Two really interesting articles popped up on my twitter feed this week, and they both had the same focus: social media. The first was a great article posted by several people in our class, The New York Times article: Museums, the New Social Media Darlings. Secondly, Museum Hack posted a case study about “How to Bring 900,000+ Instagram Followers Into Your Gallery.” Both titles were immediately intriguing – how DO you bring in 900,000+ Instagram followers? And why are museums now “social media darlings”? The New York Times brought up some great examples that we’ve discussed many times – LACMA, the Jewish Museum in NYC, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. All of these institutions are recognizing the importance of things like Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook in the way people communicate today. The Times also noted how social media allows the museums a way to expose people to their art who may not have the chance to visit – or show them things in a way that builds a connection, and relevance.
The second article by Museum Hack, documents a recent collaboration with Christie’s in New York City. Christie’s wanted to increase their visibility and visitation, so Museum Hack brought in several high-profile influencers for an exclusive look at the collection. Museum Hack made the distinction that these influencers were “welcome and encouraged” to take photos and post about their experiences online but they were not required to do so. This seemed to be an effective tactic for a world-class institution like Christie’s. Through this VIP event they gained attention from influencers, their followers, and the followers of Museum Hack.
However, because I have worked and continue to work in smaller museums and historic houses, this got me thinking – could these same tactics be applied? Currently I am interning at Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, a small historic tavern in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. It’s a great space, and the small staff is very committed to staying relevant and communicating with their various stakeholders. For a staff of 3, they are relatively active on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. They employ some great tactics, such as tweeting from the first-person perspective of Mr. Gadsby (discussed in classmate Rachel’s blog post here). But, how do they take their social media outreach to the next level – that 900,000+ level? Is it possible to be a small museum with a larger-than-life social media presence? I think the answer to this is both yes and no.
First of all, smaller museums have significant disadvantages in terms of manpower and resources. There is no “digital outreach coordinator” at Gadsby’s, no “social media specialist,” – there is no one that thinks about social media full time. Therefore, social media will always be less of a priority when things like collections, exhibitions, and events have to be planned and executed. Very simply, more staff power = more postings = more followers. (For comparison, Gadsby’s Tavern Museum has 572 followers on Instagram, Dumbarton Oaks has 942, and Gunston Hall has 461, while LACMA has 480K, and MFA Boston has 148K.)
That being said, I think small museums have an opportunity to use the ideas perpetuated by places like Museum Hack and LACMA to increase their outreach. Museum Hack invited community influencers to Christie’s to generate buzz – which is something small museums could also do. For example, Gadsby’s Tavern could invite a group of local mommy-bloggers in for a private tour, or offer to host an event for Revolutionary War enthusiasts. It doesn’t have to be a snazzy black tie event to get community influencers in the door. They could also use their visitor base to increase their social media presence by making sure that all docents encourage their tour groups to take and post photos, or by creating a special hashtag that is widely displayed. In essence, use people to get more people.
Snapchat is also a good tool to consider for small museums like Gadsby’s. It’s low budget (just download the app), and really only takes time and creativity in terms of resources. It’s also a perfect platform to engage with younger users (According to the NY Times article, almost half of Snapchat users are between the ages of 18 and 24). LACMA does Snapchat really well because 1. They think about their audience and what they want to see 2. They respond to current pop culture trends and 3. They are responsive and timely. With a little bit of research, and maybe some intern-power, small museums can use these principles to bring their collections & social media platforms to life.