by • 16 Aug, 2011 • PeopleComments (1)7951

A quest for relevance

To succeed in our never-ending quest to make culture and the arts more relevant in the lives of people, all we have to do (online) is approach the right people at the right time and place with the right message through the right communication channel.

Simply put, don’t tweet about overflowing toilets unless you want to make a point about the pressing need for maintenance funds. And in that case, be sure to ask at the beginning of the month, when people just received their paychecks.

The museum of the 21st century is as successful in being relevant to people, as Google and Facebook ads are. (Or, if you prefer, will be in the near future.) In fact, we can use the very tools Google and Facebook ads provide us to prove that the more relevant we make our content, the more likely they are to engage with it.

In the chart below I’ve plotted a number of Facebook ads we ran. The potential reach of the ad is on the horizontal axis, on the vertical each ads true reach (normalized to a similar number of impressions per ad). The CTR chart of the same data is very much alike.

Potential and true reach of Facebook ads

Without a doubt, ads aimed at a specific target group, with a specific message, almost always outperform the more general ads.

In the past two years, every time we made a project relevant to a specific part of our audience, it outperformed more general projects on all qualitative metrics. Participation with xwashier was higher than with our overall website. Content of 100m2NL was better read than that of our old weblog.

Even in total numbers, more relevant projects outperformed the more general ones, even though their potential reach was smaller. In the chart above, the first five dots total a potential reach of 350k people, of which some 205k are actually reached. The dot at the very end only reaches 140k people, even though its potential reach is 7-8 times larger.

With all new media tools at our disposal, all niche markets being addressed by one blog or another, every interest group accessible through Facebook, it has become very easy to approach the right people with the right message at the right place. Only timing is still really tricky, in my experience.

My favourite example from my work at the Museum of National History is the pilot we did with Foursquare. By adding the stories from our website to the train stations nearest to where they happened, we managed to reach a small, but high-quality audience. This audience were:

  • the right people, as Foursquare users are usually aware of their whereabouts and curious about their environment (otherwise why use the service?)
  • at the right time, because if you have time to check in at a train station, you’re likely to have to wait a little and want something to pass the time
  • and the right place, for the story they were served happened where they were
  • reached with the right message: a short line carefully crafted based on experience with twitter and other Foursquare projects with a link to our website, left as a tip.

Tapping into the strength of locally relevant culture is also at the heart of xwashier, which shows history at the places where it happened.

Obviously, it takes more time to make your message relevant to people. Especially if you decide you will take your full original target group (the 2.x million in the chart) and divide this into sufficient smaller target groups until you have reached everybody with a relevant message.

But then again, if it didn’t take time, it wouldn’t be a quest. And if it weren’t a quest, it wouldn’t be so much fun to see ever more people engage with culture and the arts.

Header photo by Stephanie Schuldes on Flickr.

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