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by • 6 Sep, 2010 • Inspiration, TechnologyComments (21)34509

28 low-budget, easy-to-do things to do with new media for cultural institutions

Update 09/17/2010: Added 4 new things to do contributed by readers of this blog. Thanks!

Last week some of my colleagues and I hosted a new media afternoon with workshops for participants in the Week van de Geschiedenis (“Week of the History”). During this annual event hundreds of cultural institutions in the Netherlands organise activities related to history. Over 250,000 people all over the Netherlands visit debates, tours, lectures, special exhibitions… I believe this week has an enormous new media potential.

Quite some of the participating institutions have zero budgets, work with volunteers and have limited or no experience with new media. Some of the visitors of the new media afternoon asked me what they could do with new media – taking into account their limitations. I composed this list of 28 simple things to do with new media for small cultural institutions to help them.

If you know of other low-budget, easy-to-do new media activities, please add them. It’s highly appreciated by the many small cultural institutions taking their first steps in new media.

28 simple things to do with new media

  1. Take photos at your events and put them on Flickr.
    People love to see themselves so let them know where they can find their photos. Flickr is free for up to 200 photos. There are alternatives such as Picasa that give you more space.
  2. Make a movie of your debates, lectures, etc. and put it on YouTube.
    Online movies can reach millions, but even if only 25 people watch your movie you have recorded the moment and the content will never be lost. For alternatives to YouTube see this website.
  3. Start a Flickr group in which you collect photos related to your institution.
    A Flickr group is a collection of photos taken by others around a specific topic. This topic might be your city, collection, institutions… People enjoy it when their photos are added to a group and might become interested in your work.
  4. Start a personal blog about any topic you really like related to your institution.
    It doesn’t matter if it’s about the troubles of running a cultural institution, one obscure item in your collection or the best things you find online related to your work. Blog about it. If it’s good, people will enjoy it. Free blog services are for instance Blogger and WordPress.
  5. Enrich a couple of Wikipedia pages related to things your institution knows about.
    Wikipedia has a wealth of information. So does your institution. Look for pages related to your institution and see if there’s anything you might add. Make sure to add a link to yourself as the source.
  6. Have a backchannel with everything you do.
    A backchannel lists online activity around an event. Put up a backchannel to encourage people to participate through new media. You can use TwitterFountain for free to do so.
  7. Add a Facebook like-button to your website.
    You don’t have to be on Facebook. Add the like-button to your website and your event pages so people can share it with their friends. Find the code here.
  8. Add a “tweet this” button to your website.
    You don’t have to be on Twitter. Add the button to your event pages and have people share it with their friends. You can use Tweetmeme of Twitter’s own buttons.
  9. If you have the possibility to comment on your website, install Disqus to get the conversation together.
    Disqus makes it really easy to get the conversation on all online platforms together on one place: your website. It’s free but a bit of a hassle to install.
  10. Interview your visitors and put these interviews online.
    Ask people why they came, what they liked about it and whatever you please. Take their photo, put the interview on your website and send them the link by email. People like this.
  11. Take photos of your guestbook and put them on your website.
    Let future visitors know what previous visitors thought about you by sharing your guestbook with them. Also: if people leave online comments, print them and put them near your guestbook.
  12. Participate in international initiatives such as #askacurator.
    Even if you’re only on Twitter for one day, participating in these initiatives might help you reach an entirely new audience.
  13. Add your events and expositions to the online calendars of others.
    The local tourist office, the biggest community blog, the website of the city you’re in, they probably have some kind of calendar. Add your events to these calendar to reach a bigger audience.
  14. Add your expositions and events as venues to Foursquare.
    You can do this from your personal account on Foursquare. It helps you to keep track of some of your visitors. Let them know your exposition or event is on Foursquare with a little sign at the entrance.
  15. Leave tips at popular venues on Foursquare about your events and institution.
    A perfect spot is the central station. Leave a tip that says something like, “Looking for something to do on a rainy day, visit us.” Your friends on Foursquare will be reminded about you every time they visit your city.
  16. Google the name of your event (exposition, debate, etc.) the day after and collect good results.
    Simply use Google to see what others might have written and select the best results. Other good search engines might be Flickr (for photos), Twitter (for short messages) and YouTube (for movies).
  17. Share what you find about your event on your website.
    Add links to some of the highlights you find under 16 to the homepage of your website and/or the event page. You can also share the results through your newsletter.
  18. Add encouraging comments to weblogs etc. who wrote about you.
    If possible, thank the people who added content about your event under 16 for their time. Don’t forget to include a link to your homepage where they can find more information.
  19. At the event, tell the participants what you’re doing with new media.
    Do you take photos? Tell people where to find them afterwards. This can be as simple as putting a paper up at the exit telling visitors where to find a wrap-up and photos of the event.
  20. Install Google Alerts and Mediafunnel on all your events, main pieces/artists/topics and institution’s name.
    By doing so you get automated e-mails telling you where people are talking about you or topics that might interest you. Follow these up by adding encouraging comments (see 18).
  21. Invite local bloggers to your events and encourage them to write about it.
    There are hundreds of bloggers in your region. Their reach might be small, but the people they reach are those most likely to show up next time. Google “blog + name of your city” or check out the frequent commenters on the website of the local newspaper to find local bloggers.
  22. Install Google Analytics on your website to see where your visitors are coming from.
    Google Analytics is a free tool that tells you not only the number of visitors, but also where they came from before they visited your website. It helps you to see which pages refer to you and what people look for when they visit your website.
  23. Open your wifi-network for your visitors.
    If you have wifi for employees, why not share the network with your visitors? Few will use it (if you are a small institutions) but those who do will consider it a great service.
  24. Have a recharger for iPhones behind the reception desk.
    Visitors with an iPhone are likely to share experiences of their visit with their friends, unless they run out of battery. Make sure they can recharge and know they can.
  25. Offer as much as possible content under a Creative Commons licence.
    Creative Commons licences make your content available to more people for more uses. Your photos on Flickr and your website might be better off with a CC licence as people might start sharing your content.
  26. Host an internal meeting on new media with colleagues and members of your community.
    Let them know you’re trying to do more with new media and invite them to share ideas about how. You might add 10 new ideas to this list.
  27. Combine strength with others institutions around you by hosting a “tweet up”.
    A “tweet up” is a meeting of people on Twitter. You might also want to invite bloggers, photographers, etc. for a drink. Tell them about your new media ambitions and they might want to help.
  28. Go to conferences about new media.
    The best ideas come from those who’ve tried things. These people can be found at conferences and workshops about new media that are omnipresent nowadays. Visit some of them.

