Audience Insights: Organizations Overlook the Most Important Clues

Clues for increased satisfaction and visitation are often right under the noses of cultural organizations. I frequently hear executive leaders Read more

Do Expansions Increase Long-Term Attendance? (DATA)

Sometimes it feels like nearly every cultural organization is taking on a major expansion project. But do these projects Read more

Over 60% of Recent Visitors Attended Cultural Organizations As Children (DATA)

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Cultural Organizations: It Is Time To Get Real About Failures

Hey cultural organizations! Do you know what we don’t do often enough? Talk about our failures. It’s a huge, Read more

How Annual Timeframes Hurt Cultural Organizations

Some cultural executives still aim for short-term attendance spikes at the expense of long-term financial solvency – and they Read more

Special Exhibits vs. Permanent Collections (DATA)

Special exhibits don’t do what many cultural organizations think that they do. If fact, they often do the opposite. Read more

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On Museum Layoffs: The Data-Informed Importance of Marketing and Engagement Departments

The data-informed importance of marketing and engagement staff

Need to increase support for your cultural organization during tough times? It is counterproductive to instinctively cut marketing and engagement experts.

I write about market data-informed tips for financial solvency for museums and cultural centers. That’s what I do. My job is to help keep cultural organizations alive and thriving. Considering this, it’s difficult to see some important museums buckling their belts and laying off staff members right now. It’s also a prime moment to provide an important reminder for the industry in general: Sometimes laying off staff members is an unfortunate reality, but cutting marketing and engagement professionals first is more likely to lead to suicide than it is to salvation.

When times are tight for operations budgets we often keep going back to the never-successful plan of trying to “save our way to prosperity.” This often involves cutting budgets or staff – and that can help to balance finances, provided that you have a plan to also increase revenues in the long-term. If you don’t have a plan to increase your revenues (regardless of why you are laying off staff), then your organization is sacrificing hard-working people in vain. The layoffs won’t better the organization. The layoffs are human payment for bad choices that probably weren’t made by the people who are being sacrificed. Again, though, sometimes organizations really do need to balance finances and do this – but it’s shortsighted to sacrifice jobs without also having a plan to increase revenues. And we know from research that the most effective and realistic ways to do this involve marketing and/or engagement professionals. It hinders the growth of our entire industry when we cut marketing and engagement professionals first.

When we go through rough times, it’s our AUDIENCES that are most important to our survival. After all, they pay admission, become members, spread word-of-mouth endorsements, and make donations. Thus, it can be counterproductive to immediately cut marketing (the people who hold that relationship and keep you relevant) and keep esoteric specialists who work in functions that audiences might consider irrelevant. (A museum philosopher question for the ages: If a specialized curator leads an educating and inspiring program but nobody is there to take part in it, did it educate and inspire?)

My purpose is not to point fingers at organizations that have chosen to lay off these – or any – staff members. Rather, I’m taking this timely opportunity to encourage a re-thinking of who we cut first when we make staff cuts. I talk about marketing a lot in this article because that tends to be the area where thoughtless cuts are made first, and have been made first in the past. But when I say “engagement,” I’m not only referring to marketing. It includes fundraising, floor staff, education leaders, program directors, and people who manage the connection between a cultural organization and living human beings.

While understanding that any layoffs stink and that organizations often do everything in their power to avoid them, here are four reasons why we need to think twice about cutting marketing and engagement professionals – and especially knock it off with our instinct to cut them first. These are arguably the folks who can play the biggest role in preventing further layoffs.

 

1) Marketing is the way to INCREASE revenues

This very obvious fact alone should make our industry kick – or simply rethink – the “cut marketing first” habit. Data suggest that over 70% of cultural organizations aren’t investing the necessary funds to optimize visitation – and this doesn’t even include salaries. Let me rephrase: Over 70% of cultural organizations are not securing as much visitation and support as data suggest that they could. Data suggest that many cultural organizations could earn more revenues, but they choose not to. (This is usually due to outdated and bad business practices that view marketing as an expense as opposed to an investment.) The investment equation for optimizing audience acquisition is shared below. It’s not guessing – it’s math.

Marketing is the only department that involves a tested, data-informed equation for actually MAKING MONEY for cultural organizations. (Though fundraising has rough best practice guidelines and obviously also helps raise funds.) Certainly, an organization can overspend on marketing, and that’s something that should rightfully be cut back if it is out of line with optimal spending. Also, it’s important to make sure that organizations are focusing on engagement strategies rather than gimmicks or carrying out social media for social media’s sake. Marketing funds need to be well spent in order to be effective… but if they aren’t spent, they cannot be effective. For cultural organizations, it costs (some) money to make (more) money. Heck, that’s generally true for all industries!

