Social media has revolutionized the museum experience.
After decades of struggling to provide a welcoming experience to those less involved in the arts, museums are becoming more accessible through social media. Personal tags, location tags, and hashtags are helping a new generation of curators better understand the needs and interests of their diverse audience. Today, museums are finding new ways to expand their audience and enhance their experience, even outside of the physical building, with the help of social media.
Given these trends, it’s no wonder that the theme of this year’s MCN conference in Denver, Colorado was “humanizing the digital.” The annual conference held in mid-November explored “how museums can use technology to foster human connection and dialogue, advance accessibility and inclusion, and champion inquiry and knowledge.”
As a first time attendee, I saw first-hand the impact of social media in redefining the museum experience for a new generation of guests. Here are a few key takeaways from MCN 2018.
Social Media is changing our relationship with history and art
One of the most common themes of MCN 2018 was the way social media platforms are allowing museum exhibits to take on a life of their own within the museum walls. Whether on stage during a presentation, or in the hallways between sessions, conference attendees were eager to share how their museum content took on a second life in the digital world.
The Denver Art Museum, for example, allows pet owners to become part of its “Stampede: Animals in Art” exhibit. Visitors are encouraged to share pictures of their pets on social media, using the hashtag #DAMpets. The photos are then displayed on a live photo wall, effectively incorporating social media activity into the exhibit.
In places where visitors (or their pets) aren’t becoming a literal part of the exhibit, their thoughts, conversations and emotions are still being shared on social media. This extends the guest’s experience to their networks, expanding the conversation beyond the museum walls. Traveling exhibits have also become a way for museums to engage the local community in a global conversation that follows artifacts around the world, engaging a new audience with each location they visit.
Social feeds are turning visitors into curators
Though museums have their own teams of expert curators, visitors have in some ways become curators themselves. As they walk the halls of the exhibit, they’re in a position to decide which pieces they feel connected to and are “worthy” of sharing on social media. Guests are even able to narrate their thoughts as they interact with an exhibit, sharing what the individual works mean to them.
This ability to use museum exhibits as inspiration for social media content turns every visitor into the curator of their social feed. The visitor experience isn’t passive anymore, they’re able to interact with everything they experience.
UGC is providing new insights into visitor behaviours
Before social media, attendance records were pretty much the only metric museums could use to inform their decisions. Now that visitors are active on social, museum staff have the opportunity to monitor their content to decide which exhibits are most popular and which individual works are getting the most attention.
While we heard from major institutions using social media to improve the museum experience, such as the Denver Art Museum, they emphasized how simple it is now for smaller institutions to reap the same benefits. Even a team of one or two, using some basic social listening tools, has access to more visitor feedback and insights than the curators of the Louvre and Vatican did just ten years ago.
Digital is helping to demystify the museum
Museums are known to have been intimidating places, especially for those with less knowledge of the exhibits they house. With social media, museums have been able to make their experiences feel more friendly. Social prompts, photo opps in exhibits, and stories on social media, have given many museums a more human experience.
The archivist for the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver explained that, from the outside, the museums could make the namesake artist seem larger than life, and not very relatable to the average person. The reality is, though, that many like Still have a very human story to tell, one that has been historically difficult to share with those outside of the exhibit.
For example, Still once cut a piece out of one of his masterpieces because of a conflict he had with the collector who purchased it. He also once said he preferred the “ innocent reactions of those who might think they see cloud shapes in my painting to what a critic says he sees in them.” These stories can now be told on social media, helping users connect with the artists long before arriving at the physical display. In fact, that very quote from Still earned 881 likes on social!
Social media will change the way the current generation experiences art
Though museums may have once felt less than welcoming to anyone other than school children and PhD candidates, social media tools are helping staff provide a more user-friendly experience, and allowing visitors to interact with exhibits in new and exciting ways. Many of these works of history and art have been around for generations, but this will be the first generation that can share their personal experience with a global audience.
It really is an exciting time to be part of the evolution of the museum experience. Visitors have become an active part of the narrative, creating organic reach to audiences that were previously unreachable.
Even better, digital experiences are accessible to museums of all sizes. As guests interact more and more through digital, we have the opportunity to engage with them like never before.