Tuesday, 1 March 2011

A Social Media Plan for a Museum

Over the last couple of years there has been much talk online about the need for museums to prepare a plan for utilising social media in reaching out to audiences. Despite all the talk, it's surprisingly hard to find good, practical examples of social media plans that other museums have actually written and published. It's these starting points that the small guys often want to copy and modify for their own ends. It can be pretty scary when you face a social media scene like the one shown below. Where do you start? What should you do? And what if it goes wrong? What should actually go into a "social media plan", anyway?

Social Media Landscape

I really wasn't sure myself. So I started looking around. One of my very favourite sources of practical guidance for museums is the Museum Next  blog, run by Jim Richardson (formerly Museummarketing). There you could find all sorts of sensible and down-to-earth advice on how museums should use tools like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and so on. (It really is worth a good browse around.)

Then there's Nina Simon's excellent Museum 2.0 blog which takes a deep, North American view of all things participatory in museums. I know I don't go there often enough because, whenever I do, I discover a host of real gems of considered opinion and feedback that has been newly added.

If I'm lucky enough to find a social media plan, it's often for a big organisation with plenty of resources, or it takes a very detailed approach to just one social media platform. But what about the small guys? What's written for them? Well, not much. So early last year I thought I'd spend a few free evenings pulling together some of the resources and best advice I could find. I wanted to prepare a draft Social Media Plan for an imaginary museum service. Just the starting point - not the whole kit and caboodle, you understand. Something that laid out what that approach a theoretical museum might take.

Anyway, though now a year out of date, I post it here in the hope that it might just prove of interest, and I'd also invite a bit of feedback and positive criticism. It was written from the perspective of a hypothetical museum that was part of a larger local government organisation, hence all the deference to other over-arching policies and maybe a bit too much starchy formality in the wording (probably not a good idea for something all about social media, but the corporate guys would probably relate to it better, I thought.)   Anyway, here it is . . . 

Ilustration by Hank Green. www.mediaspin,com

Towards a set of Goals & Strategy for the use of
Social Media at our Museums Service
1.   Goals
1.1.  To inspire exploration of nature and culture by increasing public awareness, understanding and contact with our Museums Service, its staff and its collections.

1.2.  To reach out and engage in new ways with new and existing audiences, and to position ourselves as a friendly, responsive museum service with a human voice and a genuine and relevant presence in our communities.

1.3.  To encourage contributions from users to mutually benefit our museums, our audiences and our communities.

2.   Strategy
We will present a business case and develop, prioritise and market a social media presence for our Museums Service in stages. We recognise that resources and experience may be limited, so will only enter new platforms where we are confident there will be benefits, and that we have sufficient resources to maintain and respond to comments and questions. We see this is an investment with dividends some way off, but engagement has always been a part of our jobs – it’s only the tools available that have changed. Our potential audiences have changed, too, both in their expectations and in the means by which they are willing to engage with us and on other.

2.1. We will work on the Five-Step approach to Social Media which involves carefully assessing each new potential platform or project to ensure it is the best and most effective way of meeting our goals.
2.2. We will designate one or more individuals to take responsibility for coordinating this work. We will seek contributions and content from across the whole spectrum of museum staff, from volunteers to director and Friends groups. (see East Lothian Museums Blog).
2.3. Everyone creating online content will have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities, not only under our goerning body's Social Media Policy, but also for the reputation of our Museums Service brand and the reason for our use of social media tools - namely engagement with our users and the furthering of our Mission.

