Anyone who’s ever tried to convince a less-than-tech-savvy leader about the benefits of social media and online network connectivity has faced one of the hardest parts of building a network: organizational buy-in. Admittedly, the reluctance makes sense: social media is an evolving tool and we haven’t yet figured out how to use it efficiently in many ways. For instance, we haven’t figured out how to quantify the value of an online connection in the nonprofit sector. It could have terrific pay-offs with audiences becoming lifelong donors, or it could have almost no affect- with a person quickly leaving your webpage and never coming back.
Despite the arguable void, common social media applications are pointing us toward some quickly-approaching solutions to resolve the tension between engaging on social media and physically getting people into the door of the museum or making a donation. It’s no surprise that applications like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr have helped to share stories and build positive associations with brands that are building social change… but online engagement doesn’t need to stop at warm fuzzies (and to make it worth our time, it probably shouldn’t). The good news? Answers may be on the horizon. The better news is that I think clues may even be right in front of us.
These three common social media applications may provide important clues to help build the bridge between virtual engagement and monetary contributions in museums and cultural nonprofits. And these applications are right under our noses…
The kicks: It’s sometimes shocking how many cultural nonprofits aren’t utilizing Foursquare and offering small perks to folks who turn their mobile engagement into an on-site check-in. You don’t have to offer free admission. You can offer a discount to one attraction or leftover swag or a printed coloring page for youngsters. Whether your organization is utilizing Foursquare or not, there may be some answers relating to your bottom line(s) here. This social media platform offers rewards (real or virtual) to a location-based audience. We probably shouldn’t underestimate the value of a virtual good, which is in this case similar to a Foursquare badge or mayorship. After all, the power of virtual goods is what fueled to takeoff of Farmville. People will pay good money for certain virtual goods or rewards. In fact, Farmville itself has raised so much that it’s flat-out raising funds for charity. In a way, the fact that Foursquare offers these badges and check-in points could be every museum’s dream: it rewards people– in a way that has certain individual value– for sharing that they took the time and paid the money to experience your museum. That’s word-of-mouth marketing in a sense and it has value.
The kinks: When I got off of the plane in Chattanooga for Association of Zoos and Aquariums Mid-Year Conference last week, only one person was checked in at the Chattanooga airport. In short, Foursquare hasn’t picked up everywhere and may be currently most useful in big cities. Also, the founders of Foursquare know that they’ll soon have to evolve the application and take it a step further to encourage growth and keep folks engaged. Chances are, however, that these changes will keep up the value of location-based check-ins which will continue to function well for museums.
The kicks: Meetup.com got positive publicity in the museum world when the Brooklyn Museum famously gave up their efforts engaging 1st fans audiences on Twitter and Facebook and switched to meetup.com. That may have been the museum world’s first clue that this social platform has potential for serious payoff. This group organizing site, when used effectively, bridges the gap between online connectivity and getting folks in the door. It can be used to promote events to the general public, but is used most efficiently when targeted toward specific audiences. The San Diego Zoo Mommy Group Planner page facilitates engagement with a targeted audience through custom (or, custom-feeling) experiences that both bring admission-paying mommy groups into the zoo and provides them with a special experience that creates a lasting, personal connection.
The kinks: You can try to organize these events on your website, but there’s a built-in community that uses meetup.com. It’s not really a kink (it may be a blessing), but it’s something to be aware of: you’ll have to drive some traffic to your meetup.com page in much the same fashion that you’re likely already driving folks to your Facebook and Twitter pages. However, the group you’re directing to your meetup page will likely be more targeted. Like Foursquare, this is a relatively low-resource social media application to keep an eye on and play around with if you can. There may be some social media
3. Mobile Giving Campaigns
The kicks: Talk about the giving platform of the future (/present)! According to Pew Research Center, an average 83% of adults own cell phones or smart phones, and it’s estimated that by 2015, mobile wireless internet access will be the primary method of accessing the web. Also, 36% of nonprofit organizations already utilize mobile media or plan to use it in the next year, according to a recent Kaptivate survey. These kinds of giving campaigns work particularly well in obtaining donations from members of Generation Y, a group with a lot of giving power to be tapped. This trend started with museums utilizing mobile giving to raise large funds for related causes they support, but now museums are using it (rightfully) to fundraise for themselves. Tools like Give by Cell aim to make it easier for nonprofits to fundraise through mobile giving.
The kinks: Some mobile vendors charge steep set-up fees and nonprofits are only legally allowed to collect donations in increments of $5-$10. Err… and folks cannot donate more than 5 times monthly, and it can take up to 90 days to receive a donors”/ gift (all sited here). If you want this to be a successful fundraising method, you’ve got to get a lot of people in on it- and that requires resources. Want more information on the mobile lay-of-the-land? Read up on it courtesy of the American Association of Museums’ 2011 Mobile Technology Survey.
Can you measure the monetary value of an online connection?
Museums and cultural nonprofits aren’t the only ones trying to ensure that social media has a measurable impact that contributes to mission and revenue. In fact, we may find that many of our questions in this arena are being solved by folks who know a thing or two about measuring pay-off: those in the private sector.
Do you remember seeing the popular Living Social Deal (a company much like Groupon) in which people could spend $10 and get a $20 Amazon.com gift card? Living Social did not, in actuality, have a sponsorship agreement with Amazon (that’s right there on the deal).They bought the $20 gift cards from the company, with perhaps a small agreement. Living Social had to have calculated the worth of gaining a user, and the company calculated that the worth per customer was more than $10- or the deal wouldn’t work to the company’s benefit. It worked, too. The company captured over 1 million customers in five hours.
I’m not saying that there’s an easy way to calculate the value of a connection- or of the sparks and “a-ha!” moments that make museums so powerful. But I think if we keep our eyes open, even the social media tools right in front of us may have the ability to make virtual connections into on-site inspiration. Some tools and projects (like Tweetups, for instance) can fulfill similar functions to these social media platforms. The bottom line is that social media use is evolving and making its rounds from the marketing department to fundraising and visitor experiences. The basic tools aren’t hidden from us, and they just may give us a peek as to how we’ll soon be solving buy-in problems and contributing online engagement activities into the cash that helps keep the museum lights on.