Feeds, stories, hashtags. Common parlance now, nonsense a decade ago. Social media has fundamentally altered how people approach life. We apply filters, edit until the scene seems perfect, and pretend we don’t care about likes. That’s on a personal level, but social media is big business and the stakes are amplified even further for museums and attractions. Which is a social media strategy for museums is so important.
Social media can be a valuable asset in increasing your audience, spreading your message and showcasing the extent of your collection. And there’s the added benefit of driving revenues and drawing in crowds. It's also one of the most useful tools to capture the attentionnewer and younger audiences.
Here’s how social media can be used effectively, and what social media managers at the top of their game are doing.
Step 1 in designing a social media strategy for museums: Defining a young demographic
Before getting into the nitty-gritty, it’s important to define what a young audience is. For the purpose of this article, we’ll assume that tickets are going to be bought by the individuals themselves, rather than a parent. As a baseline, we’ll take this age as 18. On the flipside, what’s old? We could argue that anyone who says flipside would fall under that bracket, but in the interest of being at least slightly scientific, let’s stop after millennials, so anyone born from 1981 to 1996 as per the Pew Research definition.
That’s pretty broad, 18-38, but it should serve to eliminate the older (and slightly less tech-savvy) generations from our target demographic.
Am I so out of touch? No, it’s the children who are wrong
You want to reach a young audience, but what’s current? The online landscape is ever-changing, and keeping up in the digital age is no easy feat. We’ve come a long way since a cat wanted a cheeseburger – and it pays to know what’s trending in and out of museums.
The Art Newspaper is a great means to see what exhibits are doing well in the GLAM scene while Buzzsumo, Google Trends, and Reddit (or anyone who looks at their phone far too often) will keep you clued in on pop culture and the latest memes – both important elements to consider when designing a social media strategy for museums.
So, having your finger on the pulse is important, but how do you turn that into a strategy, and what’s the good in actually making social media one of your main audience outreaches? Well…
Step 2: Creating a social media strategy for museums
Take advantage of in-house expertise
Social media marketing doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg – in fact, you can keep all of your limbs. Of course, if you’re making a concentrated push you can hire specialists and influencers, but it can be coordinated in-house.
If one, or more, of your employees can capture your tone of voice there aren’t many better ways to have your message heard. But like most things, that’s easier said than done, and it can be done well, or it can be done badly. Getting the advice of a social media specialist, at least to kick off your social media efforts would not go amiss.
Ultimately social media is a powerful (and free!) means to spread the mission of your institution, but to make it work you need to be inventive.
Get creative with your collection – and show it off!
Your institution should represent you and the people in your organisation. Give your collection the voice it deserves in the modern age, and come up with a way to express to people what you’re so clearly passionate about!
To do nothing more than show your collection with a caption stating what the work is would be the greatest sin of all. Except for violating the ten commandments… stop worshiping the golden calf, you fools!
Decide on a tone of voice, and stick with it
You don’t land on a tone of voice with immediacy; finding out what your brand should be can be a hard-fought battle. But once you’re onto a winner, it can propagate your institution manifold.
One museum in England had even greater success.
The Museum of English Rural Life, a social media case study
The quintessentially British Museum of English Rural Life is a prime example of how social media can be made inventive and help what is a relatively small venue flourish. One sheep photo with a creative caption was able to garner more than 110,000 likes, 30,000 retweets and follows from the likes of J. K. Rowling and Elon Musk – the latter even changing his twitter handle for a while.
Creative use of Twitter helped their followers leap from a poultry 9.7K followers to 143K.
The man behind the sheep, Adam Koszary, even managed to bag himself a job at Tesla after impressing renowned meme lover Elon Musk with his efforts.
