Engaging people is one of the primary responsibilities of an historic site, although we might call it membership, attendance, advocacy, support, fundraising, or “resources development” (yup, that’s what it was called at one place I worked). Expanding and growing engagement is usually focused on direct and simple efforts, such as working on individuals to give increasingly greater sums or putting out more announcements to increase attendance. Results are usually sporadic, rough, and unpredictable.
I recently learned of a thoughtful strategy from Gideon Rosenblatt, the former executive director of Groundwire, a company that helps environmental organizations connect, inspire, and mobilize their communities. He lays out engagement in a spectrum of six stages from Observers to Leaders and each has a decreasing number of people involved. This is best illustrated as a pyramid, with the large group of Observers at the bottom and the small group of Leaders at the top. He’s found that each group has a specific mindset and communication preference, and therefore, organizations can effectively engage with each audience successfully in specific ways, and has even provided goals, tactics, and metrics. For example, Observers have the mindset of:
Interested in the cause and aware of the organization. Awareness is the major factor. “I care enough about the issue to be aware of your organization’s existence, but you haven’t given me reason or opportunity to investigate you first-hand.”
The challenge is that Observers take “occasional, distracted glances at the organization’s work.” They may visit the your website but don’t provide contact information, so any direct communication is at their initiative. For Observers, your engagement goal is to “inspire initial and repeat contact with the organization” by getting him or her to “visit organization’s website or attend an event”. This is best accomplished by “hearing about an organization’s work from an [Observer's] friend via email or a Facebook or Twitter post, or hearing about the work through a newspaper article or blog or by attending an event” and you can measure your effectiveness by monitoring “Website traffic, aided and unaided recognition polling.”
You’ll find a more detailed explanation at “The Engagement Pyramid: Six Levels of Connecting People and Social Change” at IdealWare.