Creating A Museum Without Walls


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Conclusions and recommendations from Creating A Museum Without Walls - Twitter as a case study for the role of social networking sites in museum audience development.

A chapter taken from Individual Social Media Project submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree of MA Social Media, at the University of Salford - 2011.

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Creating A Museum Without Walls

  1. 1. CREATING A MUSEUM WITHOUT WALLSTwitter as a case study for the role of social networking sitesin museum audience developmentCONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONSIntroduction! The overall aim of this research is to advance the understanding of how social networkingsites (SNS) can be utilised by museums for audience development. In order to meet this aim, fourindividual research objectives were identified, these were as follows: Objective 1) Identify the current issues regarding audience development within the museums sector. Objective 2) Critically investigate the adoption and use of digital technologies by museums. Objective 3) Explore how UK museums are using SNS for audience development, related to their use of Twitter. Objective 4) Formulate recommendations regarding the use of SNS for audience development within the museum sector.!! This chapter contains a summary of the findings and conclusions from the study; it detailsthese in relation to the overall research aim, as well as for each of the individual researchobjectives. It then makes a number of recommendations for consideration by museumprofessionals who are looking to enhance audience development within their institutions by utilisingSNS technologies. This chapter concludes with my self reflections where some of the lessonslearnt during this study are shared.Conclusions! In the UK museum sector, audience development is the practice of undertaking activity thatmeet the needs of existing and potential audiences and which enable arts and cultureorganisations to develop ongoing relationships with their audiences (Arts Council England, 2006).It involves an on–going process of evolving audiences from one audience type to another, movingthem upwards on a ladder of engagement with the venue from non-attenders to loyal advocates ofthe organisation. The process enhances audiences’ satisfaction, understanding, skills andconfidence in the cultural activities with which they engage (Rogers, 1998). In order to achieve thisconversion of audiences, museums must undertake activities that appeal to their target groups; forthis to be successful it is necessary that audience development initiatives are embedded across all
  2. 2. levels and departments of an organisation. Ideally there should be longterm investment in time andresources in order to obtain the initial ‘buy-in’ from audiences and then to sustain thoserelationships. The undertaking of audience development by museums and other culturalorganisations is required to meet the aims, as applied from those of the Heritage Lottery Fund(2009), of: protection for future generations, enable all access for all, maintain appeal for thegeneral public and to become part of the wider community. In respect of the practice of audiencedevelopment in the UK museum sector, this study shows that of the museums that participated inthe online survey, 70% of these stated that they have a plan to proactively develop their audiences.! One method by which museums have attempted to develop their audiences is through theuse of digital technologies. Since the 1990s museums have experimented with web technologyand this research shows that 93% of the museums studied have their own websites. The benefitsto cultural institutions of using digital technologies lies in the fact that it is a way of communicatingwith audiences and opening up their collections; however it has been argued that althoughmuseums have begun to embrace ‘the web’, development in this area has been slow. This isreflected by the uptake of newer web technologies, for example in the case of SNS platforms, only71% of those museums questioned in the online survey are using SNS platforms. The empiricaldata shows that in the case of Twitter, 60% of the museums considered within this research haveadopted SNS technology for less than a year. The empirical data also identified that althoughSNSs were being used by museums, this usage was limited to a small number of platforms.! Of those organisations using SNSs, based on the evidence collated in regard to Twitter, theresearch shows that the use of these platforms is heavily weighted towards the marketing andpromotion of events. Analysis of the empirical data shows that the museums Twitter content isoften ‘one-way’ and is used to broadcast messages to the audience with the expectation that theywill listen and take action. This research shows that it was far less common for museums to usethese technologies in a two-way manner, for example for actively soliciting feedback on theirinitiation or for involving audiences in the development of the museum itself. Using SNStechnologies in a uni-directionally fashion results in difficulties in engaging audiences and meetingthe needs of the different social technographic profiles of SNS users: Creators, Conversationalists,Critics, Collectors, Joiners, Spectators and Inactives. SNS platforms are by their very naturedesigned to be inherently social and as such museums need to engage sociably within thesespaces to maximise their effectiveness, by listening, contributing and conversing.! On the basis of the findings of this research it is still questionable as to the degree to whichthe full potential of SNS technologies are being exploited for the purposes of audiencedevelopment by museums in the UK. The research shows that there is a degree of disconnectionbetween the use of SNS platforms and audience development in relation to museums. Perhaps
