Thursday, August 21, 2008

Groundswell Book Club Part 3: Energizing

This week, we're covering the third objective in Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff's book Groundswell: energizing (chapter 6). Josh and Charlene define "energizing the groundswell" as "tapping into the power of word of mouth by connecting with, and turning on, your most committed customers." In other words, find your fans, and empower them to sell for you.

They start by discussing the ROI of word-of-mouth recommendations. Peer referrals are big business; the opinion of a friend or acquaintance is one of the most trustworthy sources of information about products and services, and the presence of peer reviews and ratings has been shown to positively impact sales. Amazon doesn't let you write reviews for the fun of it. They do it because it creates a credible, self-reinforcing engine of information about their products.

The success of these programs relies on businesses' attention to both rants and raves about their products and services. Josh and Charlene introduce Fred Reichheld's research into the relationship between percentage of energized customers and business growth. Fred created the Net Promoter Score, a metric related to the number of people who answer affirmatively to the question: "How likely are you to recommend X to a friend or colleague?" The Net Promoter philosophy is that you ask the question, separate respondents into promoters (answered 9 or 10), passives (answered 7 or 8), and detractors (answered 0 through 6), and find active ways to support promoters and convert detractors.

Charlene and Josh focus on strategies for supporting promoters via ratings and reviews, custom communities, and ambassador programs. In this post, an exploration of ways that museums can support promoters, convert detractors, and generally energize visitors to share their experience with others.

Supporting Promoters

Somewhere out there, there are people who love your museum. How do you support your biggest fans? The traditional way is via membership and donor relationships. You give them special perks, they give you money. But this traditional model is private, building relationships between individuals and the museum rather than individuals and the world. The word-of-mouth benefit of donor relationships is small and reaches a limited community. To energize your fans in the groundswell, you need to turn them loose on the public and give them easy ways to share their enthusiasm with others.

Ratings and Reviews

Imagine a visitor who leaves your museum enthused about her experience. What tools do you offer for her to express her enthusiasm? Maybe a comment card or book. But I don't know of any museums that explicitly offer ways to rate or review exhibitions, collections, or visits beyond that. With the exception of North East England's i like museums site, I don't know of any museum-sponsored way for visitors to share their experiences online.

Why don't museums allow visitors to rate and review their experiences? There are at least four barriers to adoption:
  1. fear of "American Idol"izing the collection
  2. unawareness that ratings can convert positively to visits
  3. disbelief that visitors will want to review their visit
  4. lack of knowledge of how to implement
Let's look at each of these briefly.

1. Don't ratings and reviews degrade the collection? I believe that visitors should be able to rate every exhibit and artifact in a museum. When I bring this up, curators bristle at the threat to their control of the experience. But these same curators probably go home and rent movies, buy books, and select restaurants based on peer ratings and reviews. There are experts in every industry, from books to film to art, and they have an important voice in the selection and presentation of content. But peer voices can add multi-dimensionality, credibility, and up-to-the-minute information to these authoritative perspectives. And allowing people to share their views gives them a venue to contribute their enthusiasm toward the institutional cause of celebrating the museum.

2. Do reviews and ratings really convert to sales/visits? In other industries, including recreation and hospitality, the presence of reviews has been shown to be both popular and effective at generating business. Charlene and Josh cite that 80% of online reviews tend to be positive, and the negative ones add to the credibility of the site (and give businesses opportunities to improve and convert detractors). When it comes to museums and threshold fear, I can't think of a more effective way to convince someone that the museum wants to include them than to say it in the voice of a peer who has had a positive experience.

3. Do visitors really want to review museums and collections? To evaluate this, you have to consider whether your visitors are Web 2.0 "critics"--people interested in judging content. You have to decide which content--are people interested in talking about specific shows or artifacts, or the whole museum experience? Being a critic requires less personal creative drive than creating other social content because you are responding to, not initiating, content. The other important role is the spectators or lurkers--the people who will read the reviews. If you have both critics and spectators in your visitor demographic, you have fertile ground for ratings and reviews. You can check out Forrester's social profile tool for a rough sense of your visitors' predilections. Chances are if they are primarily Western educated adults, they are using and writing reviews on a range of products and services already.

4. How would we implement ratings and reviews? Companies like Bazaarvoice can sell you custom Web-based solutions (for about $50,000). But there are no- and low-cost options as well. You can promote your Yelp! reviews and make it easy for visitors to view and submit reviews from your site (though that requires visitors to register with Yelp). You can use any of many free Web services like JS-Kit to customize your own ratings and reviews. While many museums are still far from seamless technology-based ways to allow visitors to rate exhibits real-time while in the museum, there are some no-tech ways to do this using post-its or penny polls. One of the most clever no-tech ratings system I've heard of is at a library in Sweden. The library has two book drops, one for regular books, and one for amazing books. They take the books from the "amazing" drop and put them on a "user recommendations" table in the middle of the library. It's a super-simple way to enable visitors to share their favorite books with each other.