Marketing also plays an extremely important role in fundraising and building affinities for an organization that lead to memberships and donations. In a way, cutting marketing is also cutting fundraising capabilities in today’s world. And that’s a problem because for most organizations, that is the only other department that can be directly relied upon to help get them out of a financial funk.

 

2) Knowing your audience and community is critical for success

Marketing and engagement professionals are masters of kick-starting relationships with audiences and also –thanks to the connected world in which we now live – maintaining them! Personalization trends are affecting absolutely everything within organizations right now and marketing and engagement professionals are on the front lines. In order to create meaningful connection, today’s marketing and engagement folks need to be listeners first. They see what their online audiences are responding to and, at higher levels in the chain, they can see the entirety of the tapestry of engagement. No other department leader is positioned to do this – not even fundraising. A good marketing department considers its strategy and knows the relevance behind every ad it places or post that it promulgates. Our entire existence is dependent upon effectively connecting with people externally, but it is difficult to attract audiences to our brains (exhibits, programs, etc.) if we are missing a mouth, ears, and eyes. That’s what we do when we cut the marketing department first. I’m not saying that the brain is unimportant. It’s critical! But without professional listeners and strategic communicators, it’s difficult to get folks to CARE about what is happening in the brain. And we need to communicate to audiences on their terms, not ours.

We may be cutting marketing first because we still think of this department as a service department rather that what it is today: a strategic collaborator. Marketing is not a service department. Of the 224 cultural organizations that IMPACTS monitors, the ones that are the most financially solvent very clearly prioritize marketing and audience engagement. They include those experts in the room when initiatives are being formed rather than “tasking” them to market something once it has already been set in stone.

 

3) Reputation drives visitation and support

I write about this a lot because it’s a big deal: What people say about your organization is 12.85 times more important in driving your reputation than things that you pay to say about yourself. When people think of “marketing” they often only think of marketing of the past – or, advertising. Today, marketing is much more dynamic and real-time. It can be more accurately called “engagement” rather than “marketing” for many roles that are currently in that department. Today, marketing teams run not only the messages that the organization puts out, but they also manage the organization’s community. This plays a huge role in driving an organization’s reputation.

Reputation decision-making utility- IMPACTS

Reputation is a top motivator for visitation, and organizations that are cutting back budgets and laying off workers generally need more visitation and support. And, again, your reputation is made up of what people say about you and what you say about yourself – both of which are regularly managed and monitored by marketing departments. Organizations tend to underestimate the role that social media and digital engagement play in driving the gate. Again, yes, sometimes layoffs happen. But is it best to immediately cut people from a department with very direct ties to visitation?

 

4) Millennials are underserved and they are the most connected audiences

Of all of the points, this one may be the most important. Cultural organizations have a big millennial problem. These folks make up the majority of our visitors, but they are still our most underserved demographic. And they are underserved in a very big way. Millennials are the single most important demographic for our industry to engage in order to have a future. (I know, I know. I’m sick of talking about millennials, too, and I’m one of them! But we talk about them so much for a good, important reason. We are in a unique situation with this audience.)

Moreover, millennials are our most connected visitors. In fact, all high-propensity visitors to cultural organizations are “super-connected” with access to the web at home, at work, and on a mobile device. These numbers are not going down. In a world where a bunch of numbers are going down for museums (or not keeping pace with population growth), the number of people who qualify as “super-connected” is going up. When we consider this, cutting marketing teams first manages to be even more of a bad move.

 

Layoffs stink. There are no two-ways about it. I’m not arguing that ANY particular department should be cut in hard times. Indeed, other departments also fall under “engagement.” Fundraising helps summon support and education departments help organizations walk their talk – a thing that also pays off financially. Floor staff are particularly important for increasing visitor satisfaction.  And again, not all marketing professionals are super great by virtue of the simple fact that they work in engagement. This topic is a messy one, but my point is this: We need to stop instinctively cutting people who work in engagement (in any capacity) first. It’s a bad practice. It’s outdated. It’s holding us back and it’s making our organizations weaker.

We need more engagement with audiences when things get tight, not less.

 

And this indeed takes expertise. If we know that it is only our audiences that can reliably help us when we hit hard times, why do we immediately cut off our connections to them and the people who manage our precious communities? Marketing and engagement are not “extra” – they are particularly necessary for support and visitation. Let’s evolve and realize that our financial futures are dependent upon people and connections to our missions. 

