Museums as broadcasters

The mission of the National Geographic Society is ’to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge while promoting the conservation of the world’s cultural, historical, and natural resources.’

This mission could easily be that of a museum, and the ambition of the National Geographic Society to take their message to the world is one which I think could be an example to museums.

Just nine months after the society was founded in 1888, the first National Geographic magazine was published. This publication with its iconic yellow frame delivered knowledge about places, animals and peoples which most of us would never see. 123 years later the magazine is published in thirty-four languages and had a global circulation of 8.2 million in 2011.

The success of the magazine is impressive, with the Louvre being the only museum in the world to attract more visitors annually than the National Geographic has readers. However, it is the societies expansion into television and film which really interests me.

In September 1997, National Geographic Channel was launched in the UK, Europe and Australia. Today the channel is available in 143 countries, in 160 million homes and in 25 languages.

tate_tv-1

Museums as broadcasters

The Walker Art Center relaunched their website in December 2011, and in doing so, they moved from a format which could be described as a traditional ’museum’ website which focused on the institutions programmes to offering a broader view of contemporary art.

The Walker Art Center describe this new website as an ’idea hub’, but it is really just a very interesting website for anyone interested in contemporary art, even those who might never visit their physical venue.

This concept of the museum as a publisher is perhaps nothing new, afterall the Walker Art Center has published a magazine for a number of years as do many other institutions, but while one suspects that most museum publications are more about revenue or giving members something which feels worth their annual fee, this feels more like the institution using online publishing as a tool to reach more people and to fulfill its mission.

The Walker Art Center website has become a destination for those interested in contemporary art and having increase their reach with a 40% increase in traffic to their website. I am sure that many other institutions are thinking about how they can use publishing to reach new audiences and fulfil their missions.

Personally I would love to see a science museum website which went beyond telling me about exhibitions and also got me interested in science. After all, is the mission of these institutions to grow their visitor figures or to educate people about the subjects which they cover.

Ultimately why isn’t their a museum which is doing what the National Geographic Society has done, taking the subject which they are passionate about beyond the walls of an institution and into the homes of millions of people?

With the convergence of television and the internet, the barrier to entry in launching a ’television channel’ is about to fall dramatically. I wonder which museum will be the first to grasp this great opportunity to go beyond their walls and fulfil their mission on a global scale?

Most museum websites are terrible (at achieving mission)

What is the main aim of a museum website? Browsing the internet, you quickly conclude that this is to promote the institution to potential visitors. This is of course a worthwhile aim, museums would not exist without an audience, but I believe that museum websites can be much more.

The starting point for all digital activities within a museum should be it’s mission, this is likely to be to educate, to inspire, to preserve and to share (or similar). Visitor figures have a role in a museum, but these should be a way to measure how many people we are reaching, not the reason that the institution exists.

The solution I believe is for museum websites to become hubs for ideas, publishing platforms which allow institutions to pursue their missions by sharing knowledge and inspiration with the public.

Walker Art Center recently did this, becoming a digital hub for not just contemporary art which is hanging in their institution, but for contemporary art as a whole. The result was a 40% increase in traffic to their website and a digital experience which seems to ties in more closely with their mission.

Old attitudes

For the Walker Art Center website to grow beyond being primarily a marketing tool they had to invest in the team who produce their website, adding members of staff to manage and produce the huge quantity content needed to keep this ideas hub constantly changing.

Many have said that this added expense means that other institutions are unlikely to move their websites towards being publishing platforms. ‘Museums don’t have the budget to do this’ they say.

The Walker art Center has an annual turnover of around $17 million, and the idea that a few extra staff would put a huge strain on this budget is preposterous, they have simply decided to fund their website over something else.

I believe that even much smaller institutions could do the same, but there seems an unwillingness to divert funds from the physical museum to pay for digital activities, perhaps because many institutions see websites as primarily a marketing tool and things which happen in the physical museum as delivering on mission.

An open letter to Museum Directors

Museum leaders need to rethink digital, and look at it from a more strategic perspective, one which can really deliver on the mission of the institution and the needs of the public. Museum leaders need to recognise that a powerful website can deliver just as much as a powerful exhibition and fund the roles within the institution to produce something credible online.

If museums see updating their websites as something which their marketing people can do in a couple of hours per week, then they are missing a huge opportunity to step beyond the walls of their institutions and settling for little more than digital leaflets.

