Does the script matter if the audience doesn’t know how it was written?

(Reading time: 4m, 27s)

Yesterday, I asked how you segment your audiences, and no one responded.

That’s unusual.

It could mean a few things:

  1. you’re all segmenting according to demographics and basic relationship status (e.g., member vs. nonmember, donor/non-donor), and doing so is totally obvious to you, so why bother responding, or
  2. the topic isn’t important or interesting to you, or
  3. it’s mid-August, and you’re all literally or mentally out on vacation.

Let’s explore this cave a little bit more and see if it leads us to more interesting territory.

The stagehand joins the cast

I’ll use the Please Touch Museum’s website as a flashlight one more time. As I was looking through PTM’s website a few weeks ago, thinking about value propositions, a link in the footer of their website started whispering my name — the “Grandparents’ Page.”

The Please Touch Museum’s footer includes a link to a Grandparents’ page.

I’m going to resist the urge to rant about why navigation elements like “quick links” — close relatives of the evil FAQ page — should die in a fire.

Let’s focus on that title — “grandparent’s page.” What a curious name. I don’t often see a museum organizing content around audience segments. In this case, perhaps they’ve done some research around grandparents’ interests and goals and created some deep-dive content that serves that universe.

I clicked and saw this:

grandparents-page.jpeg

Ceci n’est pas une pipe.

Calling a page a page feels like you’re watching a play where a stagehand suddenly rolls a prop labeled “prop” onto the stage.

Why would they do that?

Scrolling down the page, I saw a signup form for the museum’s grandparents’ newsletter.

That’s awesome!

Most museums ask people to join their newsletter and then (maybe) give them the option to choose which department or activity they want to subscribe to. It’s very, “Here’s what we do, choose what you want to follow.” In this case, the museum has turned the dynamic on its head, potentially saying, “Tell us who you are, and we’ll send you the stuff that matters to you.”

I was still confused, though, because the only thing on the page was the sign up form and a headline about the newsletter.

The grandparents’ page consists of a headline and sign-up form for a grandparents’ newsletter

Why not title the page something more like what it is — “Grandparents’ Newsletter?”

It’s Florida all over again

I signed up for the grandparents’ newsletter, and I got… Nothing. I signed up more than two weeks ago and still — Not so much as a welcome email, or confirmation.

I wasn’t all that surprised. Some of you will remember that earlier this year I visited the website of over 400 Florida museums and signed up for every newsletter I could find. I learned that just 36% of those who had a newsletter sent any sort of welcome/confirmation email and, of those that did, only 18.6% sent an auto-responder that marketed the museums’ offerings. None of them used that initial interaction with new subscribers as a tool to survey or learn from the audience. (I put together an Airtable base as I went through each museum’s signup process and wrote about it here.)

“Finished” is a story we tell ourselves to help us sleep at night

Let’s indulge in some wild speculation.

When I see patterns like this — a page that promises something I don’t often find elsewhere, with a title that seems mismatched, with content that is rather thin, marketing a newsletter that doesn’t send anything to subscribers — I want to be careful about being overly critical because:

  1. I’ve launched plenty of half-baked web content.
  2. Design is always a compromise. What we’re seeing isn’t the result of adhering to a perfect plan — it’s the best deal they could arrive at the time.
  3. The fact that the page feels incomplete signals that some folks within the museum may be getting ahead of themselves and launching things before they’re ready, which could be a good thing.

On that last point — How can launching something before it’s ready or “finished” be a good thing?

Launching early can be a way to validate an idea before investing too heavily, but I think working in public can also be a trust builder. Promising a newsletter and then not sending anything is not a trust builder, but launching with less-than-perfect content can be — especially if you’re communicating that your’e experimenting and this is work in progress.

I’m a big believer in working in public, and I think organizations that embrace transparency operate at an advantage. That’s a broad statement, I know, but it gives you a sense of where my defaults are set. If someone were to ask me, “Is it too soon for us to share this publicly?,” I would tend to say, “No, so long as you provide some context and set expectations when you do share.”

Maybe it’s because I’m on the bleeding edge of qualifying as a millennial.

Can working in public be a recruitment tool?

The ancient ones were raised on things called personal computers and Microsoft Words — heavy machinery meant for solo performances. Today’s younglings (or just people under 40-ish) were raised on chat applications and Google Docs — Software that makes homework feel more like choir practice.

Yesterday, I wrote that I often hear museum directors talk about how much they’d like to engage millennials and younger folks.

When I see a museum like PTM getting ahead of themselves — launching content that’s not quite ready for public consumption, that is tailored to a particular audience’s interests — I see potential.

I imagine a museum that develops content and initiatives in public — that invites people to contribute to that work before it’s “finished.”

You could even imagine a museum that revises its mission statement in a Google Doc and shares the committee’s work in progress with the world.

What if your mission statement were a work in progress, open to public comments — tentatively written on a digital whiteboard waiting to be graffitied over by some youngster who will one day become a board member?

I told you the speculation was going to get wild.

What if it’s not the cost of admission that keeps younger people from engaging with the museum? What if the way museums work — their decision-making practices and the way they present their work — is antithetical to the way younger people think? Could working in public help museums engage those younger audiences they’re always hoping to reach?

These are things I’m thinking about this week. What do you think? As always, let me know in a reply.

Thanks for reading,

Kyle