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 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.

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.

Jim Richardson is the founder of Sumo, a design agency with a wealth of experience developing brands for museum and galleries and the annual museum conference MuseumNext.

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.

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 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.

Jim Richardson is the founder of Sumo, a design agency with a wealth of experience developing brands for museum and galleries and the annual museum conference MuseumNext.

Rebranding a gallery


The Harley Foundation is a charitable trust established in 1977 to improve public access to arts. Based on the ducal estate of Welbeck, in Nottinghamshire the Harley Foundation runs the award-winning Harley Gallery, an education programme and three sets of artists’ studios.

With plans to more than double the size of the Harley Gallery with a new gallery to showcase the historic  Portland Collection, the trustees felt that the gallery branding needed to be refreshed to represent the contemporary for which the gallery is known, and the historic in the form of the Portland Collection.

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


Sumo held 2 workshop sessions, one with trustees of the Foundation and another with staff and estate managers to fully understand their vision. In terms of the activities they discovered the architecture of the brand had many strands, consisting of the Foundation, the Gallery, the Shop and the Artist Studios. The overarching themes from the workshop were the mix of the contemporary and the historic, being inspired by the past to make their mark on the future.

With this in mind Sumo developed a unique typographic museum brand combining a timeless and classic serif typeface with a bold, minimal sans serif to create a wordmark with broad appeal. A dynamic two tone visual language was developed to communicate the brand across materials which can be used with imagery or purely colour. Each strand of the brand utilises the same look and feel, creating a cohesive and understandable brand family.

You can find out more about the Harley Gallery rebrand on the Sumo website. The agency have branded several other museums, such as rebranding the Museum of East Anglian Life or rebranding the Wordsworth Trust.

Digital marketing through engagement



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.

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.

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.

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.

How do you get young people excited about museums?

Concerned as they are with history and permanence, museums are not generally in the business of shaking things up. The idea of new blood – a youthful, invigorating force that can re-imagine an organisation – is not usually high on the Trustee agenda at established and venerable institutions. Big changes are often slow, perhaps almost generational, yet these same institutions are perpetually charged with attracting new and different types of audiences.

In fact, one of the most consistent themes of the past decade or so of museum funding, at least in the UK, has been the push for audience development: how to reach groups that have been underrepresented amongst museum visitors. One such group is young adults and one network of people outside the UK, Amsterdam-based n8, has taken great strides to address this, bringing young adults closer to the city’s museums whilst remaining independent of the institutions themselves.

Building gradually from the success of a late night opening of Amsterdam museums in 2000 (in text vernacular n8 would be pronounced as ‘nacht’, the Dutch for ‘night’), n8 became a non-profit organisation in 2003. ‘The idea initially came from a board of directors from Amsterdam museums who decided it was a good idea to set up a group that could connect the museums with young people in the city,’ says Sarah Berckenkamp, n8’s current project manager.

Museum Night, n8’s flagship annual event, now attracts more than 25,000 visitors to its participating venues, including the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam Museum and the Jewish Historical Museum. Almost 70 per cent of these visitors are under 35. This is no mean feat, if UK research by the Museums, Libraries & Archives council (MLA) is anything to go by. In 2004, the MLA reported that only 27 per cent of museum visitors in England were aged 35 or under. The same research showed that 16-34 year olds represented a smaller proportion of museum visitors than their proportion of the total population. In fact, it is only in the 35-plus age ranges where the proportion of museum visitors outstrips that age group’s proportion of the population as a whole: 27 per cent of museum visitors fell in the 35-44 age bracket, even though this group only represented 19 per cent of the population of England, according to the 2004 Renaissance Visitor Exit Survey.

Attracting this younger adult audience is tricky. Cultural awareness and reflection with a historical perspective – the kind presented by most museums – is something that tends to develop with age. Young people, particularly 16-24 year olds, typically inhabit a different cultural field from older generations, consuming and producing material in different modes and with different perspectives.

Recognising this, n8 has developed a range of platforms for engagement and interaction between Amsterdam’s museums and its younger citizens, targeting in particular the city’s creative sector. As well as the Museum Night, n8 programmes and promotes Nacht Salon, another late night event that takes place in just one museum – a different one each year – and features a specially selected programme of workshops, music, talks, tours, films and installations, all served up with a bar running into the small hours.

With its later night and culturally youthful programming, the Nacht Salon attracts an even younger audience than the main Museum Night, with an average visitor age of just 23. To make these events successful, the museums have to relinquish control of their spaces for the duration of the night, allowing n8 to use the museums in ways they think will appeal to their network of young people. ‘The museums have come to trust us to run these nights well – you have to be trusted to do something like this. But we do build the programme around the collections and exhibitions of the host museum, working with the curators on ideas,’ says Berckenkamp.

