MuseumNext Digital Summit: Day Three

For each day of the Digital Summit I’m trying to find an overarching theme that helps me to organise the content I’m watching. For day three, the theme is audience. How can museums ensure that the content they are delivering during the pandemic not only engages but supports their audience? How do we know if we’re connecting to a community and their needs during this time? The majority of talks either spoke directly or indirectly to this theme.

Of course, the theme of audience has been as crucial as digital during the presentations I’ve seen over the past couple of days. No doubt, the next two days will also be filled with conversations about how to engage your audience and how museums have made the switch from physical to digital. But, what really stood out to me about day three was how museums have delved into catering to their audiences and not just delivering content but becoming a resource or a place to escape to online.

A broad secondary theme is that of care. Not only caring for our audiences but caring for ourselves and each other and how central this has been during the past twelve months. I don’t mean, COVID-19 hit and now we have empathy. But, with COVID-19 has come a heightened awareness and understanding of the role of the Museum as being an institution of care. We can reach out and serve a function in society that breaks away from the traditional idea of a museum’s purpose.

Here are a couple of talks that really emphasised the above points and showed how museums have answered the needs and wants of their communities during the pandemic.

  1. Bridging the Digital Divide with Accessible Tech
    Presenter: Gretchen Wilson

To me, this talk absolutely embodied the two themes of audience and care. Wilson is the founder of Play Africa, a children’s museum in South Africa. When I write the words ‘children’s museum’ the first thing that comes to mind is in-person interactives and hands-on. Two things that we must unfortunately put on hold. Instead of creating content and hoping for the best, Wilson and her team called their members and frequent visitors to ask what they needed during this time. The answer was a human connection and tools to assist them during this time of great hardship.

In response, Play Africa became what one could argue a centre for resources and information. They released videos on Facebook of how to care for children struggling due to the pandemic and how to care for yourself as well. For children, they ran digital storytelling which was a program they did in-person and adapted for online. They also managed to send over 1000 play kits to households in South Africa containing relevant information, care items and links to support networks.

Just when you think, wow that’s some solid support from a museum, there is one more layer to add. So on top of delivering relevant content that supported those in the community who needed it most, staff were also trained to become mental health first aid responders. Members of the community could call the museum and be directed to resources or information that would help them and their specific situation. What an amazing opportunity for staff who were willing to upskill in this way.

Both this talk and the one presented by Shaikha Al-Thani from Qatar Museums and Allegra Burnette from Allegra Burnette & Associates LLC, focused on how you don’t have to invest thousands in new digital platforms to deliver your content. You can use off the shelf solutions – social media being the most obvious. It’s all about making connections and getting people engaged which takes planning and not always a huge expense.

2. Social Media is People Media
Presenter: Chris Cloud

Continuing on with this theme of audience, Cloud from the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego revealed his twenty truths for tackling social media and maintaining a connection to audience. The ones I really want to highlight are the following: put your audience (not museum) first, don’t ghost and post, speak in gifs, people like seeing people and act like a person (not a museum).

  • Put your audience first: don’t just publish what you think people want to see because it suits the museum
  • Don’t ghost and post: if you post something interact with the comments and keep up with responding
  • Speak in gifs: a great way to not only get your message across but also your tone
  • People like seeing people: don’t just show your objects and exhibitions
  • Act like a person: social media is not somewhere to be acting like an encylopaedia of knowing – read the room and post as if you’re posting to a group of friends rather than followers (obviously within limits but try and make communication more casual while still achieving your museum’s aim).

3. Did it Take a Crisis for us to Make Better Content?
Presenters: Hilary Knight and Kati Price

The final presentation I want to reflect on was by Knight (Tate) and Price (V&A). This presentation was more a conversation between the two digital producers and how they have adjusted/created content during the pandemic. Within the first few minutes of the presentation there was a discussion surrounding how institutions must respond to their audiences and what they are wanting in the moment. Just because you might have an overwhelming response to a digital program one year, doesn’t necessarily mean there will be the same response during the following year. There were a few points worth summarising. The first is that you can re-purpose old content but you can also use this as a time to be extra creative and think about what can’t be replicated in real life. Price used the example of autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) videos that used the sounds of conservation to tap into an existing market of people who love watching and listening to these types of videos. If you have never watched conservation in real time, pause here and go straight to YouTube.

There was also a great discussion on how digital producers in museums need to raise their profiles so that others in the institution know what they do and how best they can support. By providing good quality content that already fits into their strategy, it makes the whole situation easier to handle.

Finally, when creating digital content, go back to your museum’s fundamental mission and use it, as Knight stated, as a ‘north star’. Continue to follow it when looking at producing any kind of digital content and ensure that it is both engaging and supporting your institution’s aims and goals.

There were a few other presentations that focused more on the back end of audience engagement including how to read statistics and how to use this information to bring money into your museum.

I’m hoping to watch and summarise day four and five some time this week or next. Until then, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my posts and about all the wonderful and exciting endeavours that are happening in museums around the world.

All images are from the MuseumNext Digital Summit page.

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