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)

You may have guessed it was true – but here’s why this statistic matters. The idea that those who visit Read more

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

radical trust

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 Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 3 Comments

Barriers to Adopting Social Media: Uncertainty

(Or, 5 Things You Need To Know When Developing and Carrying Out a Social Media Strategy)

Adopting social strategies- such as taking on innovative social media initiatives requires institutions to change how they think about communications. Creating this change requires removing four, distinct barriers: buy-in, radical trust, uncertainty, and resource issues. I have discussed buy-in and why social media is critical for institutions, and most recently, I gave an example of radical trust in action in the ZAM (zoo, aquarium, museum) community. Today’s post is on uncertainty- the biggest beast of the bunch.  Also, the cartoons here are by the wonderful Tom Fishburne

Uncertainty regarding “proper” use of social media and social network integration is a logical reason to be hesistant about taking on social strategies. There are hundreds of social media platforms and it’s easy to become overwhelmed. To make things even more interesting, I’d guess that most people are conversant on less than half of these top fifteen most popular social networking sites. This doesn’t mean social networking sites aren’t extremely important. It does mean that there’s a lot of chatter going on in regard to social media, and it is critical to delve into social media with a clear understanding of what you hope to gain. Otherwise, you risk getting lost in the “noise” surrounding online engagement. Whether you want social media to inspire audience connections to get folks to buy an on-site ticket or make a donation, or you want to educate potential visitors, start a revolution, or just raise awareness of your brand, a clear goal for each initiative- and your overall strategy- is absolutely imperative. For instance, if your goal is to drive ticket sales but link paths do not end up on the ticketing website, then there’s a huge missed opportunity to meet your goal.

Managing and developing social media strategies on behalf of an organization is not for the easily distracted, but it is a job for the open-minded and curious. Knowing (roughly) what’s happening in the social media world is important because it allows you to explore new opportunities, but it’s also important to keep your eye on the ball. The best folks I have found are those who say, “Holy cow! This random, new social networking site is sweet!” and then step back and ask themselves if it helps meet their organization’s stated goals in a creative and engaging way. If the answer is no (or it’s not worth the resources), they simply sigh and register for shelfari personally. In fact, this is a good transition to my first point below.

5 things that you need to know when developing and carrying out a social media strategy:

1. There’s power in your people.  Some professional social networking sites for museos allow individuals to connect,  in turn strengthening their organizations. Social media lives in a world where the personal and the professional mix together. And like most incredible things, this is both a risk and a terrific opportunity for reward for organizations. Employees can share links with their own personal/professional networks, which has high word-of-mouth value. Help them do that by creating a social media policy. ..Ugh. I hate the word “policy” in the name for this common document because it implies a rule, and a rule implies that you don’t really trust your people. It’s important to trust your people…but a good social media policy empowers people simply because it states clearly and openly what is allowed and what is not. In my experiences with organizations, this has been especially important with young people, including teens and interns. I love Gen Y (holler to my people), but it’s true: the youngest of us are sometimes lacking a filter online. A good social media policy inspires these natural, online connectors and creators to work their magic and share their stories. Next generation engagement for your ZAM? Your young people will do it naturally. Empower them. Have a clear social media policy that allows them (and others) to do their thing and even mix personal and professional. Let them be real, but also let them know any boundaries. Your legal department also thanks you in advance.

 

 2. For social media non-users, help them understand.. especially if they are a gatekeeper for compelling organizational content. It’s obvious: if nobody on your PR team knows much about creative engagement online, then there’s no key champion for developing and carrying out social strategies. If nobody on any of your teams knows much about social technology (I stand by it: good social media doesn’t belong solely to the communications folks), then it’s even harder. To make matters worse in zoos and aquariums, unknowing husbandry staff can be the biggest bottlenecks for signing off on messaging and creating transparent videos and photos that build online connections.This makes sense when it comes to precious animals with low survival rates. Some zoos and aquariums have rocking caretakers with a social presence, but for other organizations, clearing up uncertainty around social media and getting everyone on board and comfortable with it is no small task. It’s still critical. Baby-step this relationship because it’s important. These folks are sometimes treasure-troves of valuable, connection-inspiring anecdotes for online engagement. Let ’em know!