I believe that our website have a real role to play in delivering on the mission of museums, but to do that, we need to be prepared to invest in them.

Creating the on demand museum

When I was a child growing up in England we had four television channels, and if I wanted to watch my favourite programme I had to wait for it to appear on my parents television set at the time which it was broadcast.

My children live in a different world, a place where broadcasting has evolved to meet and often exceed to expectations of the public. In the UK, our public broadcaster the BBC has in recent years led this evolution, with iPlayer, an on demand service which allows me to view there programmes online, on mobile or on television with the click of a button.

The service is incredibly popular, with 1 in 4 people in the UK saying they view more television via iPlayer and similar services than regular TV. In an age when the public increasingly expect services on demand at a time and place that suites them, this public service (BBC) is delivering an excellent service.

The traditional model of a museum is similar to that of television. The museum opens its doors at set times and ‘broadcasts’ through a set channel. The public are expected to be there if they wish to participate in the experience.

What we are now seeing (or need to see) is a shift towards an iPlayer model. The museum needs to move beyond expecting people to come to them, and see the value in taking their knowledge to their audiences in a format which fits in to peoples lives.

This does not only mean investing in technology (though I believe that is key), but rethinking opening hours and taking collections beyond the walls of the institution. Many institutions are doing this, yet I still find myself standing frustrated at the doors of a closed museum on a Sunday afternoon.

How would you create an on demand museum?

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Take over an empty shop in a shopping center and take the museum to people who might never visit spend time.
  • Open later (even if it means you open later) so people can visit after work.
  • Invest in digital capacity (technology and staff) and use the web and apps to be open 24/7.
  • Open up your collection data through API’s to allow others to find ways to share your collection.
  • Use free channels like Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter, Pinterest etc to take your museum beyond its walls.

Twitter guidelines for museum staff

This is meant to be a guideline for staff who wish to use Twitter to tweet on their own behalf (rather then the official museum account). I am not sure if I have gone overboard, would this just scare anyone off using Twitter, rather then giving them guidance.

Please let me know if I have missed anything?

Twitter guidelines for museum staff
One of the defining features of Twitter is that it is very much a person to person network, and this holds both dangers and benefits for an organisation like a museum.

To project the right image for the museum it is important to consider how you use Twitter, for example, it could reflect badly on the organisation if someone who identified themselves as a member of staff made political remarks, talked about ‘going out to get wrecked’ or used inappropriate language amongst tweets that referenced their work.

Whilst we would like to see people from across the organisation use twitter to engage with the public and to talk about the work that they do, we would suggest that this needs to be done as a member of staff and as such you should consider having separate personal and professional Twitter accounts.

If you do set up a Twitter account for professional use, then it is important to identify yourself as working for the museum to avoid any confusion about your point of view. For example, it could seem dishonest to the community on Twitter if you posted comments about how good a new exhibition looked without identifying yourself as a member of staff.

The easiest way to show your link to the museum is to mention this in your profile.

What should I write about?
Your starting point should be to listen to what others are talking about on Twitter and to think about how you can best contribute to the conversations which are taking place on the social network.

Twitter is an eco-system of thousands of niche conversations and as a museum we are perfectly positioned to benefit from this by engaging with people who have a passion for the subjects we cover.

Use the Twitter search facility to find these interesting conversations and follow and engage with individuals who are saying interesting things.

As well as listening and responding to others, you will want to write about your own work within the museum. Museums are fascinating places and you will find that a lot of people are interested in what goes on behind the scenes; just be careful not to announce anything confidential before it is in the public domain.

As well as writing tweets, you may also find Twitpic.com a useful service. This allows you to share pictures on Twitter and with such visual collections, this can really add something special to your tweets.

Responding to the public

Twitter is a person to person network, and your part of using this social media platform is speaking to the public. They might reply to something that you write on Twitter or could ask you a question.

It is important to reply to these messages in the same friendly and informative manner that you would if they came up to you in the museum.

If somebody has a criticism about an exhibition or the museum in general, inform them that you appreciate their comment and have passed this along to the relevant person in the museum, and then forward the comment to ——— so that they can deal with it in line with your complaints procedure.

Tone of Voice
Getting the right tone of voice for your tweets is essential when joining Twitter, this website has a large and passionate user-base and anyone stumbling in to this space and posting in an inappropriate way will quickly be ridiculed.

Twitter has a friendly and informal style. This is a person to person network and you should write your tweets to suit this, rather then posting anything that sounds too ‘corporate’ or ‘PR’.

