Search Subscribe

Search Museum Next

Film: Digital Marketing for Museums

Jim Richardson is Managing Director of Sumo, a leading arts marketing agency with an international reputation, and the founder of MuseumNext.

Jim spoke at the MuseumNext 2011 conference in Edinburgh about using social media to create dialogue between museums and their audiences, highlighting how encouraging audience participation can be an effective marketing tool.

Jim: I think there are a lot of things that have been talked about today which are echoed through each presentation and I think there are certainly things which he was talking about there which will be reflected in my presentation as well, which is all about sharing stories, really.

I’m talking about social media from a marketing point of view, but then the lines between marketing and engagement are blurring all the time. I want to suggest that we’re missing an opportunity. Digital has changed marketing, but too often we’re falling into the bad habits of old marketing. And what are the old, bad habits? Talking at people, broadcasting at people, that’s what old marketing was all about. We talk about our exhibitions, we talk about our items, about our paintings, we talk about what’s going on behind the scenes. We talk at people an awful lot, and I think that too often we imagine that this is really engagement.

I asked on Twitter a couple of months ago, “Can you give me some good examples of engagement through social media.” One museum who isn’t here today but will remain nameless nonetheless sent me a message back saying, “Yes. Our Twitter stream is a great example of engagement.” I looked at what they were doing, but more importantly I looked at who was sending them tweets. And this is what I found: no results found. So they were under the illusion that they were engaging with their audience when in fact they were just talking a lot.

I think even in old marketing, talking at people, broadcasting, wasn’t the best way to do marketing. The best type of marketing, everybody knows, is word-of-mouth marketing. So whether it’s saying an exhibition was really good, or whether it’s someone influencing how you’d buy your next phone, whether it’s offline or online, and I hope that you’ve all seen MuseumNext research into social media. You can find it on the MuseumNext website. In these surveys we ask people about the influence of their friends, and unsurprisingly, 83% of people said they would be influenced by a friend to go and see an exhibition.

This isn’t rocket science. If I post a picture of my little girl in a cute little hat — you didn’t say, “Aaaah” come on, it’s my little girl – on Facebook and say that we had a great time at Beamish Open Air Museum, which she went down the pit, which is very apt for Newcastle, where I’m from, and she had a great time. That’s going to be far more effective at convincing my friends and family, who know me, to go there than Beamish doing an object of the day. It just makes sense.

I think we need to move past thinking about how many followers we’ve got, and how we can broadcast those followers, and think about how we can get other people to talk about museum experiences.

I’ve got seven ways that I think you can do that.

One – Make friends with your super fans. In fact, they don’t even need to be super fans. Make friend with your fans. I’ve seen the guys from Dovecot Studios here earlier and I’ve told them that I’m using them as an example of how to deconstruct your followers and this isn’t any reflection on how they’re using Twitter, it’s just that they’ve got 302 followers, which was a really good number to dissect.

You see next to each of those people on Twitter there is a little number. And this is Klout. Klout with a k dot com. And this allows you to measure the influence of your followers on Twitter. I’ve totally ignored this because I think when it comes to doing this it’s a lot of rubbish, because Klout thought that this lady had no influence at all, but by digging manually through their followers, I could see that this lady was a journalist, she’s a journalist at quite a large paper in Scotland. She does have an influence. She’s one of several journalists who are following their institution. And Klout just wouldn’t say that.

We’ve got someone from National Museums Liverpool here. I saw a presentation by National Museums Liverpool the other week and they have a press Twitter feed. I think that’s quite a nice idea if your institution is big enough to put all that talking at people, all that PR and press release stuff into a Twitter feed, just for press people. And it keeps it off your Twitter feed, stops you from just talking at people.

The other thing I could see from looking through their followers, which Klout couldn’t tell me, was how talented some of them are. Dovecot Studios, which is here in Edinburgh, you should go and visit it, is about craft, about weaving, and so they’ve got some great designer makers who are following them, like this lady, Holly.

These are some other things – I went through and looked at the websites of their followers and if I was these guys, I would be having Talented Follower Friday, or something more catchy, and be highlighting these great people who are following them, and advocating on their behalf, because then those people would be more likely to advocate back on the institution’s behalf.
It’s great for the Twitter feed, as well, to have that kind of content in there, rather than just talking about yourself — not that I’m saying they do that — but rather than just talking about yourself, talking about other people. Just having really great content in there.