 

Like this post? Please check out Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel for more insights. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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 Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Financial Solvency, Fundraising, Millennials, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution Comments Off on On Museum Layoffs: The Data-Informed Importance of Marketing and Engagement Departments

Think Twice Before Saying These Three Things to the Marketing Department

Think Twice Before Saying These Three Things to the Marketing Department

These three sentences may indicate that your organization is having a hard time coming to grips with 21st century realities.

I specialize in market trends affecting the cultural, visitor-serving sector. The topics that I write about range from admission pricing to onsite experiences to fundraising. That said, I am most frequently asked about millennials (that huge generation symbolically forcing sector evolution) and marketing (the department that is seemingly most affected by this evolution). Interestingly, it often seems like the entire concept of sector evolution is inappropriately isolated as relating mostly to matters of millennials and marketing.

First, millennial changes are increasingly market changes. For instance, millennials may be the most connected of the generations, but all high-propensity visitors to cultural organizations are super-connected to the web, and all generations are increasingly social conscious consumers. I often wonder if we put “millennial talk” in a corner because it feels safer to place necessary change into a subset category than to call “millennial talk” what it actually is: Discussion about our urgent need to become more business-savvy, social-good serving, relevant, and agile right now.Millennial talk” may be our way of diminishing urgency and compartmentalizing necessary changes regarding external audiences and supporters.

Second, what we think are primarily changes in how the marketing department operates may actually be hints for changes that need to infiltrate our organizations on the whole. Similarly, “marketing talk” may be our way of diminishing urgency and compartmentalizing necessary changes regarding broader internal strategies and operations. It is astounding how much “marketing talk” these days has less to do with marketing, and more to do with shifting cultures, embracing changes, and developing a deeper need to understand and respond to our constituencies.

Here are three, common phrases that I often hear said to leaders of marketing departments by other executives that may be indicative of a misunderstanding of the changed environment in which visitor-serving organizations operate:

 

Here is what we need you to market

This is the biggest change and the best place to start. In today’s world, marketing is primarily a strategic department – not primarily a service department. Folks within institutions may be used to thinking of this department as the one that simply goes forth and communicates messages to the public. This is no longer true – if it ever was in the first place. The most successful organizations with whom IMPACTS works (particularly in terms of financial solvency) involve the marketing department in top-down strategic decision-making rather than the tail-end of the program or product development process.

The marketing department manages your relationship with your audiences, not the volume of your one-way communications. Because the marketing department spends a good amount of time listening to audiences, it also tends to be more attune to audience wants and needs than less outwardly engaged departments. Initiatives have a much greater chance of success if marketing is involved in their development rather than briefed after their finality. Unfortunately, many organizations are still accustomed to thinking of marketing solely as a service department…and they risk doing so at their own slow descent into lessened relevance.

 

You need to increase our yelp and tripadvisor ratings

Alrighty folks. Yes, peer review sites live in the online world and it makes sense that the “task” of increasing ratings on these social websites may fall to the marketing department. Indeed, your organization should sometimes respond to both negative and positive reviews on these sites! But peer review sites rate your organization’s onsite experience (and combined brand perception, mission execution, programs, initiatives, and the like) – not how well your organization “manages” TripAdvisor.

There’s no amount of typing “Thank you for your review, Jessica. We’re sorry to hear that our admission staff was rude to you…” on a computer keyboard that actually makes the onsite admission staff less rude to visitors. Peer review sites generally shine a light on OPERATIONAL issues and those run much deeper than the marketing department. The problem isn’t that you haven’t written a sufficient number of “We’re sorry to hear about your experience” comments – it’s that people may be having a less-than-awesome experience in the first place. The best way to increase ratings on peer review sites is to collectively perform better at our jobs as an entire organization. (And, even then, you are still bound to get a few strange reviews.)

Folks say things like, “Raise our TripAdvisor ratings” to marketing departments when they think that social media is about technology and web platforms, and they forget that it is actually about the experiences of living, breathing, visiting human beings. Like much online feedback in our world today, it may take place on a social media channel, but the messages are important and they are usually messages for the organization at-large and not simply the marketing department. Would feedback about programs and experiences given onsite be directed solely toward the marketing department? No. (Unless the complaint was truly a branding or marketing issue.) So why do we think that feedback that comes from social can be “fixed” solely through responses on social media?

If you want people to report that they are having better experiences, then listen to their feedback and start creating better experiences! Here’s a much better way to increase visitor satisfaction than getting frustrated with the marketing department.

