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How to Connect When the Doors are Closed: Becoming a #MuseumFromHome

March 29, 2020 5:25 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

Across New York State, museums have closed to combat the spread of COVID-19. Globally, we have seen a surge of online museum content as museums continue to engage with the public. There is an abundance of resources already helping museums navigate the digital world in the wake of the pandemic. For this article, I will focus on sharing a few examples from the museum community to help inspire your own institution in this unique and challenging time. 

Make it Fun

According to data collected by the American Alliance of Museums, Museums are considered the most trustworthy source of information in America. But this doesn’t mean that museums can’t also provide some much needed relief during uncertain times. In our first Virtual Meet-Up I spoke about museums providing relief to a person’s Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook feed. 

Have you met Tim?

The National Museum of the Cowboy (Oklahoma) has turned its Twitter feed over to Security Guard, Tim. Tim, who is learning how to tweet as he goes, shares his personal views of the museum. Since he began a couple of weeks ago, the museum has gained national attention (seriously, he was featured on CNN) and has been mentioned in every webinar I have joined. Why is Cowboy Tim so successful? People are hungry for a true connection with a real person who speaks with authenticity and humor. The news is heavy and ever changing but a tweet from Tim that makes you smile is a welcome distraction.

The Cradle of Aviation in Long Island has turned their Instagram over to Educator Tom who takes the audience on a highly enthusiastic tour of the museum using short videos featuring a range of collection items.

Showcasing real people who make things happen at your museum is an easy way to add authenticity to your feed. You can still make it fun, like the George Eastman Museum who not only is showing some pretty interesting images of their work behind the scenes, but is adding some badly photoshopped cats into the images. 

Building Community

You might be tempted in an effort to reach as many people as possible to build new social media channels. Don’t. Use this time to lean into your existing platforms, step back and refocus to understand your audience. A museum’s social media audience is often not the same as its visitors, or donors. However, you can invite your members and donors to join you in the digital sphere like the Rockwell Museum who is asking its supporters to contribute to its content by asking what artwork found in their collection is their favorite accompanied by up to 120 words why and how it makes them feel, think, etc. 

Other museums are using their social media channels to communicate directly with their audience. The Erie Canal Museum has begun hosting weekly “Quarantine Coffee Talks” using Facebook Live where staff leads a discussion about an Erie Canal related article. These coffee talks will happen every Thursday at 10 AM. Creating a new online engagement program like this is great, but repetition is key to help build your audience. 

Museum of Chinese in America has created a “My MOCA Story” video project. MOCA is asking their community to share what’s important in life by recording yourself talking about a favorite object in your home and sharing. 

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery is building community through an #ArtsMadness challenge. Albright-Knox reached out to museums across the U.S. and challenged them to submit art from their collection that anyone can vote on in head to head competition. This type of collaboration and partnership not only engages the public but connects museums and colleagues. 

Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum & Education Center created their own #MarchMadness all about finding the greatest Cetacean champion by posting a bracket on their Instagram

Online Learning

People are looking for online educational resources. Share your digital collection, research, and stories across your social media channels and feature this content on your website. Contact your local schools and share your resources with them so they can share with parents and teachers. Use live streams to create Q & A sessions or a simple story hour. Reach out to your staff who might not be tech savvy to have them lead a video. Help them learn how to record themselves using their phones and then send you the footage to edit. 

Rochester Museum and Science Center is creating and sharing their virtual planetariums on their YouTube channel

Buffalo Museum of Science has created a virtual science fair on their Instagram and Facebook pages by posting different activities and then inviting the public to share their creation by tagging them. 

The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame is hosting a Virtual Student Art Show across their social media channels. Students email artwork and the NMRHF reshares their work. 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art launched their #MetAnywhere—”a robust selection of online content and social media initiatives that offer ways for audiences to access and enjoy its collection, programs, and educational resources while the Museum is temporarily closed.” It includes access to over 500 panel discussions and lectures along with the Met 360 Progrect.

Click here for MANY’s full list of Education / Engagement resources.

Just Follow the Hashtags

If you are not sure where to start start following #MuseumFromHome and #MuseumMomentofZen. Follow them on Twitter and Instagram and contribute where you can to join these conversations.

Don’t Forget Email and Your Website

Email updates about what your team is doing while the doors are closed on how you’re continuing to fulfill your mission. 

Create a landing page on your website where you can provide updates about your closure, include local health crisis links, and inform them where they can find you virtually while you’re closed physically. Link to your social media channels or link to your blog feed. 

More Tips

Reach out to staff across disciplines to create a digital task force. This will be helpful to brainstorm content that can showcase different aspects of your museum and mission that might not be part of your regular social media plan. 

Collaborate with museums in your region for #MuseumGames or encourage each other to share items from your collection. (Did you catch a  #MuseumBouquet?) 

Don’t overthink or worry that you don’t have a full social media strategy. It’s okay. As museums adjust to this new reality it is important to remember that this is a marathon and not a sprint. Try new ideas and experiment but you can keep it as simple as posting things from your collection that can highlight your mission and provide a bit of visual relief for your online community.

More Social Media Resources

How Your Museum Can Use Social Media During COVID-19


Social Media 101 for Museums, Libraries, and Cultural Organizations

How Do Museum Professionals Harness Social Media Marketing?

Social Media Management in Times of Crisis

Social Media Video Tips & Strategies 

The Museum Association of New York strengthens the capacity of New York State’s cultural community by supporting professional standards and organizational development. We provide advocacy, training, and networking opportunities so that museums and museum professionals may better serve their missions and communities.

Museum Association of New York is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization. 

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