Mardi Gras looks a lot different this year. Typically a weeks-long carnival celebrated in New Orleans from Twelfth Night to Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras has effectively been cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
If it weren’t for the city’s unwavering spirit and creative residents, the celebrations might have been completely thrown out the window. But this is New Orleans – people don’t let carnival pass them by.
“Dino Gras” house float on St. Charles Avenue.
That’s why houses (not parades) are the main attraction this year. Decorated as Mardi Gras floats, houses all over New Orleans have turned into stationary works of art that anyone can walk by and appreciate.
In other words, they’ve taken the spotlight off the cancelled parades and shined it on the people – the talented float artists, the locals, the ones who keep the tradition alive, no matter what.
New Orleans’ reinvention of Mardi Gras carries meaning in more ways than one. To me, the content creator and marketer, it exemplifies how an event or cultural tradition can bring people together by, well, putting people at the centre of it all.
Inspired by this first-of-its-kind carnival season, here are three ways to put the spotlight on your museum’s or cultural organisation’s audience. In the end, your relationship will not only be more personal with your visitors, it will create more meaningful experiences with likeminded people.
Here’s how to switch on the “Mardi Gras Effect” and build a content plan centred on your audience.
1. User-generated content
An effective way to open up a conversation with your community members and even people outside of your community is to ask them to join you – for an event, anniversary, activity or friendly competition.
One creative challenge that took off on social media when museums first closed during the pandemic is the Getty Museum Challenge. The Los-Angeles-based museum asked its Twitter followers to reimagine famous works of art using themselves or family members and objects around the home.
Soon people all over the world began posting their recreations on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Reddit. What started as a simple, fun way to engage with art lovers during quarantine became a social media sensation.
Since your museum or cultural organisation doesn’t need to think up a viral success before reaching out to your community, here are a few other ideas to spark your visitors’ interest and open a dialogue with them:
- Ask your community to celebrate an anniversary or special event with you. That could be in the form of a virtual seminar or theme party on Zoom, a Tweet with a celebratory hashtag or a relevant photo/video shared on Instagram, YouTube or TikTok.
- Ask your members or visitors to take part in a friendly contest like a short story or poetry competition (people like prizes, too!).
- Ask your network to join a virtual activity and share what they’ve done from home. The Museum of Cornish Life, for instance, hosted a knit-a-long online and Tate invited visitors to build their own museum collection.
2. Take time to appreciate, together
The beauty of leisurely walking by houses decorated as Mardi Gras floats is being able to fully take in and appreciate the craftsmanship and creativity.
It’s a very different experience than standing on the parade route, watching a handmade float roll by while catching Mardi Gras beads. When the houses are the floats, people have more time to look at and appreciate the carefully-designed carnival scene: the jesters, paper mache flowers and life-like statues.
Mardi Gras jesters brighten up a New Orleans home.
Participants have time to reflect, absorb, learn and play a part in the story or tradition.
So how can you create a similar experience for your community? Here are a few great jumping-off points:
- Promote an anniversary, influential person or special day that your organisation celebrates and ask your followers to join in – paint like Van Gogh, copy their favourite line out of Pride and Prejudice, watch a film on the art and artists of St Ives.
- Host a seminar or panel discussion led by your museum’s team or experts in the field. It can be an ongoing series or special one-time event.
- Put on a guided tour of your museum, exhibition or heritage site. Virtual tours with an expert guide have been found to be more appealing to people than exploring virtually by themselves.
3. Really bring it home
While the above content ideas are wonderful ways to catch your audience’s attention and open a dialogue around a shared interest, they tend to begin and end within a short timeframe. An anniversary celebrated on social media most likely lasts a day, a virtual seminar an hour or two, and a contest maybe a few weeks.
To keep the conversation going and take a person on a more complete, worthwhile journey, it’s important to have a home base (i.e. a website) with informative, engaging and enriching content.
The type of content you provide to visitors on your website will depend on many things, but a few guidelines apply across the board:
- Are your museum’s story and mission clear?
- Does your website answer your visitors’ questions and provide them with what they are looking for?
- Do your page titles accurately reflect the information on the page?
- Is your content attractive, insightful and actionable?
Whether a visitor lands on your about page, blog or educational hub, the content should tick the boxes above. Creating different content streams – podcasts, videos, short courses, interactive workshops – will take shape over time, but giving it a permanent home on your website will allow people to discover and engage with it in the longterm.
If we take a step back and consider why we open up conversations with community members in the first place, we can see it’s to slowly get to know them better and build a relationship over time. Then when they decide to visit our online “home”, they’re pleasantly met with inviting, enlightening and enjoyable content.
Now in new Mardi Gras fashion, let your audience lead the way!
CBA Content helps cultural organisations with their content strategies, from ideation and planning to creation and analysis. If you’d like to find out about how your museum or heritage organisation can capture your community’s attention and build meaningful relationships using content, please get in touch.