 

3. Your breakthrough will happen when you realize that it’s not about you. Here’s another one where it looks like Captain Obvious took over my blog, but this is a really hard lesson- especially for some of our best and brightest traditionally-trained marketing folks. It’s just a different way of inspiring connection with a brand, and it’s critical online. Transparency and trust are key to an effective social strategy. Inspiring engagement means inviting folks inside of your organization and creating a relationship in which they have the ongoing opportunity to peek behind the scenes. This requires not “selling,” but “sharing” your product/mission. Talk to your online audiences like you would talk to a friend. Be human. Putting up sturdy walls to protect the organization will backfire. In fact, the more you trust your audience and make it about them and their relationship with you, the more they will likely trust you in return. For a great example carried out by the Shedd Aquarium, visit my last post on radical trust. A sure way to break trust online and alienate online evangelists? Break news in print or on other sites before it’s released to your online audience (though breaking it at the same time is fine). You can think of your online community as special, online “members.” They are involved. They are special. They want to talk to a person, not an overly-professional, opaque, robot-like professional entity. (Grabbing my computer back from Captain Obvious and moving on…)

 

4. Test it. Fix it. Repeat. It’s not usually going to be an immediate success. I know that’s not cool. Your strategy will be a success over time, however, if you take the opportunity to listen to your audience, ask for feedback, are open about the initiative, and don’t get too attached to how you originally began doing things. You must do what best meets your organization’s goals. One of the best examples of this is when the Brooklyn Museum famously discontinued Twitter and Facebook accounts for their 1st Fans program. They wrote about it on their blog and shared their experience. In the end, they moved their strategy to meetup.com. In sum, they assessed how each platform was working for them in regard to reaching their goals, shared findings and were transparent with audiences, didn’t give up on social media but picked a platform that worked best for them and most of all, they weren’t apologetic about ditching platforms (even the most popular ones) that didn’t help them meet their goal of using social media to facilitate on-site engagement. Giving up 1st Fans on Facebook? Ballsy, some might argue. But it’s working for them.

 

5. Own it. It’s an active platform, not a passive one. That means you cannot just hop on Twitter and expect for it to make any amount of difference at all. If you’re going to put your organization on any social media platform, it is important that you keep it up-to-date and active or you should close the account. Even if your staff isn’t logging on every day to check out your Twitter feed, other people are seeing it. If it’s forgotten, your brand looks messy and you organization looks out of date and disorganized. That’s not a good way to look, especially if you are a museum fighting the old reputation that these institutions are stagnant,increasingly-irrelevant places (lies…). There’s more to it than just being active on social media if you have an account. You need to treat each platform differently. The tones and uses of even Twitter and Facebook are very different, so directly Tweeting Facebook statuses is a marked “fail” most of the time.

 

6. Social media and social strategies are evolving. So have confidence and be innovative. Only risks and new initiatives can push the envelope and help all of us to discover the incredible potential of social media and social networks. Individuals are spending an increasing amount of time on social networks. There’s an opportunity for exploration in this realm. By the same token, social media still takes an bit of experimentation to see results. It is not just the future. It is most certainly now.

 

And, because it never hurts to be overly-explicit, here are some things you probably already know, but you can take them for the road:

  • Pick measurable goals. Pick some that you can manage, such as responding to every inquiry on social media within two hours or aim to have two-point people for each initiative.
  • Buy-in from upper level management is critical, especially if you have the ability to take some risks and do some learning.
  • Don’t try to take on everything at once. It likely won’t be as effective if you don’t have a grasp on each part. Do what you can, well.
  • If you’re first starting, devise a strategy that you are sure you can sustain, but shoot for some creative initiatives.
  • Get pumped and let your personality (the organization’s personality) shine through. Also, if you don’t believe in what you’re doing and saying online, nobody else will believe it either. Nothing’s worse than a droopy social media presence.
Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Trends Comments Off on Barriers to Adopting Social Media: Uncertainty

Barriers to Adopting Social Media: Radical Trust

(or, How Trusting Your Online Audience Puts Your Organization at a Huge PR Advantage)

Adopting social strategies- such as taking on innovative social media initiatives- requires institutions to change how they think about communications. Creating this change requires removing four, distinct barriers: buy-in, radical trust, uncertainty, and resource issues. In my last post, I discussed buy-in and why social media is critical for institutions. This week, I’m delving into the topic of radical trust.

Radical trust is a term used to describe the confidence that any structured organization, including museums, government entities, libraries, businesses, and religious institutions, has in collaboration and empowerment within online communities. In order for social media to be effective, institutions must place a great deal of trust in their online audiences.