Custom and Public Communities

Charlene and Josh talk about businesses that create custom communities for their customers, focusing on those that provide business-to-business services. They point out that people who might want to review a product don't necessarily want to join a community about it (do you really want to join the Cuisinart community?). But if you offer a service, for example, museum ticketing, that is used by many professionals in similar ways, you may have a customer base that is uniquely interested in sharing their successes and challenges with each other. This could also be useful for membership and donor circles. Rather than relying on one-way email blasts and requesting that high-level donors evangelize your museum informally, you could set up an online community space where these folks can share their passion for your museum with would-be members and donors.

There are some companies that create limited community features specifically to encourage word-of-mouth and shared participation. The Carnival cruise line operates a community site that is event-specific--you can easily invite friends to join you on your trip and plan your cruise together. This event or visit-based model may work for encouraging increased visitorship to museums: imagine a site that specifically encourages you to bring a friend to the museum, offers a discount for additional tickets, or gives you an easy way to send an automatic email to friends letting them know that you'll be visiting the museum on X day.

Creating custom communities is expensive, and many museums or museum service providers may not have enough constituents to justify it. You may be better off energizing those who have formed their own communities around your content. Is there an unauthorized MySpace page about your museum or some key element of your content? Is someone posting videos on YouTube using your museum as a backdrop? If you identify positive, interesting voices in the larger Web community that address your institution, you can reach out to these folks and make them your ambassadors. Give them some membership-style perks--advance notice of new exhibitions, opportunities to test out new content--and encourage them to keep talking to their communities. I've written before about how this technique is used extensively in the gaming community to energize "community influencers" who both evangelize to other gamers and offer their feedback to game providers.

Again, these community efforts can be online or physical. Many bands create "street teams" of energized fans who wear band shirts, distribute flyers, and become informal word-of-mouth machines. The benefits to doing this online are the trackability and the potential reach to visitors all over the Web. But creating a physical presence, and an opportunity to acknowledge and outfit enthusiasts, can also be valuable, especially for small communities or niche museums.

Converting Detractors

Charlene and Josh don't specifically address how you can use these energizing techniques to turn negative opinions into positive (or at least neutral) attitudes and word-of-mouth, but there is an ongoing thread throughout the whole book about responsiveness and respect. If someone writes a review about your dirty bathrooms, inaccurate labels, or confusing wayfinding, you should react with thanks and action. In Groundswell's case study of the use of ratings and reviews at the online luggage store eBags, there is the story of a bag that got great reviews until one week when negative comments started pouring in about material defects. Rather than ignore the complaints or passively blame the distributor, eBags employee Peter Cobb contacted the manufacturer, convinced him of the defect, and demanded a fix. eBags believes and respects its reviewers, whether they are speaking positively or negatively.

People get annoyed when their concerns fall on deaf ears. As Charlene and Josh point out, one of the risky things about energizing users is that it creates an imperative to listen. As they put it:
An energized community expects a response, and energized customers wield power within the community of customers. The message, for any company, is to listen and, whenever possible, to give customers what they desire most.

How do you energize your visitors, members, and donors to spread the word about your museum? What are the pressing questions, needs, and conversation points that your visitors want to share with each other?

5 comments, add yours!:

Anonymous said...

Great job as usual tailoring Groundswell advice for museum people! The Northeast England "I like museums..." site is intriguing, and I did not know about it. The Science Museum in London is energizing their supporters by piloting an "object wiki," in which visitors add their opinions, questions, comments about specific objects in the museum's collection. (I found out about it because there's a twitter feed involved.) But low tech is good, too--in my last museum, in our new permanent exhibit we added a bulletin board (behind glass) on which we posted visitor comment cards. Each card started with a leading question: "This exhibit made me think about...," "I remember...," "My favorite part of this exhibit was...," or "I wonder why..." Staff learned a lot about how visitors "received" the exhibit, and reading them added another dimension for visitors, too!

Anonymous said...

I like the low-tech approach mentioned by Elizabeth. Something tells me that if I put that in a children's exhibit, or one that was alpha mom centric I would see a good response.
It is such a challenge when your base is 65+ I know my techno graphic: they sleep in temperpetic beds and own a Jitterbug cell phone. They still don't understand the concept of cut and pasting let alone checking their cell for twitter updates.
Still, I am wondering if there are ways to encourage reviews by offering a 10% discount at our shops? Fill out a comment card and drop it off at the shop for a 10% discount? These could then be in-put into online sources or even directly into our site. Not exactly energizing my base, but it does play to their depression era thriftiness!

Anonymous said...

Can I just say I totaly want to work at the DIA!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this review Nina - I've grabbed myself a copy of the book and am currently devouring it as I try to figure out a solution to allow a small group of users of our astro content to support each other and to get more constructive communication between us and them.

Love to know if anyone else has faced the challenge of maintaining a smaller online community - can it ever work??

Anonymous said...

love your blog. actually, museum of contemporary art/denver nicely incorporates social media into their site. visitors can comment, send email and mobile reminders about exhibits, etc. exactly what you're talking about here. (personally, the design execution could have been a bit sexier, but the concept is truly revolutionary for a museum).