Looking at how more experienced users are writing tweets on the website is often a good way to learn what works and what seems inappropriate.

Retweeting
One of the most popular features of Twitter is the retweet, this is essentially forwarding a message that someone else has written to your followers. When selecting something to retweet, consider how appropriate it is for someone who is linked with the museum to be associated with the original tweet and whether it may appear to be an endorsement of third party content.

You may wish to consider adding your own comment to anything that you choose to retweet, making it clear why you are forwarding it.

Following people
While it is best practice to follow those who choose to follow you on Twitter back, it is important that you look at the profile of each person you are considering following and consider whether it is appropriate for the museum to have a link with this individual.

Once you have started to follow an individual, you should keep reviewing what they are posting to Twitter and stop following them if you think that their tweets are inappropriate.

Abandoning Twitter
Once you have made a commitment to use Twitter, you should try and tweet at least once a day. In reality you’ll probably find it quite addictive.

If you find that Twitter isn’t for you, then consider handing over your account to a colleague rather then abandoning it, this is also the best course of action if you are leaving the museum.

If you can not find an appropriate person to take over from you, then you should delete your account, rather then leaving an abandoned account online.

When it is okay to pretend to be someone else
Whilst transparency and honesty are key to the way that we should act on social networks, there is one exception to the rule.

Some museums have made good use of Twitter to bring historic figures back from the dead, and to write tweets as either a famous person or a fictional character in order to educate the public about a certain period of time or an event from history.

This kind of activity can be very effective, but needs to be well planned with consideration given to how you could respond to the public if they ask questions, or try and engage this person in conversation.

Branding and the ‘Museum’

Museum Branding

One of the most common things to come up in the twenty years that I have been developing brands for museums is an uneasiness about the word ‘museum’ from those working in the sector.

On countless occasions the subject of whether we should use the word museum has come up, ‘people don’t like the word’ I’ve been told, followed by a conversation about how preconceptions or a poor experience as a child mean that the word museum is a big turn off for the general public.

Our research hasn’t found this to be the case. Of course some people don’t feel that museums are for them, but calling it a learning laboratory, history centre or an interactive collection isn’t going to trick anyone.

When naming a museum or a group of museums, all kinds of imaginative alternatives are mentioned, but the word museum is a great descriptor, people know what to expect in a way that more left of field names simply can’t deliver.

And a brand doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so every brand communication can tell the public what kind of museum you are (i.e. not a dusty Victorian relic).

So lets embrace the word museum and offer brilliant experiences which keep adding value to this word.

Twitter for Museums

This is an article which I wrote for the latest issue of Museum ID Magazine about Twitter for Museums.  It hopefully acts as a good introduction for anyone thinking of using the social network for a museum or gallery.

Twitter
The big internet success story of 2009 was undoubtedly Twitter, the ‘micro-blogging’ platform which, with the help of celebrity endorsements, grew from an estimated 6 million users to 18 million users in just 12 months, and which is predicted to rise to 26 million in the coming year.

The growth and success of the website didn’t escape the attention of museums, and by the start of 2010 over 1000 institutions in 34 countries had joined Twitter, attracted by a potentially large audience and an easy-to-use, free platform.

So what is Twitter?
Twitter is a ‘micro-blogging’ platform; a website where people share what they are doing or what they’ve found with others by sending and receiving messages known as tweets.

What defines Twitter is the short format of these tweets, with each message limited to just 140 characters of text, making it quick and easy to update.

These messages are sent and received through the website Twitter.com or through third party applications which bring these messages or tweets on to a computer’s desktop or a mobile phone.

As well as tweeting a message, you can also retweet or forward a message which someone else has written to your followers. If you write engaging, informative and entertaining messages on Twitter, you should find that people retweet what you are writing too.

While tweets and retweets are public and anyone can read these, direct messages are private and can only be read by those who you send them to. However, the person you wish to direct message must follow you for you to have permission to send them a direct message.

How is Twitter useful to museums?
Most museums are attracted to Twitter as a marketing tool; it can act as a modern day mailing list, allowing a museum to quickly broadcast information to a large number of people who have opted to hear more about your museum.

However once a museum joins Twitter it will quickly realise that the website is more about community, and using it only to broadcast advertising messages will quickly turn people off. Instead, a museum can speak with those who choose to follow them, to entertain, engage and inform Twitter users with a behind-the-scenes and up-to-the-minute account of your institution. This can build a loyal following; a kind of museum membership for the 21st century.

