used discounts to attract more likes and it worked” (i.e. it generated more likes). Over time, however, these low-level engagers will stop following you if you do not continue to offer discounts. That is, after all, the reason why they followed you in the first place…and you have shown them that, yes, you will post discounts on social media. This is the start of the addiction: In order to keep these likes, you need to offer more discounts.

Try this: Simply stop offering discounts. Over the course of a few months, your number of likes will go down (because these people only liked you for the discount, not your awesome, socially conscious content). They were not actual evangelists – and cultivating real evangelists to build a strong online community is the whole point of social media. You want folks who actually care about what you’re doing and will amplify your message (not the “we are offering a discount” message – which is the content that, unfortunately, frequently gets the most shares and perpetuates this cycle).

 

2) Perhaps more importantly, your community waits for discounts

Here’s where becoming an addict takes a toll on the organization’s health. Data indicates that offering coupons on social media channels – even once – causes people to postpone their visits or wait until you offer another discount before visiting you again. Worse yet, the new discount generally needs to be perceived as a “better” offer (i.e. an even greater discount) to motivate a new visit. This observation is consistent with many aspects of discount pricing psychology, whereby a stable discount is perceptually worth “less” over time. In other words, the 20% discount that motivated your market to visit last month will likely have a diminishing impact when re-deployed. Next time, to achieve the same outcome, your organization may have to offer a 35% discount…and then a 50% discount, etc. You see where I’m going with this…

Here is the debunking of another popular misnomer that some organization’s use to justify their discount tactics: You are not necessarily capturing new visitation with discounts. In fact, data from the company for which I work suggests that the folks using your discount were likely to visit anyway…and pay full price! This is a classic example of an ill-advised discounting strategy “leaving money on the table.”

To compound matters, instead of hastening the re-visitation cycle, the “waiting for a discount” phenomena may actually increase the interval between visits for many visitors. The average museum-going person visits a zoo, aquarium, or museum once every 19 months. If you offer a discount, while you may not attract a larger volume of visitation to your organization, you may accelerate your audience’s re-visitation cycle on a one-time basis. This sounds great…until you realize the significant downsides to this happening: Your audience just visited your organization without paying the full price that they were actually willing to pay and they likely won’t visit your organization again for (on average) another 19 months. On top of all this, IMPACTS data illustrates that the steeper the discount, the less likely visitors are to value your product and return in a shorter time period.

Think of it this way: A visitor coming to your museum in May 2012 would likely visit again in December 2013 (i.e. in 19 months). Let’s say that you offer them a discount that motivates them to visit in October 2013. Now, you’ve linked their intentions to visit to a discount offer…and decoupled it from what should be their primary motivation – your content! And, by doing so, you’ve created an environment where content as a motivator has become secondary to “the deal.” In other words, you will have moved your market from a 19-month visitation cycle to a visitation cycle dependent on an ever-increasing discount. Can your organization afford to keep motivating visitation in this way?

So, how do museums get addicted to discounts, too? Well, we sometimes confuse the response (i.e. a visit) to the stimuli (i.e. a discount) with efficacy. Once a discount has been offered to motivate a visit, we regularly witness the market “holding out” for another discount before visiting again. And what are museums doing while the market waits for this new discount? Sadly, often times the answer is that they are panicking.

If you run a museum, you’ve probably spent some time in this uncomfortable space – we observe the market’s behavior (or, in this case, their lack of behavior), and begin to get anxious because attendance numbers are down. What’s a quick fix to ease the pain of low visitation? Another discount! So we offer this discount…and, in the process, reward the market for holding out for the discount to begin with. This is the insidious thing about many discounting strategies: They actually train your audience to withhold their regular engagement, and then reward them for their constraint. We feed their addiction and, in turn, we become addicted ourselves to the short-term remedy that is “an offer they can’t refuse.”

Like most addictive – but ultimately deleterious – items, there is no denying that discounts “work” – provided that your sole measure of the effectiveness of a discount is its ability to generate a short-term spike in visitation. But, once the intoxicating high of a crowded gallery has passed, very often all that we’re left with is a nasty hangover. My advice to museums and nonprofit organizations contemplating a broad discount strategy on social media: Just say no!

