Museum Association – April 2021
Our UK-based representative, Alex von der Becke, attended the recent online conference, “Digital Futures: Embracing New Strategies” which was about how museums have responded to the Covid-19 pandemic, the lessons they have learned, and how they are approaching re-opening after lockdown. His report focusses on one of these sessions which related to using social media in a museum context.
Megan Jones, Digital Engagement Officer, Leeds Museums & Galleries, spoke about how she approached social media during pandemic, focussing mainly on Twitter. Given that Leeds Museums & Galleries is composed of nine very different sites with a collection of 1.3 million objects, the challenge was how to communicate so many different strands under one umbrella. Megan felt that key to this was to make the digital voice “warm and welcoming”, an extension in the digital space of the welcome visitors receive when they visit the physical venues. As she put it, “our digital audiences are as important as our physical ones.” She stressed the need to build a rapport with people and make them feel listened to.
The pre-pandemic strategy had been to come across as a “warm human being” whilst also allowing themselves to be “politely irreverent but always honest” and to talk to followers “as if they are our friends.” During the pandemic a “diet version” of this approach was adopted. This meant letting go of the need to post every day in order to prevent “social media manager burnout” whilst maintaining a consistent tone of voice.
An initial campaign entitled “9am Tea” invited followers to make a morning cup of tea and paired the tweet with haiku or something whimsical. But this stopped after 97 days as she found it too stressful. Social media, as she explained, is a form of creative writing so one can get writer’s block.
During this time she also tried to adjust to the “psyche of the nation.” This meant keeping up to date with the news and trawling through social media in order to gauge how people were feeling. One of the most popular posts of the last year was the humorous juxtaposition of English singer Harry Styles with a natural history specimen. In doing this she worked closely with curators and collections staff which had the additional benefit of acting as a “lovely team building exercise”.
She also “drip-fed” Harry into other content which they posted.
Another humorous, food-based campaign was also launched which paired the chocolate fondant “Creme egg” with images, like the one of Kirkstall Abbey, one of their properties. It was designed to, as she put it, “sneak in information and facts” whilst followers were enjoying the posts. She likened this approach as the social media equivalent of “blending up vegetables really small so kids will eat them”.
In measuring the success of these social media campaigns, her top Key Performance Indicator has been quote retweets and commentary. Doing this has increased digital confidence with colleagues and improved consistency across all site accounts. It has also helped them to more effectively convey “boring” messages like reopening times.
The future plan is to continue to tell stories and refine the foundation. This comprises: good writing skills, a strong brand and maintaining relationships with followers. In closing she emphasised the need to ensure consistency of tone in everything they do. And with the reopening of museums the immediate plan is to get back into buildings and “bring our followers with us.”