Institutions display trust in these communities by being transparent, open, and honest. That sounds easy, doesn’t it? It’s not. It’s not easy because, very often, social media best practices are in direct opposition with marketing lessons learned in traditional MBA programs. Take Chester Burger’s 1975 MBA curriculum staple on public relations from Harvard Business Review, How to Meet the Press. It’s nearly irrelevant in regard to online communications. In this day-and-age, it’s important not to think of public relations as a game (“how can we swing this?”) because a game implies a lack of transparency, seriousness, and honesty. Moreover, the media-verses-us tone of this and similar PR articles is poisonous for organizations. During a time when people are increasingly becoming the media (43% of young people find out their news from Facebook- that is, from their friends), this translates into a people-verses-us mentality. That’s just not good public relations (anymore), but that’s how many of our brightest have been trained.

Public relations best practices have changed and are changing. We must keep our eyes open to this change regardless of academic background or years in the field. As Abraham Lincoln said, “As our case is new, we must think and act anew.” Need we start from scratch? Certainly not, I don’t think. But today, people strengthen brands through word of mouth marketing more than companies can strengthen brands through paid efforts.

Radical trust pays off. In fact, it’s difficult for social media to be effective in terms of meeting an organization’s bottom line(s) without radical trust. Organizations must keep communication channels open and be unafraid of cultivating personal connections with institutional content. Yes, this does mean embracing some potentially wacky comments and creative conversation, but giving your online community a voice pays off. As a related side, it’s also important to know what people are saying about you on the web. Here’s a tidy little online-gemstone to keep in your pocket for help in this arena: Mashable’s 10 Steps for Successful Social Media Monitoring. 

If your wondering what good radical trust looks like and how it can pay off, then you’re in the right place! Here’s a terrific example of a ZAM (zoo, aquarium, or museum) effectively displaying radical trust to educate, make unique connections with audiences, and avoid a possible PR crisis to boot.

 

The Shedd Aquarium vs. The Low Survival Rate of Dolphin Calves

Here’s the story told alongside explanations of how the Shedd Aquarium rocked radical trust and started gathering sugar for lemonade in case they received a lemon-of-a-situation.

 

Smart move #1: They celebrated the dolphin birth, despite low mortality rates. The Shedd Aquarium experienced the birth of a new Pacific white-sided dolphin calf on June 3rd, 2011. Despite the staggeringly low survival rates of dolphin calves both in aquarium and in the wild (they have a 33% mortality rate!), the Shedd seemed to shout the birth from its rooftop. They wrote up a birth announcement on their blog and linked to that copy on social media channels. The Shedd even wrote two blog posts on the day of the calf’s birth, establishing the blog as a site for ongoing information regarding the calf. One of the posts featured a video of the calf’s birth. Can you get more intimate than that? Shedd’s decision to celebrate the birth so quickly was a big one. If the calf did not survive even its first night in the world, there would be no turning back or hiding the death after such announcements.

 

Smart move #2: They kept us posted and let us in. The Shedd wrote ongoing updates on the dolphin calf and her mother, Tique. Communications were effective because they were honest, ongoing, and transparent. Instead of constantly reporting that, “the dolphins are doing great,” (or not posting much information at all) the Shedd shared concerns and small victories regarding the calf’s health along the way. Keeping up communications regarding the state of the dolphins allowed the social media team to connect online audiences with the institution while providing educational information regarding dolphin calf. Not to mention, these communications tactfully showed that the Shedd cared for the dolphins and their online audiences through timely posts. In essence, the Shedd set the stage for possible death of the calf, should such an event occur… which it did.

 

…and then the dolphin calf passed away… But thanks to the institution’s transparency regarding low survival rates and the preciousness of the baby dolphin before and after the death, online audiences responded with care and concern for the calf’s mother, as well as institution and its staff.

 

Smart move #3: They were timely in announcing the death through all channels. After posting six blog posts about the dolphin calf’s status throughout the seven days of the dolphin’s life, the calf passed away on June 10th. The Shedd was prepared. In this short time, they had built up interest in the dolphins, and they positioned themselves as loving facilitators between audiences and the calf. The Shedd Aquarium immediately shared the information on Facebook and Twitter, and they sent an immediate announcement to their email contacts. They accepted the risk that some folks might blame them for a possible death, but they opened their communication channels anyway. It paid off. Within only one hour of posting the sad news, the Shedd had 103  sympathetic comments on Facebook.  A vast majority of these comments expressed care and concern for the institution. It was immediately clear, even in this example alone, that the Shedd was not going to be villainized for the calf’s death. In fact, they were victims of nature’s course. Have you been emotionally moved yet today? Visit the Shedd’s Facebook page and scroll to the community comments around June 10th, 2011… Maybe prepare a tissue or two beforehand.

