Bite Size Culture

This chewing gum packet prompted me to have 4 pieces of chewing gum today, that’s more than I visit most museum websites in a year.

The text on the packaging cleverly positions this product, chewing gum into 4 different daily activities.

Museums could learn a lot from this approach, rather than being an occasional activity clear positioning of online museum experiences could make them central to a range of co-existing daily activities from breakfast, lunch and dinner to snack time.

MuseumNext: can I have a year to process what just happened?

It’s taken a few days, but I think I’ve finally processed some of what I heard at MuseumNext. This post sums up a  few key themes and take aways.

National Museum of Scotland

1. Museums need to get over themselves!

Museums are vain, they act like politicians, and they love to have meetings. stop having so many meetings! These were the wise words of Geer Oskam from the Dutch organisation N8, the people who run the world famous Museum Night. Run by young people aged 26 and under, N8 ensures that it remains both relevant and innovative by changing its entire staff body every 3 years. N8’s human resource policy is in stark contrast to the wider museum sector which often attracts professionals who stay at 1 or 2 museums for their entire career.

Rich Mintz from Blue State Digital (the people that ran Obama’s digital campaign) stated the obvious, but often overlooked point ‘no body cares about museums as much as you do!’. Museum people think about museums all day every day, about new technology, about content and engagement…but so often we forget that our visitors don’t. Our visitors have real lives, they have real problems, they have jobs and children; their time is precious and we should remember this in everything we do.

Shelly Bernstein  reminded us all that ‘its not about ego’, she talked about Brooklyn museums work to add to or create Wikipedia files. Everything museums do is branded, so it’s a difficult ideological shift for museums to start carrying out development work on platforms that are totally distinct from the official museum platform. Taking this holistic approach can bring rewards back to a museum. The Brooklyn museum now have i-pads with access to Wikipedia in their galleries- the result visitors spend on average 7 minutes looking at these,  compared with 30-40 seconds spent looking at traditional interpretation panels.

Image: Wikipop iPads and Visitor Metrics Brooklyn Museum

2. Museums need to realise they only have 5 seconds to engage their visitors….

Rich Mintz outlined some great rules for 5 second engagement> Communication with visitors should be goal orientated and convey a sense of
* urgency: timeliness: relevance & continuity *

Visitors want to know: Why are you reaching out to them? What do you want me to do right now? What Will happen next?

In the context of meta data games, Mia Ridge talked about ways to lower barriers to facilitate visitor engagement. Her message was simple ‘make it easy for people to get involved’. Mia suggested getting people interested by providing a narrative that they can relate to, i.e.  ‘help, it’s this curators 1st day on the job but shes accidentally deleted all the collections data. Can you help her replace it?’

Nora Semel and Francesca Merlino from the Guggenheim talked about using established platforms as a means to lower institutional barriers to engagement. They discussed their project with Youtube, Youtube Play a biennial of creative video. When they started Youtube play they expected to receive around 6,000 entries, in actual fact they received over 23,000 submissions.

3. Museums need to value their followers

Know your followers, don’t rely solely on social media monitoring tools was the message from Jim Richardson. Your own eyes can be an excellent, reliable and cost effective way to analyse your online network. Klout will tell you about your followers who are influential online, but what about your followers who seldom use Twitter but are influential journalists, artists, politicians or teachers.

Find out who your followers are, engage with them and get them to talk about you. Go as far as helping them talk about you, make it easy for them by programming exciting events, have behind the scenes tweet ups,  integrate social media sharing buttons into your webpage. If you value them, they will value you.

For more ways to engage with your followers check out my article for Arts Professional on turning digital friends, fans and followers into real world visitors ‘From virtual to reality’

I’m sure I’ll blog again about MuseumNext but for now lets conclude with the wise words of Shelley Bernstein

‘Take risks, learn from them because without risks there is no reward’

If you want to read more about MuseumNext, or to check out other blogs head over to 

Shout it from the roof tops!

Museums are great, we (museum people) know this, we spend everyday telling people this, from outreach programmes, to print advertising, social media to competitions we’ve tried them all…

But sometimes,  shouting it from the roof tops is quite simply the most effective way of telling the world about how great our museums are.

Here are a couple of interesting examples that demonstrate this:

1. The National Museum of Ireland’s brilliant building size billboard sums up what the museum has to offer in a couple of words. Museums often struggle to produce concise yet effective visitor info but this example shows how great it can look – if done well!

Collins Barracks

2. This is actually a bit of an old one, but it fits in well with this post so here goes:

National Galleries of Scotland decorated their building with giant impressionist flowers during their ‘Impressionist Gardens‘ exhibition …it really brightened up the very traditional museum facade and no doubt prompted passing tourists to pop in for a look.

Is decorating the museum facade all a bit ‘old’ museum?

Decorating museum buildings is an interesting one, because so much of what I read, write and research is about the new museum, its about honest conversations with people. The new museum is about co creation, about multiple platforms and channels and decorating the museum building does seem a little bit one sided. The two examples I’ve shown are great but perhaps they could be even better if these museums got their community in on the action:

How can we make decorating the museum facade ‘new’ museum friendly?

In theory it’s simple: co create, talk to people, share and exchange ideas

  • Local communities could decorate the museum facade for an event or exhibition
  • Perhaps museums could help develop the career of an emerging artist with a design competition
  • Or crowd source images and illustrations for future banners or billboards

Do you have any examples of this kind of work? If so get in touch I’d love to add them to this post…