Another thing that they could do is get some of these designers and makers to come in, look around, and do guest tweets. So tweet from their twitter stream. I think you have to be careful how you do it, but that’s another way that they could have someone talking on their behalf.
Digging further through, I saw this person who does networking events in Edinburgh and I thought that person probably has loads of followers who aren’t engaged in the arts, they’re engaged in business, but this is a way into a different network, by saying to that person, “Hey, you followers, why don’t you have something at our place?” And get those people to know about their institution.

Photography is another great way to engage people. These six people here are all photographers of some shape or form. The top guy there, Sandy, has nearly 40,000 followers and he’s an amateur photographer. I think he’s a great person to get on board by saying, “Come and do some photography in our place.” Because they’ve got a fantastic venue. These are some pictures I found on Flickr. People are taking pictures. To encourage them to do so, encourage them to come in and talk about their organization, rather than the organisation having to do the talking.

The other people, of course, are bloggers and there’s loads of blogs in Edinburgh, but then there’s niche blogs as well. They’ve got a quite a few bloggers who follow them, and I would be looking at those bloggers, looking at how many people are following those blogs. Following them on Twitter and making friends with those people. I’ll come back to blogger outreach in a bit.

The other group that I think are kind of missing here are other cultural institutions in Edinburgh. They’ve got a few who follow them, but not loads. One of the things that we found out with our MuseumNext research was that if someone follows one cultural institution on Twitter, they’re likely to follow several. So there’s a good option to cross-promote and one of the ways that you can do that is through hash tags. I actually meant to put Jenny’s Edinburgh Museum’s hash tag in here, but that kind of thing is happening. I think we have a lot to gain in our sector by working together to cross-promote each other.

Of course you also want to have a look at National Museum Scotland, see who is following them and try and nab some of their good followers.

Second Point. Make your content easy to share. This is the kind of thing that Hugh was just saying. You’re not BIC pens with nine followers, you actually have good content. You’ve got stuff that people want to look at. You’ve got a lot of content for niche audiences, people who – I’m not really interested in trains, but I know that there is a huge number of people who love train stuff, and will do loads of stuff with that if you release it, if you’re a train museum.

Lots of museums have this on their website. “Find us on Facebook” or “Follow us on Twitter” and trying to build up the number of followers, which I think is great. But what I think is far better to do is to encourage people to share the content on your website, but adding these, “Share” buttons to all the pages of your website. We have conversations at Sumo about, “Should we really put a share button on the ‘About page?” Who cares, just put it on there and see if someone shares it.

Our experiences at Sumo is if you put a “like” button on a museum website, the number of people visiting your museum website from facebook will increase by 1000%. It could be that you’re already getting traffic from facebook, it could be that you’re not getting much, but we’ll increase it by a 1000%. These buttons are really easy to add. Do a search on Google, “add facebook like button” and you’ll come to this page. It’s that easy to do. Depending on your CMS, you might be able to add the like button yourself through your CMS, or you might need a web designer to do it. I’m selling out my industry here, but it’s an hour’s work to put a like button across a website. You shouldn’t be paying more than a hundred pounds, a hundred Euros, a hundred dollars. It’s a really easy job to do.

I think there’s other kinds of sharing too. This is Manchester Museums YouTube page, who have a load of great content around frogs. This guy is really entertaining talking about frogs, even if you’re not vaguely interested in them. And when they’re putting their content onto YouTube, they’re making is shareable, so it’s really important not only to put your content onto YouTube, but to make sure that when it’s on there, people can share it.

I think that goes for lots of different networks. Look to see how open you can be in terms of copyrighting. If you put pictures on Flickr do you really need to make them all copyrighted? Can you not open them up? We did Picture a Museum Day in March, and one of the things I found really interesting with that was how hesitant people were to post their pictures on Flickr, copyright free, so museums could use them on Wikipedia, but there really are a lot of advantages to being open.

Three, encourage reviews. This is a Susan Hiller exhibition at Tate. This is Tate’s Facebook page. People say, “Tate, they’ve got it easy. They’ve got a big team. They’re Tate after all, they’ve got their brand.” I’m sure that Martin will talk about this tomorrow, I don’t want to steal too much of this talk, but Tate is actually emailing people after they’ve been to an exhibition and saying, “Go to our Facebook page, and leave a review.” So that’s why they’re getting loads of people going to Facebook. That’s why they’re getting lots of people signing up to like them.
Now these reviews up here is something free that anybody can add to their Facebook page. So just go onto Facebook and search “reviews at.” You can add it in thirty seconds, and then you can start to ask people to talk about you, rather than just using Facebook to talk at them.

