Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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Social technologies and museums – the ‘groundswell’ and museums

May 24th, 2008 by Seb Chan

The folks at McGraw Hill/Harvard Business Press recently sent me an advance copy of Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff’s Groundswell: winning in a world transformed by social technologies for review. The book builds on Li and Bernoff’s Forrester research blog and in particular their social technographics work.

Aimed at managers, executives and marketing staff, the book (usefully) steers well clear of specific technologies and technical solutions and instead provides numerous case studies of how social technologies are being deployed by savvy companies to improve and transform their businesses. More so than the social technographics profiles, these case studies are the book’s strength. The case studies featured cover different audiences and social technographic profiles, widely different industries, and also very different strategies and are all interesting reading.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how museums might apply their methodologies – in particular their POST (people, objectives, strategies, technologies) method – to exhibitions and online content.

The POST method is simple but forces you to look first at the people you are trying to promote/engage/sell to and the objectives you are trying to achieve. Then choose a strategy and last, the appropriate technology. The Groundswell book covers, in detail, this methodology applied to examples such as the sale of tampons to young women . In this case study Procter and Gamble built a discussion forum, Being Girl, which is a platform for the marketing of a particular brand of tampons. It became a bigger and ongoing platform with which to engage the target audience. What the Being Girl case study shows is that by looking at the behaviour of the target audience first and their online behaviour it was possible to create a better aligned and more successful campaign that not only met the objectives of the tampon company (and created new opportunities as well) but importantly met the needs of the audience (to have a safe place to discuss adolescence – beyond just tampons). The company involved is also able to now undertake ongoing audience/market research through the forum to inform future campaigns.

Of course, engaging with audiences in these and other ways radically changes the communication flows from the traditional one-to-many shout methods of traditional marketing to multi-directional communication. These inevitably begin to transform the organisations involved as well as the customers/audience too. Groundswell outlines some of the challenges, especially around corporate transparency, that this throws up such as whether or not to acknowledge the existence of competitors in one’s own discussions with customers. (What if ‘other brands of tampons’ are discussed?)

Put simply, if you do engage, you organisation will change. If you engage strategically then this change can be managed and paced appropriately. For some organisations it might be most appropriate to deploy a range of ‘listening’ techniques and technologies before leaping into an poorly planned social media project. Even here at the Powerhouse we’ve had social media projects fail because we have over-estimated our intended audiences and their predicted behaviour.

Museums tend to focus on audience evaluation rather than market research – focussing on those who have made the choice to come to our sites already, rather than those who haven’t yet. Thus for museums there is a real need for us to understand the technographic profiles of our multiple audiences – and then take the most sensible approach for each audience niche. Unlike companies who tend to target a product line at a group of consumers and then develop that relationship across the lifespan of the product line, too often museums take a more schizophrenic approach to exhibitions (as products) – serving one niche with an exhibit then moving on to serve a totally different niche audience with the next. The audience cultivated through the first exhibition may not be served with a follow up ‘product’ for several years – or in some case, ever again. This is a grave strategy error.

Of course museums are more than just exhibitions, they are a collection of experiences. So, if we consider museums as experience venues with a visit containing multiple ‘samplings’ of a diverse product line – the average museum visitor stopping by several exhibitions in one visit – then we also need to be considering the impact of different technographic profiles for different audience needs and intentions as well.

In Lynda Kelly and Angelina Russo’s recent research presented at MW2008 they applied the social technographics methodology of Forrester to visitors to Australian museums. What is interesting in their work is that they found that the use rates of many social media tools was, in fact, higher than national averages. At the same time their qualitative research showed that amongst teenagers whilst usage of social networks is high, that there was an impression that these were for ‘private’ and ‘personal’ use – and that the intrusion of museums into these spaces were not necessarily desirable. Similar findings are being made by others across many industries. Likewise, Dana Mitroff and Katrina Alcorn’s exploration of the SFMOMA audience informing a web redesign sounded an early warning that any museum’s pursuit of Web 2.0 participative methods needs to be strategic. Social technologies aren’t yet appropriate for all audiences, nor are they necessarily desirable without strategic alignment.

Forrester provides an online social technographics profile tool in the promotional site for the book. This is a simple tool to start a conversation with managers about the general online behaviours of your audience and I’d strongly recommend exploring it with the backing of existing audience research around your ‘product range’ (exhibitions, interactives, online projects) rather than just applying it generally to your entire museum.

So where from here?

What Groundswell does is provide your web or digital team with a range of examples to present management, and it also provides management with a strategic framework with which to begin to evaluate proposals from digital teams irrespective of the technologies involved.

I’ve got two copies of Groundswell in the office now which are being read by everyone in my team and the key people around the Museum that we work with.

Tags: 2 Comments

  • Angelina

    HI Seb
    Thanks for your review. How well do you think the tool maps to the tools we’ve developed for the PSM workshops? Are there areas of thought which we should incorporate?
    Also, if you have a spare book (when others have finished) can I borrow as I no longer buy books! Too many moves!!

  • http://www.mnhs.org Rose Sherman

    Have you seen the new Commoncraft Show Plain English video on Social Media? It may be helpful to share it and the other Plain English videos with museum professionals. See http://www.commoncraft.com/socialmedia