 

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Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, Technology, Words of Wisdom 6 Comments

Four Critical Reasons Why Nonprofit Organizations Must Not “Go Dark” on Social Media on Weekends

It is important for nonprofit organizations to maintain a presence on social media and manage their communities online. In fact, social media is the most influential and fastest growing marketing channel – with particular benefits in regard to targeting audiences (reach) and spreading messages (amplification). But those benefits only apply if you “do it right.” That is, you build your organization’s reputation by aiming for transparency, touchability, tone and timeliness in your online communications. Let’s talk about timeliness.

While banks and post offices may reliably post narrow hours of operations, most nonprofit organizations depend on the evenings and weekends to maximize their engagement.  For many nonprofits – especially visitor-serving organizations such as museums, zoos and aquariums – the evenings and weekends are times when many constituents may be most likely to engage with your brand. By “going dark” on the weekends and evenings (or only posting and monitoring social media when someone is in the office), an organization risks ignoring its audience at the precise moments when they may be most apt to communicate, and leaves the organization particularly vulnerable to negative brand sentiment or a possible PR crisis. 

Ignoring your online community for any extended period of time is likely to have a detrimental effect on your brand. And, at the very least, it “leaves money on the table” because you are failing to capitalize on an opportunity to engage online evangelists – a critically important constituency with the power to credibly re-communicate your messaging. Viewed in the worst light, it leaves you voiceless, powerless and ignorant of your reputation for 76% of the week (all hours of the week except the traditional eight hours when a social media manager is “in the office”). This is a big miss. In fact, it’s borderline negligent.

Does this mean that all organizations must have somebody sitting and exclusively watching social media channels like a hawk all week and throughout the night? Absolutely not. It simply means that organizations should aim to respond to social media inquiries within an average of 4 hours (to demonstrate accessibility and transparency) regardless of the day of the week, and post content outside of working hours and on weekends so as to remain top-of-mind.

Here are four, important points to consider regarding the value of social media and weekend social media activity:

 

1. No amount of advertising can make up for a lack of social and earned media.

When an organization goes dark on the weekends, that organization is missing an opportunity to engage audiences and secure reviews from trusted sources. Social media is a great creator of these trusted reviews, which carry significant weight with regard to promulgating messages.

The Bass Model below illustrates the bottom-line of the mathematical equation measuring paid media (Coefficient of innovation) and reviews from trusted sources (Coefficient of imitation). The take-away is clear: reviews from trusted resources (word of mouth, social media, peer reviews) are 12.85 times more powerful in the market than paid media. Therefore, there is no practical amount of paid media that can overcome a deficiency of social media interactions, peer reviews, and resulting earned media. Considering buying another billboard on the highway? Instead, why not pay your social media community manager a bit more and make sure you are managing your community throughout the weekend? (As a side, data suggests that buying billboard space may not be the best use of marketing funds anyway.)

 

2) Weekends may be a particularly important time for your audience to connect and engage

There’s a whole host of data from several entities boasting the best and worst times to post on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. While there has been a bit of debate about the generic “best” time to post across all industries, it has been shown that organizations that post outside of business hours have 20% higher engagement rates on Facebook than organizations that do NOT post outside of traditional business hours.

Saturday has been dubbed the best day of the week to share on Pinterest. Saturday has also been cited as the best day of the week to post on Facebook… But let’s not get carried away. To make matters more confusing than they already are in the always-evolving world of social media, bitly just released data that displays particularly low click through rates on Facebook and Twitter over the weekends. The unfortunate bottom line for organizations looking for a magical, cheat-sheet timeframe to post on social media? It doesn’t exist (yet). That timeframe depends on the industry, and it depends on the behavior of your organization’s demographic on Facebook.

There is no “one size fits all solution.” The best way to determine an individual optimization strategy for your organization is to simply test it yourself. Try out times and content and see what yields the highest amplification, conversation, and applause rates. Your own experience with your organization’s unique content will be most useful in determining this timeframe.

