Here are five critical data-based findings for cultural executives regarding social media’s role in guest motivation and satisfaction.
It’s no secret: Social media is a powerful engagement tool for cultural organizations. Over the years, we’ve uncovered, shared, and updated information on social media’s impact on everything from marketing to motivating attendance to increasing onsite satisfaction.
But what if we had to share only the top five most interesting and impactful findings for all cultural executives to have in their pocket?
It’s time for a data round-up, folks! All five of these findings carry critical implications for motivating attendance today, informing how social media “fits” within cultural organization structures, and lending insight into the blurry line between the onsite and offsite experience, as well as how people communicate and connect. The timing of this article is particularly relevant, as two of these top five findings were just published for the first time in 2019, and a 2019 data update revealed that social media platforms have grown in impact since 2017.
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Good. Let’s get social.
1) Social media plays an important role in motivating visitation
If you’ve ever heard me speak in a keynote or workshop, then you’ve heard this important finding: What people say about your organization is 12.85x more important in building your reputation than the things you pay to say about yourself. In fact, it’s a cornerstone of motivating audiences to attend cultural organizations. Social media is particularly important, because we live in a world in which “what people say about your organization” can be scaled more easily than ever before. For this reason, social media often plays an outsized role in the Visitor Engagement Cycle.
This isn’t new information. Though this is one of our first Fast Facts Videos for Cultural Executives, it’s still one of the most important foundations for understanding critical factors that motivate visitation to cultural organizations. It’s arguably even more relevant to an organization’s success today than when we first produced the video.
The power of earned endorsements is why cultural organizations lose an average of 1.25 visitors – instead of only one – when they have an unexpected closure due to weather, a full facility rental, or another factor. The earned endorsements of visitors truly cultivate more visitors. When we lose a visitor (because we are closed when they want to visit, for instance) we also lose their recommendations at parties, holidays, at PTA meetings, and, of course, on social media.
The role that earned endorsements play in getting folks in the door is so important for cultural executives to understand that I doubt I’ll be leaving this finding at home anytime soon, for any engagement. It’s that foundational.
2) Social media is an even more important source of information for potential visitors than active visitors
Active visitors (or “historic visitors,” as we call them at IMPACTS) are people who report having visited any kind of cultural organization in the last two years. We know a lot about these folks – and many of you do, too. If your organization collects audience research, then these are the people your organization surveys. They have interest in visiting cultural organizations, and they actively do so.
Active visitors are generally “super-connected” to the internet. This means that they have access at home, at work, and on a mobile device.
Inactive visitors are also defined as having interest in visiting cultural organizations, but have not done so in the last two years or longer. These people are low-hanging fruit for cultural organizations, and may also be our key to engaging new audiences. Understanding these folks is where high-confidence market research comes into play.
Get this: Inactive visitors are even more super-connected to the web than active visitors! Not only that, social media is an even more critical source of information for these folks – not less!
Want to reach new audiences or keep your attendance on pace with population growth? Your organization needs not simply to be “on” social media, but utilizing it to successfully create connections, communicate impact, and engage people. This means understanding its value within all departments of an organization. Simply, potential guests are on social media, and these platforms play an important role in how people connect with institutions, ideas, and one another.
3) Social media followers have greater intent to visit cultural organizations than non-followers
Sure, having a boatload of social media followers seems like a nice number to share with board members, but does it mean anything? It does – at least amongst social media followers who see your organization in their newsfeeds enough to know that they are actively following you!
(Facebook can be fickle. If individual followers do not engage with your posts, they may be less likely to see the posts at all over time. Thus, some followers may not remember that they are followers at all, and the charge for cultural organizations to create ongoing, compelling content is even greater.)
IMPACTS tracked potential visitors to 104 cultural organizations in the United States and compared their intent to visit the cultural organization amongst people who report actively following that organization on social media, and those who do not. Social media followers reported 36% greater intent to visit in one year than non-followers, and 42% greater intent to visit in two years!
This finding matters because it measures intent to visit a cultural organization – not mere interest. Unlike interest, intent to visit correlates with actual visitation to cultural organizations. People who follow an organization on social media don’t only have greater interest in attending – they are much more likely to actually do it!
IMPACTS first published this finding on this website in 2019, and we published another, game-changing finding regarding social media followers the very next week…
4) Social media followers have better onsite experiences
IMPACTS monitored recent visitors to 74 cultural organizations in the United States and found that social media followers have different onsite experiences than people who do not report following the organization on social media – better ones!
Check it out: People who said they were following the organization on social media at the time of their visit had 5.63% greater visitor satisfaction, found their experiences to be 7.04% more educational, and experienced a 4.17% increase in employee courtesy. Perhaps most amazingly, they reported a 7.02% better parking experience!
“What’s happening here?!” These folks may already have an opinion about the organization based on the content they’ve seen in their newsfeeds. Seeing educational content online may impact how educational someone believes the organization to be, and influence the onsite experience. An entity with an engaging and friendly tone on social media may be “showing” social media followers they are an engaging and friendly entity. This may extend to their perceptions of the onsite experience.
Moreover, the simple action of following a specific organization on social media may have a beneficial psychological effect that positively influences their perceptions of the institution.
Building a relationship with people online can influence their perceptions of the actual onsite experience. Often, cultural executives think of the offsite experience as separate from the onsite experience. However, new research shows that visitors to cultural organizations may not make this distinction. To them, the cultural organization may represent the cultural organization… whether they have engaged with the entity onsite or offsite.
5) Over half of visitors use social media onsite, and it correlates with higher visitor satisfaction
Social media can be much more than just a pre-visit source of information. Speaking of which, 75.7% of people who visited a cultural organization in 2019 used social media in order to inform their visit. This is up from 74.2% of visitors at the first quarter of 2019.
As of the first quarter of 2019, 59.9% of people who visit a cultural organization used social media onsite in a way that directly related to their visit. By the end of year 2019, the percentage of visitors using social media onsite in relation to their visit rose to 61.1% Yes, you read that correctly. Well over half of visitors use social media onsite in a way that directly relates to their visit! It may be posting a selfie to Instagram, checking up on your news on Twitter, checking in on Facebook – any one of a host of social media-related activities.
There’s some debate out there about the role of selfies and so on in museums and cultural organizations, but here’s a kicker to consider: On average, people who use social media onsite in relation to their visit reported 7.6% higher satisfaction than people who do not, as of the end of 2019! That’s a massive increase that benefits of the visited cultural organization!
Critically, when we first created the video above in 2017, onsite social media usage was correlated with a 6% increase in visitor satisfaction. By the first quarter of 2019, that number had increased to 7.02%. By the end of the year, the percentage had increased to 7.6 as mentioned. This is indeed a number to watch!
Think twice before you assume that people using social media onsite are necessarily disengaged from their visit. It may be the very opposite! Not only that, people sharing positive endorsements about their experience funnels into the Visitor Engagement Cycle again – playing a potential role in securing even more visitors.
Overall, one of the most critical strategic points informed by the plethora of data on social media is this: Social media’s impact does not “belong” to the Marketing or Communications department. Understanding how people communicate is everyone’s job and a basic responsibility for any professional who works at an institution that deals with people in any way. Of course, it directly impacts marketing, but social media is also critical for the Development, Education, Curatorial, and Operations departments… just to name a few.
These findings are only the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully they’ll open your eyes to the importance of taking social media platforms – and social media engagement – very seriously. What happens online influences perceptions onsite and vice versa.
Make no mistake: Social media is a critical tool for cultural organizations.
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