How to Engage Your Museum's Audiences On Social Media During Coronavirus (COVID-19) Closures
Updated: Jun 23
We're living in strange times, huh? Well, let's get into it!
Chances are, your museum is experiencing either a partial or full closure during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. There are a lot of reasons for folks to be anxious, whether or not we are at personal risk of contracting the virus. If you are worried about your health, or the health of those in your family or community, please check the CDC's website for information.
With all that being said, Social Media Managers (SMMs) are now in a position of finding ways to continue engaging with local, national, and international audiences while our institutions are closed to the public. In this post, I have provided some practical advice and some creative ideas that can help you source and produce content in support your organization.
Don't share content that encourages travel/visitation.
My institution, like many, is located in a highly popular tourist destination. A large part of our social media content is dedicated to sharing all the amazing things my city and the surrounding area has to offer in terms of cultural experiences, entertainment attractions, and outdoor activities. Sometimes the institution itself is enough to spark a desire for visitation. However, it is the responsibility of arts and culture institutions to set aside that go-to strategy of creating FOMO (fear of missing out) and do our best to protect our communities. Right now, it is best to provide content that offers opportunities for audiences to meaningfully engage from the comfort and safety of their own homes.
Create a book or film recommendation list!
Instead of creating FOMO, create opportunities that allow audiences to dive deeper into your institution's scholarship. Tap into the knowledge of your curators, historians, librarians, conservators, etc. to see what reading or viewing materials they suggest. Content backed up by thought leaders at your institution will give folks a reliable and meaningful source of discovery and create new avenues for learning.
Tap into the knowledge of your visitor services, security, docent, and volunteer teams!
If your institution is anything like mine, you have a great team of folks who run your front desk, provide security for your site or collections, and serve as docents or volunteers. These individuals may be experiencing a lack of working hours and could be looking for ways to stay involved with the day-to-day activities at your institution. Particularly for paid staff members, this time may be creating anxiety as they look for ways to supplement a lack of pay during closure. Get in touch with your visitor services, operations, and education department managers and state explicitly that you, as the SMM, need these folks to help you prop up audience engagement on social media. If you're in a position to do so, make sure that you say it is work that you consider billable. It will be up to leaders in these departments to decide if staff who fall into these categories get paid for their contributions, but the SMM can be a strong advocate for these (often) part-time or under-paid workers.
"My Favorite Work " - Jane Smith
Get your institution's visitor services, security, docent, and volunteers to provide you with a content about their favorite art work or object in your institution's collection. Contributors can provide 2 to 3 sentences about why the subject is their favorite, and you can use their comments in a social media post. Use your organization's assets to find an image that properly illustrates the artwork, object, or material mentioned.
Pull out that "Evergreen" Content"
For the SMM, now is not the time to cut back, or go on with business as usual. It's pouring outside, so it is the perfect time to pull out the content you've been saving for a rainy day. For those who are unfamiliar, 'evergreen' refers to the content we SMMs collect in our normal day-to-day work, like media articles, past interviews with curators, videos, memes, research materials, user generated content, etc. These are things that are not necessarily the most timely in terms of our institution's immediate priorities, but are still of interest to audiences. You can incorporate this content into your regular posting calendar and double or triple up on your daily posts across platforms.
Do some online research and figure out what externally produced content was the most popular (and positively received) from 2015 - 2019, and share it! You can add updates and/or new developments where relevant, and direct people to resources on your website or other social channels that highlight your institution's past accomplishments.
Look Beyond Vanity Numbers to Measure Engagement
If you have read any of my past articles, you will know that I believe engagement goes beyond just vanity numbers such individual post likes, impressions, and reach. So much of social media engagement comes from folks who are visiting our institutions on-site and sharing their real-world, yet temporal, experiences. So when visitation is down, it can have a profound impact of the sheer numbers we see in our analytics.
However, likes, impressions, and reach don't always present an accurate picture when based solely on the data presented by individual platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. In my experience, what you should really be focusing on is comments and shares. Comments and shares tell us more reliably what our audiences are interested in, and what they find valuable. It's not enough that a piece of content reached someone, or appeared on their timeline, or even that they took the low-level action of liking a post. The best way to measure whether or not your content is engaging is if people take the time to write a comment, or share it with their friends, family, and personal networks. So even if your institution's numbers take a hit, be sure to focus on and highlight the most tangible and public facing forms of engagement.
Who doesn't love an opportunity to test their knowledge! Trivia, guessing games, and polls have the benefit of a built-in call to action - often one that doesn't require social users to click away from the platform. You can crowd source your trivia questions from your internal team, or draw upon your own knowledge as the SMM. Birthdates, moments in history, artworks, etc. are all great resources to use in terms of creating individual or a series of trivia questions. Though - don't make the questions too hard. Not everyone in your audience has a Phd!
OTHER CONTENT IDEAS:
- Is your institution located in an area with a rich culinary tradition?
Share a recipe for a popular local dish!
- Does your institution have a widely known pop-culture reference (i.e. Andy Warhol)
Create a meme using an archival photograph!
- Does your institution have a performance based focus (i.e. Music)
Create a 3 - 5 minute musical instrument tutorial video!
- Does your institution have a focus on nature or botanicals?
Create a post focused on an individual plant's native location or a tutorial on how to draw flowers!
- Does your institution focus on children?
Provide parents with ideas for in-home learning activities!
- Does your institution focus on difficult or complex topics?
Create an infographic of 3 simple things we can all do to elevate important stories!
- Does your institution focus on regional history or culture?
Create a "You know you're in (location) when..." jokes!
These are just a handful of ideas. I am sure many of you will have a ton of other amazing creative ideas. Us Social Media Managers have a monumental task, one that isn't always understood or appreciated for its complexity (especially in times like this). So please be generous with your knowledge and share what is working for you and your organization. Regardless of who we are, where we come from, or the institution's we work for, we all have the same goal of making the history of human ideas, innovation, and discovery more accessible to people around the world. We want people to know that we have no intention of abandoning our organizations or the missions we've committed to serving. Even if our sites are closed, our work and the work of our colleagues continues.
We can also do a ton to give people respite from a news cycle that is often designed to create anxiety. We can maintain a positive outlook, share content that makes people happy, and make sure our social media channels are a place that our global communities can rely on for on-going exploration.
Do you have other ideas on what SMMs can do on their channels? Share in the comments