CBA Content

Your Museum’s Online Story Is More Important Than Ever. Here’s How To Get It Right.

In London, there has been a 22.5% increase in web traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic. The British Museum has seen a 120% increase in traffic to its website compared to last year. People have more time to spend online during lockdown, and the data shows that they’re using that time to connect with art, culture and history.

Chris Unitt’s article shows the Google Trends data on how people are searching for museum experiences.

Having a strong digital presence is important all the time, but with people still largely staying at home, it’s even more important now. Museums are enjoying an attentive audience who are actively seeking out resources. Which means with the right content strategy, it’s easier than ever to engage your audience.

We know it can be overwhelming to kick off a new content plan at the best of times, never mind in the middle of a pandemic. Taking it one step at a time, this blog post will show how easy it can be to begin your museum’s digital journey, or to guide your existing strategy to success.

Getting to know your audience

The vital first step to any content strategy is getting to know your audience. Take the time to find out who they are, where they hang out online, what they’re interested in watching, reading and looking at. This can simply mean listening to their conversations online and staying active in their social media communities.

You might think: ‘I already know my audience — they’re the ones coming into my museum and enjoying our exhibitions.’ While this is true, visitors to your museum often only represent a fraction of what your online audience could be.

One of the many benefits of a good digital strategy is its inclusivity. Online museum resources benefit not only those who would ordinarily visit in person, but those who can’t do so due to geographical limitations, socio-economic barriers, scheduling constraints or disabilities.

The Wallace Collection have an admirable online archive with detailed descriptions for each piece. Here’s Canaletto’s ‘Venice: the Bacino di San Marco from the Canale della Giudecca‘.

An inclusive online story, with resources that cater to all sectors of society, means more people can benefit from what your museum has to offer, and can encourage those who might not ordinarily visit to make the trip.

Where to start

Twitter is a great place to start when getting to know your audience. Its public forum means you can listen to a wide variety of conversations and find out what your audience is passionate about.

There are organised discussions hosted in Twitter’s cultural heritage world — some weekly, some monthly — that orchestrate a dialogue open to all. Museum Hour, Heritage Chat and Archive Hour are three such examples, often hosted on a specific theme and engaging a wide audience from museum curators to visitors.

When tweeting, make sure to use relevant hashtags and tag profiles to increase your reach. Don’t be afraid to join in on conversations: respond to polls, reply to questions, retweet interesting facts or information. Have personality and be human!

Knowing what your audience wants

The easiest way to understand what your audience wants is to ask them. Conduct social media polls, open up Q&A sessions, ask for feedback on your website. As we mentioned in the last section, your online audience doesn’t always hold a mirror to your in-person audience: it’ll be bigger, broader and represent a wider range of voices.

The Museum Hour discussion on Twitter is held weekly, covering different themes each Monday – a great tool for understanding your audience and the museum sector.

Remember that your online resources will never replace a visit to your museum for those who would visit ordinarily. Rather, digital content is an alternative to visiting in person, and a great opportunity to offer something extra that might not be feasible in a physical space.

For example, in our last blog post we wrote about London’s Courtauld Gallery’s Open Hour Zoom series which ran throughout May, with expert speakers addressing audiences of up to 600 people on a range of topics and themes. An event of this scale would be impossible for the Gallery to hold in its premises, with speakers and audiences from across the UK attending for a one-hour seminar.

How to connect with new people

To create valuable experiences online, keep a clear idea of your target audience in mind: Who is likely to access your digital content, and what are they looking for when they do?

It’s also important to be inclusive. People of all ages, digital literacy levels, and socio-cultural backgrounds will want to get involved, as will people with learning disabilities and mental health conditions that might require information to be presented in different ways.

Don’t be overwhelmed by this breadth of audience, though — it’s an opportunity to reach people you might not have reached before, and provide them with a valuable experience of what your museum has to offer.

Here are some content ideas to use as a jumping-off point:

  • Kids’ educational content: teaching packs, drawing challenges, treasure hunts and games to keep kids entertained while learning
  • Online book clubs: Suggested readings with video call or Twitter discussions
  • Virtual tours: Get inspired by English Heritage and show your online audience around your museum/heritage site
  • Establish your online archive: Upload high-quality photographs of your artefacts and artworks for people to enjoy from home. It’s even better if they have informative captions!
  • Share your expertise in blog posts: Blog posts are an easy way to break into your content strategy. They don’t take a big team to create or any specialist equipment, and are a valuable platform for sharing knowledge and information.
The Great Fire of London game, sourced from the Museum of London’s schools resource page.

Next steps: Building a digital culture

Developing a digital strategy could mean a cultural shift within your museum. Leading the change from the top down and the bottom up is integral to creating a successful digital culture, so every member of staff is informed, knowledgeable and as excited about the change as you are.

There are many helpful digital culture resources available online. As part of the UK Government’s Culture is Digital initiative, Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund have commissioned a Digital Culture Compass tool. It includes a Charter to help cultural organisations lead their digital change with core values centred on people’s needs, and a self-assessment Tracker to help assess organisations’ current use of digital, and set targets for the future.

The Digital Culture Charter helps cultural organisations lead their digital change in a values-led, change-responsive way.

Sprout Social offers an Ultimate Social Media for Museums Guide, an extensive handbook specifically for museums looking to build their social media platforms. It’s helpful as it gives particular tips for museums and cultural organisations wherever they are on their journey. Informative and approachable, the guide gives introductions to the most popular social media platforms as well as a tutorial on building a social media strategy.

These tools are a great starting point as you begin enhancing your online presence. Building a digital content strategy is no mean feat, especially in an industry that has traditionally operated within four walls. However cultural activity and engagement during lockdown make one thing clear: people remain passionate about art, history and heritage, seeking out museum resources online and sharing experiences virtually.

At CBA Content, we’re dedicated to helping museums and cultural organisations build an inspiring and impactful content strategy, no matter where they are on their journey.

We can help by creating a custom content map for your business with market and audience research, content ideas and promotional strategy, or by creating bespoke content for your organisation. Get in touch — we’d love to see how we can help.

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