In anticipation of his upcoming keynote and session at AMA Conference 2016, Lisa Making, Director of Exhibits and Communications at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, met with Ryan to discuss digital engagement in museums.
Lisa Making: ROM has taken a unique approach to managing social media by allowing multiple profiles for one organization. Can you share with us some of the strengths of this approach, as well as some of the challenges?
Ryan Dodge:The decision to open up multiple official twitter accounts was not one taken lightly and was in line with an overall strategic direction taken by the museum to organize our collections around Eight Centres of Discovery back in 2013. Before I came into the role in 2012, our @ROMPalaeo and @ROMBiodiversity teams had already started accounts with lively dialogue and engagement. The decision became whether to ask them to close those accounts or to start new ones for the remaining six Centres of Discovery once they were fully launched in 2014. In the end we chose to expand to give our public the opportunity to engage with the areas of the museum that they are most interested in. Our aim here was to allow people to self-select and engage with the content they want – more on that here: https://www.rom.on.ca/en/blog/the-roms-presence-on-social-media.
Some of the challenges include managing multiple accounts, keeping them active and lively but also finding staff who will volunteer to manage the accounts. We hold monthly social media training sessions for staff and volunteers to encourage them to incorporate social media into their day-to-day so it has been less challenging than it seems. If I had to go back I would make the same decision to expand but I would make sure we had proper staff coverage in place. There is an awful lot of capacity building that goes into a successful social media presence and one person cannot do it alone!
LM: Our sharing culture often means people take to social media to post both the good and bad things that happen in their day-to-day lives. This includes happenings during their workday. Should an employer have influence over how staff shares information about the organization on personal social media accounts?
RM: Influence, yes, but employers also need to provide training, support, encouragement. Most importantly they need to trust their staff if they want them to be active on social media!
From the start we have always encouraged our staff and volunteers to use social media to communicate their day-to-day. We never saw social media as a potential problem; rather we looked at it as an opportunity to communicate more effectively with our community. Our Online Content guidelines explain how to produce high impact content for use online, and the Online Engagement Guidelines outline things like dealing with copyright, online harassment, the blurred lines between personal / professional profiles, and your personal brand.
We provide regular training to give our staff and volunteers the knowledge they need to become effective and efficient communicators online. There is also a great deal of trust that enters into this equation. For the most part, staff are paid to handle priceless artifacts or lecture on behalf of the museum. Why don’t we trust them to tweet?
We now have over 100 staff (more than any other museum in the world) tweeting on a daily basis, sharing everything from behind the scenes shots of collections to answering questions from teachers and classrooms. We’ve even identified specimens via Twitter and Facebook messenger.
LM: For many Alberta museums, the person who manages their social media accounts is the same person who gives tours, develops exhibits, stocks the gift shop shelves, and cleans the bathrooms. What skill (or skills) do you think should be prioritized for these organizations to be successful with social media?
RD: I think the main thing is to realize that social media is an essential part of what it means to run a museum in the 21st century. A good social media presence is as important as turning on the lights. The level of activity will be different for each museum, but being active online makes you relevant. It is essential to connecting with potential visitors and building lifelong advocates for your museum.
I tell my colleagues that I’m not asking them to do more work, I’m asking them to work differently. We live in an age of unprecedented technological change and we have to be aware of it and do our best to be a part of the world we live in. We look at ways that we can fit social media activity into our day-to-day. Everyone has a powerful content creation tool in their pocket these days and eventually, sharing on social media during their day will become second nature; it won’t take away from their regular duties, because it is the responsibility of all staff to help promote what is happening at their museum. So to answer your questions, being a lifelong learner helps, having a willingness to try new things and being flexible is important, and the ability to adapt and learn from your mistakes and successes is imperative.
LM: We all get excited when a photo on Instagram receives hundreds of likes, or a Facebook post has multiple shares. It’s wonderful to know we are engaged with our online visitors. But at the end of the day, for a museum to keep its doors open, attendance is critical. Have you been able to see or track a direct correlation between a successful social media campaign and attendance? Can you recommend any helpful tools to help measure success?
