Seven Easy Ways to Bring Digital to Your Museum

Do you find the constant news updates about the latest tech innovations exciting but overwhelming? Do you want to use digital media to engage your audience, but can’t find an affordable option for your small or medium-sized museum?

We all use our devices to digitally connect with people and organizations. When it comes to museum visitors, many are already online, and there’s no reason why your museum can’t meet them there. It’s okay if your museum doesn’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding to spend building the next great app or virtual reality experience. That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of ways for you to engage your audiences through their devices. We searched the Internet to create the following list of affordable solutions for you to pick from for your next digital initiative.

Host a Digital Event

If you follow The Metropolitan Museum of Art on Twitter or Instagram, then you’re probably familiar with their hashtag #emptymet. The Met started their #emptymet campaign in 2014 by giving popular Instagrammers access to the museum’s galleries outside regular operating hours. The resulting photos serve to showcase the Met’s collection and have grabbed the attention of people across the world.

Follow the Met’s lead and create your own special event for an audience your museum wants to interact with more. Host a special day for families with young children or an after-hours event for teens and young adults. Encourage them to take and share pictures on social media so their friends will want to visit, too. Don’t have time to plan your own event? Join a larger initiative that’s already got some momentum behind it. Lots of museums and patrons alike participate in Museum Selfie Day and #MuseumWeek. (Even our team got in on the fun this year and posted our own #museumselfies. We also got the opportunity to recognize some of our great clients in honor of #peopleMW, a theme of this year’s #MuseumWeek)

Lone museum visitor sits on bench in an empty Met gallery
#emptymet via Instagram @aguynamedpatrick

Team Up with Another Museum

Everyone knows two museums are better than one! Team up with a neighboring museum and swap Instagram accounts for the day. This idea comes from a collaboration between the Wellcome Collection and nine other London museums, appropriately labeled #MuseumInstaswap. To participate in your own town, find a local museum to partner with and spend some time exploring their galleries. Take pictures that are interesting or speak to your museum’s collection to share with your museum’s followers on Instagram. By sharing, your visitors will be encouraged to visit both you and your partnering museum to view the collections with fresh eyes.

Go Live and Host a Virtual Tour

You have visitors streaming through your galleries to see your collection each and every day, but do they know about the work you do away from the public eye? Is there a great conservation project happening behind the scenes that you could use as a teaching tool for students?

Sharing a live video is a great way to take a large group of people through your museum without having to worry about the logistics of giving a tour to a large group of people. Possible video topics include the history of an object as told by a curator or the process for a project that’s in the works by your conservationist. There are plenty of platforms to use to broadcast your video, including Facebook Live, Periscope, Youtube and more. After broadcasting your live video, you can save the video to share on your website as a resource for future visitors and other museums, like this video created by The British Museum last summer.  

Photo Caption Contest

Inspired by Orvis Starkweather’s idea for a digital contest in this blog post, creating a social media caption contest can be a great way to capture the attention of younger audiences. Ask visitors to come up with a funny caption for a painting or sculpture and send it to your social media account; Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram are great platforms for initiatives like this. Save the images you receive and then share the winner (or winners) on your website and social media. Just pick a platform you are comfortable interacting with and watch your visitors’ creativity flow!

Classical painting of Jesus; eyes are looking up and his hands are held up with palms toward viewer. Snapchat caption on top of image reads "When someone corrects your grammar"
Via boredpanda

Make a Playlist for Your Collection

Create a playlist inspired by items in your collection or showcase the unique personalities in your museum team with a staff-picks playlist. You can use any social music app like Spotify, YouTube or iTunes to host the playlist. The Philadelphia Museum of Art has a great example of a playlist on their website to accompany their new exhibition, International Pop.  

Showcase Your Permanent Collection on Your Website

Your website can serve as a mainstay in your efforts to digitally engage your audiences, and using it to showcase your permanent collection is a great starting point. You have many options when it comes to sharing your collection online. Examples include highlighting unique object stories weekly on your blog or integrating a gallery on your collections page so people can see and learn about your great collection from a distance. The Hammer Museum in L.A. has a Where are They Now? series on their blog that Curatorial staff use to talk about pieces from The Hammer’s collection that are on loan in other museums’ exhibitions. The series is a great way to promote the piece of art itself and the community of learning and support that exists between museums.

Screen Shot of The Hammer's "Where are They Now" blog post
Via The Hammer Museum

Try Something New

Creatively integrate trending apps into your museum’s programming to appeal to younger audiences. One app that museums were successfully using to reach new audiences just days after it’s launch was Pokemon Go. Participants of the game said that they enjoyed playing because they got to go out and interact with new people and locations they never would have otherwise. Some museums (like our friends at Nasher) and affiliated groups like Museum Hack  tapped into players’ desires to experience new places while playing the game by providing tailored museum tours. Pokemon Go is just one example of an app that worked for museums because it was simple to integrate—all museums needed was a knowledgable docent to lead the tours and a social media account from which to publicize the event. 

No matter how you choose to do it, offering multiple digital touch points for visitors to interact with your museum is an important step towards keeping audiences engaged and seeing return visitors. Even if you don’t have the time to plan a full campaign, trying out low-maintenance initiatives like some of the ones we’ve mentioned can go a long way. Beyond that, having a functional and updated website that allows visitors to interact with your museum is a great way to guarantee that there’s always a way for users to connect and engage, even during the off-season or when you’re between exhibitions.

P.S. Before launching your digital engagement initiative, it’s important to consider how it will align with your mission and impact your current and desired audiences. Be sure to choose a solution that works for you.

What do you think? Did we leave out a strategy your own museum has used? Want to talk more about using your website for digital engagement? Tweet us @Cuberis or email