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How Museums Make Use of Social Media

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Social media has become an important communication and marketing tool, even in the cultural sector. More and more museums and other cultural organizations are turning to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and the like to reach their audiences.

Interacting With Visitors – A Shift to Digital

Interaction with visitors has always been significant for museums; after all, part of their work is cultural education. It is not only guided tours, workshops, or lectures where communication takes place; brochures, flyers, the sales counter, and much more are also contact points between museums and their (potential) visitors. With the advent of the Internet, new possibilities arose: first of all, the museum’s own website, and later social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc. And then the world was partially crippled by the coronavirus in 2020, and countless museums worldwide had to close for quite some time. The question arose as to how they could continue to stay in touch with their audiences – and what would be a better way for doing so than social media?

Changing Communication in the 21st Century

Social media is an important and exciting tool when it comes to communication in the 21st century. The focus here is on social interaction, so unlike traditional media such as newspapers, they are not designed for one-way communication. Instead, commenting, liking, and sharing are essential parts of a successful social media strategy – it’s not about simply making information available, but also about reaction and interaction. Cultural organizations can take advantage of that: they get direct feedback and therefore know what their existing or potential audience finds interesting, which also makes it easier to interact with their target audience.

Everything for the Likes?

Platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and others are often accused of flattening content and supporting superficiality. That may be one reason why the arts and culture sector was initially somewhat hesitant regarding the use of social media. The accusation is perhaps not entirely false – you can’t get as much content across in a post on Instagram as you can in a catalog or in a guided tour. However, social media is in no way intended to replace these formats but rather to complement them. Museums can use it to act and communicate at eye level with their audience and attract new target groups. In addition, social media can be a powerful tool for cooperative actions and networking, such as the lockdown hashtag  #closedbutactive, under which museums show their activities during lockdowns.

Museums Statue with Smartphone and Social Media Icons

Social Media – Not Just on the Side

By now, many museums and cultural organizations have their own social media presence. But is this even necessary? Does a small regional museum, for example, absolutely need its own Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook channel? Most likely not, but maybe it does. After all, maintaining social media channels is a lot of work – posts should be made regularly, and creating good content takes time. In addition, comments and direct messages also need to be read and answered, and also research and brainstorming for new campaigns and actions should be done. Not to forget analyzing and collecting metrics. All of this requires a lot of time as well as media-specific knowledge that not all organizations can provide.

Social media usage by museums and other cultural organizations has increased in the last two years, with Instagram overtaking Twitter as the most-used channel (see the article at The Art Newspaper). In doing so, museums must also learn how to use relatively new tools like social media and adapt as necessary. However, there is support for this, be it guidelines or even special courses and coaching, up to outsourcing the activities.

Successful Social Media Activities by Museums

So far, so good – but how do successful social media activities actually look like? We want to present a few selected examples:

KHM Art Aperitivo and Ask a Curator

The Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna is always at the forefront when it comes to exciting (digital) formats. Like so many campaigns, Art Aperitivo and Ask a Curator were launched in spring 2020 – but the two video formats, which are streamed on Instagram, have obviously proven their worth and have been partially continued. Since November 23, 2021, Art Aperitivo is back, an evening talk format over an aperitif with different topics, where viewers can also contribute with questions, etc.

Tussen Art & Quarantaine / Getty Museums Challenge

Many of you might already know the popular re-enactments of (well-known) works of art, often with everyday objects. Initiated by the Instagram account Tussen Kunst & Quarantaine (Between Art & Quarantine) by 31-year-old Dutchwoman Anneloes Officer in the spring of 2020, the project gained further attention from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. This challenge really went viral – probably because it was fun, involved people right at home, and was easy to participate in. On the other side, museums were able to repost the creative realizations and interact with their audience. Even today, new entries are added regularly.

#CreepiestObject, launched by the Yorkshire Museum

In the first lockdown to affect museums worldwide in the spring of 2020, the Yorkshire Museum launched a campaign with the hashtag #CreepiestObject, calling on museums on Twitter and Instagram to post their creepiest objects and their stories. An unusual idea and very entertaining!

Cultural Places’ Digital Advent Calendar

And, last but not least, we would like to introduce you to our own social media Advent calendar:
Together with our partners, we will give away at least one gift daily from museums, cinemas, theaters, and more every day during Advent 2021. With this project, we want to support the participating cultural organizations and connect them with (new) target groups by bringing people interested in culture to their social media channels.

This was just a small insight – social media is a vast field and there are hundreds more great examples! Take a look for yourself, and you’re sure to discover many great social media channels from museums and other cultural organizations. And of course, don’t forget to follow us on social media on our Instagram and Facebook.

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