 

3) “Going dark” makes your organization passive on social media and leaves a gaping hole in reputation management

If you’re like most visitor-serving organizations, you have the most visitation on the weekends. “Going dark” is generally never a good idea on social media as it leaves your viral, online community unmanaged. If something happens on Saturday and someone posts an alienating, inappropriate, or untrue comment that is not addressed, the brand could already suffer significant reputation damage by Sunday. But going dark during this particularly critical timeframe for your organization’s business is bad practice. Again, if you’re like most visitor-serving organizations, you get the most pictures and comments over the weekends from visitors. It is important to respond to and thank these guests for both their support and their online engagement. The nature of social media emphasizes real-time reactions and ongoing accessibility.

When writing up Diagnostic Audits for nonprofit, visitor-serving clients concerning their social media practices, I’ve encountered some urgent comments left by potential weekend visitors that were left unanswered and resulted in a decline in the organization’s online sentiment for that month (and a decline in overall reputation). I have seen frantic visitors wondering if the museum is open – which has caused others to ask the similar questions. (“Why wouldn’t you be open? Does this person know something that I don’t know? I’m not coming today.”) Perhaps the most painful examples are those wherein an inappropriate or untrue comment is left unaddressed over the weekend that calls into question the transparency of the organization and diminishes trust in the entity (someone accuses the organization for acting politically or engaging in activity that is at-odds with their mission – and the organization has posted too-little information on the topic for others to weigh-in in the organization’s favor).  If you’re a zoo or aquarium and somebody asks you on Facebook if one of your animals is still alive or if a certain creature is “alright” (even if it’s out of the blue), it’s important to be present to answer the question. Immediately.

Prioritizing a practice to “not go dark” on the weekends is an important risk-management practice, and allows organizations to play an active role in its reputation management.  (Aren’t we all sick and tired of always “putting out fires” on Monday?)

 

4) Posting over the weekend allows you to remain top-of-mind as a weekend destination (if you are a visitor-serving organization)

This is simple. The weekend is a popular time for leisure activities (as is likely mirrored in your visitation trends). Posting something to enter your supporters’ newsfeeds during this leisure time mindset simply keeps your organization top-of- mind. If you’re a visitor-serving organization only posting between 9am and 5pm on weekdays, then you are entering people’s newsfeeds at a time that folks likely couldn’t visit you, even if they wanted to (IMPACTS has uncovered that schedule is a key driver of visitation). Are most of the people who see the clever photo that you posted to your organization’s Facebook page going to shut their laptop, funnel their kids in the car, and visit you immediately? No, probably not. But they might chuckle and think (in their moment of downtime), “Gee, I haven’t been there in a while…” and start planning their next visit.

 

Simply put, going dark is a “you” customer service problem, not a problem that should be borne by your constituents. Allow them to ask questions and communicate with you at the time that works best for them - regardless of the time and date. This will create optimal engagement rates and maintain the greatest chances of capturing evangelists.

It may take a bit of extra time “outside of the office” to post content and remain accessible during the weekends, but it will be well worth the effort. Regardless of when you post, it is critical that you do not “go dark” and leave your online audiences hanging. Also remember: content is still king. What you post (whenever you post) matters and will affect your engagement rates.

 

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Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, Words of Wisdom 7 Comments

Reach, Trust & Amplification: The Importance of Social Media in Nonprofit Marketing (STUDY)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to share recent IMPACTS data (collected in real-time through the end of last month) regarding the comparative importance of different marketing channels. The key finding? Data indicates that social media is the fastest growing and most influential marketing channel.

A few weeks ago, I shared data indicating that websites and mobile platforms – followed by word of mouth, social media, and peer review sites - play a disproportionate role in encouraging visitation decisions to visitor-serving organizations compared to more traditional marketing mediums such as radio and print media. With the help of coworkers at IMPACTS, I’ve drilled deeper into available data in order to answer the question of how these platforms play a role in the current marketing world. To do this, we looked at these mediums through three parameters: reach, trust, and amplification. Then, we calculated the weighted influence of these parameters to assess the overall value of each channel.

