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Image via SproutSocial

Image via SproutSocial

At museums, cultural institutions, and other non-profits, the social media team is responsible for supporting and marketing the programs, events, and mission of the organization. Due to the collaborative nature of museums, it is essential that all stakeholders meet regularly with the social media and marketing team. Although almost every single department could potentially contribute content and ideas to the social media team, it is the most important to meet with the curatorial, education, public programs, membership, and development departments. Each of these departments has a large stake in the museums’ success as well as different, specific audiences.

The curatorial department is the bread and butter of the museum. Without art and exhibitions, the museum would not exist. Sharing information about the museums’ collection, current and forthcoming exhibitions, and curatorial programs is the best way to get people interested in the museum.

The education and public programs department is responsible for creating programs to engage the public with the museum and its collection. These programs are usually less academically focused than the curatorial programs and try to knock down barriers to entry to engage new audiences.

The membership and development departments are responsible for fundraising efforts at the museum. Individual and corporate fundraising is essential for non-profits as public and private grants become increasingly scarcer. The membership and development departments seek to inform the donors, potential donors, and non-donors about the importance of fundraising support.

Although it may seem like there is the potential for there to be too many cooks in the kitchen, it is essential to make sure that all of these different voices are represented and the respective audiences are being served.

Ultimately, the marketing and social media team should have the final say and sign off on social media messages and campaigns, as they are responsible for staying true to the institutions overall brand.

Photo by: Sean MacEntee

Photo by: Sean MacEntee

Using social media to represent your institution requires a lot more time, energy, and strategy than one might think. Today, a poor social media presence can be more detrimental than the lack of a social media presence. It is important that your museum or cultural institution take social media seriously and plan to be professional about sharing your mission and brand.

One of the things I often heard during my time working for museums was that social media was something that could or should be a tiny part of one or more people’s jobs. Even worse, it was often suggested that social media be managed exclusively by volunteer interns. I think these suggestions were fueled by the fact that many people believed that social media was a low or no-cost marketing tool when, in fact, it has proven to be a tool that requires constant upkeep and attention to do it well.

The biggest thing for non-profits and cultural organizations to keep in mind when preparing for success on social media is not to underestimate the amount of time and energy that is required for a strategic and engaging online presence. Slapping together a half-thought-out strategy just to get some posts out may seem like it is better than nothing, but, in reality, hastiness could actually be detrimental to your brand.

I know that museums and non-profits are often strapped for cash and are forced to stretch their resources as thin as possible, but it is very important to task a full-time employee, who knows the ins and outs of the organization and mission, with managing the social media strategy and accounts. Although allocating time and money for a social media/marketing manager may seem like a poor use of funds, if the organization’s goals include expanding and engaging with a broad audience, you cannot afford not to have a bold and dynamic online presence.

Remember:
1) Allocate resources to social media management and strategy
2) Be professional
3) Bad content can be worse than no content

If you take the time, energy, and effort to put together a cohesive social media plan, your organization will only benefit from mission and brand exposure to new and captive social media audiences.

Due to the generation gap between our Gen X predecessors and the influx of us Gen Yers entering the working world, there are many misunderstandings about the value and importance of social media sites. My dad, who is in his late 40s, often rolled his eyes at me for using Facebook; calling it “dumb and pointless.” He’s not singing the same tune now that he has reconnected with the majority of his high school graduating class to help plan their belated 30th reunion/collective 50th birthday party. Now he wants to know the ins and outs of Facebook, and he always has a list of questions for me so he can learn how to use all of the site’s features effectively.

I do not think my personal scenario is entirely uncommon, and I think that the older generation needs to find a practical application (other than reading status updates and looking at friend’s photos, which the majority of use recent college grads began using Facebook for) in order to understand the value of social media sites. Though it may take a bit of coercing, convincing an institution or museum to use Facebook and Twitter as PR/Marketing tools will have great, measurable results.

Why do I sound so confident? Well, because I’ve experienced it myself. As an intern at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, CT, I worked in many capacities. I pretty much learned how to use a computer around the same time I learned how to talk, so I am very versatile when it comes to technology. Though I was primarily working as a curatorial intern for the American Painting department, I was asked to help create the Wadsworth’s Facebook “fan page.”

I did a bit of googling and quickly found instructions on how to sign up the museum for a fan page. I had the page created in about five minutes tops. Once created, my next job was to teach the PR/Marketing assistant how to navigate Facebook. In no time she was able to update the page, add photos, create events, post links, etc. She marketed the monthly event, Phoenix Art After Hours, via the new fan page, and attendance increased drastically at the event.

Just by creating a Facebook fan page, WAMA was able to quickly and easily reach a diverse audience. The ability to share content to a large group of people led to increased awareness (but due to the economy in Hartford not necessarily increased attendance) of subsequent functions. They actually had to turn people away from a free showing of the Disney/Pixar movie UP!, Andrew WK came to perform a concert, and the museum has been getting more sponsorship. With almost 3,000 fans in less than a year, events at the museum and arts/cultural events in the Hartford area are getting great publicity. They’ve also created a Twitter account which has 446 followers.

Even though it may seem as if social media isn’t relevant to non-profit, arts organizations, creating a Facebook fan page or Twitter account can, if nothing else, increase awareness and interest in your institution. For this reason, it is important that future or current Generation Y museum employees familiarize themselves with and learn the importance of social media. If we’re lucky, our predecessors will be willing to listen, learn, and adapt and benefit from the new, “hip” world of social media.