 

Why isn't social media fixing this problem for us

We’ve all heard it, haven’t we? And yet it still happens in the most important of conversations. It might be said during a conversation with staff, executive leaders, or even among board members. An organization will finally be in the midst of having a serious, “We need to get real about fundraising and look at our strategies” talk and someone (usually someone high up on the ladder and who is generally unfamiliar with social media…which is a problem in and of itself) will totally pull this move in real life and say, “Why isn’t social media fixing this problem for us?”

This is usually code for, “I would like to blame my lack of time strategically thinking about this huge issue until this very moment on something that I totally don’t understand and yet fiercely believe should have magical powers that shall overcome my own inability to handle this topic.”

Social media is absolutely critical for organizations in terms of building an organization’s reputation – which meaningfully contributes to attendance and support. The problem here’s isn’t about using social media for fundraising purposes (or anything else – smart social media can help an organization do great things), but that social media is often used as a scapegoat for thinking critically about more integrated strategies. This sentence can be used to avoid ‘fessing up that board contributions need to increase, that staff need to take a time out and rethink their overall strategy, or that departments need to stop “not my job-ing” connective communications.

It’s like needing to build a house and saying, “Why isn’t the hammer fixing everything for us?!” Perhaps it’s because the hammer is a tool, not a strategy. You can use social media to help your organization do a whole host of things, but only if you have the blueprint for the role it should play. Also, building a house usually requires more than a hammer. You might need a wrench and a screwdriver, too. Like all other tools, social media can stand on its own for specific tasks. If you’re talking big things, though, it’s best to put on your thinking cap and create an integrated game plan and decide the size of the role that you need social media to play and what can realistically be achieved.

 

A lot of big changes are taking place in the world today – and, for better or worse, much of that change management is being tasked to marketing departments. Visitor-serving organizations tend to have hierarchical structures that lend themselves more easily to “tacking on” responsibilities to single departments than integrating deeper cultural changes throughout organizations. Perhaps by holding onto these old ways of doing things, we’re letting the tail wag the dog.

Sometimes, when organizations think they are talking about marketing, they are actually talking about sector evolution that needs to be fully embraced throughout the organization. This may mean that our organizational structures will need to evolve to lend themselves more easily to the real-time, dynamic world in which we now live. Our hierarchical houses are not performing very well anymore, and we don’t always get to decide how we live in this world. Our ability or inability to meet market needs will decide for us, so perhaps it’s best that we pick up our tools and get to work building structures that work better for the 21st century.

 

Like this post? Please check out my YouTube channel for video fast facts! Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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 Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 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 Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

The Viral Oreo: A Social Media Lesson for Nonprofit Organizations

Let’s be honest: Some people watch the Super Bowl for the game, others for the commercials, and others still – though this may be a new phenomena – for the social media buzz. (Enter: Me…glued to the Super Fish Bowl and refreshing the #MuseumSuperBowl, only looking up to watch commercials and all the while totally unaware of my beautiful real-life surroundings.) In the aftermath of Super Bowl XLVII, one particular happening (aside from the Ravens win) keeps coming up as a reliable conversation starter in my circles – the timely image that Oreo posted during the blackout that received over 15,000 retweets and 20,000 likes on Facebook:

Oreo

Buzzfeed quickly posted about how Oreo was able to get this ad up in a timely manner, but why this image has received so much attention is arguably more important. Moreover, there seem to be two, broad misunderstandings regarding the success of the tweet: that it was all about timing, and that this is an exemplary, stand-alone social media win. There’s a bit more to it…

Here is why Oreo scored a touchdown with this image and what nonprofits and businesses can learn from this marketing/PR play:

(…both puns intended).

1) It was a carpet bombing

We were carpet bombed, folks. Oreo grabbed us through multiple media outlets with a string of advertisements and the timely image sealed the deal, crossing marketing outlets in a way that seems to have blown our minds. We had all just seen the $4 million Oreo Super Bowl commercial on our television screens. This ad alone crossed the realm from television (generally low overall weighted value as a marketing channel) to social media (generally high overall value) because it enticed audiences with a brand participation opportunity on Instagram (“chose a side”). Oreo gained tens of thousands of new Instagram followers from its Super Bowl commercial alone.

This is a key factor in the consequent virality of the Tweet Heard ‘Round the World.  Oreo had already prepped the market for consequent communications and engagement. They were top of mind to all of us and primed for a win. Oreo knew this, as they were extremely prepared to create a timely ad at some point during the Super Bowl. The virality associated with the Oreo image isn’t just about social media. This is about marketing strategy and understanding the benefits of respective marketing channels and how they can work together to achieve a goal.

The Take-Away: Consider how social media plays into your own goals and overall marketing strategy so that it may be used most efficiently. Social media efforts are generally stronger with support from efforts on other marketing/PR channels and should not operate independently.

