Sunday, January 26, 2014

Social Media Trends as a Lesson in Planning?

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on...................."

Does your organization have a Facebook strategy as part (or all) of your Social Media Marketing strategy?  Is your thinking that having a Facebook strategy will help you attract the younger demographic that we all seem to want?

There are two big things Facebook (or any Social Media) can (arguably) do for arts organizations:

1.  Increase awareness of who you are and what you do.  Expand your brand and your reach.

2.  And much more importantly, maybe it can help build your audiences and support if people on Facebook use it to recommend to their 'friends' that they ought to check you out, involve themselves with support, go to see your performances or exhibitions.

And we have all been repeatedly advised that we must have a Social Media strategy as part of our overall Marketing plan.

But recent studies suggest that there may be a titanic shift in who uses Facebook and thus in its future.  When the "coolness" factor of a phenomenon is challenged, that often spells trouble for its long term continuation.

One study suggests that the bulwark of the early Facebook base - teens - are leaving the site in big numbers and that the older boomer cohort is dramatically increasing their use of the site.  And, it also suggests, as older people flock to Facebook, that may be the very cause of younger people leaving.  (Time to move on if your mother comments on your Facebook page.  OMG - can you imagine the embarassment).
"From January 2011 through the beginning of this year, there was a 25% tumble in the number of users between the ages 13 and 17, while there was an 80% surge in users with an age of 55 and above. The report also showed users who identified themselves as either high school or college students slumped by 59%, with college alumni seeing a 65% increase."

Nothing seems to last for too long in the accelerating change world of technology (remember My Space and Netscape?)  And so it may be time to rethink using the Facebook platform to (at least) attract the younger audience, but a time to embrace it for advancing your marketing to the core base of your older audiences and supporters.

Is this important?  Sure.  Your approach to using social media to attract one demographic group won't likely work with all substrata groups.  This is the era of tailoring approaches to differing cohorts.  Five years ago, if your goal was more people over 50, Facebook wasn't likely going to help.  Now, things may be changing dramatically.

Another study, uses epistemological models of disease as a way to suggest social networking phenomenon like Facebook might be compared to the lifespan of certain diseases like viruses that spring up, rapidly expand, then eventually die out.  The suggestion being that Facebook may be in the early 'later' stages of its existence.

"Facebook’s growth will eventually come to a quick end, much like an infectious disease that spreads rapidly and suddenly dies, say Princeton researchers who are using diseases to model the life cycles of social media."

Personally, I doubt the Facebook exodus is yet anywhere near enough to conclude Facebook's days are numbered, or that its audience has yet moved in mass from one demographic to another.  And I also think a Facebook presence and strategy is essential as part of our wider marketing approach.  Facebook remains a potent force in the pipeline to reach people.  But it does seem likely that some of its early adherents are leaving and that the composition of its users is likely to continue to morph from one cohort to another, from one geographical center to others and so on.  The time to consider changes in anything is early on, not after the fact.

As the arts seem to be perennially behind the curve on understanding, appreciating and embracing new trends and technologies, it might be to our advantage to look carefully at what we are trying to accomplish with the established platforms in social media, and alter those objectives in line with likely changes that are afoot impacting trends for their future.  We might want to continue to gain expertise and experience with using Facebook as a marketing tool, but appreciate that the audience that is the subject of those efforts may be changing and not what we thought.

This leads to a bigger question.  How do you incorporate adaptation and adjustment into your strategic planning?  You have a strategic plan in place.  Under the marketing section, you embrace the need for social networking to be a part of your marketing strategy, and very likely there is the belief that you need to use Facebook and other social platforms to target the desirable younger demographic.  But what if the shift of Facebook users is now inalterably moving away from the younger cohort to an older one?    And what if that trend moves at warp speed?  Have you built into your strategic plan the necessary flexibility and nimbleness within your organizational culture to make big shifts in the application of your strategy, so that you can use outside changes to your advantage?

That's just one example of how fast changes may make your planning obsolete unless your planning embraces the need to be nimble and quick to spot where adjustments need to be made.  I fear in many quarters of our field there remains an antiquated notion of planning, and that we get stuck with well intentioned strategies to achieve objectives that rapidly end up useless.  The days of five year rigid strategic plans is gone.  The objectives part can remain constant, but the specifics outlined to reach the objectives are, often as not, outdated at the moment the plan is adopted.  A waste of time and energy, and worse, it locks us into doing the wrong thing.   Much has been written, for example, about how - over the past decade - capital campaigns for massive new structures - may have been an ill-conceived approach - ignoring the move towards online access, and failing to appreciate changing patterns of leisure time and the convenience factor's importance to people.  Of course, once committed to, it isn't easy to change direction in building new arts edifices.  But other adjustments and changes might not be so difficult.

Consider the 10,000 hours rule: (Culled from Brain Pickings article on Debunking the Rule quoting from Daniel Goleman's Book: Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence)
"The "10,000-hour rule" – that this level of practice holds the secret to great success in any field – has become sacrosanct gospel, echoed on websites and recited as litany in high-performance workshops. 
No less an expert than Anders Ericsson, the Florida State University psychologist whose research on expertise spawned the 10,000-hour rule of thumb, told me, "You don't get benefits from mechanical repetition, but by adjusting your execution over and over to get closer to your goal."
I think organizations are similarly situated.  While it takes time and experience for an organization to develop its "chops" and expertise to effectively navigate the waters of change and planning, "time" itself is not enough.  The organization must also constantly adjust to what it is learning and how it applies that knowledge in its planning and the execution of strategies to reach its goals.

One plank of any strategic plan ought to be to effect a change in the organizational culture so that it embraces change and prioritizes flexible adaptability.  That includes specific mechanisms that will help create that 'culture' so that from top to bottom, board to interns, the entire organization is constantly reassessing, re-evaluating, re-thinking all of the basic assumptions behind the goals and objectives and the strategies adopted to reach those goals.  And part of that commitment may be to emphasize lots and lots of small changes over few big ones.  In fact, this aspect of planning might just be more important than any other single aspect.  We can't just adopt 'plans' and then blindly adhere to them for long periods of time.  It simply doesn't work anymore.  We have to 'plan' for rapid changes beyond our control, and be ever vigilant in spotting changes that demand our re-thinking.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit