ProSpeak: The Dilemma of Social Media: Staten Island Museum
Having recently attended a Bloomberg Philanthropies two-day social media workshop by VaynerMedia for small to medium-sized not-for-profit organizations, I had time to reflect on the topic that is on every marketing professional's mind these days: What is the return of our investment in social media — in my case for a general interest museum?
To answer this question, we need to think of the goals of our social-media strategies, which for many organizations are to increase attendance, participation and financial support. These goals determine how we use social media. All too often, we broadcast our programs and fundraising appeals in the traditional "push" approach, perhaps even using the same text as in our print materials. The result is the recipients do not "like" us and do not "follow" us.
At the Staten Island Museum, the primary goal in social media is to raise awareness and engage new audiences. This is in line with what the team of VaynerMedia pointed out: To succeed in social media, you want to engage with your Facebook friends and Twitter community by sharing interesting content, tips and photos with them. If they like it, they will post it and share it with their friends, further helping more people gain awareness of your organization.
Now, the beauty of social media is that we can engage with and raise awareness among a population that normally does not come to the museum, i.e., teens to 30-year-olds. We have often seen that people visit the museum in an elementary school group and return only when they have children of their own or are older. In addition, social media allows us to be the resource that we envision to be: a museum without walls. That way, we stay connected with former program attendees or people that share our enthusiasm — in our case, those interested in arts, natural science and local history.
So, how do we measure our social-media success? Intuitively, one might count the number of posts or, better, the increases in Facebook "likes" and Twitter "followers." Instead, the enthusiastic VaynerMedia team recommended a measure of engagement. Just having many people "liking" your organization or "following" you does not mean they are engaged or have built a relationship with your organization, nor does it guarantee that they will see your posts (an algorithm of past reactions to your posts determines the percentage of your fans that will be exposed to future posts).
Fortunately, Facebook provides some engagement numbers (e.g., virality), and with Twitter one could count favorites and retweets. Unlike the time lag between the placement of a traditional advertisement and consumer reaction, with social media you can measure the effect almost immediately and learn which posts are effective and which are not.
Social media experts like VaynerMedia advocate for as much personalized feedback as possible, and I wonder how to do this cost-effectively when the museum's social-media professional also handles all other marketing and PR, plus helps with special events. Even with the right analytics, the critical question remains, how does all this engagement advance our mission and our organization?
From a financial standpoint, I do not see a great return of investment. Who knows if the kids in their 20s will join the museum in 30 years, and how can we be sure it was because of an interesting tip on Facebook? Of course, some people might donate and come to an event, but does that justify 50 percent of our marketing person's salary?
How much should we invest in Facebook and Twitter? Should we add Instagram to the mix? What about Tumblr and Foursquare? Will we be able to keep our followers if social platforms change? Just think of the ghost town that Myspace is today.
In the end, the dilemma is the same it has been in marketing and advertising for decades. As former U.S. General Postmaster John Wanamaker is attributed to have said: "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half."
Luckily for many not-for-profit organizations, engaging our audiences through social media is part of our mission and therefore not at all a waste of resources. We are social change agents, and taking the Staten Island Museum as an example, we want people to become familiar with the natural world, share with them classic and contemporary art, show them how their neighborhood changed over time, and most importantly, how they can participate in improving their community. Hopefully, this newly engaged citizenry will then also support the organizations that enlightened them.