 

Smart move #4: They were human. Immediately following the announcement of the calf’s passing, the Shedd Aquarium answered questions, accepted sympathy, and most of all—expressed human sadness. The end of their email communication and blog announcement stated, “This is a difficult loss for the Shedd family. But in our joy and grief, we remain proud of our animals, our people and our husbandry program.” These sentiments are warm, touching, and (one must believe) true. When it comes to caring for animals, there is a strong reliance on science and research, but the Shedd did not overlook the value of the feelings involved in this situation. They did not “play-down” the situation, embed the announcement within a jam-packed email update, or try to gloss-over the happening in any way. They spoke in plain English, understanding that this is no time for “science-y” words that might alienate a concerned audience. Despite being a world-class institution, the Shedd opened up like a human being, increasing their potential for connection with audiences.

 

Smart move #5: They followed-up. After the announcement of the calf’s death, the Shedd could have chosen to divert audience attention. They could have turned their focus to their new exhibits, or their summer programs, or anything else. They could have tried to never look back. That’s not what the aquarium chose to do. Instead, they followed up eleven days later with a status report on the calf’s mother. They did not just let the connections created from the dolphin birth slide away, leaving audiences hanging. While this sounds like common sense, following up is a key element of online transparency that is very often overlooked- especially when something “bad” happens. We see this all the time on social media outlets: something bad will happen and the organization will try and make us forget that it ever happened by blindly diverting attention. Here’s a dose of reality: audiences don’t just forget. So don’t go for “forget.” Go for continuing to inspire connections to your nonprofit’s social mission and aim for forgiveness first.

 

Because of the outstanding trust that the Shedd Aquarium placed in their online audiences, the organization positioned themselves in a win-win situation: If the calf lived, the Shedd had engaging content to help inspire connections and draw attendance and support. If the calf did not live, they had positioned themselves as caring, informative, hardworking, and honest dolphin caretakers recovering from a terrific loss.

The Shedd Aquarium was unafraid. They were unafraid to show emotion, to express concern, and to share positive and negative news. They trusted their audiences to judge them fairly after they had placed all of the information on the table. That, I think, is how to handle a communications crisis and come out on top thanks to radical trust.

Got another example to share? Please write a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Trends 3 Comments

Inspiring Institutions to Embrace Social Strategies: A Formula for Change

Over the next several weeks starting today, I will be featuring posts on the topic of inspiring change to prepare nonprofit organizations to adapt to social strategies. 

Within the last month (hence the hiatus), I graduated with my master of public administration and secured a terrific new work opportunity with a research and development company with the bulk of my work focused on zoos, aquariums, and museums. Or ZAMs, I’ve heard them called affectionately. I like that shortcut. ZAMs sound cutting edge and efficient, much like these institutions strive to be and often are, despite the historically bad rap of nonprofit sector operations.

The company I’m doing work for uses market data and predictive technologies to help organizations make strategic decisions. There are lots of numbers involved in this process, all holding terrific significance to the success or failure of a plan. My colleagues turn right brain theories turn into left brain equations. If math is the universal language, then it makes sense to think of equations as guiding principles for even basic operations. Like the nickname of ‘ZAMs,’ this mingling of left and right-brained thinking provides helpful shortcuts for simplifying complex ideas. For example, complex ideas like how to create change within both an organization and within society as a whole. On second thought, large-scale change may be an overwhelming place to begin. Let’s start with institutional change- more specifically, institutional change involving the incorporation of social media strategies into common practice… Let’s do this.

For the next several weeks starting today, I am going to attempt to aid nonprofits in embracing social innovation by introducing an equation for change (That’s the pretty equation at the top of this post, folks!)  I will provide resources to help organizations combat each of  the four biggest barriers to embracing the incorporation of social strategies: buy-in, uncertainty, radical trust, and resources. 

I created the image above based on a lesson in Professor Robert Myrtle’s Strategic Nonprofit Management course at the University of Southern California. I think it’s helpful to think about change in this way. It requires three, key ingredients that must add up to be greater than the barriers to change:

(a) Dissatisfaction with the status quo- When creating change, it helps when business-as-usual is failing and the people who will need to make change happen already know it. In order for change to happen, individuals must understand that something is indeed broken and must be fixed. But this doesn’t need to a literal thing that is broken; it can be an element of workplace culture. For instance,  in the case of sparking change toward creating social strategies, the ‘broken’ thing could be lack of periphery or a lack of vision. It could be a workplace culture that does not value innovation and keeping up with the times in regard to the increased connectivity and information share that is booming with the social media revolution. Folks must know that this element of negative workplace culture exists, and they must be unhappy about it.