 

2) It was an ad on the one day when we are excited about ads

Audiences generally do what they can to avoid excessive advertising in day-to-day life. However, the Super Bowl may arguably be the single day of the year when we actually look forward to commercials. The fact that our tolerance may have been higher for advertisements on Sunday may have contributed to the Oreo image’s virality. It was clever. It played the game. It gave us exactly what we expected from one of the businesses promoting themselves during the Super Bowl – a smart advertisement. And, critically, it retained the genre classification…it just changed the marketing channel. Would this kind of ad have gone as viral on any other day (provided it was just as timely)? Maybe…but probably not.

The Take-Away: Be aware of what your audience is doing and thinking, and what they expect from you. Not all social media general best practices apply all the time (“Beware of posting blatant marketing messages”). In fact, success may come in finding the appropriate exceptions.

 

3) It was an all-in-one image

According to Pew Research, we increasingly suffer from A.O.A.D.D (Always-On-Attention Deficit Disorder). This may contribute to the trends we are observing of a movement toward a more visual web.  Images are quick and easy. They generally don’t require any additional clicks or even very much time to digest. Most importantly, however, images are easy to share.  The sandwich cookie’s PR and marketing team were smart not to divorce the image from the message as this allowed for easy amplification. In other words, they made sharing fool-proof for us.

The Take-Away: Make it easy for online audiences to promulgate and amplify your message.

 

4) It had perceived effort

It’s one thing to take what is in our digital back-pocket and repurpose it for a timely initiative. This has been wildly successful in garnering online attention before (even when it’s only passive). It’s another thing to think of a quick message and create a professional, branded image in the midst of a “hot moment” on social media. Perhaps that’s what is most impressive: not only did Oreo post something timely – they posted something new and clever. Like the most memorable lines of an improv comedy show, it was quick and it was created for the occasion.

The Take-Away: You want folks’ attention? Show them that you are working for it. Just because you are operating on social media doesn’t mean that it is necessarily low-cost or low-energy to do it right. Sometimes it takes good old hard work and preparedness.

 

5) It was relevant and posted quickly

This is undeniable. It was an image posted at the right time, and it was relevant to audiences (i.e. we all saw the blackout and we all experienced the stalling of the game). While being quick and timely may have be the most discussed takeaway of the initiative, “timeliness” was hardly the sole factor in the ad’s virality. In fact, organizations like the Getty and the National Museum of American History tweeted timely social media gemstones regarding the blackout whole minutes before the Oreo tweet was posted. While they certainly garnered attention, they did not achieve the level of recognition that the Oreo blackout ad realized. What arguably impressed us most is that all of the elements mentioned above were incorporated in a witty ad that came out quickly.

The Take-Away: Find a way to make your brand relevant when it counts. Aim to promulgate messages at times when they may hit a shared understanding with audiences. Timing matters.

 

No doubt, the Oreo ad was a big success with regard to online engagement and amplification. This kind of virality is helpful in making brands top-of-mind and (hopefully) sparking affinity for a product or business. While the story and virality of this ad offers significant lessons for nonprofit organizations on social media, the true outcomes of Oreo’s collective Super Bowl efforts will not be truly realized until we know if the ads were successful in strengthening the company’s bottom line and increasing sales.

At the end of the day, social media success pays off in elevating reputation and aiding in achieving organizational goals. If a “like” does not inspire a desired behavior, then – really – it’s just a “like.”

 

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 Colleen Dilenschneider in Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends Comments Off on The Viral Oreo: A Social Media Lesson for Nonprofit Organizations

Adapt or Die. New Rulings on Social Media in the Workplace and What They Mean for Nonprofit Organizations.

Dilbert Social Media Fear

It’s no secret that some nonprofit organizations have been defensive about allowing folks to interact or “contribute” to the organization’s reputation or area of expertise online. (This terror is the basis of recent discussions regarding radical trust, for instance.) And, in a way, the terror makes sense from more traditionally minded members of the workplace – nonprofit organizations are heavily scrutinized and already have many stakeholders as it is (board members, constituents, donors). Understandably, (though perhaps inexcusably) social media and online engagement may be scary-to-the-point-of-suppression for those who don’t fully understand how it has changed the way that we communicate, connect with one another, and access information.

Some organizations have tried to exert control by putting forth aggressive social media policies. In fact, a nonprofit organization is the opening case study in this week’s The New York Time’s article summarizing recent court rulings concerning social media policies.

