This week, we're covering the second objective in Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff's book Groundswell: talking (chapter 6). There is a basic difference between traditional marketing to customers/visitors and groundswell talking. The first is shouting. The second is conversing. This is true whether you are talking about marketing text or exhibit content. In this post, a discussion about the art of conversation in the groundswell.
Three Levels of Talking
There are many levels at which you can “talk” in the groundswell. The simplest way is to be a commenter—to follow blogs and sites related to your institution and share your own observations and helpful tips. The next level is to produce your own talk, via profiles on social networking sites, a twitter feed, flickr group, blogs, podcasts, or online video. And the most involved level is to produce a place for talk—to manage an online community in which you are in constant conversation with your visitors.
Many museums have jumped into the middle level—producing their own content—without starting with commenting. This is problematic for a couple of reasons. As Charlene and Josh point out, joining the blogosphere is like going to a cocktail party. You don’t barge in and just start talking—you listen, and you look for the right entry point to join in. If you start by creating your own blog and don’t comment on others, you may still be shouting, just in a new medium. Many of the most active bloggers and Web 2.0 talkers do most of their talking on other peoples’ sites--check out this post from a blogger explaining why he comments on 36 blogs each morning.
The other problem with starting in the middle is that it takes more time and effort to create and manage your own content than to comment on others'. For a big organization, creating a blog, podcast, or even a Facebook page requires an "initiative" complete with editorial plans, topic strategy, etc. When the initiative becomes unwieldy, talking of any kind is scrapped--even simple commenting.
Consider the path of the Bay Area Discovery Museum. Their online talking began years before they started a blog this January. Jennifer Caleshu, their director of communication, is a museum talker extraordinaire. Yes, she runs the blog--but she also has an online persona—zeitgeistmama—with which she participates in parenting and Bay Area blogs and online communities of all kinds. Via zeitgeistmama, Jennifer is a positive, authentic ambassador for BADM to her local community as well as a world of Web-based onlookers. She started the blog after years of engaging with multiple communities, at a point when it made sense to upgrade her level of talking and she knew what kind of content would be successful.
Because BADM takes an integrated approach, they can talk effectively across different websites and communities. Look at the BADM’s participation in the annual Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco. First, BADM took one of their core principles—support for all kinds of families—and extended that to justify participation (a kind of talking) in an outside, potentially controversial event featuring a good deal of adult-oriented revelry. They created “tykes on bikes”—a contingent of rainbow-wearing kiddies on trikes who march in a family-friendly area (where it’s a bit tamer). This is a no-tech way for BADM to talk about their values in a larger context.
And Jennifer talked it up online. But she didn’t issue press releases or just blog about it on the BADM site. Because of her involvement as a talker in other online communities, she had natural advocates who publicized the event—and then Jennifer made sure to monitor the comments and answer any questions people had (check out the comments on this blog post). After the parade, she posted pictures on Flickr and wrote a thank you blog post that includes a roundup of other discussion about the event on the web. She clearly demonstrated that BADM is part of the diverse family community of San Francisco, both on the streets and online.
What does it look like when a museum goes all the way to the top level and creates its own community for discussion? Two of the best examples are the Science Museum of Minnesota's Science Buzz and the Ontario Science Centre's RedShiftNow. Both are museum-run forums for visitors to post their own content and opinions. Note how ScienceBuzz promotes participation by putting the comments at the top rather than the bottom of blog posts. These initiatives, like the Proctor and Gamble beinggirl.com site profiled in Groundswell, are complex, expensive endeavors. If you want to go down this path, be prepared for a big financial and time investment.
ROI of Groundswell Talking
My favorite part of Groundswell is the in-depth breakdowns of costs and benefits of Web 2.0 initiatives. Most of these are at the level of huge corporations like GM whose marketing budgets are significantly larger than that of museums. But the categories of costs and benefit are still useful. For an executive blog, Charlene and Josh lists the one-time costs as planning and development and training for blogging executive, and the ongoing costs as paying for the blogging platform, IT support, content production (including executive time), brand-monitoring, and review/redirection. These come in at big figures, with a total of $283k and the largest contributor ($150k) assigned to content production.
