For museums in the digital age, appealing to modern audiences is an exercise in nuanced storytelling. What once was one-way messaging, led by docents and consumed by museumgoers, has become an immersive cultural dialogue, one shared by educators, visitors and far-removed patrons alike.
It’s in this burgeoning landscape that museums are refining their online narratives and broadening the cultural discourse. I have long been interested in how museums use emerging media to connect with and recruit enthusiasts. I recently organized #MuseumChatDC – a Twitter chat with museum marketers – to learn about the challenges and opportunities afforded by digital media. Here are five ways museums are leveraging these digital tools to boost attendance and extend the museum experience beyond institution walls.
1. Audience Analysis
Museums seeing the most engagement on social have a keen understanding of visitor behavior. One recent trend is photo sharing. It’s in this context that visitors, acting as individual curators, are sharing select works on view, oftentimes in a selfie format. The Newseum, in response to the trend, launched Selfie Gallery, a campaign encouraging museumgoers to submit their selfies, with uploads featured on the Newseum website. In another iteration of the trend, the New York Public Library asked visitors to submit a #libraryshelfie, spotlighting their bookshelves in an amusing take on the self-referential use of digital tools.
2. Influencer Engagement
Equally important in drafting an online narrative is engaging with key influencers. It’s these individuals driving the discussion online that, once identified, are actively sought out to not only boost visits but amplify museum messaging to a wider audience. To connect with influencers in new ways, The National Gallery of Art has invited influencers to a series of Instameets. At these sessions, influencers are presented with questions related to the works on view and are invited to roam the gallery, taking photos of the works on view as part of their response. Similarly, the Metropolitan Museum of Art launched a recent campaign, The Artist Project, which invited 100 artists to share what inspires them about the gallery, with the results repurposed into a series of YouTube shorts.
3. Expert Commentary
Digital communication platforms are also employed to spotlight experts from across the museum world. Museum educators, in particular, have an important role to play in advancing the cultural discourse and museums are leveraging these experts to educate a broader audience. One example is #AskACuratorDay, a Twitter campaign encouraging users to submit their art history questions, with curators answering each question on the channel in tow. The Smithsonian 3D Twitter handle takes a similar approach, spotlighting the team’s latest 3D projects and sharing industry insights.
4. Milestone Highlights
As museum education advances, so do questions of scalability. In crafting an online narrative, museums are looking to push out content at ideally-timed intervals. For most institutions, this amounts to drafting content around historical events or other key milestones. At the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, a former Edelman client, visitors were encouraged to share their stories as part of a broader #IRememberBy Twitter campaign, showcasing courageous stories around the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. In addition to historical milestones, institutions are also drafting content around educational themes. At the National Gallery of Art, museum educators share art history learnings as part of the gallery’s #ArtAtoZ series, covering a new topic every two weeks as part of a year-long exploration.
5. Exponential Engagement
One goal of these digital programs is to engage with visitors. But equally important is broadening the conversation to not only encourage visitors but their followers to share as well. It’s this form of amplified engagement that has museums rolling out archiving programs, such as the Smithsonian’s Field Book tool, an online archiving program allowing museum visitors to bookmark items of interest for later viewing outside the gallery. In much the same way, the Metropolitan Museum of Art asked visitors to create a MyMet account, curated with self-selected works from across the gallery. Users are then prompted to share their creations with others in their social circles, thereby broadening an otherwise solitary activity.
Museums, evidenced in this set of recent campaigns, need not fear the digital trends taking shape in today’s online landscape. Rather than dampening attendance, online advances are reviving the on-site experience and creating new opportunities for marketers to engage with key audiences. It’s in this context that museums, guided by educational principles, are gleaning consumer insights, networking with key influencers, tapping experts from across the network and spotlighting key milestones to enhance engagement. A new era is at hand, and appropriately, museums are responding with salient digital storytelling.
For specific examples from #MuseumChatDC, check out the Storify recap of the chat.
Image credit: Paul Arps