We measured the following information channels/marketing mediums:

  • Web – an organization’s website or an online news site, for instance
  • Social media – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, and other social networking sites
  • Word of mouth (WOM) – Person-to-person sharing of information
  • Email – Good ol’ email.
  •  Mobile web – web accessed via mobile device or mobile platform
  • Peer review web – TripAdvisor, Yelp, and other online review sites
  • Television – both commercial and public broadcasts, news programming, information acquired through television
  • Radio – both satellite and terrestrial programming
  • Newspaper (print)- Any newspaper source in print (content accessed online are included in the “web” category. In other words, the print edition of The New York Times falls within the “newspaper” category, whereas content accessed via nytimes.com would be considered a “web” resource.)
  • Periodicals and magazines (print) – Magazines and periodicals in hardcopy (again, online versions are included in the “web” category)
  • Direct mail – That stuff that physically arrives to your home/office and clutters your countertop
  • Other print – Brochures, flyers, other informational, printed material
  • Other – billboards, bus signs, posters, etc.
Take a look at our findings below and consider how your organization values these channels. Do your organizational priorities match the public perception and actual use of these marketing channels? Click on the graphs below to pull up larger images.

 

1. Reach

This parameter quantifies the relative efficacy of each channel in terms of that channel’s ability to expose an individual or household to a message within any defined duration. In other words, we’re trying to understand how effective any medium is at “reaching” an overall population (or, for that matter, a targeted audience such as women aged 35-54, etc.)

As you can see above, in terms of “reach,” websites are the primary channels used by the market to acquire information. An interesting item of note here is the growth in the importance of web/mobile platforms (web, mobile web, peer review web, and social media) compared to the June 2011 baseline data. In fact, every defined marketing channel that was NOT web or mobile-based (except word of mouth, which is the only channel based on person-to-person interaction) experienced a decline within the past year in terms of its reach.

 

2. Trust

This parameter quantifies how credible these channels are perceived to be as information sources. In this metric, we still see traditional, printed materials leading the way. We sometimes refer to this as the “Publication Effect” – there has been an observed tendency for the market to “believe” information obtained via mediums with higher barriers to publication (e.g. newspapers and magazines) than those with relatively easy publication thresholds (e.g. online forums). And, this perception may be reality. Not only do more traditional publishers employ “credibility protectors” such as fact-checkers, researchers and editors, the physical nature of the medium tends to imply a certain level of gravitas that a more ephemeral medium simply cannot achieve.

Still, the web and mobile platforms have generally displayed the most positive change in terms of being identified as trustworthy sources of information, and I expect for this trend to continue as more traditional publishers develop increasingly robust online presences.

Self-published content such as direct mail are among the least trusted sources of information. (Interesting finding: Upon reviewing data from previous years, we know that the trust value of direct mail tends to further plummet during election seasons when mailboxes are littered with campaign propaganda – and we may reasonably expect this in the upcoming seasons.) Other printed materials (e.g. brochures) are also considered to be comparatively untrustworthy sources of information.

This data should be of considerable note to nonprofit organizations (or any company) spending a significant portion of their budget on printed materials while largely ignoring its online reputation – especially if the organization could alternatively invest an equivalent amount to hire a resource to manage its online engagement and social media platforms.

This data is particularly intriguing to me because it illustrates a very unique moment in terms of the evolution of marketing and information-share. Perhaps the way that we think of printed materials such as direct mail will someday soon join payphones, Polaroid pictures, Blockbuster video stores, road maps and telephone books in the pantheon of obsolescence.

 

3. Amplification

Amplification quantifies the re-distribution potential of the respective information channel. Marketers should care about amplification because this measure potentially indicates the amount of “marketing bang” that an organization will get for its buck – a particularly relevant item for cash-strapped nonprofits. This parameter measures how likely folks are to share these marketing channels with others. In my line of work, we sometimes refer to an information channel’s amplification value as its “sneeze factor” – how many other people can we infect with this message? (Quick apology to health-related nonprofiteers reading this post!)

