Not Your Grandad’s Local Museums

Photo courtesy Facebook.com/nelsonatkins

At first, major companies like Starbucks and Pepsi plowed headlong into big social media marketing initiatives and received all the glory. Mom and pops followed on a smaller scale, leveraging Twitter and Facebook to get in touch with their local community. Now, it’s time for non-profit cultural institutions like museums to get their buzz on.

You’d think old-school places like museums are not as fun, fizzy candidates for social media marketing as soft drink makers and coffee chains, but they actually have more to offer than you’d think. Monumental facilities, up-to-date exhibits, well-appointed gift shops and cafes … a good museum offers an in-person experience that can be translated easily into online conversations.

My parents visited over Thanksgiving. They’re not the types to want to hang around suburban malls or suck down hot wings in sports bars, and neither am I — not that there’s anything wrong with those activities now and again. So after I took them to my sweet library home (I’ll have to post soon on all we’re doing with our social channels), we hit up two of KC’s great go-to places for culturally enriching experiences: the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Liberty Memorial National World War I Museum.

The Nelson-Atkins has been taking great strides in using new media to reach new audiences — or perhaps, more importantly, to reach 20-and-30-somethings who remember the Museum from their childhood but haven’t been back since. The Nelson’s killing it on Facebook, not only by offering discounts and giveaways related to their excellent gift shop but also by focusing discussion on the museum’s collection and exhibits. The Oldenburg shuttlecock that illustrates this entry was submitted by a user in a Facebook photo contest. And in the realm between real-life and digital, the Nelson has begun hosting TED events, which attract a younger, urban professional audience and often involve elements of multimedia.

When my parents and I arrived, I fired up Foursquare and instantly unlocked the museum’s current special: one free packet of museum notecards for checking in. This kind of blew me away. I’ve been an on-off Foursquare user for close to a year, and that was the first special I’d unlocked in my own town. My 74-year-old father, who owns an iPhone only because the college where he is an almost-retired professor gave him one, went through the steps to download Foursquare and set up an account just so he could get the free cards. (So maybe it is your grandad’s museum after all.)

As for the WWI Museum, they seem to be where a lot of other such institutions are: just getting started. Minimal use of Facebook and nothing to speak of on Twitter or other social sites I can find, but I did notice that today’s Groupon special was $45 for a one-year membership to the museum — a $145 value that comes with family passes and various discounts. 214 people bought it when I last checked.

Now, I’m not sure what I think of Groupon from a business perspective, but I bet most of those 214 users that went for the offer aren’t regular museum goers. It may or may not pay off in terms of cost, but that’s a pretty good way for a traditionally older-reaching institution to grab a piece of a new audience.

What museum-y institutions have you seen using social media effectively?

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2 thoughts on “Not Your Grandad’s Local Museums

  1. Hey JH,
    I must confess that I haven’t paid close attention to what museums are doing in the social media space. (Ugh, I hate that word used that way.) But, using Foursquare and/or Twitter to promote particular works in a museum would be great. I just wrote this whole spiel about how I could envision that working…and then actually bothered to look at the Nelson’s site, and saw that the Nelson actually has a mobile guide. Looks like someone there is on it!

  2. Hey RB,
    Thanks for the comment! OMG mobile guide geek heaven drool. I am in even greater awe of the Nelson now. I’m going to have to go back and try this out. And then find a way to steal it for the Library!

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