In another strand, called n8pro, the organisation offers Amsterdam’s museums 20 young professionals, aged 18-28 and drawn from outside the museum sector, as consultants on reaching younger audiences. This ‘cultural advice’ is richer than an ad hoc focus group, but remains drawn from outside the institutions themselves. With a keen awareness of the cultural make-up of Amsterdam’s young adults, the n8pro network can advise on things such as ​​communications, web strategy, programming and public outreach.

Online initiatives from n8 include regular blogging and Nachtgeluiden, or Night Sounds, an mp3-based platform allowing people to record their personal responses to museum objects and exhibitions and upload them for others to listen to and share. ‘We want the museums to get to know and understand the world of young people and we want to get these young people to get to know their museums,’ says Geer Oskam, n8’s previous project manager. ‘I ask my friends what they read or which websites they visit and we try to make a connection with [those media rather than] advertise. We don’t have a lot of money and we don’t read a lot of advertisements ourselves.’

Because no one at the foundation stays longer than three years, Oskam has now moved on from n8, replaced by Berckenkamp. New blood is built into the n8 personnel structure from the very beginning, with more experienced members handing over the reins to younger recruits. And although n8 staff and contributors are interested in and passionate about museums, they are not already museum professionals. In these ways, n8 ensures that its rolling programme of activities continues to be drawn from, and developed for, the young people that the group was set up to reach.

Creating a successful brand

Above: Museum branding for the Wordsworth Trust designed by Sumo.

A good brand development process typically means change, or at the very least a questioning of the place and purpose of an organisation. This process inevitably throws up hurdles to overcome, but in doing so, can produce some inspiring results, especially in the rich and exciting world of museums.

This was the case with the Wordsworth Trust, an organisation founded in 1891 as a living memorial to William Wordsworth and his contemporaries in the Romantic cultural movement. Although willing to embrace the branding process, there were nevertheless some in the organisation who questioned its relevance and value.

‘Historically, the Trust had seen marketing as a necessary evil and had probably never really thought about the brand at all: things like Mars chocolate were brands, but not the Wordsworth Trust,’ says Paul Kleian, who joined in 2007 as head of marketing and communications.

The Trust’s properties include Dove Cottage in Grasmere, Wordsworth’s home at the height of his creative output, and the award-winning Jerwood Centre. Together they present the Trust’s Museum and Art Gallery and its extensive collection on Wordsworth and Romanticism. Its range of activities reaches academics, tourists and the local community through an ongoing outreach programme. But despite obvious strengths as a long-established and invaluable cultural heritage organisation, the Trust lacked a coherent commercial strategy at a time when guaranteed funding was becoming scarce.

To reach more people, more effectively, this needed to be taken seriously, says Kleian. ‘We didn’t have a brand or a clear cut ethos of what the organisation was for. Staff and trustee perceptions all differed and in each case were different from what most visitors thought. But I knew we would have to set aside our own feelings in this because it’s about what our customers think—the scholars, tourists, schools, artists and poets who visit us and work with us. The Trust is actually a very complex organisation that isn’t aiming at any one of these groups but all of them, and that has to come across.’

The Trust agreed to engage a branding and design consultancy and three groups were shortlisted, including Sumo. ‘Two companies were just selling logos, even though they barely knew the organisation, but Sumo stood out in a class of their own,’ says Kleian. ‘I was insistent that we went with designers who would engage as many people as possible within the Trust so that staff had ownership of the process and results. This is what Sumo were proposing.’

While the visible outputs of a branding process are often a new logo and colour palette, this belies the value and depth of the process. ‘Anyone who is thinking of starting a branding process should be deeply suspicious of any design group which immediately starts selling logos,’ says Kleian.


The process is actually a careful examination of who you think you are, what your customers think you are and where you would like to be, as Sumo creative director Sarah Hanley explains: ‘We held workshops that are designed to draw out the vision and values of the organisation and everybody speaks at these. We used image prompts and analogies with other things like celebrities or vehicles to examine the Trust’s attributes.

This is a good exercise to get people to think about what they are. It turned out that the perception of the Trust was of a
highbrow organisation for older, middle class people. But they wanted to offer a journey and experience that is open to everyone. Sumo’s workshop gave staff the opportunity to discuss what the Trust is all about’, says Kleian. ‘The designers appeared to have completely open minds and this in turn opened minds in the workshop. It was very well done. It became clear that we all think of the Trust in different ways, but we also started to look at it as if from the outside looking in. It was a clever thing and by the end of it a lot of heads here were nodding.’