As you can see, web and mobile-based sites generally have higher amplification rates and are easier to share than more traditional marketing channels. This seems sensible. It is, of course, easier to forward an email than it is to share a radio spot with a friend… but some interesting habits of the general population and how they use/relate to these channels emerge in these numbers. For instance, when compared to other printed information sources such as newspapers and direct mail, we generally find a higher amplification rate for magazines because they often have much higher production values (i.e. look and feel “nicer”). Because of this, magazines are more likely than other printed channels to occupy a spot on the coffee table until the next month’s issue arrives. During that time, friends coming over may see these magazines, flip through their pages, and presto! The magazine as an information channel has achieved amplification.

Unfortunately for many museums and nonprofits spending large amounts of money on printed materials, less substantial brochures do not have the same fate and are tucked away in private spaces or ultimately land in the trash before they can be amplified.

Though high in credibility value, word of mouth has a low amplification rate because it is difficult to reproduce and scale an in-person interaction.

 

4. Overall Value

The overall value represents the weighted, relative values of these information channels after collectively considering the reach, trust and amplification metrics. The results here may be stunning in their comparative value – especially for marketing traditionalists or web and social media “nonbelievers.” All of the web and mobile-based information sources experienced growth from June 2011 to March 2012 (i.e. web, social media, mobile web, and peer review web). No other media channels experienced growth. Email also experienced a decline, and though this is indeed a medium that is dependent upon the web, it does not represent a “living” platform with rotating, changeable content and thus functions differently than social media, peer review web, etc.

Social media is an enormously important component of your overall marketing and communication strategy. In fact, data suggests that it is the most important channel to engage your users and constituents. The overall value of social media increased 49.2% from June 2011 to March 2012. This is (quite obviously) the most significant change observed across the quantified information channels.

This data serves as yet another reminder of the recent, rapid evolution in the ways that people communicate, spread information, and find value in marketing messages. This is more than just anecdotal word on the street; it is compelling evidence of the way that our society behaves. CEOs and managers slow to “believe” in the power of online platforms and social media may need to lower the printed brochure in their hands, put away the flyers, and move their communications into the present.

Findings such as these present the contemporary nonprofit organization with a handful of basic choices: Relevant or obsolete? Solvent or destitute? Growth or regression? More or less? And, perhaps most importantly over time: Life or death?

Posted on by colleendilen in Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, Technology, The Future 9 Comments

The Early Adopter Phase on Pinterest is Coming to an End (or, 5 Reasons for Museums to Get on Pinterest Right Now)

Pinterest  is a virtual pinboard and social photo-sharing site that allows folks to organize and curate theme-based collections (boards) of pictures and images (pins). The site’s mission statement says it all: “to connect everyone in the world through things they find interesting.” Though the site launched in March of 2010, this social platform has experienced incredible growth throughout the last few months. And one thing’s for sure: it’s worth paying some attention – especially if you are a zoo, aquarium, museum (ZAM), or cultural center with high potential for visual engagement.

Nonprofits will benefit by getting on Pinterest right now. It’s late enough in the platform’s development for us to have indication that it’s worth these organizations’ often-limited resources, but it’s soon enough that ZAMs have not “missed the boat” in getting on Pinterest. Also, this platform may have some tremendous word of mouth benefits. While the boom of folks and organizations getting on Pinterest may indicate that the “early adopter” phase is coming to an end in the next few months (if it hasn’t happened already), it’s important for ZAMs – in particular – to be there. Why? Here are five reasons why your organization should consider developing a presence on Pinterest – and doing it soon.

 

1) Pinterest is big and it’s getting bigger very quickly.

With 2.2 million active daily users and 12 million active monthly users, Pinterest is now the third most-used social media platform in the United States. It ranks in after Facebook and Twitter, and before LinkedIn (by over 18 million views in the month of February 2012 alone). The platform experienced an increase in total unique visitors of 2,702.2% since May 2011, and its usership continues to grow. With 91% of all adults who are online using social media regularly, social media platforms – especially the most popular ones that communicate directly with museums audiences – are a smart place for museums to be.

