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March 12, 2020

How to reach – and engage – your public remotely

The ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 is causing widespread anxiety and quarantine measures in different countries around the World. People are staying home to limit the spread of the illness, and venues that normally draw large crowds, including museums, have shut their doors.

(N.B. AAM prepared an excellent guide for museum professionals to deal with this ongoing health emergency, and to prepare internally and externally for outbreaks in their communities.)

Although this forced isolation limits the opportunities for museums to reach their audiences, several institutions around the world are showing great creativity and resilience by harnessing the power of social media. We prepared a short list of case studies and best practices in digital outreach that can inspire museums to deal with this situation. Here’s what you can do to reach – and engage – your public remotely:

Put your collection online

For several years now, museums have been sharing their collections online. The digitalisation of artworks represents a great opportunity for heritage promotion, to extend fruition and your relationship with visitors beyond the museum and, ultimately, to encourage co-creation processes with the public!

Recently, The Smithsonian released 2.8 Million high-resolution images from across its collections onto an open access online platform, and earlier this year Paris city museums offered 100,000 (now up to more than 300,000) digital reproductions of artworks as Open Access via their Collections portal.

Open Access is a powerful tool to empower your audiences and give them tools to remix, repurpose and reimagine the treasures you hold!

© Jon Scieszka and Steven Weinberg

The COVID-19 health crisis is pushing more and more institutions to dematerialize their collections: Chinese heritage sites including the Chongqing China Three Gorges Museum, the Chongqing Natural History Museum and the National Museum in Beijing have all opted to increase their digital offerings. About 100 online exhibits can be accessed from anywhere via China’s National Cultural Heritage Administration website (in Chinese).

Organise virtual tours

Facebook/Instagram Live
Many museums regularly offer livestreaming tours of their collections and exhibitions, often hosted by curators or museum directors themselves (check out this walkthrough of the exhibition “City and Cosmos: The Arts of Teotihuacan” at the LACMA). This represents an amazing tool to increase engagement with behind-the-scenes looks and to reach a broader public. Did you know that during our last General Conference, on top of participants from 114 countries, people from other 16 followed #ICOMKyoto2019 via Facebook Live and live Tweet?

On 14 August 2017, in a world-first Facebook live broadcast, Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ paintings were united virtually in a unique collaboration led by art experts from the National Gallery, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Neue Pinakothek in Munich, Philadelphia Museum of Art and Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art.

In the Time of Coronavirus, “Triennale Decameron” is a new program of meetings and talks with artists, inspired by Boccaccio’s famous collection of novels, aired every day at 5pm on the Instagram channel of Triennale Milano. “This moment of crisis can become an opportunity to experiment with expressive languages that in a regime of normality we would never have had the courage to experiment” says the Artistic Director of the Triennale Lorenza Baroncelli.

“This moment of crisis can become an opportunity to experiment with expressive languages that in a regime of normality we would never have had the courage to experiment”

Pinterest curated exhibition
Pinterest is a great platform to display your collections, and to experiment with associations and connections that are often difficult in the real world, for logistical or conservation issues. Take a look at the amazing visual explorations put in place by the J. Paul Getty on their profile, with pieces both from the institution’s own collection and from all over the art world. We suggest to start with this one!

Twitter Threads
No museum can better exemplify the opportunities offered by twitter in terms of audience reach and engagement than the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL). After going viral with their “look at this absolute unit” thread, the museum continues to use twitter to promote its collection in a witty and engaging way.

Twitter threads can really boost your storytelling: we recently had a go during International Women’s Day, giving our audience a little insight into the work of  Margaret M. Brayton, a pioneer of #WomeninMuseums

Podcasts are a rising trend in the museum world. They are cost-effective, incredibly diverse and can be easily enjoyed while commuting or to keep you company while at work or quarantining at home! You can use them to explore your collections, discuss with guests or to give a fresh perspective about the museum work. For some inspiring examples, take a look at this list of podcast by and on museums and GLAM.

Engage your audience with hashtags and social media contests

Tell a story with hashtags
Hashtags are content aggregators: you can use them to invite your audience to follow a story or a series of posts, focusing on a specific topic. Following the forced closure of museums, many Italian institutions turned to social media to remain accessible to visitors. In Milan, the Pinacoteca di Brera began a series called #ResistenzaCulturale whose goal is to bring the museum to the viewer’s home with personal stories and behind the scenes looks, similar to #storieaportechiuse by the National Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo da Vinci.

Encourage to share!
With our recent campaign #WomeninMuseums we encouraged professionals and institutions to share the contributions of women to the cultural field. The result was exceptional, with museums and professionals from all over the world sharing their personal histories about the fundamental role of women in the world of museums and culture.

Quizzes and contests
Quizzes are a cost-effective idea to combine information sharing and audience engagement. Check out this thread by National Geographic Spain about Frida Kahlo for a great mix of art history and pop-culture quizzes

Finally, contests and competitions are a fun way to encourage your audience to engage with the museum’s collections and exhibitions and reinterpret them with a personal touch. And they work even better with an Open access policy! This is what The Morgan Museum & Library did during the exhibition Drawn to Greatness: Master Drawings from the Thaw Collection.

We hope that these tips can be useful to overcome these difficult times and to reach your audience directly to their home. And don’t forget to have fun while doing it!