After the workshop, Sumo produced a document of findings, but no new visual identity. From these findings Kleian and the designers identified four fundamental ‘pillars’ for the organisation—accessibility, knowledge, creativity and heritage—and distilled these into an expression of the Trust’s purpose, namely: ‘Sharing inspiration from the past for the future’.


Once these unifying ideas were in place they could be reflected in graphic designs, including the logo. Informal research showed that the two things people most closely associate with Wordsworth are writing and daffodils, the latter being the inspiration for his celebrated poem I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud. The designs for the Trust’s main visual identity captured these associations with symbolised renderings of a quill and daffodil. Along with the primary logo, Sumo produced a set of design guidelines that are now used by the Trust to create its own printed material, signage, exhibition graphics and so on.

Find out more about the Wordsworth Trust brand development on the Sumo website.

Collaborative museum marketing campaign : Yorkshire’s Favourite Paintings

The interpretation of collections is a vital element in the public engagement work of most contemporary museums and galleries. Curators, learning departments and exhibition designers all influence how objects are presented and interpreted, often by telling stories, making cross-cultural connections and by providing context and history. Visitors have come to expect this kind of expert contextualisation from museums and, perhaps to a slightly lesser extent, from art galleries too.


But like almost every area of communication in the 21st century, museum interpretation is becoming a two-way exchange. The rise of social media and its many channels for multiple, personal voices, means that more and more people expect to share their own stories and contexts and offer their own interpretations. This idea is rippling through the arts and cultural heritage world, demonstrated by last year’s Arts Marketing Association conference which focused specifically on shifts from marketing to people towards ways of marketing with people.

This idea of visitor input underpins a project by the Yorkshire Regional Museums Hub to promote the county’s oil painting collections. The campaign, designed by Newcastle based marketing agency Sumo and called Yorkshire’s Favourite Paintings, hopes to get people talking about their own favourite pictures from the collections, sharing their thoughts online and commenting on the views of others. ‘A lot of people aren’t aware of the breadth and depth of the region’s painting collections. We often talk about the venues themselves, but the paintings are really much more than the sum of their parts,’ explains Eric Hildrew, head of marketing and communications for Museums Sheffield, the Hub’s lead partner.

With Renaissance in the Regions funding to digitise a number of paintings, the Yorkshire Hub was looking for a way to cross-promote its venues, which include large art galleries in Leeds, York, Sheffield and Hull, as well as many smaller museums. According to Hildrew, the initial idea had been to run a ‘competition’ to find Yorkshire’s overall favourite painting, but in the end a more open-ended approach emerged. ‘Sumo softened the competition, arguing that finding just one favourite ran counter to the kernel of the idea, which is that everybody has a different favourite and their own reasons for that particular choice,’ he says.

Instead, the campaign will be built around people’s stories and views on their favourite pictures – their own interpretations. Using focus groups comprised of visitors and non-visitors, as well as the venues’ curators, a list of 100 oil paintings was chosen for the campaign. These range from 17th-19th century works by painters such as Thomas Gainsborough and John Singer Sargent, through to more modern and abstract work by artists such as Bridget Riley, Paula Rego and Francis Bacon.

A specially built site allows people to search for paintings by artist, period and the venue at which they are held. Users can choose their favourites and leave an explanation of why a particular picture appeals to them. These stories are then displayed to other visitors alongside the paintings online. To encourage dialogue, social media sharing is also built into the site, allowing one-click posting of the artworks to sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

The idea, according to Hildrew, is that everyone has some view about paintings. ‘It doesn’t have to be based on art history necessarily; a lot of people view art on the basis of whether they would like it in their living room, which is equally valid. We are looking for people’s responses to generate a sense of discussion, perhaps around the notions of what is “good” or how we choose a favourite,’ he says. ‘To aid this, we wanted a website that would show the paintings as well as possible, not just as a load of thumbnails. The site has a strong layout and a nice feel, where users scroll horizontally through the pictures, which is closer to a gallery experience.’

As with any marketing campaign to promote museums, it is important to pitch the material according to the target audience. Hard-to-reach groups are often targeted in order to raise their awareness of museums and galleries, but in this case the Yorkshire Hub is looking to engage a broader audience of people who are probably already ‘museum-aware’ but who seldom visit.