This may be the hardest element of the equation to realize, because people often get comfortable with business as usual, and dissatisfaction with the status quo often doesn’t take place until after competitors have raised the bar. In other words, sometimes this dissatisfaction only happens after an organization realizes that they’ve been left behind. For instance, there are still museums that still don’t even have a Facebook account (11% of AZA organizations have 100 or fewer ‘likes’ as of May, 2011). Those museums may note experience dissatisfaction with the status quo until they realize that most other museums do have accounts– and more than that– that most other museums are experiencing increased ticket sales, membership rates, program enrollment, and monetary contributions in large part because of their embrace of social platforms. Workplace culture is very important for this reason. An organization that strives to evolve will feel dissatisfaction with the status quo faster than an organization that makes change a last resort. The former will create change in order to lead the industry. The latter will create only as much change as is necessary to remain relevant, or worse: to keep the doors open.

(b) An understanding of the desired future- In order to change, folks must have an idea of how they want the changed organization to function. Everyone should understand what that changed organization will look like. This is an important step in creating institutional buy-in for change. It requires a clear and compelling leadership team to communicate the vision and make it understandable to everyone in an organization. If you’re going on a trip to Europe, you’ll be much better prepared to make specific, actionable vacation plans if you know your stay will be in Italy. You’ll be even more prepared if you know that you’re spending your time in Rome. Similarly, if everyone works together to discover exactly where they are going (or would like to go), then everyone can work together to get there, and everyone can better relate to the organization’s vision because they understand it.

(d) And knowledge of the first step to get there- We’ve likely all heard Lao Tzu’s famous quote, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Hopefully, integrating social strategies into an organization’s general mentality won’t be a thousand-mile journey. Even if we call it a marathon of 26.2 miles (or a short 5k), understanding the first step is equally important. Plans and timelines are helpful. Social media strategies, though some smart folks say you don’t need one, can be helpful when explaining how integrating online communications will take place. These plans make goals feel more achievable, and the first step must be digestible and understandable. Returning to the topic of Rome, it wasn’t built in a day.

In order for change to take place, so the theory goes– and I think it’s a quite practical theory– these three elements (dissatisfaction with the status quo, an understanding of the desired future, and knowledge of the first step to get there) must be greater than the barriers to change. So what are those barriers for change in regard to integrating social strategies into museums, cultural centers, and other nonprofits? I’ve merged replies from a survey sent out to AZA organizations and my own understanding and experiences with obstacles to integrating social strategies and categorized them into four, main barriers:

1. Buy-in 

  • Does social technology contribute to our bottom lines?
  • How do you measure engagement?
  • What is the value of engagement

2. Uncertainty

  • What does a social strategy mean and why is it important?
  • How exactly do I use social tools?
  • What if we try it, and audiences aren’t engaged?
  • What are the rules for employees and where are personal and professional lines drawn?
3. Radical Trust
  • How do we control content?
  • What if someone says something bad about us?
  • What if someone shares incorrect information on our page?

4.  Resources

  • Who is going to run this?
  • How much time will it take?
  • Will we have to offer a lot of discounts?
Check back over the next four weeks to share your own words of wisdom regarding integrating social media and ‘thinking socially’ into an organization’s culture. Each week, a different barrier will be discussed. Please contribute with stories of your experiences or any aid that you might have so that we may help produce a helpful resource!
Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Trends 1 Comment

The Classics: 3 Ways Museums Have Paved the Way in Online Transparency

It’s not breaking news: nearly all networked nonprofits have to grapple with issues regarding radical trust. Museums (those places inspiring real-life wonder… through research and factual evidence) arguably have the greatest cause for concern. We are enjoying an era of increased conversation, information sharing, and valued sincerity. While there’s real risk that, when given the opportunity, folks will weigh-in on a museum’s site with less-than-factual arguments and write negative comments, the benefits of transparency– such as loyalty, trust, and relationship-building– far outweigh the losses.