  3. 3. this is not surprising due to the embryonic nature of the museums’ use of SNS technologies, aswell as the way in which they manage their SNS accounts and struggle to find the time and staffresources to commit to these platforms in a sustained way with long-term objectives in mind.! It is evident from the empirical data that SNS platforms have made it possible for themuseums to have some level of more direct, unmediated dialogue with their audience. Howeverthere appears to be a tendency for these channels to be used for the same types of messages thatmay only be meeting the needs of a segment of the audience out there. Museums need to ensurethat they are offering content via SNSs that connects with different audience groups; they shouldencourage their audience to ‘react’ based on that content, for instance to submit content, make avisit or to make a donation. This content should also facilitate a two-way relationship betweenaudience and institution. A recent example of this is the Ask The Curator1 initiative that engagedattenders and non-attenders by enabling them to pose questions to museum curators globally viaTwitter. This campaign enabled audiences to access expert knowledge though the medium of anSNS platform. The aim of the event was to change the expectations of the audience and curatorsin the kind of digital interactions possible between a museum or gallery and the public (Nerenberg,2010). It also acted in raising awareness of the museums participating with the event reachingglobal media coverage. The campaign resulted in the hash-tag (#askthecurtor) ranking as thenumber one trend on Twitter in the world during the day of the event (Culture24, 2010). Innovativeactivities such as Ask The Curator start to challenge the arguments, such as those of Birkett(2010a and 2010b), that museums continue to attempt to maintain their institutional voice whenpresenting themselves via SNSs.! Museums should also consider their audience not only in terms of their engagement with theinstitution, loyal visitor, non-attender and so on but also in terms of their position on the Ladder ofSocial Media Participation, thereby ensuring that content meets the needs of the audience groupsthat they wish to build relationships with. This will enable museums to move beyond simply havinga SNS to creating deeper levels of engagement with their audience.! The overall aim of this research has been targeted at advancing the understanding of howSNS can be utilised by museums to grow their existing audiences or to penetrate and attract newaudiences to their institutions. Within the UK museum sector, SNS technologies have begun to beused as a way to support audience development, with museums viewing SNSs primarily as a toolby which to communicate with existing and new audiences. Although the research shows that thetake up of SNSs is a relatively recent trend, it is one that continues to grow and build momentum. It1Ask The Curator was established in 2010 by Jim Richardson, arts marketer and founder of MuseumNext ( The event took place on the 1st of September 2010, further details can be accessed at
  4. 4. can be argued however from the evidence proved by this research, that the museums are yet torealise the full potential of SNSs as a mechanism for developing their audiences. As the ArtsCouncil (2006) describe, audience development projects can use aspects of marketing,commissioning, programming, education, customer care and distribution in order to achieve thisaim. Few museums however are using SNS platforms for more than just the aforementionedmarketing and distribution aspects. Therefore the recommendations which follow aim to highlightsome of the ways in which museums can move forward from this.Recommendations! SNS technologies possess inherent qualities that align them with the ethos of audiencedevelopment. They are platforms that allow openness and transparency, hence giving them thecapability to facilitate the breaking down of the ‘walls’ between audience and institution. As anoutput of this study, and to maximise this potential of SNS technologies, it is recommended thatmuseums should begin to move beyond seeing platforms, such as Twitter, simply as “anotherchannel for communication” with audiences. Firstly museums should begin to use SNS platformsmore strategically and intelligently to meet their specific goals. This would involve museumsmapping the purpose of their social networking accounts and the content they distribute via thesechannels against the audience groups that they are trying to target. For example, in line with theHayes and Slater’s (2002) model, they should provide content that enriches in order to maintainexisting audiences or content that entices to engage with switchers. To be effective this also needsto be cross-referenced against the demographics of the target audiences to ensure that the SNSprofile is providing content based on their position on the Ladder of Social Media Participation. Thisprovision of targeted content is more difficult for audience groups such as indifferents and hostileswho are yet to have a relationship with an organisation; in these cases it is recommended thatSNS technologies be used in conjunction with more traditional learning and participation activities.For example, a museum working to engage with a community group could encourage participantsto blog about their experiences with the museum. To support this initiative, museums should alsoconsider offering such participants targeted information technology training to encourage peoplewith different levels of digital literacy to participate. In order to build relationships with less engagedaudiences, museums should also look to SNSs as spaces in which they can conduct work such ascollating information on the groups that they wish to target or as a place where they can carry outconsultation; rather than purely using them for the later stages of Maitland’s (1997) audiencedevelopment project model which involves the implementation and sustaining the relationship.How this maybe achieved is outlined in Figure 14 overleaf.
