Social media strategy for museums: your Website is the Hub

October 8, 2013, 12:50 PM eastern by Rob Landry

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In working with museums, especially in the age of social media, I've noticed a certain way of thinking among many museum professionals about their websites.  That is to say, many don't think much about their sites.

Almost all museums have a Facebook page, and the vast majority have a Twitter account and usually some Pinterest boards.  They may have an offsite blog and use Tumblr and Flickr creatively. 

And then they have... a website.

So what's the best way to engage your audiences and forge connections to new ones?  Many museum communicators think social media creates strong bonds.  While I think this is true for person-to-person relationships, I don't think it's a good strategy for an organization - like a museum - to connect.

Relying heavily on social media to create engagement is like dating without ever inviting anyone home. 

Social media is a mile wide and an inch deep.  Because of the nature of the media, you are limited in how you can connect with people.  In a tweet, you have 140 characters, and maybe you can throw in a photo you Instagrammed. 

Then there's Facebook.  The best way to engage on Facebook is to post an image (more eye-catching in the timeline) and hope people will share, comment and like (in that order).  You can create special tabs for fans to interact with, but engagement is usually very low because you've got to: appear fans' timelines (no simple matter these days), get them to click over to your fan page and then get them to click on your tab.  That's a lot of clicks.

With social media it's easy to be deceived by large numbers that don't mean a lot.  For example, we spot checked the Facebook page of a major museum and found that they over the last several days they've had, on average, 716.4 likes, 184.8 shares and 8.4 comments per post.  Looks pretty good, until you realize that they have nearly a million fans.  In that context, 0.07% of fans liked posts, 0.018 fans shared and an infinitesimal 0.0000823% of fans commented, on average. 

Here's something to think about: would the fans who are engaging be the folks who would be buying tickets anyway even if Facebook had never been invented?  And are you strengthening connections or just giving people who are already avid fans a nice way to interact?

I'm not suggesting you immediately stop using social media.  What I am saying is that use of social media shouldn't be the core of your digital engagement strategy.  Your website should.  Here's why:

Control.  On your site, you have complete control over the user experience and design.  Your website is a whole lot more than a timeline.  The content of your exhibits, events and special interactives can be presented in a way that fosters engagement in the best way possible.  You control how your audience navigates through your content.  Your website is here to stay; social media may come and go, or may just change their UI.

Completeness.  On your website you can easily put all your exhibits in front of people.  You don't have to dribble them out one at a time.  You can use 140,000 characters to describe them if you like, instead of 140.  Add a photo... several photos... a photo gallery.  Make stuff searchable, sortable, siftable.  Do something interesting, fun... something unique, and uniquely engaging.

Analytics.  You can get a much better feel for what content is most interesting to your audiences when you can see where they go on your site.  Sure, on Facebook you get Insights, but the data is fairly limited.  On your site you can use Google Analytics and a wide assortment of other tech tools to track the behavior of your audiences.  You should be using traffic analytics tools to create a feedback loop that can help you to continually improve how effective your website is at connecting.

There's more to say, but hopefully that's enough food for thought to get you re-examining your website and its effectiveness.  Before there was social media, there was your website. Your website will outlast any other point of presence managed by others.

Social media are great avenues for connecting with audiences and should definitely be an integral part of a healthy digital engagement strategy.  But they are the spokes.  Your website is the hub.

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