One of my favorite books on social media (also not new and breaking news) is The Networked Nonprofit by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine. I know that many of my broader nonprofit-oriented readers are more than familiar with this book. The museum community? I’m not as sure. But museums play an important role in this book– and outside of it– as drivers of online engagement and brand transparency. The last example is not from the book, but it’s just as popular and serves as a great example of an institution’s understanding of social media. Here are three well-known examples of museums paving the way in online transparency– and not just for the museum industry.

1. That time when the Indianapolis Museum of Art starting putting their Organizational Dashboard on their Homepage. It started in 2007 and it was genius. …At least I think so. You can still see the ongoing stats on a designated webpage. This initiative does not shy away from the truth; while it can serve to boast success in mission-oriented activities such as educational tour participation and the number of works on view, it also displays some potentially not-always-so-great numbers such as energy consumption. While the size of the IMA’s endowment can be uncovered in the organization’s Form 990, placing it front and center makes this could-be threatening information easily accessible. Though the endowment amount below reads $315,100,000, the organization is still seeking funds from donors– and they can see this number without looking for it. Putting these numbers up not only demonstrates transparency, but also trust in the general public. The IMA trusts that potential visitors will understand and accept these numbers which can be perceived as are high, low, or just right in the eye of the beholder. It encourages an understanding of the nonprofit sector and the organization itself. Instead of shying away or putting up barriers, this action embraces engagement, shares struggles and successes, and lets everyone in one the process of building up the institution.

2. The thing I’ll call Night at the Museum: Battle of Strategic Transparency. The Smithsonian Institution has not only opened it’s doors and made their online engagement efforts visible, but they have invited us in by creating the Smithsonian Commons. This effort began to take place in 2008. Here’s the vision for the commons shared by Michael Edson, the Director of Web and New Media Strategy. Before 2008, however, the Smithsonian Institution conducted strategic online efforts behind closed doors (like most similar, though arguably smaller, institutions). Transparency came with a new president: G. Wayne Clough, thus in some sense proving the importance of having upper-level buy-in in order to align initiatives toward organizational transparency. Since then, The Smithsonian Institution has helped paved the road to museum online transparency by putting it all out there: Here’s their Web and New Media Strategy.

The Smithsonian Institutions shares their New Learning Model via Wikispaces and shares their engagement strategy with online communities.

3. All that stuff that the Brooklyn Museum is doing… and not doing… with social media. Okay… yes. The Brooklyn Museum is mentioned in The Networked Nonprofit. They are highlighted for their 2008 crowd-sourcing experiment, “Click! A Crowd-Curated Exhibition” in which the museum put out an open call for photographs and web visitors ranked images to help choose which would be in the show, “Changing Faces of Brooklyn.” This museum is a leader of online engagement, but the museum has just recently made quite a stir in regard to online transparency. In early November, the museum announced on their blog that their online strategy for the 1stfans program was not having the desired effect, and as a result, the museum discontinued its Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr groups in favor of utilizing meetup.com.  Why so bold and important? Because in this age of social media, there’s a lot of pressure to get moving online. The Brooklyn Museum’s action reminds us that social media is important in building community, but it cannot solve all problems– and when it’s not working for a certain project, then it’s just not working. Social media and online engagement is still an experiment in a sense, but one thing is certain: it provides an opportunity to listen and learn. The Brooklyn Museum learned that their 1stfan efforts weren’t working, and they reacted accordingly and in the best interest of the institution. They were transparent in sharing the purpose of the switch, and they demonstrated loyalty to their mission– and shared their lessons with the greater community.

As shown above, the Brooklyn Museum's Twitter Art Feed communications were not working well for them. The museum openly changed its strategy to better fit its needs. And they explained their reasoning.

It’s been said over and over that nonprofits jump-started many of the online engagement efforts that are common practice in public and private sectors alike. Museums, though (predominately) nonprofits, can relate to private organizations in that they offer goods and services to an individuals who will benefit directly from those goods–as opposed to solely benefiting a third-party. This fact puts museums at an arguable advantage for stepping up to the plate and taking risks regarding radical trust and organizational transparency. They must master both direct sales and fundraising, and they must manage customer experiences and social missions. Museums can learn from both nonprofit and private sector practices, but in the examples above, the opposite has taken place; museums have stepped forward to take on transparency practices that prove powerful lessons for both private and nonprofit organizations.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Sector Evolution, Trends Comments Off on The Classics: 3 Ways Museums Have Paved the Way in Online Transparency

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

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

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

 

The Museum Attitude:

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

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

 

The For-Profit Attitude:

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

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

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