This is something that I love from MOMA, where you can do a drawing in the gallery, and then they’ll put it on their website. So you can have your picture on MOMA’s website. That’s really cool, and that’s something I would want to share with people. I’d tweet it and Facebook it.

This is something we’ve done for the Hepworth Wakefield gallery, which is a major new art gallery in Yorkshire. Their director is really cool. He said, “I don’t care if someone says they hate us, I just want people to talk about us.” So on their website they’ve got this thing here where you can put in that you love them or hate them or anything in between. You log into this through Facebook connect, so after you’ve posted this, it then posts it onto your Facebook wall as well, so you’re going to get all those people who have written things, friends coming through.

This must be my presentation where I’ve had the least stuff from the Brooklyn Museum, knowing that Shelly was going to be here. Normally I would say a lot more about them, but this is something really cool, which I saw at Brooklyn Museum when I visited. Just having signs around the museum saying, “Tell us what you think” on Twitter. It’s that easy, that’s going to cost like pennies or cents and just really effective.

This is from the Amsterdam Museum, which I saw in their ADAM exhibition earlier this year. Putting the tweets in the exhibition space, which I think is going to encourage people to post what they think of the exhibitions, because they know it’s going to actually appear on the wall, they get that kind of credit for doing it, which I think is a really nice touch.

Four. I’ve kind of touched on being open, but photography is a real bed bug for me. I think that museums really overplay the copyright issue. There’s something in every museum in the world that is out of copyright and could be photographed. As I said, we did picture museum day. One of the reasons to do that was to try and convince museums that photography is your friend and we had 7,000 pictures added to Flickr within 48 hours. We had 4,000 tweets on the hash tag, “Museum Pics.” So lots of people want to take pictures and share them, and a picture tells a thousand words.

This is from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of 12,500 pictures that members of the public have added to their Flickr group, so I think being open has created a huge amount of content around the Metropolitan Museums of Arts collection. And Fiona mentioned this earlier, Its Time We Met and Arthur who did this for them is here, and spoke about it at MuseumNext last year. It’s a fantastic campaign where they invited members of the public to take pictures in their exhibition spaces and then turned this into an advertising campaign. Don’t tell Elyse this, Arthur, but this really changed my perception of the Met. I thought that it was really stuffy before this, but a stuffy museum wouldn’t do this. I’m in New York next week and I’m going to go to the Met for the first time. Again, this is all about copyright, about being more open.

Five is quite extreme. Taking a lodger. But this a great project, and something which somebody has to rip off.

This is the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry and they invited somebody to live in their museum for a month. It’s just fantastic. So rather than them having to talk about themselves, they get this person, Kate, to come in and tweet about them and Facebook about the, and that sort of thing. Kate was one of 1,500 people who applied to live in the museum for a month. They even had their own staff applying to do it. I’ve actually been talking about presenting at our next MuseumNext and they said, “We’re not sure, because we’re doing this project again, and the dates could clash.” So obviously very successful for them. So this lady Kate, she blogged, she did videos, she asked members of the public, “What are you doing in the museum today?” She did experiments and put them on line and then she tweeted and she Facebooked, and built up a really big following. I think that’s a fantastic project, so somebody please steal it.

As I mentioned earlier, another way of doing this would be guest tweets. I was searching for examples of this and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art got this guy from the office in the United States to tweet on their behalf, but it totally backfired because the stuff – I think was really funny what he was tweeting – but people said its really juvenile kinds of things that people say about museums. But at the same time, it’s nice that the museum isn’t taking itself too seriously and would be seen like that. But you maybe want to have an editor.

Six, I’m getting toward the end, don’t worry.

Run a competition. So, the first project that I mentioned is something called Democracy, which Sumo did two years ago, and this was based on Click, which Shelly talked about earlier. We wanted to create the most democratic exhibition in the world, and so members of the public entered their artworks into this exhibition, and they just had to enter something to do with democracy. So it was really open. And then they talked to each other about the art works, a lot of them were just, “You suck” but what can you do?

But we found that having an open competition was a really great way to promote the exhibition, because we had these sharing tools on the bottom of every piece and we encouraged anybody who entered, walked into the exhibition, to share it with their network of friend and family. Here’s the stats for one month. I think 28,500 visitors for one month is pretty good for a stand-alone exhibition.