Social media platforms are one of the primary and most powerful methods used by potential visitors to gather information and make visitation decisions. As the third most-used social media site, ignoring Pinterest means missing an opportunity to be present with a steadily growing online audience. There are 12 million active monthly users on Pinterest (so far). A part of your audience is already here… and might be looking for you.

 

2) Pinterest serves multiple functions that have a positive impact on your museum’s bottom lines.

Cultural nonprofits generally have two, key goals: to spread their message in order to educate, inspire, or ignite some form of positive change, and to meet a financial bottom line (i.e. to attract visitors, members, and donors to remain economically sustainable). Pinterest can help do both of these things by effectively and creatively reaching people online.

For instance, Pinterest allows for organization’s to build personal relevance with audiences. This kind of personal sharing done by Pinterest users can have high word of mouth marketing value – and this can drive qualified traffic to conversion sites. Pinterest allows users to express themselves with pictures and images that are relevant to their lives. Content produced and pinned by ZAMs has the capability of being repinned and integrated into user’s boards – which are often personal with high word of mouth value. In fact, Pinterest creates more referral traffic than double that of Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn combined, and a new study shows that Pinterest creates more referral traffic than Twitter. Simply put:  Pinterest will get you more clicks to your website (if that’s where your pins link), than Twitter will bring to your website. Moreover, Pinterest is engaging and retaining users 2-3 times more efficiently than Twitter did at a similar time in its history. This is important, because conversion sites (ticket buying and membership purchasing pages) are often accessed through an organization’s homepage… and Pinterest can help get you those qualified clicks by referring Pinterest users to your webpage or social media hub.

…and they ARE often generally qualified clicks. Pinterest – simple as the concept may seem – functions as a tool to allow potential visitors to self-identify with the organization. In other words, individuals who pin photos from your venue or repin your pins are actively identifying themselves as fans of your organization or your organization’s offerings. Pinterest also can appeal to audiences that are at different stages of engagement with the museum. Here’s how (adapted from Mashable):

  • Potential advocates and influencers repin and share your organization’s links and images on Pinterest. This serves as a form of online product recommendation or a review.
  • Near-future visitors may be using your content as a bookmarking or online wishlist function, allowing them to share and remember things that they’d like to do in the future.
  • Immediate visitors, or those interested in visiting in very short order, may conduct a targeted online search for your museum on Pinterest in order to do a bit of research and assess the organization before scooping up the family – or grabbing their partner’s hand – and heading out the door.
  • Long term/future visitors who take their time making visitation decisions may be using Pinterest much like window-shoppers; they’re scoping out the photos and visual offerings of museums in order to make a decision to visit (or not to visit) in the future.

In sum, Pinterest functions as a widely used tool that allows ZAMs to spread your museum’s message, remain top of mind, and increase your organization’s relevance on a steadily growing, online platform among real and potential visitors.

 

3) Pinterest’s (current) frequent users represent a powerful social demographic that many ZAMs are trying to target: The potential (now and future) moms of America.

There are a lot of great reasons why museums often aim to target moms in addition to other demographics. To name a few, moms in the US spend 2.1 trillion dollars each year and they control 85% of household income. A staggeringly high 79% of moms identify themselves as being active on social media on a daily basis. Also, individuals in this demographic trust one another and frequently look to other active “mommy bloggers” or mommy social media users to make purchasing decisions or recommendations. In other words, turning moms into museum/cultural center evangelists has the potential to not only “drive the gate,” but to inspire entire families of ocean advocates, scientists-in-training, little (and big) anthropologists, creative thinkers, art lovers and musicians-in-the-making. We already know that who folks visit a museum with is more important than what they see. Targeting moms has terrific real and emotional potential for long-term engagement and becoming part of a family tradition and perhaps making museum-going a way-of-life.

This audience is on Pinterest: As of the end of February of this year, 68.2% of Pinterest users were women- and half of all Pinterest users have children. Women between age 25 and 44 make up 49.5% of all Pinterest users.  These are America’s moms and future moms- and engaging these ladies may have significant payoff for museums and cultural nonprofits.