However, the benefits ($393k) outweigh the costs. They document benefits in advertising value (visibility/traffic per pageview), PR value (driving press stories), word-of-mouth value (referring from other blogs), support value (customer support calls deferred by content), research value (customer insights compared to focus groups). The largest $$ of these is PR value, and the smallest is advertising value, since pageviews are "cheap."
They also link to an interesting study commissioned by MySpace and an ad agency, Carat, about the ROI of a MySpace initiative Carat produced for the Adidas shoe company, which suggested a strong and highly efficient correlation between exposure to the MySpace site and likeliness to buy.
Should museums be looking at groundswell talking in terms of ROI? Sure. But in many cases, the benefits of groundswell talking--for example, reducing customer support calls or generating blog referrals--are not currently itemized elements of value in the museum industry. Whether you talk in the groundswell or not, benefits like pageviews and links from outside blogs are useful to track. Once you understand your current position in the groundswell, you'll be more able to gauge the potential and effect of Web 2.0 initiatives.
Picking the Right Talking Strategy
Let's say you're ready to get engaged at the mid-level. You've listened to your community. You've started talking by commenting on other blogs and sites. Which institutional talking is right for you?
Do you want to raise brand awareness? Groundswell profiles the story of the Blendtec, the blender company that stumbled into a viral video explosion with their "Will it Blend?" video series. By talking in a funny, unusual way, and doing so in an environment of lots of other talkers (YouTube), Blendtec was able to raise brand awareness at a fraction of traditional advertising costs. This is really tough. Creating a viral video requires extreme ingenuity, luck, and a little bit of ability to put your video up on video-sharing sites. Just putting it on YouTube isn't enough--you have to have a really surprising and appealing thing to share.
Do you want to be part of the conversation? Join an already existing community, like Facebook, MySpace, or Flickr. You can put out a small amount of content to get started, and if people associate strongly with your institution, they will come. Charlene and Josh point out that the most important part of maintaining profiles in a community is responding to messages and comments you receive. The work comes in answering questions and cheerleading participation, if not creating a lot of content on your own.
Do you want to explain diverse or complicated offerings? Josh and Charlene recommend not one but multiple blogs as a good solution to provide deep content on seemingly disconnected products. For example, HP maintains blogs on everything from printers to operating systems. Similarly, the Powerhouse Museum maintains five blogs: one on astronomy, one on photos from their collection, one on science and sustainability, and one that accompanied a special exhibition on the Great Wall, and one on digital media. As a large science and design museum, the Powerhouse struggles to tell "one story" about their offerings. Why tell one when you could talk to each individual constituent community in their own language?
This makes the most sense for large museums, especially those that already have a couple of rogue blogs that are not coherently displayed together on the main museum website. Starting multiple blogs at once is a mess. Start with one for a specific, time-limited exhibition project (see the hugely successful LA MOCA Wack! blog for a single exhibition) and see how it goes. If possible, use a standard template to maintain consistency. If you use a third-party blogging service like Blogger, you can easily manage all of your blogs--both their content and traffic--from one place.
Do you want to address misconceptions about your museum? If you are active in your local blogosphere, you have a natural, speedy place to address rude comments or inaccuracies. You can comment on their site, comment on a neutral site (like Yelp!), or, when the going gets really rough, post on your own blog. Executive blogging is a powerful way to get directors' voices out in a world where reporters are watching. If something happens like the recent controversy over dumbing down of science at the Franklin, you don't have to wait five days to get a letter to the editor published. You can respond right away via comments and a defense on your own blog.
What are the most effective ways that you use talking in the groundswell? What do you see as the mark of a great conversationalist?