In general order of priority we should consider a number of the following  actions (though clearly not all at once):
a)   Review current in-house Web presence and the style of “voice” we use now, and would wish to use in Social Media platforms and on our current website. (see section 5.2)
b)   Assess Museums presence and accuracy on Wikipedia and update factual content if appropriate. (Include local business sites like
c)    Develop our Museums Service Blog – content covering behind the scenes and front of house work at our Museums Service”  Fortnightly updates from a variety of contributors across the service, reflecting the range of staff and volunteer activities and knowledge.
d)   Create a Twitter presence  - presenting a topical voice for our Museums Service, initiating and responding to user-engagement and linking to events and updates on other platforms. (Managed via Hootsuite; RSS feed from blog/website; using relevant hashtags and contributing to #museumfactmonday. #ff #askacurator etc.)
e)   Build and promote an our Museums Service Facebook Fan Page. Attractive landing page and manage Wall updates via Hootsuite & RSS feeds from other platforms/links to other platforms (Flickr/YouTube etc) Object of the week (via app) etc. Ensure we have the resources to monitor and respond to comments left on FB (6)
f)    Ensure we reserve and use clear, logical urls and channel names for Facebook, YouTube, Flickr groups etc. Pro-actively acquire and reserve names for future use.)
g)    Create Flickr Pages and Sets for specific events (using Creative Commons licensing where possible.)  Solicit user contributions via Flickr Photo Group, managed by ourselves. Encourage visitors to take photos and post them to a Group Pool which we administer and devise rules for contributors to agree to during sign-up process. Review existing museum policy on no internal photography, restricting this only to copyright images and where there may be a commercial conflict
h)     Consider a presence on other sites as appropriate to specific projects and the content we create (e.g. YouTube and Vimeo)
i)    Once the main platforms for our Museums Service have been developed, and a base of users/engagers has been built up, we may see value in experimenting with smaller social media projects (e.g. short-term exhibitions, special events or activities,discrete  community outreach projects,   individual museum pages, linking them to all other presences; Virtual Galleries etc.)
j)      Encourage and support our staff to devise original or impressive ways to use social media efficiently to provide changing content or imaginative approaches that engage users, and have positive outcomes.
k)     Ensure we encourage users to share, tag, bookmark or re-tweet the content we create, or that they and others provide.
l)     Assess Museums presence and accuracy on Wikipedia and update if appropriate. (Include local business sites like
m)   Consider use of Wikis for internal use (e.g. the development of our own Social Media Handbook), or for public-facing projects where content could be sought from many parties.
n)     Continue to monitor Social Media developments and assess the opportunities and risks of creating a worthwhile presence in new platforms as they develop.
o)     As new url shortening services are rolled out, ensure we try to create key links to our main pages using memorable shortcuts. (e.g.,,,

2.4.  Our Museums Service will adhere to the Social Media and/or Internet Usage Policies of our parent organisation, seeking further guidance and support where appropriate. We may add to that guidance with our own Social Media Handbook. This might include:
  • how to get approval for a new initiative.
  • elements that should be included in new initiatives, such as:
  • museum logo
  • analytics code/monitoring tools
  • link back to our Museums Service
  • links to other social media initiatives (i.e. staff social media users must friend or follow each other)
  • specific text, tags, or keywords
  • practical guidance on using individual platforms.
  • a list of other social media initiatives at our museums.
  • lists of recommended tools and social sites run by other museums
  • recommendations for user names and a list of user screen names currently in use per tool.
  • approved photos and graphics that can be used
  • information about where to find creative commons resources and any licensing rules.
  • reaction Strategy for comments and feedback.
  • past examples of good and not-so-good engagement by us (intended as a learning tool)
  • devising an exit strategy for each new platform
The above bullets points are based on article by Nina Simon (2)

3.   Launch and Marketing
3.1. We will launch and promote each new presence on any given platform just as we might a new exhibition, via press releases, events leaflets, “find us on Twitter/Facebook” links etc. Each new platform will link to and promote existing ones and vice versa, and all will clearly signpost to the originating organisation.
3.2. We will engage with other museums and relevant sites to help promote awareness of our existence.
3.3.  Whenever possible, our presence on a new platform should be launched prior to a major event, and be used mainly to promote that event. This allows an exit strategy so that if use of the platform is found to be unjustified, we have a clear timetable for use, and can leave that platform at the end of the project.

4.   Monitoring and Evaluation
4.1. We will monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of each social media presence. Evaluation may include measuring the number of contributions; number of comments left; number of followers or fans, number of links followed, plus changes in public attitudes and event attendance where practicable. Wherever possible we will attempt to assess geographic usage of our resources, in order to assess and demonstrate whether local needs are being met by the online services we provide.
4.2. As we increase our presence, we will monitor how our name is used across a range of platforms, using tools such as Monitoring may also include checking the style of content; the style of engagement and any responses, and the links to our sites. We will capture and analyse good and bad examples of our own engagement with users, intending this to help improve our skills and to demonstrate the effectiveness of our strategy.
4.3. We will monitor and respond to comments, both positive and negative, having regard to any Reaction Strategy that may be in place, and the resources available.
4.4. We will monitor and engage with other museums’ social media sites where appropriate (e.g. Museum 2.0, MuseumNext, Mashable), ensuring we stay abreast of new developments in Social Media. We will modify our Social Media Strategy and online presence in response to the changes and demands we perceive.
5.   Content
5.1. Museum content will be user-centred and not limited just to objects.
Our content will be:
·        Discoverable  - easy to find, logical, and hierarchically presented.
·        Meaningful – in Plain English, understandable and relatable.
·        Responsive – to visitors’ interests, moods, locations and needs.
·        Useable and Shareable –A minimum of restrictions on use or sharing.
·        Available Widely – online, onsite and offsite. Write once, then publish broadly across a wide range of mediums. (1)