These recent rulings do not indicate that social media policies are a bad idea; rather, they suggest that social media policies that aim too strongly or aggressively to limit freedom of speech (and then use these policies to take away jobs) are a bad idea.  But, in reality, organizations too ignorant to understand the role of social media in society may be doomed to confront significantly larger problems than disgruntled, chatty staff members. Assuredly bad though that may be, developing a reputation for a lack of transparency and suffering from the negative word of mouth that inevitably results from stifled and contrived social media communications is likely to jeopardize an organization’s relevance in the competitive market much more quickly than a Negative Nancy with a Twitter account.

Here are some key take-aways from the article regarding rulings:

  • Recent rulings by the National Labor Relations Board “generally tell companies that it is illegal to adopt broad social media policies — like bans on “disrespectful” comments or posts that criticize the employer — if those policies discourage workers from exercising their right to communicate with one another with the aim of improving wages, benefits or working conditions.”
  • “But the agency has also found that it is permissible for employers to act against a lone worker ranting on the Internet.”
  • The agency has pushed companies such as General Motors, Target and Costco to rewrite their social media rules.
  • National Labor Relations Board officials “say they are merely adapting the provisions of the National Labor Relations Act, enacted in 1935, to the 21st century workplace.”

 

The critical take-aways for nonprofit organizations from these recent ruling are less tactical and more strategic and conceptual – and absolutely necessary. Here are four guiding principles that nonprofit organizations may benefit by adopting:
 

1) Stop being scared of social media

Web and social media are the public’s number one method of accessing information – and social media plays a leading role in driving the decision to visit a museum or other visitor-serving organization. Social media is critical to increasing online reputation, which directly aids in long-term financial solvency. An organization that runs from social media, or tries too hard to control it rather than contemplating how the organization may benefit from digital communications, may risk speedy irrelevance. For quote-lovers, a harsh reality of being a leader may be summarized here: “You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable.” The world moves. Times change. Social media is here and it’s important.  Embrace it. Or, if you prefer photo quotes, this one may be more inspiring…

 seth godin quote

2) Consider what your social media policy is supposed to do

Not all social media policies are stifling. In fact, having a smart social media policy is wise for nonprofit organizations. Effective social media policies should:

  • Provide staff members with the tools and information required for them to optimally communicate with/about the organization. Chances are your employees actually want to help your organization succeed online. Show them how they can do that.
  • Outline expectations for social media interactions, etc. Have an organizational Code of Conduct? This is a good time to remind folks that these rules apply offline and online.
  • State that leaders are open to feedback…and encourage team members to channel thoughts that may reflect negatively on the organization to higher-ups who intend to listen and work to find viable solutions instead of broadcasting their critiques to the less specifically-concerned web.
  • Remind staff members that negative posts about the organization indeed reflect poorly on the organization. Again, chances are that your employees are actually out to elevate the organization and its mission.
  • Underscore items that staff members truly should not communicate. For example, if members of your organization have security clearances or work with sensitive or confidential information, restrictions concerning the disclosure of this information should be clearly articulated. In other words, be detailed about what is okay to share and what is off-limits.
  • Encourage social sharing. Let staff members know that positive word of mouth marketing has an impact on promulgating your mission. If staff members believe in your cause, encourage them to share it personally.

 

3) Understand that staff member satisfaction (now more than ever) strongly affects the reputation of your organization and, ultimately, your success.

It may require a bit of a change in the minds of executive leaders, but thanks to the increased use of social media, staff members are also critical stakeholders in much the same way as are donors, board members and other constituents. It’s been vogue for some time now for leaders to issue generic platitudes along the lines of “Our most important resource is our people,” but this sentiment, while arguably always true, is now on display to the world.  Smart organizations know how to leverage these most valuable resources.  Staff members are your behind-the-scenes evangelists – the people whom the world looks to for the “inside scoop” about how your organization functions. What is best for them is – increasingly often – also best for you and your organization. Understanding this is critical for creating a successful social media strategy. As recent rulings indicate, dealing with lone perpetrators who conduct real offenses on social media may be actionable by punishment…but don’t assume that all staff members are “out to get you,” or cannot be relied upon to promulgate positive, personal messages. If you don’t trust your online audience, online audiences will not trust you. The same rule applies in this day and age for employees. More to the point, if you lack sincerity in declaring the importance of your people, then be prepared for your people and constituents alike to rightfully judge you harshly.