Added 09/17/2010: 4 more simple things to do:

  • 29. Write guest posts for the blogs of others.
    One of my personal favourites: Write a good post (article) about any topic you like and sent this to an appropriate blog (see 21). Most bloggers enjoy guest posts, especially when they are high-quality and on-topic.
  • 30. Regularly update the homepage of your website.
    Important and self-explanatory: Make sure the first page the visitors of your website see is up to date and contains relevant information about the events, expositions and activities of your institution.
  • 31. Claim your venue on Foursquare and add a special.
    Has your venue been added to Foursquare (search for it on their website)? Claim your venue on the venue page and add a special using Foursquare for Businesses.
  • 32. Start (or join) a LinkedIn group for discussion about your institution’s topics.
    LinkedIn is a social network for professionals. On it you can start discussion groups. Often these groups focus on very specific topics. Your institution’s main focus might be the topic of a LinkedIn group. Get involved in the discussion to show your knowledge and help others, or start your own group if there isn’t any on your topic.

Most of these things are free, simple to do without technological knowledge and do not require a big team to run. Although I encourage everyone to try out as many of these as you like, I highly recommend thinking about your strategy before plunging into the wonderful world of new media. Over a year ago I wrote a small piece on practical advice on developing your presence on social media websites, which might help you to get things started.

The photo at the top of this post comes from the NASA commons on Flickr. The Flickr Commons make beautiful and historical photography freely available for all to use. Imagine how often this photo will be used in presentations and the extra reach it gives NASA. Also, I think it’s amazing they put a man on the moon with less computing power than an average smartphone has.

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  • Great post Jasper, though some might seem a bit technical, like the Analytics installation and putting up movies on Youtube. Youtube makes the uploading easy, but editing a decent movie can sometimes be quite a challenge. But in this day and age, where almost everyone has a smartphone or digital camera, using a dedicated Flickr page is a great idea to give the public an peek behind the scenes of the museum.
    Bottom line: plenty of fun new media suggestions and deserves a few retweets! :)


  • Thanks!

    I guess you’re right some of these things are a bit technical, but nothing you can’t figure out by googling around a little bit. The hardest part, as you rightly say, is making good movies and good photos. However, also a slightly crappy movie of a great debate can be a wonderful resource for many people online.

  • As you requested Jasper ;) Like no 23 make wi-fi available. Especially those museums which architecture interferes with 3G networks. And 24, although an electrical socket in the museum restaurant would suffice.I actually missed the ‘add a special’ on Foursquare for your venue. Make use of this application and perhaps don’t rule out others as ‘Gowalla’ or the newly launched ‘Facebook places’. A cup of coffee for the mayor is a start, but builds a barrier which seems to me is unnecessary. Perhaps think of a discount on a slice of cake, with your coffee p.e. it only has to be a small gesture, to boost your presence. Even museum shop specials could work their charm to increase revenues.

  • Good addition, I’ll add it to the “extra’s” list as soon as I have some more. Personally, I like the concept of being rewarded for checking-in. This might be a tangible (or edible) reward, or some piece of cool information (“did you know”) in a tip.

  • Sarah Berckenkamp

    Wat ik nog steeds mis in dit soort technieken, want ik denk dat we nu toch allemaal wel weten hoe Twitter werkt, is het daadwerkelijk ‘in dialoog’ gaan met de bezoeker. Juist doordat hedendaagse mediums ons dichterbij elkaar brengt, kun je niet alleen gebruik maken van de ruimte van het internet, maar kun je hem ook delen met je ‘fans’ of ‘like’ of ‘followers’ of ‘friends’.

