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

The Networked Nonprofit

The Key to Modern Day Marketing: Is Your Museum Utilizing Free Agents?

It’s no surprise that business practices, and especially marketing strategies, are evolving due to current changes in the way people operate and communicate. We didn’t have Facebook ten years ago- now organizations that are not cultivating online networks are doomed to fall behind in building brand loyalty and summoning the benefits of organizational transparency.

These changes, combined with the growing influence of Generation Y in the workplace, have created a new force to be recognized by your organization’s marketing and development departments: free agents.

Who and what are free agents? I’ll tap into The Networked Nonprofit for my favorite definition: Free agents are individuals working outside of organizations to organize, mobilize, raise funds, and communicate with constituents for a cause. They are generally comfortable with and adept at using social media. Bloggers are free agents, influential tweeters are free agents, and your tech-savvy and socially-connected nephew who believes in your organization is a free agent, too. They are social citizens dedicated to a cause. Though not all free agents are members of Generation Y, Millennials have grown up communicating and creating networks on the internet. They have a tribe to tap into when they want to spread an important message or highlight a cause. I’ve argued before that this is a good reason why museums and nonprofits should hire candidates with personal brands: they have a network. They can help you reach people.

Why your organization needs free agents. Free agents are connected individuals who care about your organization’s cause, and their network is likely to consist of similarly-minded people who are also likely to care about your cause. Free agents not only spread awareness of your organization, but they increase morale, and may even put together events or programs to benefit your organization. For instance, a free agent may have a party in which all proceeds go to a certain organization. Though they do not work for the museum or cultural nonprofit, free agents will champion your organizations message simply because they have a network and they believe in your cause.

  • A little example of a free agent in action. The American Association of Museums runs The Museum Assessment Program. It is a wildly affordable program for small and mid-size museums that helps strengthen operations, improve planning, and better serve communities through a process of self study and peer review. Applications are due by February 18, 2011. I do not work for AAM and nobody is paying me to let you all know about this seemingly-awesome resource (if you didn’t know about it already). I am writing about MAP because I support the program’s mission and I know that quite a few of you work for organizations that might benefit from MAP. I am playing the role of a light free agent for AAM because I, personally, think this program is really cool. But free agents can play more active roles as well. I might host a meet-up to discuss the benefits of MAP with museum professionals, or ask my blogger friends to spread the word, or run a marathon and raise funds for AAM to take another mid-sized museum into the program. It is not unusual for free agents to do these things.

How free agents work. Because free agents are internet-savvy folks who are independent of the organization, they are hard to control. In fact, an important part of utilizing free agents is understanding two key concepts:

  1. You cannot control free agents. It’s important to work with free agents, but treating free agents as if they work for you is a speedy way to lose a free agent. This is particularly bad news if the free agent you are working with has gone to great lengths to cultivate excitement around your museum or program. This also connects well to my second point.
  2. Free agents will come and go. Many free agents are members of Generation Y, and this generation is loyal to causes but feels skeptical about long-term loyalty to an organization. While free agents may come and go, remember to keep the door open in case they want to return to promote your organization.

Why free agents are good for your social media mentality. Certain thought leaders in the advertising field have argued that you don’t need a social media strategy (hint: It’s about values and people, not the tool). Working with free agents requires an openness and eagerness on the part of the institution. The fact that you cannot control or plan for free agents (aside from making yourself accessible) helps put museum professionals in a good place: focusing on community and values instead of trying to make rules about using social media. And “rules” have a way of fuzzing things up when it comes to brand transparency.

In sum, keep the door open for free agents. While nothing replaces face-to-face communication, it’s easy for professionals (especially members of older generations who are particularly unfamiliar with social media) to underestimate the value of online networks in helping an organization to reach marketing and fundraising goals. It may seem particularly strange to be encouraged to devote time and energy to cultivating young, sometimes still-unproven professionals. But try ignoring young professionals who are looking to support your organization, and you may find yourself slapping your forehead and (just for laughs) relating to this scene from Pretty Woman.

*Image based on photo from tremendousnews.com

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 2 Comments

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