  5. 5. Figure 14 SNSs and audience development project model* (expanded from Maitland’s (1997) Audience developmentproject model). STEPS ROLE OF SNSs EXAMPLES BENEFITS STEP Choosing who to work SNSs as places for Using Twitter to monitor the Access to a wide range of 1 with sourcing participants for conversations of a target potential participants. an audience development group. ↓ project. STEP Collecting information SNSs as research tools. Crowd sourcing information Facilitates the collation of 2 about the target group across SNSs: such as information that may not be Twitter, blogs and niche available else where. ↓ networks. STEP Making use of the SNSs to collate analyse Posting and sharing Simplifies and quickens the 3 information and share information. intelligence collected via a distribution of information. group blog. ↓ STEP Choosing the project SNSs to run pilots and to This could be achieved by Enables experimentation at 4 event / activity test out new ideas. using multiple SNS channels low-cost, thereby reducing in new/ creative ways. risk. ↓ STEP Planning the project SNSs to embed a project Setting up a Ning network for Allows collaboration and 5 across an organisation. the sharing and development ownership for all. of ideas. ↓ STEP Consultation SNS for collaborative Consulting with the Makes the process 6 working. participants via an SNS for transparent and open to example a Facebook group.* participants. ↓ STEP Implementing the SNSs at the core of Using YouTube or Flickr as a If accessible to non- 7 project delivering the project.* tool to deliver project content participants has the potential and obtain feedback. for a viral effect. ↓ STEP Sustaining the SNSs for managing Continuing the dialogue by Reduces barriers between 8 relationship ‘customer’ relations. maintaining a SNS space for museum and attender. participants.* At Steps 4, 5, 6 & 7 improving digital literacy of the participants must be considered to lower barriers to access.** Projects should consult participants on the SNS channels that would work best for them.! Despite the need for a strategic approach, this should not be to the detriment ofexperimentation with SNS that is still required, trial and error should continue to be allowed andactively encouraged. This is especially the case as with all the museums interviewed, a degree ofself-education is common practice, largely due to limited resources.! Secondly to facilitate the above, museums should embed the use of SNSs across theirorganisation, aligning this more closely with their work in order to engage with audiences. As theempirical data from this research described, within museums the management of SNS accountshas a tendency to sit within marketing departments and the responsibility of a small fraction of theworkforce. To ensure the effective use of SNSs for audience development, they should becomepart of the practices of the museum across the whole of the institution. This may require theeducation of other staff members to allow them to see the value of social networking and up-
  6. 6. skilling them if needs be to allow them to be part of this practice.! It is recommended that museums target audience groups using messaging/content that willprovide outcomes that are measurable. This approach would create a feedback loop that canidentify the effectiveness of activity and inform how SNS platforms should continue to be used by amuseum. This research also considers that in using SNSs for aspects of audience developmentsuch as consultation, the transparency of the organisation will be increased and barriers betweenmuseum and audience will be reduced in an extremely public sphere.! To implement these recommendations it is advised that museums move away from viewingSNS as ‘free’ platforms. Even where SNSs are free to use, investment needs to be made in termsof the time that staff can dedicate to SNS related activities. In addition it is recommended that toobtain a further understanding of this area, more and continuing research is undertaken. Researchneeds to be undertaken and not only with the museums but directly with their attenders and non-attenders to identify which SNS platforms they have access to and use. For instance, questionsshould be raised to establish if they use them to find out about museums? Would or does itencourage them to attend and maintain their relationship with an institution such as a museum?This can then be compared with the practices that museums are presently undertaking in relationto their use of SNSs. Whilst in reference to the recommendations above, pilot programmes usingSNS technologies in developing specific audience groups should be carried out. From thismonitoring of audience interactions and the conversion from online engagement to museum visitscan take place to gain increased knowledge in regard to the successes and failures of suchactivities.B Hunter, January 2011