Museum executives spend countless hours asking some version of the same question: “How can we get more people to visit us”?

The answer?

“You don’t. You go to them.”

Doing so requires using your digital communications channels to greater effect. We’ve put this idea into practice with The National Baseball Hall of Fame. They had a challenge: How to speak to an audience they weren’t serving with a new approach to the topic.

Our solution was La Vida Baseball, a digital media company for Latinos interested in baseball and the culture around the sport.

The face of baseball is changing. There are 57 million Latinos in the United States. They make up one-third of Major League rosters and a significant part of MLB’s fanbase; you see it with groups like Pantone 294 or Delta 17 – supporters of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves, respectively.

Yet the people coming to the Hall in the idyllic, but geographically distant, Cooperstown, NY look a lot like me – a middle-aged white guy who totes his kids along to baseball’s Mecca.

In some respects, this is because there isn’t enough consideration given to developing sports content specifically for Latinos – and especially not around baseball. There was nothing out there that spoke about baseball through the Latino cultural lens: by Latinos and for Latinos, but in English for the 78% of US Latinos under age 45 who consume sports media in that language.

How big is that potential audience? With La Vida Baseball, we have built a social-first, daily original content engine that has become the fastest growing Latino sports media company in the United States. Since our March 2017 launch, we’ve seen five to ten million Latino fans per month consuming La Vida Baseball’s written and video content.

Frankly, this is a 21st century spin on the cable television model for museums; the History Channel was formed by leveraging the Smithsonian’s assets and knowledge. But a museum using a digital media publishing approach has the best opportunity to reach and connect to a passionate audience. Despite their underutilized assets and potential audience it’s still difficult for most museums, to make this leap and change the perceptions of potential donors, sponsors and their spheres of influence.

Here are four reasons why it’s worth it.

1. Niche content enables a more targeted approach

What is it within your museum walls that provides a potential differentiation for you both nationally or even internationally? Most of you have assets, access and intellectual capital to connect latent communities of passionate fans of your subject matter to one another. However, you must find the unmet marketplace niche within your niche and develop a content strategy that will consistently serve your visitors.

There are dozens of entities providing daily baseball coverage of all shapes and sizes. When we looked at the way the U.S. Latino baseball fan was being served, it became obvious there was a gap in providing content through this cultural lens. In talking with the Hall, we developed a platform that extended their ¡Viva Baseball! exhibit into the digital space.

Social media platforms, specifically Facebook, are uniquely designed to efficiently target niche audiences with your content and engage new fans. These are tactics that, if executed well, lay the groundwork for digital memberships as well as a critical mass of consumers that can drive significant marketplace value.

2. Fostering innovation can attract new team members

Creating a digital media property is a new way of thinking about a museum and opens up a strategic playbook to create new revenue streams, change perceptions and engage a global consumer base. We’ve also seen how it can be used as a recruiting tool to attract innovators, entrepreneurs and board members who are interested in investing in growth.

If your board is primarily baby boomers, they are generationally conditioned to be OK with the prospect of raising or spending money on museum exhibits. They might also be less than up-to-speed on the state of media consumption and how this would work for you. To reach younger audiences, you’ll need to find supportive internal and external advocates to engineer this change.

Our most successful relationships with museums start with executive directors, presidents or key board members who understand this is more than just hiring a social media whiz. Innovating around the museum revenue model requires changes in programming, marketing and membership that are dependent on seeking out and listening to a community rather than drawing them to you. The right people are key to this shift.

3. Your four walls are no longer your mission’s limits

Odds are if you’re not in a major city with regular foot traffic that gets you an automatic 500,000-plus annual visitors, your geography limits the breadth of your mission. The amount of money you spend on new exhibits, marketing and other creative ways to boost turnstiles (and therefore potential members) is significant. Even educational programs that deliver on your mission are limited in number, based on your location and staff. Yet more and more museums we meet have “going global” as part of their strategic plan. A digital media property can help make this happen.

It also sets you up for the next generation of donors – digital natives – who will come to expect this: a brand that stands for something beyond a building.

Again, this is not just pumping out content on social media. It’s about taking a subject matter that has millions or even just hundreds of thousands of passionate global citizens and becoming a part of their community. It’s about taking your mission to the targeted audience that is passionately connected to it. The same daily content mentality that attracts global participants can also serve your membership rolls. Once you’ve inspired them within your museum you can continue to connect with their passion digitally, year-round.

For example, the key periods for the Hall’s attendance are from June through August, when baseball loving families enjoy summer break. But since the World Baseball Classic in March, one of the marquee events for Latino baseball players and fans, we’ve seen consistent month-over-month audience growth for La Vida Baseball through the spring, summer and post-season. It’s also brought greater awareness of the Hall’s mission to fans who want to read (and watch) stories about everyone from Roberto Clemente to Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez.

4. It can change the way you approach donors (and sponsors)

The single most consistent piece of feedback I get from museum presidents regarding transforming to a digital media publisher is some form of “this helps me go to my key donors and show them a plan that doesn’t rely on them to be our financial backstop.” Most key donors are successful business people who reward strategic thinking. The concept of a philanthropic investment – seed money to launch a digital media publishing unit with defined strategic and financial returns – is welcomed by this group. The key message here is the potential for new revenue streams. On a micro-donor level, we are currently experimenting with digital media memberships that assume some paying customers may never set foot in your venue, but still want to support your efforts by donating money to get access to unique, frequent content.

Similarly, approaching sponsors with a critical mass of a well-defined target audience is a game-changer. Turnstile attendance isn’t a large enough audience to merit accessing their sponsorship dollars. Millions of monthly engaged niche market audience members open the doors to significant sponsorship relationships.

Donors and sponsors have been groomed for generations to judge your museum’s societal benefit on intangibles or altruism. A digital platform demonstrates impact with measurable and wider reaching effects. We’ve seen it with La Vida Baseball through our coverage of the political crisis in Venezuela and in the exploration of Latino identity in our ongoing ¡Fanaticos! series.

It also sets you up for the next generation of donors – digital natives – who will come to expect this: a brand that stands for something beyond a building.

Museums becoming media publishers is an inevitability. The democratization of content distribution has museums poised to capitalize on a new media world through social media, digital partnerships and direct-to-home TV. The Baseball Hall of Fame has national sports media showering it with praise, MLB teams contacting them for guidance and assistance and other digital media properties approaching them for partnerships around the globe.

It’s hard work, but not rocket science.

It just requires passion.

Jay Sharman is the co-founder and CEO of TeamWorks Media. If you’d like to contact Jay directly, email him at Jay@TeamWorksMedia.com. Or you can follow him on Twitter: @_JaySharman.

Our team is currently working with several museums and halls of fame on transforming them into digital media publishing entities. Mike Sear, TeamWorks’ vice president of special projects will be speaking in more detail about this work at the upcoming International Sports Heritage Association Conference on October 19th in Knoxville, TN.

To schedule some time during the conference to meet with Jay, Mike or Chris Kappes, TeamWorks’ vice president of development, click here.

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