And this audience is “into” museum sweet-spots:  ZAMs may be in a better position to integrate this platform than giant corporations because museums – by their very nature of existing to educate, inspire, and tell stories – produce some innately “pin-able” content. Here are some of the most popular board themes according to a recent study by JRMetrics:

  • Arts & Crafts, as a theme, takes the lead as the most popular theme on Pinterest – making up 12.4% of all boards. An art museum may pin pointillism crafts. Science centers, zoos and aquariums may feature “green” crafts or projects that can help families save energy. The possibilities are perhaps as endless as staff creativity.
  • Food is one of the most popular pin board themes on Pinterest, comprising 10.5% of all boards across the platform. It is also the fastest growing theme and predicted to trump fashion-themed boards on Pinterest in the near future in terms of frequency of pinning and board creation. This is good news for aquariums pushing sustainable seafood, science centers hoping to share information about nutritional science, and even location-based historic sites that may have some recipes that represent a taste of the times.
  •  Inspiration/Education makes up 9% of all Pinterest boards. This category may be a no-brainer for creative ZAMs with a social message.
  • Travel, as a theme,  makes up 1.9% of all pin boards. In fact, “Favorite Places & Spaces” is the sixth most-popular pin board name. If your museums or cultural center looking to also function as a travel destination (or, a destinations that folks visit when they travel for other reasons), this theme also plays to an area of potential strength.
Create pins that fit into these categories and they’ll be much more likely to be shared and repinned.

 

4) Pinterest makes people curators – and that concept has a museum association.

ZAMs often have  plenty of stunning visual content attendant to the positive social message they share. Moreover, these kinds of informal learning environments allow for visitors to take their own pictures and tell the story of your museum as it relates to their own lives – so the stories are coming from both the organization and from visitors alike.

The word “curation” may be a loaded one in our field and its definition (or rather, who does it and what that means) seems to be in a critical stage of evolution. As social technology puts the power of information in online users’ hands, we’re seeing more and more experiments around crowd curation in museums. Pinterest allows people to be curators of collections and its popularity may be a sign for museums who are reluctant to let go of the traditional “curation control” and experiment with radical trust. Forbes has featured stories about The Rise and Rise of Pinterest and Our Love of Digital Curation.

Pinterest also encourages sharing and accessibility – areas where ZAMs could perhaps use some reputational TLC. Attendant to this “pro,” however, are discussions related to the online accessibility of collections in regard to copyright issues and putting collections online. It should be noted that Pinterest just changed their policies –including their copyright policy and pin etiquette - so that they were more fitting for the uses of this growing platform. They are worth checking out.

 

5) Now is the time to get on Pinterest. (Read: Don’t wait) 

To put it simply, as more and more folks get involved on Pinterest, the likelihood that you will be organically searched increases. If you’re not there, you’ve missed a powerful engagement opportunity. It’s worth noting again that individuals utilize social media platforms to gather information in order to make visitation decisions. Several large corporations and important entities are thriving on Pinterest. Nonprofits are on Pinterest. President Obama is on Pinterest. SeaWorld just created a Pinterest account. For a fitting platform in a world that’s all about relevance and remaining top-of-mind among the “noise,” this is not a time to be (visually) silent.

While Pinterest is still evolving as a platform and we are not certain what the future will hold in terms of audience engagement in the long run, this platform may very well be worth the time and energy to set up and maintain. At least, signs are pointing that way. It’s true that Pinterest may not be for every organization (This infographic may help you decide, though it lacks information on the relevance/efficacy of the platform within the industry.) But the outlook is good for the visually engaging world of zoos, aquariums, and museums …So collect your favorite photos, set up some Pinterest share tabs on your pages, and start listening, measuring, and providing content for real and potential visitors, members, and donors to pin. Show the world that museums are not places of the past, but instead indicators of the future. In short, now is the time to be ahead of (or at least on) the curve.

I’m also keeping tabs on museums and libraries on Pinterest, as well as zoos and aquariums on Pinterest. Have ZAMs to add? Tweet at me (@cdilly) or leave a comment below. Better yet, post it on my brand new Facebook wall and let other folks know! I’ll be sure to update accordingly.

Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, Technology, The Future 7 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