New data shows that online and onsite experiences are intertwined.
Not all the data requests that I submit yield thrilling findings. Once in a while, though, the outcome of a data query will inspire me to email my other colleagues in a nerdy flurry. It will make my heart rate rise and I won’t be able to contain my excitement.
This, readers, is that kind of finding.
Last week, we shared data from 104 cultural entities showing that people who follow an organization on social media are more likely to actually attend that organization than people who do not follow it. We know social media plays a role in motivating visits. Does this offsite action impact the onsite visitor experience, too?
The data is in. It sure does.
Social media followers have better onsite experiences
People who follow an organization on social media generally rate their onsite experience better than people who are not following that organization on social media.
The chart below shows visitor experiences from 74 US cultural institutions monitored by IMPACTS, cut at the end of 2018. The blue bar indicates the visitor experience metrics of people who were not following the organization on social media during their visit, while the orange bar shows the visitor experience metrics of those who were following on any social media platform – Instagram to Facebook to Twitter.
People who follow an organization on social media at the time of their visit have overall satisfaction rates 5.6% greater than non-followers —that is a meaningful jump in satisfaction! This is great for cultural organizations, because satisfaction rates correlate meaningfully with intentions to re-visit or endorse an organization, and endorsements help motivate others to attend as well.
It gets better: in addition to higher overall satisfaction rates, guests who follow an organization on social media report 3% better admission value, a 7% more educational experience, 4% more courteous staff members… and even 5.5% better crowd control and 7% better parking perceptions!
What is going on here?
Wait… Parking perceptions? Social media followers generally do not have their own parking lots! Crowd control? Social media has nothing to do with the actuality of crowd control!
What the heck is going on?
No, social media may not influence the reality of crowd control… but it can influence the perception of crowding.
People who follow a cultural entity on social media have already taken a proactive, positive action on behalf of the organization. Unlike non-followers, they have consciously chosen to connect with the organization prior to their visit. They’ve already become “friends” with the organization – and we tend to like our friends.
An aspect of the “Ben Franklin Effect” may be relevant. This psychological phenomenon explains that people like others more after they’ve done them a favor. As the story goes, Ben Franklin asked a man who disliked him if he could borrow a book from the man’s library. Franklin returned it a week later with a note of thanks, and the men became lifelong friends. In the words of Franklin himself, “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another.”
According to studies, this phenomenon may be a matter of cognitive dissonance: Why would we do someone a favor if we did not like them? We justify the favor by assuming that we like them. Similarly – in a way – social media followers may attend the organizations that they follow, already knowing and believing that they like them even before they’ve physically attended! If we don’t like an organization, they why did we actively opt to see its stories in our already-cluttered newsfeed?
Additionally, social media followers may know more than non-followers about the organization – such as changing hours and unique experiences onsite – before their visit. Being “in the know” makes for a better experience not only logistically, but also educationally. Onsite visitors may be experiencing the same educational programming whether they are social media followers or not, but social media followers report a more educational experience than non-followers. It may be that they already believe the organization to be educational from its engaging, mission-based content on social media and are thus primed to believe that their onsite experience is more educational.
The onsite experience does not begin onsite.
Social media isn’t merely an offsite communication channel. Social media is a tool for connecting with our audiences that impacts not only how they perceive us, but how they perceive their guest experiences with us. The data shared above does not explore how social media usage onsite impacts visitor satisfaction. It measures how the perceptions, expectations, and information gleaned through having this previous connection to the organization impacts visitor satisfaction.
As it turns out, using social media onsite in relation to one’s visit also increases visitor satisfaction:
The findings shared in this article aren’t necessarily a call to start posting more about crowd control on social media. Followers already have better perceptions of crowd control than non-followers! Instead, these findings are a call to understand a new reality:
The onsite and offsite experience are inextricably interconnected.
The power of social media may not only be that it underscores marketing or communications – but that it can create connection. How a person perceives and engages with an organization offsite influences the honest perceptions of their onsite experience.
Connection is embedded into what cultural organizations do.
In more ways than we realize, social media may be the same way.
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