‘There’s a mid-ground of people who are interested, fairly museum or art literate and without any real barriers to engagement, but who still don’t visit very often,’ says Hildrew. ‘One of the reasons we liked the Sumo campaign was because it gave us a valuable external view on what we’re doing. Our marketing always produces nice materials, but they are usually in the same gallery style. A really strong aspect of Sumo’s work is its “pop” feel which, although it may go slightly against the grain of what regular visitors expect, shows that it is doing exactly what we need to reach different people.’

Yorkshire’s Favourite Paintings is supported by an outdoor media campaign as well as in-gallery marketing materials, such as thematic trails and voting booths beside featured paintings. And a competition element remains: the most enthusiastic and popular entries on the website will be shortlisted and a winner chosen to receive a high-quality print of their favourite painting.

But more importantly, the museum marketing campaign highlights how digital channels – in this case a special site and the use of social media – give museums the opportunity to ‘host’ ongoing public discussions of their collections. In this way, Yorkshire’s Favourite Paintings is both a promotional campaign and a platform for visitors’ interpretations of art.

Sharing stories to promote your museum

Facebook is essentially a person-to-person network and while businesses and cultural institutions may try to leverage it for marketing, most are missing its full potential by treating this new media as they did the old.

In the real world, people share their opinions on the world around them, and this kind of conversation is the most powerful influence on the products we buy, and the way we choose to spend our free time.

Research shows that a recommendation from a friend is more powerful than broadcasting advertising messages, and on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter the same is true.

Personal recommendation isn’t new of course, ten years ago I might have told a handful of people about a new exhibition or a performance I’d enjoyed, but social media amplifies this ‘word-of-mouth’ marketing, so instead of me having to go and tell each person about an experience, in one click I can spread the word to hundreds, or thousands of people.

I think that cultural institutions need to rethink how they are approaching social media, moving from the perspective of ‘What do we want to say?’ to ‘How do we get people to talk about us?’.

There are many ways that you can make it easier for people to advocate on your behalf or encourage them to talk about your cultural institution.

Get people to ‘like’ you.
Facebook and other social media websites make it easy for people to share things that interest them with their friends through ‘social sharing’ buttons.

These share buttons can be added to any page on your website through a simple line of code and when someone clicks this, a link to the relevant content appears on the relevant
social network, sharing this information with their friends.

The average Facebook user has 130 friends, but research shows that the people who click Facebook ‘Like’ buttons have on average twice as many friends on the social network.

Ultimately I think this technology will step beyond the internet, for example a museum could have a ‘Like’ button next to a painting, and when a visitor swipes their smart phone next to this, it instantly posts a link on your Facebook wall.

Take in a lodger
Another interesting way to get a member of the public to share their experiences of a cultural institution is to invite someone to live in it. That is what the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago did when they ran a contest to find someone to live in their museum for a month.


The museum received over 1500 applications to live in the museum, and they selected a woman called Kate as the winner. She did experiments, spoke to visitors and shared her experience with members of the public through a blog, through videos and through Twitter. Having an individual who is one step removed from the institution gives this social content more credibility than if the museum had written it themselves.

While in this case it was a museum that took in a lodger, I could imagine that this could also work for other cultural institutions, imagine a theatre enthusiast sharing a behind-the-scenes look at a new play taking shape.

Ask people for reviews
One way that TATE get people to talk about their exhibitions is through a reviews section on their Facebook page. This is an incredibly powerful advert for their exhibitions with real people sharing their experiences of TATE.

TATE use Facebook’s ‘Reviews’ functionality on their page, and any museum or gallery could add this to their own page in minutes.

If you do choose to add reviews to your Facebook page, you need to also consider how you are going to inform people about this. You could use signage in your venue to inform visitors that you would like them to leave a review or if people are buying tickets, take their email addresses and send them an invitation to leave a review the following day.

Treat bloggers like rockstars
You don’t have to go to the extreme of having someone live in your cultural institution to get them to write about you,
just reach out to bloggers.

Blogger outreach is increasingly becoming common place. It takes a little research to build a ‘press list’ of bloggers who matter, either in your geographic area or in your field, but the results can be impressive.

For an exhibition which I developed two years ago, I made friends with four or five relevant bloggers. Collectively they had a readership of over 100,000 each day, and that was a very targeted readership of individuals interested in the subject of my exhibition.

Once you have a list of bloggers who can be useful to your organisation, invite them to press previews and encourage them to write about your exhibitions, events or performances by giving them access to photography to illustrate a blog post.

Your social media activity should not just be focused on what you want to say, you should be constantly looking for
opportunities to get others to talk about you.

How can you use social media to get people talking about your exhibition, performance or event?