Betting against the house

(Reading time: 3m, 49s)

Yesterday, I wrote about an article by Colleen Dilenschneider titled Social Media is More Important Than Ever For Cultural Entities – Here’s What You Need to Know.

I look forward to reading Dilenschneider’s newsletter (subscribe here), which is fueled by data from IMPACTS. But sometimes there’s not a lot of guidance as to how to apply the data.

Data may not be all that helpful if it isn’t interpreted to produce better outcomes. Without interpretation or actionable recommendations, MOAR DATA can produce worse results.

IMPACTS points this out on their website:

What is data without expert analysis and context? The IMPACTS team of expert professionals support organizations in both applying intelligence and actualizing opportunities. At IMPACTS, we take ownership of the findings and work in close concert with clients to apply the data to maximum benefit.

I can understand why people might not want to make recommendations as to how to apply the data in articles and newsletters. For one thing, it's hard to generalize — You could argue that it’s irresponsible to make blanket statements about what all cultural entities should do based on survey data.

In the abstract, it’s a choice between two bad options — provide best-practice guidance that makes for poor advice for some readers or provide little to no guidance and leave it up to the readers to decide. If you're operating under a policy of one or the other, someone is going to lose every time.

But, if I had to choose, I'd go with the latter. This article is an example of why.

The article concludes:

Make no mistake: Social media is a critical tool for cultural organizations.

When I put myself in the shoes of the leaders who I’ve worked with and imagine one of them receiving this email in their inbox, I’m pretty sure how they would consume and interpret this.

Many would just read the subject line; some would go on to skim the article; fewer would read the whole thing. (In other words, they read like everyone else.)

In every scenario, I think most would interpret this article as saying: DO MORE SOCIAL MEDIA.

That would trickle down to marketing and communications as: Post more to Facebook, etc.

Then, when the executive director or CEO sees more stuff from their organization being posted to Facebook, they nod approvingly, feeling that they’ve been heard.

They followed the data. Pats on the back all around.

Now, I know staying active on social media is important for organizations, and I know that it’s not just about direct response or how much revenue comes directly from individual social media posts. Social media helps organizations get the word out and stay top of mind, even if some platforms like Facebook aggressively filter organizations’ content.

But if the real potential of social media is in peer-to-peer endorsements, as Dilenschneider says, organizations may be better off finding creative ways to motivate people to share their experiences online rather than trying to get more likes and followers.

If you read the article closely, you can stitch together this conclusion. Look at point number five: “Over half of visitors use social media onsite, and it correlates with higher visitor satisfaction.”

On average, people who use social media onsite in relation to their visit report 7.02% higher satisfaction than people who do not! That’s a massive increase that benefits of the visited cultural organization!

That’s an interesting correlation. It would be nice to investigate and see how different kinds of social media use impacts those reported satisfaction levels.

But if social media use onsite does increase satisfaction, does it make sense for organizations to work harder to create more “ongoing, compelling content”, as the article also suggests, or would it be better to find ways to incentivize others to talk about your organization more online?

When social media platforms change their algorithms all the time and only show organizations’ posts to a tiny fraction of their followers, suggesting to people that they work harder to create more “ongoing, compelling content” can sound like telling a gambler to get back inside and keep betting against the casino.

I replied to the newsletter and asked if the data suggests that museums should invest more marketing resources on social media. And I asked if IMPACTS had studied museums' website analytics data to understand how social media content contributes to people’s future interactions with organizations online in comparison to other channels. I haven’t heard back yet.

So, if I were talking to a client who just saw this in their inbox and who came away thinking their organization should be creating more content for social media platforms, I’d ask that they first consider these steps:

  1. Explore creative ways to encourage people to talk about or review your organization on social media and review platforms. Individuals’ recommendations are more influential than organizations on social media.
  2. Examine website analytics, and see how people are interacting with the content you publish to social media today. Go beyond counting likes and followers. Examine traffic sources, conversions, and assisted conversions. How many people, for example, buy a ticket to your big event are coming from Facebook vs a Google search vs your newsletter? Compare the economic impact of social media in relation to the other tools at your disposal.

Are you studying the impact of your social media content? Have you found ways to get people talking about you online? Let me know in a reply.

Thanks for reading,

Kyle