    Ik vind daarbij de kop koffie bij burgemeesterschap in Foursquare echt niet genoeg. Sorry, maar iemand die vaak naar een museum gaat, zou veel liever misschien wel een private tour van een conservator of misschien zelfs wel de directeur krijgen, dan krijg je pas spanning online!

  • Ha Sarah, bedankt voor je aanvulling! Uiteindelijk is de dialoog (en wat dit voor beide partijen oplevert) misschien wel de grootste kans die nieuwe media ons biedt. Het gaat niet om het gebruiken van Twitter, maar om hoe je het gebruikt, inderdaad. (Daarom heb ik “Ga Twitteren” bewust niet opgenomen in de lijst.)

    Echte “specials”, zoals de tours die het Stedelijk een tijd terug aanbood aan volgers op Twitter, maken het niet alleen spannend voor de vaste museumbezoeker, maar kunnen wellicht ook een heel nieuw publiek bereiken, die wel online interesse hebben, maar zelf weinig naar het museum gaan. Zelf vind ik wat wij op de Uitmarkt gedaan hebben ( echt een spannend gebruik van nieuwe en traditionele vormen van contact.

    N.B. For the international readers: Sarah indicates she misses the opportunities new media give us to do enticing things with our friends and followers online in the list above. For instance offering special tours through the museum for our online friends. I strongly believe in this combination.Thanks for the comment!

  • Sarah Berckenkamp

    I’m sorry, obviously reading/writing in English/Dutch is like the same for me.
    Thanks for your comment as well.

    What you’re saying about ‘attract a new audience’ is interesting. This is one of the most difficult tasks a museum can ever get. It’s insane that this has absorbed so much of our energy the past thirty museum years. Now that we already have a great deal of new audience we should instantly adept and find the dialogue in order to ‘keep’ the new audience.

    And I wonder if this will ever -really, effectively happen or already happens.

    Then again, I guess the great ideas you give in the topic, won’t be able to hold on to this ‘new audience’

    So my advice to all this is:
    Follow up on your online activities!
    This must be so difficult. Maybe have some sort of online ‘corner’ in your actual museum or somewhere else, where people can meet and work on their online appearance on the museum, make it a sort of Second Life, create a community, have group tours with this community. Give them a chance to obtain collector’s items (maybe from your museum shop or whatever). Really make it alive. I guess there’s enough people who might be interested in this, unless you really have made a great virtual/reality world going on.

    And then still again, you’d have to follow up. AAAAHH! This is so frustrating. But we’re getting there, I’m sure.

  • Hi Sarah,

    “Follow up on your online activities!” Exactly.

    This post was written for people taking their first steps in New media. For us working with it for quite some time, it is incredibly important not to see new media as something separated from our institution’s other activities, but to make sure it’s fully integrated in our programmes, events, activities and expositions.

    Fortunately, museums, archives and libraries around the world are working hard on this challenge and the number of successful case studies is steadily increasing. After most of the institutions in the “Week van de Geschiedenis” have taken their first steps, it’s time for us to help them take the next step (and take that step together), so we can prove once and for all new media is not a gadget, but an important tool to connect and stay connected with our audiences.

  • Sarah Berckenkamp

    I understand that this is for the beginners in new media, but they should already be ‘warned’ now that it takes more than just a few mouse clicks to make a difference.

    As for me, I’m also writing a thesis on participation, surprise surprise. I sure did implement new media in some examples, but I’m more about the core of making exhibitions and let the visitor be involved from the first moment. Because now, you’re still just inviting the visitors to come to the show and maybe change it a little bit through participation.
    I’m researching how it’s ethically possible to involve visitors from the beginning of making an exhibition and maybe also how to involve new media in this?

    Apart from the thesis, I of course also have a great love for all these web 2.0 things. Wait, let me tweet this…

  • participation through new media, discussion on negotiation with the audience and understanding of implementing web 2.0 in your institution. I think NHM is very lucky with Jasper Visser.

  • Warning noted, I guess:-) Well done and worth a couple of posts, I reckon. Thanks!

    I’m curious about your thesis. Any chance I might have a look at it and/or interested in writing a summary to publish on this blog, so we can share the knowledge?

  • Corina M. Paraschiv

    Very very cool post!! I’m trying to build a swing website (for swing dancing) which is a form of living culture if we will and with practically no budget really so these ideas for museums are totally transferable to the swing world!! Way to go! :D With your permission I’m going to copy-paste, edit a bit to apply to the swing community (and of course give credit and link back to here) on our blog. :) These ideas are brilliant.

  • Hi Corina, you’re more than welcome to copy-paste anything you find on my blog. It has a CC-BY-SA license for a reason;-) Spread the knowledge freely!

  • Corina MP

    awesome :) I adapted it for swing dancers and it became the 23 points but then a DJ actually asked me for a copy too for the DJ community so it’s awesome I think it’s getting spread all over :p I linked back to this page for the original post so people can check it out too even if they’re not from the museum world per se :) Great post! Super helpful for us dancers!

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  • Tmore

     im intersted in reading this as well!

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