Twitter is also a great way to share information with your followers; the majority of tweets feature links and by linking to content on other websites, you can advance your museum’s educational aims through the web.

How to get started with Twitter
I would recommend anyone thinking about setting up a Twitter account for their museum first joins the website as an individual. This will allow you to get to grips with how Twitter works and learn from museums who are already tweeting.

It is easy to find museums through the search facility on Twitter. You can follow as many institutions as you like and you don’t need to confine yourself to any one country. MoMA (their Twitter name is @MuseumModernArt) is seen as the leading institution on the website and they are a great Twitter account to follow and to learn from.

One thing which you will learn from MoMA is that even though this is a large and prestigious museum, they identify the person who writes on behalf of the institution and allow the tweets that they write to have personality.

With only 140 characters of text to work with, tone of voice is incredibly important on Twitter and your museum will need to become comfortable with writing in a more down-to-earth, snappy style.

This research period is also a great time to look for people speaking about your museum, because even if you are not writing about your museum on Twitter, the chances are that your visitors are. You can use the search tools on Twitter or an external site such as SocialMention.

Get those around you involved in thinking about how Twitter could fit with your organisation and start to map out some ideas about how you could launch and manage a Twitter account for your museum.

The activities that you’ll need to think about are:

Listening – every day you should do a search on your museum name and look at what people are saying about your institution – are they asking a question which you can help them to answer?

Broadcasting – you should broadcast two or three tweets a day. I recommend that you plan the majority of these out in advance with themes like Museum Fact Monday, Guess the object of the day, Behind the scenes pictures of an exhibition being built or links to video of an event on YouTube. Asking questions is another great way to encourage your followers to engage with your museum – if you’re wondering what a particular audience group would like from you, why not ask them?

Replying – you should set aside some time every day to reply to messages on Twitter. You should also discuss with your colleagues issues such as how you will respond to negative feedback. Most museums have guidelines for dealing with complaints offline and these just need to be revisited to consider how they can work on Twitter.

Don’t let the thought of negative feedback put you off joining Twitter though. The chances are that people would make the same negative remark if you were not on the website and having a presence there will allow you to change opinions and learn from your mistakes. When you look at the Twitter feed for other museums, you’ll see that there is usually a very positive, sharing vibe since their Twitter followers are some of their biggest fans.

When you feel that you have a good grasp of how the website works from your experience with a personal account, and you have thought about how you will manage Twitter day-to-day then you are ready to set up an account for your museum.

Attracting followers
Unless you set up a feed to your website or Facebook page, the only people who will see what you write on Twitter will be those who choose to subscribe or follow your museum’s tweets, so it is important to keep attracting new followers.

The easiest way to get started is to add a Twitter logo to your museum website and to spread the word virally to staff and through them to their friends. You may also want to add your Twitter name to leaflets and to promote it in the museum.

With your editorial plan in place, you will have lots of interesting content to share and your followers should hopefully retweet this to their own network of followers and start to virally spread the word about your museum.

You can also try offering incentives like a prize draw for tickets to a new exhibition, or reward your 1000th follower with free merchandise from your shop.

What next?
Twitter is predicted to grow over the next twelve months, but it has also spawned something of a cultural shift with more and more people sharing their experiences in real time.

In late 2009, Google started to index these real time live casts in its searches and now it is becoming more likely that the first result that someone finds when searching for your museum will be a review from someone who has just visited your venue, rather than your official website.

In terms of the opportunities for sharing, casting, connecting, surveying, broadcasting and reaching your audience, the Twitter possibilities are endless.

Rebranding a gallery

harley_gallery_logo_1

Bringing together the historic and contemporary the Harley Gallery is located on the ducal estate of Wellbeck in Nottinghamshire. The venue planned to double in size with a new gallery to house their historic collections.

The galleries leadership felt that this was an opportunity to rebrand the gallery, giving it a professional brand that could represent the venue following the redevelopment.

The foundation commissioned Sumo, a branding agency with a wealth of experience branding museums and galleries to rebrand  the Harley Gallery.

harlery_gallery_rebrand

Sumo employed a workshop led approach to build an understanding of the gallery and their vision for the future. The workshops helped the team working on rebranding the gallery to understand that the mix of the contemporary and historic were key to the vision of the organisation and they looked to communicate that visually.

