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19 Steps: Planning for Extended Covid-19 Close Down

So, your museum is closed. Your employees, like your visitors, are sheltering in place. You have heard some great success stories of museums having an impact in these troubled times, but you aren’t sure how to move forward. What you need is a 19 step Covid-19 plan, and I have it for you.

Step 1: Set your goals

Before you create your action plan, you need to set some goals. What do you need to accomplish in order for your organization to ride the wave of social distancing? Are you worried about securing funding? Do you want to focus on strengthening community engagement? Should you concentrate on expanding access to your collections? Is this a chance for you to grow your virtual audience? Be sure to make your goal a SMART one; Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time Bound.

Step 2: Find your audience

Of course all of your visitors will be impacted by social distancing, but evaluating your visitor demographics and determining who may be most impacted and most successfully reached at this particular time is essential before you develop your action plan.

Step 3: Don’t forget your other constituents

Your board, staff, funders, members and volunteers will also be impacted in different ways and should be incorporated into your plan and, in many cases, your planning process.

Step 4: Evaluate what your constituents need

So, you have a list of constituents. Now you need to think about what they need. Your instinct may be to tackle this list on your own, but enlisting others in this process will serve an essential constituent on your list…namely your staff.

Step 5: Focus on Communication

Before you build a plan for your visitors, schedule a check in with your staff members. Listen to their worries and concerns. Get a grasp on their work-from-home situations. Try to understand the limitations of space and technology that could impact their abilities to work from home.

Step 6: Get everyone on board

Your team need to feel like they are a part of the plan. Hold a virtual meeting. Make sure to offer call-in and web-based log-in options to the meeting, so that no one is left out, then start brainstorming!

Step 7: Focus on the pain points

Different constituents need different types of programming and use different media platforms. You need to assess where each of your constituents are struggling the most.

Were you in the midst of field trip season? Then consider the struggle schools and parents are having educating their students/children. Ask essential questions. Are the majority of parents in your community overwhelmed by taking over their children’s education? Have the schools successfully transformed their teaching to a distance learning format? What technologies will these students have access to?

Are you primarily a tourist attraction? Then think about the myriad of folks who have had to cancel long awaited trips…people who can’t visit you, and wish they could be anywhere but their homes. They are looking for an adventure.

Are your main constituents seniors? This constituency is at the greatest risk. Their social isolation can be exacerbated by their unfamiliarity with live streaming technologies that are being embraced by younger generations during the pandemic.

Are you primarily a membership organization? How can you bring your members together during this time of isolation and make them feel more connected? Are there ways that you can provide them with stability and even purpose?

Step 8: Don’t forget to breathe

At this point, if you are like me, you are considering all the hurdles in your way and are wondering whether it is worth the effort. There are thousands of people that your organization serves, and you no longer have access to the main service you provide–your building and its collections. This is the perfect time to stop and breathe, and recognize that your team might need to do the same. Take a break, assign some tasks and set a time to regroup.

Step 9: Be realistic

If museum professionals are going to go where no one has gone before, we need to make sure we have the resources to succeed. Your instinct may be to launch a dozen new social media platforms to reach as many people as possible, or to create an expensive 360 degree virtual tour of your museum. But these things take time, skill, money, and resources that you may not have.

Step 10: Put your people to work

Museums are as much about the experts and educators who run them as they are about their collections. Put your people to work. They are your advertising team when you launch a social media campaign, your performers in your live streaming programming, or your advocates making one-on-one calls to membership and funders.

Step 11: Open your virtual doors

Can you provide access to unique collections? Show them to the best effect. Post a story of the week. Share photos of archival objects. Give behind the scenes tours, or, if you have the capabilities, ask your members to help in an archives project to help you digitize your collection. They can transcribe letters, translate foreign languages, or create digital labels from home.

Step 12: Don’t bite off more than you can chew

Where do you fall on the tech spectrum? Use what you know. This is not the time to experiment with new technologies if you can utilize existing ones. Is your organization technologically challenged? Consider low tech substitutions. Offer a virtual tour led by one of your experts. Provide inside access to areas not usually open to the public or zoom in on the details that visitors might typically miss. All you need is a smart phone and a Facebook page.

Step 13: Don’t go off half-cocked

Better to wait a week and have a full plan with a professional roll out than to launch something half-baked. You need to detail responsibilities, define unified messaging, establish deadlines and set goals. If you are using a new technology, give your staff time to test it and educate themselves on its uses. Be sure to create guidelines and standards, especially if you are asking your team to open their private space and social media pages to organizational use.

Step 14: You don’t have to go it alone

Before you launch a comprehensive virtual campaign on your own, consider the merits of partnering. If you are trying to create streaming programs for school kids, consider working with the school district. If you can create something in association with area teachers, you can be sure that your programs are serving them, and you will increase the reach of your effort. The same is true of senior centers, tourism boards and chambers of commerce.

Step 15: Make the most of marketing

You aren’t ready to launch until you have your marketing plan designed. Think about the platforms you use. Send an eblast. Add a blog on your website. Post a teaser photo or video on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and/or Tik Tok. Use your team to amplify the message on social media. Coordinate with partner organizations to do the same. If you have the money, consider an ad.

Step 16: If you can, make it a challenge

People are looking for something to do. The challenge can be traditional. For instance; maybe you’re trying to reach a certain number of people or raise a certain amount of money. Or your project can set a participation challenge. Encourage participants to create a similar video or photograph and share it on your page, or with a common hashtag. Suggest an in-house scavenger hunt or create a visual riddle to solve.

Step 17: Don’t be afraid to ask for money

Even virtual programming has a cost, and if we want to keep our museums open in the future we cannot be reticent about asking for support. If you are providing programming, a simple request for donations from those who have the means is understandable. Make it easy for people to donate. Include a link. For larger efforts, reach out to past sponsors or leverage your Board to find new ones to support for your outreach programs.

Step 18: Stay connected

No matter what you decide to do, it is crucial to keep the public informed, and to keep the flow of communication going. Let them know how the closure is impacting you. Discuss how your organization will be caring for its collections while maintaining social distancing protocols. Be honest about financial struggles. Make timely updates about safety, closures and support that reflect governmental policies.

Step 19: Be safe

Most importantly, make sure that as you develop these efforts, you are following the CDC and WHO (and local community) standards for safety, both for staff members creating programs and for your audience if you are encouraging them to actively participate.

About the author – Amy Hollander

Amy Hollander is a storyteller, exhibit designer and a strategic planner with 20 years’ experience in the Museum field.  She established her company, Cloud Mill, LLC to help museums navigate 21st century challenges.  She works with institutions to strengthen their programs, policies and performance. Her focus is on developing comprehensive strategies that utilize modern tools and employ holistic solutions to address existential issues.

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