Search Museum Next

How can Museums use their collection to connect to audiences?

Visitors at Tate Modern

Storytelling is a great way to get people, both young and old, to connect with museum collections. That is certainly what the content team at the Tate found during the course of the pandemic as they looked to engage with audiences while their doors remained shut.

In her recent MuseumNext Digital Summit presentation, Tate’s Head of Content, Lindsay O’Leary, explained how she and her team have used digital storytelling successfully both within galleries and online. Here are seven of the methods that they have used.

1. Let the artists share their stories in their own words

In the case of living artists, conducting interviews to hear their stories in their own words can be a powerful form of content. Tate has seen great engagement with studio visits.

2. Create audio descriptions

Audio descriptions are audio tracks that narrate important visual information. They make artwork accessible to
visually impaired guests, but Tate has found that audio descriptions can show everyone a different side to art.

3. Share behind the scenes content

Tate receives frequent feedback that their audiences enjoy behind the scenes content. They started sharing more of this type of content following the popularity of the BBC programme showcasing the V&A’s collection,
Secrets of the Museum.

Tate’s most popular behind the scenes content includes:

• Watching the collection care team clean and care for artwork
• Seeing artwork and objects that are not on display
• Meeting the people who work at museums and galleries

In particular, Lindsay O’Leary noted that content showing the conservation of artwork performs well with Tate’s

4. Get your audience Involved

Get your audience involved on social media with simple asks. Tate displayed Erwin Wurm’s photography series One Minute Sculptures and asked their followers to create their own one minute sculptures. They received hundreds of submissions. They did the same during lockdown, asking their followers to share the view outside their window.

The key to making this successful is to create an easy ask. If the task is complicated, you may not get a
response at all. On Instagram, you can use the quiz or Q&A function to get your audience involved. 

5. Host channel takeovers 

Tate recognises that the art world has been dominated by cis-gendered white men for centuries, and therefore, they are disproportionately represented in Tate’s collections. Tate tries to shift that balance through curation and acquisition. Another way they do this is by hosting social media takeovers by underrepresented emerging artists. This gives underrepresented artists a platform and helps the Tate reach new audiences.

The power of representation should not be underestimated. It is a powerful thing to be seen by cultural organisations one visits.

6. Show exhibition and gallery tours 

Lindsay O’Leary says she is a firm believer of not seeking to replicate the physical gallery experience online but instead using digital tools to do things that you cannot in real life. For example you could use a camera to zoom into an artwork and show detail that isn’t normally visible to the human eye. Look to do things that give greater access to an artwork or object.

7. Update the homepage to address current needs 

Keeping lines of communication open with guests and continuing to refresh online assets to address the needs of followers is important. During the pandemic, Tate focused the website around their online collection.

If you’re unsure what your audience wants, creating a focus group or survey to ask them questions can be useful in shaping future content.

Lindsey O’Leary is Head of Content at Tate. She spoke at the MuseumNext Digital Summit in June 2022. Find out how you can watch all the presentations from this event on-demand here.

Subscribe to the latest museum thinking

Fresh ideas from museums around the globe in your inbox each week