 

4) Know and accept that your “internal” culture is external

Like the merging of personal and professional realms that increasingly seems to be occurring in society today, the line has also dissolved between what happens inside of your organization and what happens outside of it.  Recent rulings indicate that there isn’t “protection” for organizations on this front. In fact, nonprofits and businesses alike may do themselves a grave disservice by ignoring the connection between internal culture and how that culture is perceived externally. Anything your organization says or does to upset staff members may indeed be held against you. And – in the age of social media and the desire for transparent organizations – perhaps it should be. This is not a reason to be scared of staff members. Instead, it is a reason to empower them and pay attention to them. Organizations may benefit by paying extra attention to their internal cultures because if the culture or morale is negative, chances are that connected staff members may have communicated this fact on social media. Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be hurtful to the organization. Perhaps the employee felt that they had nowhere else to go.  Regardless of the rationale, their communications regarding their grievances have been deemed a reasonable exercise of their First Amendment rights. The best way to prevent an unfortunate airing of an organization’s dirty laundry is to prevent it happening in the first place. Maintain a positive, supportive culture internally and give staff a safe forum to discuss key workplace issues. If “lone workers” promulgate unfair, inaccurate, or inappropriate messages, deal with those situations individually. And, chances are, if you are truly cultivating a positive culture, those “lone workers” will indeed be “lone workers.”

 

These recent rulings are indicative of the fact that society at large is still adjusting to how to adapt to social media and the changes in communication that it brings. Down the road, other rulings may be inevitable as society tests the limits of social media and online behavior. As new legal regulations develop, intelligent organizations will continue to adapt.

If your nonprofit has a social media policy with “blanket” rules for behavior on social media, you haven’t done anything wrong. But it is your responsibility to evolve and stay legally ahead-of-the-game. If your organization’s policy is too broad, now may be the time to open it back up and write in more details or discuss appropriate repercussions for violating the policy. And when you close the policy and roll out the changes, understand that you may not be closing it for good. And understand that that is okay.

 

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*Photo credits to mediabistro.com and Venspired.com

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 4 Comments

Generation Y and Inheritance (It’s Time to Have a Talk)


Every once and a while, I get permission to share a terrific set of IMPACTS data that makes me absolutely giddy. Usually, this kind of data drives home a point that I’ve been seeing over and over again in my work with zoos, aquariums, and museums.

…but, sometimes, that “wow factor” data is a little bit more out-of-left-field. This is a series of such data.  It ties into my last post highlighting how millennials are optimistic about their financial futures.  And it may be alarming.

Now I’m no parent myself, folks, but if you have an adult child under 35 years old, you may want to talk to him or her about their inheritance – which may well help explain their remarkable optimism about their financial futures! Data suggests that there’s a rather significant expectation delta between millennials and their parents on this front. Here’s what we asked, and here’s what we found:

1) Do your parents plan to leave you a significant inheritance?

We asked several thousand millennials if they thought that their parents would leave them a “significant inheritance.” A majority of members of Generation Y reported, “Yes.” 

2) Do you actually plan to leave your child a significant inheritance?

Then we asked a similar question to parents of millennials. When comparing this to the above data, the discrepancy is astounding. A vast majority of parents with millennial children do NOT plan to leave their child a significant inheritance.

3) There’s an average difference of $359,970 between what parents plan to give their children in inheritance, and what their children expect to receive.

We asked millennials who believed that their parents would indeed leave them an inheritance to go one step deeper: How much did they think that their parents were going to leave them? An average of $403,845 it turns out!

We also asked parents who reported that they plan to leave their children an inheritance to quantify the amount of their planned monetary legacy.  The result?  An average inheritance of $43,875 – 9.2 times LESS than millennial children expected.

We millennials are indeed a financially optimistic group! One thing’s for sure: Generation Y is going to face some harsh realities in the coming decades that will no doubt alter the way that nonprofits need to build relationships with these folks. In the meantime, as organizations adjust their nonprofit PR strategy to target millennials, (and if you’re a parent), perhaps consider heading down to the basement living space of your millennial child and having “the talk” with them. Data suggests that we just may need a little snap back to reality.

 

Photo credit: LifeInc

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in IMPACTS Data, Millennials Comments Off on Generation Y and Inheritance (It’s Time to Have a Talk)

6 Reasons Why Your Organization Needs a Social Media Hub

My line of work involves writing a fair amount of Diagnostic Audits for the terrific zoos, aquariums, and museums with which I have the opportunity to work. This involves making assessments about social media and online engagement strategies. Very often, I find myself recommending the creation and execution of an effective “hub” to help organizations achieve their online engagement goals. I’m always amazed how many organizations don’t have an online home to help them drive website visitors to the organization’s desired social media outcome.

A hub is an important part of an online communication strategy. The hub serves as a landing page for engaging content (stories, videos, anecdotes, etc). The hub functions much like a blog– It is critical for community building and, unlike most websites for visitor serving organizations, it must be updated constantly. Some organizations merge website and blog formats successfully by integrating their hub directly into their website. The hub is a place where social media links are directed and content is aggregated. Not to mention, having a hub is resourceful and it makes achieving online goals a whole lot easier.

