It sounds like common sense, but it means more for social media’s role in motivating attendance than you might think.
“How do we know that social media is a big deal when it comes to getting people in the door?” It’s a good question.
By now, executives of cultural organizations – from natural history museums to aquariums to symphonies – seem to understand social media is critical for motivating attendance. Marketing leaders, in particular, are often tasked with demonstrating the importance of this communication platform.
At IMPACTS, we wanted to dive deeper into how social media influences the decision to attend a cultural organization. IMPACTS monitors ongoing perceptions of 224 visitor-serving organizations in the US. For 104 of them, we track whether or not a person follows the organization on a social media channel.
We wanted to know: Do people who follow an organization on social media report greater, lesser, or no significant difference in their intentions to visit that cultural organization?
Take a look at what we found. The orange bar measures intent to visit among people who were following an organization on social media at the end of 2018, and the blue bar measures intent to visit among those who reported they were not following.
Social media followers reported 36% greater intent to visit in one year, and 42% greater intent to visit in two years than non-followers! This is clearly a significant increase in intent to visit an organization.
Interestingly, 47% of people in the data are first-time visitors. This points to social media’s potential power to not only cultivate repeat attendance, but also to motivate a first-time visit.
Perhaps you aren’t surprised. After all, it stands to reason a person following an organization on social media may be more likely to plan a trip to visit it. They’ve opted to see stories and news from the organization in their social media feed on a regular basis! These people have already taken an action to demonstrate interest in the organization… an action to potentially grow and cultivate that interest.
Well, yes. That’s the point. Following an organization on social media can meaningfully cultivate one’s intention to actually visit that cultural organization.
Intent is more than interest
This metric measures intent to visit, not interest in visiting. This is an important and meaningful distinction.
Interest doesn’t necessarily correlate with one’s actual plans to do something. For instance, I am interested in taking a vacation to Hawaii next week. However, I do not intend to take a vacation to Hawaii next week. It’s certainly not that I don’t want to go to Hawaii next week. I have several exciting work commitments that require my presence and attention that prohibit me from vacationing there next week. And even if I had a few days off, I may be more interested in vacationing at a different locale.
Similarly, nearly 30% of people who report interest in attending cultural organizations haven’t made it through the door within the last two years or longer. The reasons why they haven’t attended – despite interest – range from work or school schedule conflicts, to difficulty planning, to simply preferring an alternative leisure activity. Measuring interest can help cultural organizations understand their potential… but it doesn’t provide insight into actual attendance in itself.
Interest is certainly an important metric, as having an interest in doing something may be prerequisite to planning to do it! The trouble is that “interest” removes the functional barriers that stand in the way of actually carrying out that behavior.
When someone reports that they intend to visit a cultural organization, it means they mean to visit. It’s in the plans! Unlike interest, intentions to visit cultural organizations align with actual attendance. They are a much better marker of a likely increase in attendance.
It is the fact that social media followers have greater intent to visit – not just interest – that makes this finding particularly exciting.
For more on intent vs. interest metrics, check out this article on the topic.
Is social media the chicken or the egg?
Do people start following an organization on social media, which motivates increased intention to visit… or does already having intention to visit motivate people to follow the organization on social media?
I don’t know. Both situations may contribute to the finding.
But consider this: Does it matter which condition is the chicken and which is the egg?
If people start following an organization on social media, and the connection to the organization’s content motivates a visit – great! That’s a win! Social media helped secure attendance!
If people already want to visit the organization, so they start following to have connection to the organization’s content, ease their planning, or get more excited about a visit – that’s great, too! Social media helped secure attendance!
Whether already having intent motivates following on social media or following on social media increases intent to visit may not matter. Both are great conditions that underscore the potential power of social media to motivate attendance.
And it gets better! Because 47% of these people are first time visitors, 53% are reporting their intent to return! This points toward the power of social media as a potential attendance motivator and connector, whether they haven’t yet visited or return frequently.
The power of social media
Do social media followers perceive the onsite experience differently during their visit than people who don’t follow the organization on social media? They do – and we’re glad you asked. We’ll share that exciting data with you next Wednesday on here on Know Your Own Bone. You can subscribe to this website here so you don’t miss it.
Social media plays a powerful role in motivating attendance to cultural organizations. Web, mobile web, and social media are primary sources of information for likely visitors to cultural organizations.
In fact, these sources of information are even more important for people who have interest in visiting cultural organizations, but have not yet attended! What people say about your organization is 12.85x more important in driving your organization’s reputation than paid advertising. Social media has the power to amplify these earned endorsements – think someone posting a picture on Instagram of the great time they are having with their family at the zoo. Social media is a powerful tool, and as much as we may want to roll our eyes at the concept of “influencers,” online influencing takes place whenever someone posts about the great experience that they are having at a museum or performing arts organization.
We know other critical things about the power of social media for cultural organizations: Simply using it onsite during a visit in a way that relates to the visit (posting a selfie or looking up more information on a topic on your Facebook page, for instance) increases visitor satisfaction 5% on average!
On top of all this, you may have guessed that following an organization on social media could play a role in increasing actual intent to attend cultural organizations.
Now you don’t have to guess. You know.
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