5.2. The style of voice we will aim for should be:
o       Informed but Informal
o       Human and sometimes Humorous
o       Friendly but not Flippant
o       Engaging but not Erudite
o       neither Corporate nor Trivial
o       Questioning but not Querulous
o       Respectful and Realistic

5.3. We will remember at all times that young people may access and engage with us on our sites. We will try to ensure our voice is understandable and appropriate to that audience. We will not post content intended for audiences whose age is below the minimum allowable for any given platform.
5.4. By creating a voice for our Museums Service that is friendlier and less corporate in tone than the one most of us are used to, we accept that mistakes may happen. We know that content posted online is impossible to remove entirely, so we must be willing and able to respond quickly to criticism. We will support and guide staff who make errors online so that no-one unduly fears using Social Media, or views it as a risk they prefer not to take. Errors or inappropriate comments by us will be corrected as soon as possible after we become aware of them, and we will apologise for any mistakes in a friendly and appropriate manner. Users will be made aware of significant changes to any content we subsequently make as a result of any error or omission on our part.
5.5. Above all, we will demonstrate pride and pleasure in bringing our Museums Service to wider audiences and communities.

6. Current Experience
Our Museums Service already has a number of staff in widely differing roles with familiarity in using a range of Social Media platforms, mostly in a personal capacity. Most notably these include Blogger, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Wikipedia.  Existing work-related projects also include:
  • example 1
  • example 2
  • example 3
We currently use the following external organisations to provide us with advice, guidance and technical support. 
  • example 4
  • example 5
  • example 6

7. Links & Sources
(used as inspiration or guidance in the preparation of these contributions)

  1. Five rules for museum content (via Amsterdam) Chan, S. 29 Oct 2009
  2. How (and Why) to Develop a Social Media Handbook Simon, N. October 27, 2008
  3. Creating a social media plan for a museum  Richardson, J. Museum Marketing blog
  4. Hierarchy of Social Participation Simon, N. 20 March 207 Museum 2.0 blog 
  5. East Lothian Museums Blog – excellent blog
  6. Brooklyn Museums – considered the exemplar of Social Media use
  7. How to Develop a (Small-Scale) Social Media plan


  1. Just wanted to write and compliment you on this post; it gives a great overview of all the things museums need to consider if they plan to do 'something with social media.'

    One thing I missed was an indication of time-investment the different actions in your list under 2.3 require. Twitter for example is a great way to accomplish the goal of reaching out to the audiences, new and old, but requires a bigger time investment than the somewhat more passive Facebook. And perhaps include Linkedin on that list aswell, which is a great way to share knowledge with other museumprofessionals.

    Regardless of these points, it's a very insightful blog, and I'd recommend it to any museum thinking about a social media policy!



  2. I would have thought that engaging a balanced cross section of the public would be an ongoing challenge for the museum service, for a variety of reasons - some historical.

    Social Media surely provides a cost effective and powerful way to publicise the work of a museum and to create 2 way communication with people who might normally fall off the radar. It bridges a gap left by conventional communication channels - you have access to young and curious people for instance.

    I'm no expert but I would imagine that just HAVING a social media plan has to be a positive starting point but of course it needs planning, structure and long term commitment. Plus importantly, there needs to be some means of measuring the success of any plan - what works and what doesn't.

    So does DM&AG have a plan - or plan to get a plan? If not then they are really missing a trick.

  3. hi Nick,

    you'll find a lot of your colleagues have been thinking about these issues to.

    there are ~40 papers online from the Museums and the Web conference:

    keep sharing what you find!


  4. Very nice and impressive with a social media plan! I am not sure I have heard of any museum (in sweden) that currently has one.

    What may be a bit confusing in this though, is that social media is built in relations between persons, not institutions. I think that guidelines to all employees in museums must be considered as they are the "social media" eyes, voices and ears for the museum in the digital realm. That is - don´t just work with those who are doing the "communication" work with the outgoing museum information (a mass media model of communication not working today), but work with everyone in the social network of the museum.

  5. Seems to be a good idea. I would just like to add that people always confuse social media marketing with creating an account on a social network or just tweeting a couple of times a day. It requires a step by step approach, as in this case and should be a part of overall media planning