Here are six ways that your organization will benefit from having a social media hub:

 

1. The hub provides a consistent home for engaging content. A hub is a site where you aggregate all of your engaging content including embedded YouTube videos, favorite photos, articles about earned media that the organization picked up throughout the week, animal updates (if you are a zoo or aquarium), volunteer anecdotes, and short stories about that crazy-huge load of fish food that just came in on the loading dock yesterday. Putting all of this information in one place allows an organization to tell an ongoing, cohesive story; the story of the behind-the-scenes life of the organization. This backstage pass is more than a useful tool for coordination and potential visitor intrigue, it also increases the perception of an organization’s transparency– and transparency and honesty are cited as essential values for success in online public relations. In short, setting up this hub is putting your organization in a better situation to avoid (and if needed, address) a PR crisis. To reference one of the very best examples of this (again), here is how the Shedd Aquarium utilized their hub to not only avoid a crisis, but to get into the hearts of their online community after the death of a dolphin calf.

 

2. The hub provides an opportunity for the coordination and curation of stories.The hub is also a place of coordination. The hub is a single site where links are directed for compelling content and, like a typical blog, content is tagged and categorized. Though a compelling hub is constantly updated (about once or twice each weekday), folks need not be overwhelmed by content. Site visitors who are only interested in, say, an art museum’s Modern collection, need only to click on the “Modern Art” tag to see posts related to that topic. The hub is not only a place to tell the organization’s larger day-to-day, behind-the-scenes story, but a place where visitors can turn to find the stories related to their area of interest. Coordinating and cleaning up the hub with tags decreases the energy that someone needs to spend on the site in order to find out information that is important to them. It decreases barriers to potential buy-in.

 

3. The hub is an easy, go-to place for real and potential visitors and evangelists. The hub, if used consistently, can be established as a reliable place for information that is easy for readers to follow. It becomes a go-to site for real-time information (as opposed to closing times and driving directions). If the hub is in a blog format, people can put it in their preferred blog reader, or sign up for updates, or — much more commonly– folks can bookmark the site as a quick resource for timely and engaging information.  This site is helpful for people who want to know what is going on, but don’t want to scroll back through several days of Facebook status updates to find the information that they seek.  A hub doesn’t have missing information on unique happenings. It makes it easier for real and potential visitors to remain “in the loop.”

 

4. The hub allows you to direct messaging so it aligns with your social media goals. One of the most important elements of an online engagement strategy (and of managing your social media expectations) is having a clear goal or a clear reason to be using social media. Popular goals for social media include things like: spreading conservation messaging, educating the public on the value of x, increasing the reputation and credibility of the organization, reaching underserved audiences, accessing a younger demographic and– most commonly– driving attendance. The benefit of a hub is that you are linking people who have self-identified themselves as interested in your organization’s content to a single site, and you can control the messaging on that site. If it’s about getting people in the door, make sure there’s a banner about your newest exhibit. Include messaging about why right now is the best time to visit. You’ve channeled folks to one place… make sure that one place has the messaging to help you achieve your goal.

 

5. The hub also allows you to direct links so that you can better achieve your social media goals. Much like you can control the messaging on the hub, you can also control the link path on the hub. It’s simple but important: link folks to where you want them to go, and adjust your messaging to make them want to go there. If your goal is to increase attendance, link to the online ticket purchasing page of your website. Make it easy for your goals and the visitor’s goals to correspond by coordinating messaging and links.

 

6.  The hub increases site visitation and the possibility of earned media… and it only gets better from there. Because social media channels are all directed toward content on the hub, the hub becomes an easy go-to place with (hopefully) a good amount of visitation. The more people visit the hub, the more people have the opportunity to share content from the hub with their friends and online community. The more people share this content, the greater the opportunity for people to write about or review your organization, contributing to the development of word of mouth marketing regarding the organization.  When more people visit the website and write positive articles, glowing reviews, or even share a Facebook link, the organization may experience an increase in perceived credibility and expertise. This perception elevates the organization’s reputation- and reputation is frequently a key driver of attendance to visitor serving organizations.

 

In sum, a hub is a critical way to harness interest in your organization. Without a hub, social media channels link out to YouTube, Flickr, Facebook statuses that are hard for interested parties to reference over time, various portions of an evolving website that may only be accessible for a few weeks, and other places. A hub gives an organization the opportunity to coordinate content, better meet social media goals, and tell a more compelling story online.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 8 Comments