The social museum, online

Back when I worked at the Museum of the Order of St John, managing their social media channels, I focused very heavily on communicating with the online audience. One of my favorite things to do was to get the audience talking and engaging with our collections, online, through social media. It’s something that I’m really encouraging other museums to do, at most of my workshops, so I figured I’d write a few points here on how to be successfully social.

Don’t be afraid to talk to your audience

One of the biggest pitfalls for some museum professionals is their innate fear of how their audience might react to conversation. They worry that they might be offensive, or easily offended. They worry that they might be overly opinionated, or that the audience won’t be bothered to listen to what the museum has to say. They focus too heavily on the negatives, and seem to ignore the potential benefits. By talking to your audience, you can encourage their learning. You can share interesting stories and get their opinions on those stories. You can get them to contribute to the information that you already have about objects, or historical events – you can even work out the sort of stuff that they like, so that it’s easier to engage them with your content. In all, talking to your audience (and I mean actually talking to them) is key to being social online.

Make the most of what you have

If you’re an institution with lots of awesome photographs, share those bad-boys online! If you’re sure of the copyright, there shouldn’t be anything holding you back. If you’re a little concerned over the images, or anything that you have in your collections, the Intellectual Property Office is a great place to start. At MOSJ we used the IPO for some of our Orphan Works, and we managed to get some relatively in-expensive Orphan Work licences, so that we had peace of mind when sharing them online. The Government has recently changed the laws and regulations around the use of Orphan images for educational purposes, so now’s the time to take advantage and get those awesome images online for your audience to see, and enjoy!

Understand your uniqueness

There are a tonne of different channels for people to follow through social media, from celebrities to foulmouthed foxes, so why should people take the time to follow you? What makes you different from everyone else, is it your collections, your history, your staff or your building? Perhaps you have an iconic item in your museum, that you could utilise online – like the Horniman Walrus. Or perhaps you have a really interesting historical character associated with your history, who you could channel for fun and engaging posts. If you can’t work out what makes you unique, and then use that uniqueness online, how do you expect people to see your institution for how awesome it truly is?

Understand your audience

Knowing your unique qualities is key to forming decent, consistent and engaging content. But knowing your audience can help you refine that content. Use Facebook Insights, Twitter analytics or Google Analytics to analyse your audience. Find out what makes them tick, do they mostly use tablet devices? Are they based in your local area? What’s their average age and how long do they usually spend on your site, or how much do they engage with your content? You can find out all of this through these free to use analysis services. It might just be boring numbers, but those boring numbers can help you work out what content works best for your audience, and then refine that content to make the most of your interactions online.

Take risks!

But, whilst tried and tested is all well and good, taking risks can reap a load of benefits. Sure, you can rejig things that other museums are already doing, to work for your institution. But, if you want to make real waves online, you want to be setting the curve. Look for niche social media platforms, like HistoryPin and utilise them in imaginative and creative ways. Get your audience involved as much as possible, and really get them engaging with your content. Look out for up-and-coming pieces of tech, applications, or social media platforms and jump on them whilst they’re still in their infancy. You can ride their wave of popularity, and help them test their product as an interesting, exciting and innovative case study. Why walk the path most trodden when you can go and blaze your own trail?

When it comes to social media, you can pretty much make it whatever you want it to be. Personally, I think that social media, for museums and their audiences, should be a hub of interactions, of engagement and of conversation. You should be encouraging your audience to think about your collections and your messages, and you should be keen to get their opinions and feedback wherever possible. Take advantage of these wonderful opportunities, and really get your audience enveloped in your content!

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