Make things interesting with memes, gifs and user-generated content
Of course, it’s about promoting history and art, so maybe don’t lean too heavily into memes to get teens, but Lucy Redoglia, LACMA’s social media manager, can’t deny that it works:
“Regarding the meme-ification of visual artworks, we’ve found that it’s a great way to connect with at least one large segment of our audience—particularly those who skew younger. It lowers the “intimidation factor” traditional art history might have, and provides an easy entry point for people whose interests may not fall squarely in the visual art realm.”
Putting your content to use
Content is king, and museums have it in spades. There are plenty of ways you can approach what your museum’s got on offer; it could be a well-told story, or how a piece of art ended up in your museum and the places it passed through before arriving to you. Don’t be afraid of getting creative, as the Museum of English Rural Life has shown. Take advantage of features like Instagram’s multiple image option which lets people swipe through a series of photos.
This will mean digitising your collection to use that content online, and making communication between your social media manager and staff a core focus.
Make your social media strategy an internal mission, too
Speak to your curators and discover the interesting stories surrounding your pieces. Social media is more than just marketing, it’s engagement and spreading the word of your museum in an original way that’s going to keep people entertained.
More often than not, visitors aren’t going to share the same immediate passion for your exhibition as you. If it’s physically in front of them, they might just walk past it – what’s going to make it any different when they swipe through their feed? You need to make it memorable, and you can do that with a wild fact, a pop culture reference, a mini interview with someone (like members of your staff) who knows what they're talking about.
Go behind the scenes to inspire people
Not many people realise how much work goes into the upkeep of a museum, but the Rijksmuseum likes to let people know. The recent refurbishment of The Nightwatch also gave Rembrandt fans and art nerds the opportunity to see how a painting is restored and researched.
Inspire people with a great photo that they’ll want to take themselves. Or if someone’s taken a great photo, share it on your social media platforms and credit them. The Vatican’s spiral staircase springs to mind.
RC, not only current at the time of the tweet, but also aware of memes and willing to show humour, and technically engaging with someone
Sure, Crocs messed up the format, but at least they’re trying. And the more you stare the funnier it gets. Oh dear… I think I need to go get some Crocs.
Make engagement a part of your social media strategy and smash that 'Like' button
Engage with your audience: like the photos they’ve posted from your museums, comment on their photos, and follow up-and-coming artists. Reply to them on Twitter if they tag you in a post. Appreciate people who are commenting on your photos or tweeting at you. Treat it as a relationship, but with less flowers, but probably more token awareness of people’s efforts. If someone’s taken a photo of your exhibit, make sure to like it, or leave a comment on their profile to win some points with them.
Beyond that, social media is about interpretation for a certain audience or audiences. Just like a scholarly publication, exhibition catalogue, or even docent-led tour is meant to interpret the artworks in the collection, social media serves to broadcast those interpretations as well as to create its own interpretations through storytelling tools like Snapchat or Facebook Live.
Further, social media is about interpretation for a certain audience or audiences. Just like a scholarly publication, exhibition catalogue, or even docent-led tour is meant to interpret the artworks in the collection, social media serves to broadcast those interpretations as well as to create its own interpretations through storytelling tools like Snapchat or Facebook Live.
Make what you’ve got work for you
Is seeing the Mona Lisa about seeing the Mona Lisa or taking a photo of the Mona Lisa and saying you saw it? A little of column A, a little of column B. Art museums can serve as a breeding ground for anyone hoping to fill out their feed. Of course that’s not the end goal of the artist, but certain works have a draw, and it would be foolish to not make the most of it.
If you have something extraordinary, your visitors are essentially advertising for you. There’s the potential an eye-catching exhibition will have thousands of photos taken of it, which will then be shared on Instagram and arouse others’ interests. It’s essentially selling itself. Daniel Arsham’s Connecting Time at Moco, a cavern of amethyst balls akin to stepping inside of a neon igloo, is an Instagrammer’s dream.
Find out what’s working in your social media strategy for your museum and do more of it
Don’t be afraid of experimenting, but monitor what’s working and do more of it. Keep an eye on what your audience engages with most and keep that going. Build an online community that’s going to make them excited to see your collection offline too.
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