For the past while Jane Audas and I have been working on a project for Museum Development North East called Engage + Digital. The overall aim of Engage + Digital being to support North East Museums to create dynamic, appropriate and achievable digital engagement strategies.
We’ve been working with three museums: Bailiffgate Museum, Bede’s World and Killhope Lead Mining Museum. The focus is on improving access to each museum collection predominately using social media and by providing practical support, evaluating current initiatives, identifying opportunities for engagement, and embedding learning.
But we are also have been doing a range of workshops for the wider North East museum sector, culminating with Show Us Your Assets at MIMA (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art).
There is a lot written about digital activity and social media in museums and how it might help museums become more participatory and engaging for visitors. But when it comes down to it there’s nothing quite like hearing from some passionate people who enthuse about the opportunities digital engagement offers.
Show Us Your Assets focused on a range of inspiring case studies to get museums thinking about how digital can be used more effectively to open up collections and how to connect with audiences in new ways.
What is fantastic about the Horniman Museum is that they are not afraid to try new tools and technologies to see what works and what doesn’t. The Horniman has been continuously experimenting with their digital initiatives, the museum lets the audience discover and explore its collections, in a range of ways (have a look at twitter, facebook, instagram, pinterest, flickr, tumblr for a few examples). They are very good at visually storytelling and encouraging the curious.
Three key things I came away with are:
Social Media is Like a Party – Don’t be the person that everyone wants to avoid
The Horniman Museum use social media for two key reasons:
- To encourage people to visit the Horniman
- To tell people about the collections
When using social media they keep these two things at the forefront.
Most of the discussion was around the Horniman’s Twitter activity. Adrian advocated for using normal language in tweets, believing it’s important to sound like a real person not a robot. The way you write and the tone of voice is important. The Horniman aim to try to write with a tone that is not necessarily a ‘marketing tone’. But something that is friendly, human, and interested in people’s opinions. For example, on Twitter they ask a lot of questions to their followers. But they style of question are ones that can actually be answered easily. Making it too hard can put people off.
Additionally throughout Adrian’s examples of tweets, there were lots of compelling images. Highlighting that visual posts are very important. It’s not all about text.
Torturing Curators is a good idea
To coincide with one of the Horniman’s exhibitions, Extremes which explored what it takes for animals and plants to survive in some of the most hostile environments on Earth. The Horniman decided to challenge their Deputy Keeper of Natural History to become a #ExtremeCurator by making him venture into cold, heat, darkness and oxygen deprivation. They captured all the #ExtremeCurator action and shared widely on different social media platforms giving the audience a first-hand look at the effects on the human body. This is an excellent example of being playful and informative about a forthcoming exhibition without broadcasting static marketing content.
Talk about weird & wonderful objects
Adrian gave a range of examples of how they highlight the Horniman’s varied collections. As part of a large project to review their anthropology collections, they started an account on Tumblr 2012. The site is updated by staff working directly on the collections review, not only making visible a previously hidden process but also opened their content to a new, wider audience.
Tumblr provided an channel for staff to share their enthusiasm for the Horniman collection by highlighting when they found something interesting, fascinating or unusual.
Adrian discussed that by focusing on the unusual and unique objects in the collection it is a great way to enthuse, intrigue and fascinate others by sharing staff enthusiasm, excitement and wonder about their museum collections.
Tumblr in particular is working really not only because it’s a platform that likes lots of visual content but also because Tumblr users like to find out something unusual and unexpected. The Horniman’s collection is full of the unusual and unexpected.