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Long-Form Digital Content? Here are three museums doing it well

How do museums tell effective stories online? Some use film, podcasts or even a series of tweets, but I think that long-form written content is still hard to beat for its ability to deliver long term value.

After all the internet is to a large extent built around long-form written content. When I search google for ‘How do I become a space lawyer?’ the suggested content will primarily be written articles, many of them several thousand words.

And depending on the question, and how many people are asking it, a single article could bring thousands of visitors to a museum’s website. 

This is ‘slow’ content. 

While a tweet might go viral, long-form content ranked on Google is likely to bring in a steady flow of traffic over years. This could be a handful of visitors a day, but in time that still adds up to thousands or tens of thousands of people engaging with your content.

Not all content is going to be equal. And it needs to be approached strategically to get the best result for your museum.

While I think the value of producing this kind of content is often overlooked, some institutions are producing fantastic long-form written content.

Particle from SciTech

Particle launched in 2017 as a science media brand that delivers creative, engaging, digital content designed to bring science to a digitally connected audience.

Particle website

It was started by the SciTech Museum in Perth, Australia and covers science topics in an easy to digest and entertaining format.

Dark Matter, The Science of Beer and Sunburn are all recent subjects covered by the stand-alone website developed by SciTech.

The Particle website has attracted more than 38,000 links from around the web and ranks for more than 13,000 search terms on Google.

This demonstrates the value of long-form written content to museums. 

Particle is delivering authoritative content from a trusted source and in doing so boosting the SciTech brand by bringing many more people into contact with the museum.

Walker Art Center

The Walker Art Center was one of the first museums to establish an editorial team to produce long-form written content.

Walker Art Center Magazine

In doing so they transformed their website from being about marketing what is happening in their museum, into a place for anyone interested art to find interesting stories, interviews and links.

The site positions the Walker, in the words of Artlog, “at the center of the global conversation about contemporary art,” by incorporating ideas, words, and art from far outside the museum’s walls.

You can watch a film about how the Walker Art Center shifted to an editorial approach filmed at MuseumNext here.

Wellcome Collection

In their 2017 digital strategy the Wellcome Collection recognised that their website wasn’t just a promotional tool, it was an extension of the institution.

As Digital Strategist Jennifer Staves says, “We want to reach out to people, whether they are able to visit our physical space or not, and tell stories that speak to this strategy.”

Wellcome Collection Stories

This journalistic approach has seen the Wellcome Collection build an impressive catalogue of articles, comics and films. Or as they refer to them, Stories.

The strategy has helped the museum to connect with new audiences, with long-form content being some of the most popular pages on their website.

Searches on Castration, Anti Vax Memes and Nymphomania all attract visitors to the website who might not have been aware of Wellcome Collection previously.

The Value of Long-Form Content

These three examples show how museums can use long-form written content to deliver value to audiences beyond their walls. In doing so they are using digital media to achieve their mission, not just for marketing.

While Twitter, Film and Podcasts are all valuable ways for museums to tell stories online. Long-form written content has a lower barrier to entry and offers museums long term return as Google ranks the content for long tail search queries.

As museums race to produce digital content during the COVID-19 crisis, they should consider the long term benefits of producing slow content rather than the quick fix that social media can provide.

Producing the Right Content

These three examples show the breadth of the subjects that museums can cover in their long-form content, from being in space to being transgender.

Personally, I believe that the best starting point for developing long-form content for museum is your collection. Look to this for inspiration and think about how you can expand on it with your knowledge and insight.

Above all, think about how you can deliver value to your audiences with what you write.

Remember that this is slow content, but over time even a handful of readers a day will mean that an article could reach thousands of people.

If you have other examples of museums producing long form content, let us know on social media.

About the author – Jim Richardson

Jim Richardson is the founder of MuseumNext. He has worked with the museum sector on digital and innovation projects for more than twenty years and now spends his time championing best practice through MuseumNext.

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