Sumo developed a unique typographic brand combining a timeless and classic serif typeface with a bold, minimal sans serif to create a wordmark with broad appeal. This was mixed with a strong duotone treatment and a flexible colour palette which are used across the galleries marketing communications.

You can find out more about how Sumo  rebranded the Harley Gallery on the design agencies website, as well as interesting case studies from other museum branding projects.

Digital marketing through engagement

digitalengagementframework

 

The Digital Engagement Framework helps museums and galleries to think about how they are using digital media in a more strategic way. It was originally released two years ago as a free resource for the museum sector by museum innovators Jasper Visser and Jim Richardson.

A second edition of the framework has just been released in the form of a 60 page book. Again, this is free of charge and released under a Creative Commons license.

This new edition is based on two years experience using the framework and contains case studies from museums and galleries around the world.

This free resource can be downloaded from the Digital Engagement Framework website.

Marketing the Metropolitan Museum of Art

my_met

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is an institution which constantly impresses me with its marketing. A few years ago they had the good sense to shift their communications to include their audiences with the ‘It’s time we MET’ campaign. For this, they asked members of the public to capture their visit to the museum in pictures and share these on Flickr, they then selected a handful of these ‘real’ images to feature in their advertising campaign.

This shift of marketing focus from objects to people was a risky one for a museum of such stature. I am sure that they got a lot of comments about dumbing down, but it transformed my view of the Metropolitan Museum of Art from a stuffy institution, to a place where the staff understood that the status quo was shifting.

People have been central to their advertising ever since, and when I was recently in New York I was pleased to see the latest iteration of this concept with ‘What’s your MET?’ a campaign which caught my attention because of the big name celebrities who had selected items from the collection.

Perhaps only the Metropolitan Museum of Art could put together a campaign in which Hugh Jackman, Alica Keys and Zaha Hadid share their favourite objects from their collection, afterall this is an institution which is inextricably linked with celebrity through its Annual Gala.

However, the campaign is far smarter than a little celebrity endorsement.

my_met2

What’s your MET?‘ is a section on the Metropolitan Museum of Art website which allows people to select and store their favourite items from their online collection, this is linked to social media platforms to encourage those creating collections to share them with friends on Facebook or Twitter.

Many museums now let people play curator with their online collections, but I think that the way that the Metropolitan Museum of Art tie this seamlessly into their advertising is outstanding.

The ‘What’s your MET?’ campaign takes things to a perfect conclusion by not only featuring celebrity collections, but also those of ‘ordinary’ members of the public. In doing so, I feel that they show that anyone can have an opinion on the arts, not only the MET’s curators, the star of the X-Men or other familiar faces.

To me, this is the right message for a museum to communicate to its audiences and a near perfect campaign.

What is museum branding?

Your brand is not your logo.

Your brand is the perception that people have of your organisation. It is formed through everything you do, from how you present your collection through to how easy to use your website is. We call these points of contact ‘touchpoints’.

‘Touchpoints’ are every way in which people come in to contact with your organisation.

All of these points of contact create a gut feeling people have when they think of your organisation, even those who haven’t walked through your doors think they know what they can expect because of a story a friend told them or an advert they saw in the paper. And because your brand is the perception that other people have of you, then some people are bound to have the wrong idea.

If you don’t effectively communicate your brand, the external world will do it for you — probably inaccurately.

This will impede your ability to build or sustain audiences, and will subsequently garner financial support from public and private sources.

People-grow-through-history
Above:
The core essence of the Museum of East Anglian Life brand is that they want everyone who comes into contact with the organisation to grow.

What should our brand say?

  • To decide what style is appropriate for your brand, you first need to establish some key principles:What is your mission statement or your key message?
  • What makes your museum different (your Unique Selling Point)?
  • Who are you aiming your message(s) at?
  • What are the key values which guide your museum?
  • What kind of ‘personality’ does your museum have?

What is brand identity?

Brand identity is your visual image, created to project your brand the way you want it to be seen to the world. This is also called your brand style, visual identity or corporate identity. Brand identity normally starts with a logo, but it is also a style that is used in everything you produce from leaflets to signage. A good brand identity will project a positive image of your venue, but a poor brand identity can seriously damage your reputation.

Meal_logo-1
Above:
The brand identity for the Museum of East Anglian Life

So what makes a good brand identity?

All the elements of your brand identity from the logo through to the style of your photography should truly reflect the personality of your brand, and appeal to you target audience.It is often best to keep your logo simple and let the elements around it explain what your Museum is all about.