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Chains. Photo by Kristian Vinkenes on Flickr.com

by • 29 May, 2011 • Inspiration, PeopleComments (15)38497

Integrated media strategies for museums

One of the recurring themes at the recent MuseumNext conference in Edinburgh was what I call the “holistic” or “integrated media strategy”. Social media or technology is not an isolated department within the whole of the strategy of an institution, but a core function such as communication, education or finance.

This means it’s no longer about having a great Facebook strategy within your team. It’s about having an overall strategy for all media (new and traditional), connected with the activities you do and the expositions you host. A strategy that is interconnected and continuously attracts new visitors, retains the old ones and engages them with what you do.

The museum as a media producer

If you think of media as communication channels (and is there any other way to think about them?), museums are media producers. We’re very much like the BBC, HBO and even Walt Disney, apart from that we’re not into it for the money, but for “the arts”. For-profit museums understand this point very well, presumably.

In my opinion, there’s three levels at which a museum does things: 1) new and traditional media, 2) activities and events with the audience and 3) the physical expositions that you put up in a building. Most of our campaigns are focused at getting people to visit us (3). Not everybody, however, will always be able to visit us. For instance, because the buildings not big enough. New and traditional media (1) as well as activities (2) allow us to reach more people. I use the model below to remind me of this.

Media model museums

This model is all about people moving from one level to another (up and down). It’s in these movements the advantage of an integrated media strategy becomes clearest.

Attracting and retaining (and engaging)

Much like how Tate’s members programme strategy, according to Martin Barden, is basically about attracting new members and retaining the old ones, an integrated media strategy is about reaching new people, keeping the existing visitors and engaging them enough to achieve your goals. An integrated media strategy always works towards a people/visitor centred goal.

Obviously, your strategy shouldn’t be limited to attracting new ones. Making sure someone who came to your exposition (1) starts visiting your website (3) so maybe one day s/he will come back to a debate (2) is just as important. In the model above, it’s not just about the people who move upwards.

Conversion rates

The key statistic in any integrated media strategy is the conversion rate. At MuseumNext Rich Mintz from Blue State Digital referred to this repeatedly. It’s about the people who in the end do what you’d like them to do (In Rich’s case often donate to a cause or subscribe to a newsletter), and the number of people you need to reach in the beginning to achieve that. Conversion rate is the percentage of people who go from one stage to the next in your strategy.

In the “pyramid model” conversion happens at every step up or down in the model. Not all people who read an ad will come to your show. Not all tweeps will attend the meetup. The point of an integrated media strategy is to chose the best possible media and design them so, that you reach your goal. And – a note to the social media people – the strength of an integrated strategy is to consider all options, including the traditional ones.

A newspaper ad will drive very few people to subscribe to a newsletter. A tweet hardly gets people to visit your institution.

Designing a strategy

The image below received a huge “ooooo” at MuseumNext. It’s a example (a tiny example) of how we plan our new media activities at the Museum of National History. It’s therefore only a part of an integrated strategy. Parallel there’s a traditional media model, somebody is organising activities, there’s a team working on expositions, etc. In short: an integrated media strategy is a group effort.

Screenshot of our New media strategy

We design the overall media strategy in regular meeting with all people involved in a project, where we have heated discussions. Not only about the use of Twitter, but about project goals, target audiences and conversion rates. Also, the strategy is under constant revision, as thanks to free publicity (for instance) a lot can change halfway the project.

Conversion rates are a key-determining factor in the design of any strategy. Unfortunately there’s little in general to say about them. Online-offline is tough, photos work well, that sort of guidelines. This is all about experience and feeling for your organisation and its audience. Something MoMA does, can be hard to copy by a local museum, and vice versa.

My advice: report whatever you learn about conversion rates (from your own practice and at conferences) to the management team and other people who are at the table when you design strategies. This will help shape future discussions.

Two examples of integrated media strategies

There are many great examples of successful integrated media strategies from around the world. One that surprised me at MuseumNext was the brilliant design of the strategy behind YouTube Play. Google and ask around and you’ll find many examples. Here, shortly, I’ll explain the rational behind two recent strategies we designed: our exposition 100m2NL and the upcoming National Concert.

100m2NL "Gouden Eeuw"

100m2NL is an exposition in our Zuiderkerk office that shows highlights of Dutch history on 100 square metres. Because the space is limited, we use our INNL website to tell the stories we can’t tell in the exposition. A dedicated website (www.100m2.nl) and a catalogue serve both as marketing tools and as the ‘glue’ between physical exposition and digital content. The thought is to reach people through new and traditional media, get them to visit and follow up on their visit online.

Our communication is focused on free publicity at the launch, limited paid publicity in the physical space and an online campaign that highlights elements of the exposition. Before opening, we started teasing our online following (and people outside of our following if we could) with snapshots of the exposition and directing them to the dedicated website. During the exposition we use both a digital backchannel as our physical guestbook in combination with Google Alerts to find pictures taken at the exposition to follow up on people’s specific interests. “You liked the X, discover more about that topic on our website Y”. This, combined with deeplinks on all our print, convert people back from the expo to our website.

The National Concert is a yearly event where Dutch musicians play music inspired by a historical theme. The event is in a public park – this year in Utrecht – and free to attend. The event pretty well markets itself with help of a press release and some hours of registering it at event websites. However, we’d like to get attendees to visit our website (and other activities) after the concert. To do so, we believe in strongly connecting the event to our online activities prior to the event.

We use a combined approach of directly targeting fan sites, event sites and music sites with relevant content (YouTube videos, Spotify playlists) embedded on our website, and offering the same content in a timely manner to our following online. Most of this content is already available online, so it’s merely a matter of looking for it and sharing it again. Next, at the event, there will be photos and videos made, which will be shared at the same places where we prior to the event advertised the event. Our experience from last year is that these photos and videos have a high conversion rate. Note how we use third party websites (fan sites etc.) as a hub for our own online presence.

Conclusion

It’s easier to advocate integrated media strategies, than to design them. I wrote this post partly to answer to the questions of many people I met recently, and specifically of @BeckieSenior who asked me how she should start such a strategy in her institution. Please remember that I’m available, through the comments or any time you bump into me, to tell you way more about any of the topics addressed in this post.

Header photo by Kristian Vinkenes on Flickr.com

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