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How to use your social media during the COVID-19 pandemic

April 28, 2020 12:38 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced museums to close their doors, museum staff have felt an increased pressure to  have an active and engaging social media presence. As museums seek innovative ways to reach the public, share their collections, and implement alternative revenue sources, digital platforms will play an important role. However, understanding staff capacity, knowing your audience, and the ability to shape the museum mission to fit in  the digital arena will be  some key success factors.

Mission Drives Everything

Andrea Rogers, Vice President for Public Relations and External Affairs at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago shared during a Dexibit webinar (“Engaging Visitors While Closed”) that an institution's mission should drive everything. An institution's mission should pour into digital. Social media content, website, emails to donors and members should all emulate the mission. 

Considering your institution’s branding, tone, and voice is important to maintaining your mission on social media. This will help with content planning and strategy moving forward. Not only will keeping your mission in mind help save time thinking about what kind of content to produce, but it will reinforce what makes your institution unique. 

Understanding Your Institution’s Strengths

To help develop a strong social media strategy, it is important to understand your institution’s strengths. Take a look at popular programs or exhibitions to see how you could replicate them digitally.

Fort Ticonderoga is a historic site and museum that does living history really well. They’ve taken this strength and replicated it on their Instagram channel.sharing  how staff recreate history from the collections as they  work from home. Staff also use video for a weekly #NameThatTuneTuesday. 

Staff promoting their “A Soldier’s Life” program on the @fort_ticonderoga Instagram account

The Museum of the Earth relies on its STEM education mission to create interactive Instagram posts. The Museum uses its mascot, Cecil the Dinosaur, to share interesting facts and engaging activities leading followers on a “colossal journey through time.” This format, Cecil’s unique voice and a consistent post schedule, builds anticipation for return followers to interact with their account.

“Stay Home, Make Art” by the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art is a virtual exhibition series that addresses how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted creative practice, shares local artwork made during quarantine, and promotes safe social distancing. The artworks are shared on their main Instagram account, and on a standalone account that exclusively features this content and connects to a Facebook page. The goal is to help artists remain visible during the pandemic. Hudson Valley-based artists can submit their work to the museum’s curator and exhibitions manager.

Stay Home, Make Art submission by artist Tracy Kerman, “What You Wanted” 2020, oil on canvas, shared on the @dorskymuseum Instagram account

Although my experience with quarantine has been obviously isolating and difficult, painting has allowed me to connect with others and to become lost in my work. The severity of our situation has also allowed me to let go of previous hang-ups or concerns about painting and to try new things in my work."

Engage Your Community: Followers and Museums Alike

“Social media is not a megaphone, but (when it’s working) a telephone,” Katharine Uhrich, Social Media Manager for the Field Museum said during a Dexibit webinar on “Engaging Visitors While Closed.” 

Museums are reaching out to collaborate with the museum community. These call to action social media initiatives are what some Social Media Managers refer to as “light lifts” where a wide variety of museums can participate in. 

Emily Haight, Social Media Manager for the New-York Historical Society worked with Hillary-Morgan Watt, Digital Strategist at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. created a Google Form for the #MuseumSunshine campaign. It listed the date, starting time, the hashtag, the priority platform (although museums could share across platforms), and provided details on the type of content. The campaign called for images of bright, yellow artworks, plein-air sunrises, light-up or glowing works, and generally, anything that feels sunny.  Social media campaigns like this create easy interactive challenges for museums to find theme related items in a collection and share them with their audiences. 

Strive for an Active Audience

Asking followers about what they would like to see is a great way to transform a passive audience into a more engaging one. Using hashtags relevant to your organization or to a certain campaign makes it easy for audiences to follow and engage in the conversation as well as for museums to re-share user generated content. 

The Hart Cluett Museum used their Instagram to directly ask their followers about the type of posts that they want to see. Their followers responded with requests of games like guess the collection item and trivia about the family that lived there. The museum responded to these requests by immediately incorporating them into their Instagram strategy. #CuratorialCuriosities was created to highlight items from their permanent collection and engaged their followers with questions like “Do you have any items that were passed down through family?” The conversation continues in their comment section and through tagged posts. 

Best Practices

Where to start? Take an audit of your current social media accounts. Many platforms offer their own analytic tools. These insights can tell you information about your audience, popular times to post, and which posts are getting the most engagement. As you review your social media ask yourself: Are your bios or descriptions consistent? Are you using the correct logo or profile image? Are you posting consistently? Take the time to review your different social media channels to see what is working. If the last time you tweeted was in 2013, look to see if you could have an active audience or the time to devote meaningful content. If you answer no to either, leave it be. 

If anything, update your social media profiles to provide your followers the most recent information about your institution and where they can find out more about you. Pin a post or tweet that directs your followers to your website, online resources, or a recent fundraising campaign.

Having a digital presence has never been more critical, even if it is just on one platform. While your physical doors are closed, use the time to assess your digital presence and outline a social media strategy that best fits your organization. 

Further Reading / Resources

Online Audience Toolkit

How Your Museum Can Use Social Media During COVID-19

Twitter Publishes New Research on what Consumers Want to See from Brands During COVID-19

4 Ways Museums Can Successfully Leverage Digital Content and Channels during Coronavirus


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

How Museums are Using Facebook Live

The Museum Association of New York helps shape a better future for museums and museum professionals by uplifting best practices and building organizational capacity through advocacy, training, and networking opportunities.

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