21 Jul 2016

Discussion on the relationship between museums, galleries and social media has had a relevant place in society for years. A Tate blog post asked in 2011 ‘Should museums be using social media more creatively?’ and ever since, public arts and learning hubs have been trying to answer important questions on the issue.

Cultural Institutions and Social Media – Opportunities and Threats

How can they improve their presence online? How important is to relate art with social media?

In a sector starved of public funding and reliant on visitors’ goodwill, these are critical issues and cultural institutions have some way to go to improve their digital strategies.

Educating people on art has always been a complicated matter, especially in the digital era. As Tate’s post declared, it is easy for a member of the public on social media to know what to do and why he/she is using it. However, for many institutions, being on social media is much harder. Many struggle to define exactly why they need it and what followers want to see. “Even when you ask, naturally, different people want different things at different times.”

Cultural institutions, such as museums, need to find ways to effectively communicate on social media and spark people’s interests in order to promote their exhibitions and services. Many challenges and trends arise, which can both hinder and help:

1) They can no longer afford to simply collect followers, but need to have a well-defined marketing plan to stay competitive. Many institutions plan their digital strategy in detail and put in significant effort and time. Also because they need to ‘pay to play’, almost every kind of post requires promotion to be thrust into users’ consciousness. Consequently, campaigns incur high costs so must become specific and target oriented.

2) Museums and galleries cannot rely on only one social media account. They need to extend their voice to many of them and vary content. Tumblr, for instance, presents a unique opportunity “to reach a different audience and share content in a more informal and personal way than on Facebook or Twitter”.

3) Institutions need to consider the high percentage (up to 70%) of people who prefer to access social media from their smartphone over any other device. They, therefore, need to adapt their material to this kind of view and modify content accordingly.

4) They need to integrate materials with digital works and environment, to create more sharable content online. Many institutions around the world are now adapting exhibitions and environments, digitally-speaking; technology for museums – such as virtual tours, oculus rift and digitisation of artworks – is increasing and museums are taking advantage of it improve interaction and appeal to visitors of all ages.

5) Cultural spaces need to account for cooperative methods of communicating, like crowdsourcing. Museum visitors are no longer content with being passive. They want to become collaboratively involved in the process of curation and education from artistic material.

There are many other challenges, of course, but the bottom line is that museums and art institutions need to place focus on social media and digital activities. Both them, and contemporary artists must be very active and innovative to promote their work and need to strongly consider the idea of becoming more social.

The internet is not simply a useful marketing tool to increase visitor figures or online sales. Digital tools can be a way to realise overall business objectives and, ultimately, educate people about art and about their work!

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