by • 17 Jun, 2011 • Inspiration, Thoughts about museumsComments (6)3268

Critical mass

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Recently someone used the term critical mass to mean you need a certain amount of followers/friends/fans to be successful in social media. Strength is in numbers, etc. “Of course MoMA can do that, with its gazillion followers.” I dare to disagree.

In primary school they taught me to address specific people when asking for help in a crowded place. An undirected ‘help’ would certainly go unattended. Later I learned this is called the bystander effect. People don’t help when there’re other people around.

A hundred thousand, or even a millions followers/friends/fans is a lot of people. If you tweet a question or Facebook a funding request or e-mail a petition, certainly some small percentage will respond. And maybe a small percentage of many is enough to do the trick. On the other hand, many, many more will not feel any need to respond. Bystanders.

I believe that if you know your audience, are creative and dare to specifically address your questions, you don’t need a lot of followers/friends/fans. Over the last months, every single campaign I did where I specifically asked some outdid those where I generally asked many. Even if “specifically asking some” was semi-automated. Even if the ties between the addressed individual and our institution were weak.

So, how do you defy critical mass?

There’s a small museum I appreciate with people who’ve worked hard to be innovative and entrepreneurial. Now they’re about to lose all funding, because they don’t meet a threshold for external money coming in. Also, this museum has a small yet dedicated online following.

I’m sure that by going back through their twitter history, selecting all tweeps who’ve been to expositions, made a positive comment about the museum, asked a question that was answered, etc. and sending them a personalised direct reply with a link to a PayPal donation button, they should be able to bring in some money.

“@DearFollower In January you liked our exposition. Now we need you to continue making things you like. Info&donation http://etc.etc/etc”.

No room for bystanders there. And no need for critical mass.

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  • A smaller number of involved constituents is worth way more than a large number of non-involved people. Very true about direct involvement but one thing I would suggest before pushing the hat out is more of a conversation starter to bring them in even more to be involved before putting the hat out for a donation.

  • Thanks Jim. I wonder what works best. My experience with getting people to blog, tweet, link, download or comment on stuff is that there’s no need for conversation first, as long as there’s a reason I’m contacting (because we had a conversation earlier, for instance, in which an interest in the topic at hand was indicated). Certainly no spamming! That only gets your account blocked. I’d love to try it with fundraising one day, but maybe there’s someone out there who has done so already and would like to hint to the best approach?

  • Linda

    Hi Jasper–This past winter, a friend and I did a Kickstarter (  project for our project, The Pickle Project ( (okay, far too many projects in that sentence) and that’s exactly what happened there for us.  The web gave us the world, but really it was through those smaller networks of connections that our support came in several different circles:  our friends and family, of course, but also those interested in Ukraine, sustainable food, or in Kickstarter’s approach to innovative projects.

    And our regular connecting through Facebook, the blog, and Kickstarter updates, helped build our own little community of people who care about Ukrainian foodways; an audience we’re now bringing with us as our project emerges.  Kickstarter is also all or nothing, and a time limit,  which, as one backer said, “makes it like a game, you want the project to win!”   Interestingly,  our average contribution was about $48,  which a fundraising friend tells me is far above the average of what direct mail, for instance, will bring in.

    So it is doable–but whether it can sustain an organization in the long run is a different question,I suspect.

  • Linda

    Well, would have been helpful if I’d spelled the Kickstarter link right:

  • Hi Linda, thanks for your encouraging comment. We have a Kickstarter-alike alternative in Holland called “Voor de Kunst” ( which focuses primarily on art projects. Its founder in a presentation earlier this year mentioned the “community” around your cause to be a key factor for success: how many people can you directly address to become part of the challenge.

    (& I’m going to see if I can moderate the kickstarter link into your comment. Stay tuned:-) )

  • Linda

    Great to see the Dutch version—it is definitely about finding people directly–but sometimes it’s the kind of people that surprise you.  We threw alot of different things on the wall, so to speak, and enough of them became supporters…but that holds true whether you’re doing it online or in person, I think.