You can see that Facebook is number two. 3,500 people in a month. And we did nothing on Facebook. All of that is individuals going on Facebook and saying to their friends and family, “Go and vote for me.” The whole thing is a total popularity context, but in terms of marketing it was a great success.

The other competition I want to mention is another project which we’ve already done.

Yorkshire’s Favorite Paintings. And this was a project where we were asked to promote oil paintings across Yorkshire in the UK. And the typical way to do that in the old kind of marketing, would be to broadcast, “We’ve got really cool oil paintings.” But we wanted to move past that, and instead ask members of the public, “Tell us about your favorite painting.” And the incentive was that you can take it home with you, or a replica at least.

In six weeks we got 400 entries, 400 stories, which was a response that I was really happy with.

The stories are a real mix. This guy went to an art gallery with his grandmother, and she said the painting looked like her, he thought she was a crazy old woman, but it’s really true. She showed him a picture, and now he wants to win it for his grandmother. Ahhh.

And then you’ve got really moving stories like this one where the person lost their son in Afghanistan, and this painting reminds them of their son, and so they’d like to win the painting to have on their wall to remind them of their son. So a huge mix of stories. I think this is my favorite. Can you all read it?


The thing is the age 8 wasn’t there when this first went on line, I’m sure. I think a curator’s gone in and added that to make it look not so bad. Not quite as creepy. So this is great, this is lots of people talking about the collections in these art galleries and museum, and saying that they love these paintings. And this is the kind of response we want people to get, to post. Someone’s read the stories and now they want to visit.

And finally, treat bloggers like rock stars. A website for you to write down, “Addict Omatict” I think is a really cool way to monitor social media. And I’ve got our friends Dovecot Studios in here again. This is what the search came back with on them. You can see they are on YouTube, on Flickr, or people posting content about them. But there’s loads of blog stuff there, so I’d be looking at those blogs and learning which bloggers are important locally, and plus on the niche subjects which your collection relates to.

This is a really nice outreach project, trying to speak to bloggers. So you get this and it is going to kind of freak you out. These bloggers were linked through a story, there were 70 bloggers who were talked to, they were led through a story that lasted about six weeks, and there were different things that they got. They saw these adverts in magazines. I think that’s really nice, is that they knew where a lot of the bloggers lived or worked so they could put these things outside where they lived. That’s got to really freak you out. And some of the bloggers were already talking about this state-funded organisation which was stalking them. But they were invited to go to the Albert memorial in London, and they had to dress in a trench coat and glasses and a hat. They were met by this ex-Sergeant Major, and they had to copy everything he did. So they followed him through the streets of London, to the V&A, where there was a preview of Cold War Modern, which really fits with the kind of espionage-esque emails that they’d been getting.

And about half the original bloggers who were originally talked to turned up at the end. They got great blog posts from all of these people who had been led through this story. So I think blogger outreach is something that a lot of institutions are doing, but you can be quite imaginative with it in getting other people to talk about your institutions and your collections.

In the same vein, this was something which I saw from the Natural History Museum in London where they invited their followers to come and do a tweet up, and that’s a great tweet. So it doesn’t have to be bloggers, it could just be interacting with your fans on Facebook or on Twitter and inviting them to come to your institution and talk about you.

So there we go. How to get people to talk about your museum in seven easy steps.

Thank you.

Jim Richardson is Managing Director of Sumo, a leading arts marketing agency with an international reputation, and the founder of MuseumNext.

Jim spoke at the MuseumNext 2011 conference in Edinburgh about using social media to create dialogue between museums and their audiences, highlighting how encouraging audience participation can be an effective marketing tool.

To stay informed about our International Museum Conferences follow MuseumNext on Twitter or like MuseumNext on Facebook.

Related Content

What digital did next – How digital arts can unlock value and opportunity in a socially distanced cultural sector

There is still much to be realised about the potential of digital arts and the application of digital tools to share cultural content. For some,...

DIGITAL SUMMIT PREVIEW: Adam Clarke, Artist and Digital Producer

Ahead of his Digital Summit talk on Tuesday 23rd February, Adam Clarke gives a glimpse into the content of his session – “The story is...

Film: Challenges of building digital products in Museums

This fast paced and entertaining keynote presentation about the challenges of building digital products in museums was presented by Shannon Darrough at MuseumNext Tech 2018 in Amsterdam....

Subscribe to the latest museum thinking

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