RD: I think it is important to note that measuring success by physical attendance only is outdated in the 21st century and the emphasis it receives needs to change. Physical attendance is only one measure of success but we need to stop focussing on it as THE measure. At the heart of your online presence, the reason that it is so important is that it ensures relevance and it builds long-term relationships with potential visitors and more importantly potential advocates for your museum. One tweet may not lead directly to one ticket sale, but it will lead to greater awareness about your museum. Social media isn’t about the short-term. It is a marathon, not a sprint. Engagement builds relationships, outreach builds awareness, and the best place to do these things is online.
LM: Have you noticed any changes in exhibit design or planning which acknowledge the impact social media has on museum visitors?
RD: The biggest impact is the change in photography policies. Every visitor coming through your door is a content creator and we must do what we can to encourage our visitors to share their experience of visiting our museums as much as possible. Simply placing a hashtag on the title wall of an exhibit or on the web page will let people know that there is a conversation happening online. Our Pompeii exhibition last summer is a great example of this. Photography was allowed for the first time in a special exhibition at the museum, and we also incorporated activation stations that encouraged social sharing so our visitors could create a “buzz” around the exhibition.
Our visitors began sharing their experience and sold the exhibition for us. They created their own content around the exhibition that they shared with their networks. That kind of word of mouth is more valuable than any ads you can produce / pay for.
LM: With the influx of different types of social media platforms how does a museum determine which ones to use?
RD: The important thing to remember is that your social media strategy should be integrated as much as possible with your overall strategy. If you stick to this, then choosing which platforms to deliver on your strategy should be an easy decision. That said, you should always be updating and experimenting and examining new platforms as they pop up to see how they can help you delivery on your strategy. For example, Snapchat isn’t for everyone but it is where a certain demographic (13 - 24 year olds) lives online.
LM: What do you feel are the three biggest mistakes an organization can make when embarking on improving social media engagement?
RD: Scheduling too much, being inauthentic, and posting content created for one platform on all platforms are the three things that make me unfollow, unlike, and tune out an organization online. People know when they see an ad and they tune that out, so scheduling too much promotional content is a no-no these days. Inauthenticity is also a major mistake for museums who are in the business of providing accurate information and real context around collections. Make sure your double check everything that goes out before you hit “tweet”! The last thing I would add is that connecting your Twitter and Facebook accounts is a bad idea, as well as your Instagram to Twitter. Try to create content for each platform; you will see the results in your engagement and data!
LM: Let’s reverse that now, what are some of your favourite engagement strategies (or accidents) you’ve seen on social media?
RD: One of my favourite things to see from museums is the unexpected connections we can make to collections around larger conversations, news stories and major global events. Many in the industry call this newsjacking but it is a tactic we employ regularly with great success. Here’s an example from the Super Bowl this year:
LM: Younger users are getting savvier at avoiding overly commercial platforms. But those are the platforms many museums are most familiar with. What strategies can we use to better engage younger audiences?
RD: Be fun and conversational, it is called SOCIAL media for a reason. People are so media savvy now they know when they are being marketed to and we see less engagement on our “promotional” posts than we do on a nice image of an exhibit or a joke; people love T. Rex jokes! Think about it like this, we’re all at the same party and if all you do is talk about yourself, people are going to tune you out. Be relevant, conversational and have fun! This tweet reached over 3 million accounts and doesn’t promote an exhibition or program:
LM: What growing trend in social media are you most excited about?
RD: Live video and video in general. The potential to connect with your community through live video has greatly increased in 2016 and most platforms have favoured video posts in their algorithms since 2014. If you’re not making video production a focus this year you should figure out a way to make it happen! They don’t have to be Hollywood productions; most of the time my colleagues and I use a phone and a simple mic to produce live video. Here’s an example that was done on a phone that reached 1.3 million people:
Thank you to Ryan Dodge. We are looking forward to hearing more at his upcoming keynote address and session on Saturday, September 17 at AMA Conference 2016.
Director of Exhibits and Communications
Royal Tyrrell Museum
To register for AMA Conference 2016 A Culture of Sharing: Inquiring Minds, Empowering Museums, visit the AMA Conference Website or museums.ab.ca.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. This article originally appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of INFOrm.