How Do We Measure The Online Engagement Of a Museum?

Recently Valeria#svegliamuseo attended a workshop at the Smithsonian Institution: “Metrics, metrics, everywhere: choosing the right ones for your Website and Social Media”. The session was originally presented at MCN last November and replicated at the Smithsonian by Effie Kapsalis, Head of Web and New Media Smithsonian Archives, Erin Blasco, Smithsonian Museum of American History Programs Specialist along with Sarah Banks New Media and Web Content Specialist Smithsonian Museum of Air and Space and Brian Alpert, Web Analytics and SEM Analyst Smithsonian Institution.

Below you can read a few interesting takeaways from the workshop!

Jani.Halinen/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Jani.Halinen/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

On a regular basis, we catch news and articles accusing museums to be slow in adopting the newest technologies. Here is one  (in italian) that focuses on how million of followers represent a successful achievement for an organization that uses Twitter. The article points out that Italian museums simply suck in using Twitter as the number of followers is just not enough, compared to other museums abroad.

The 1,64 milioni MoMa followers certainly are an achievement, but as more and more museums use the Web to engage visitors in conversations and learning rather than simply broadcasting content, probably numbers tell us pretty much nothing. Can we thus base success and failure on numbers? How can we measure engagement and how can we prove that social media is stuff that works?

There is a growing discussion around “digital awareness” and how the staff of a museum is not always on the same page in recognizing the value of digital tools. Measuring is indeed crucial, either to improve online activities and make them more relevant for visitors, as well as to convince skeptical curators or confused directors that digital is a resource, not just a cool thing to have.

Let’s start from sustainable goals, shall we?

Brian Alpert kicked-off the workshop by focusing on the too broad goals that institutions set when starting to use social media. Being able to articulate specific and feasible goals is crucial.

Another pitfall is having too many objectives, the Smithsonian Archives, for example, boiled down the goals of the institution into four pillars, associated with clear strategies and tactics for each.

We have been hearing a lot of stories from curators that work as social media managers as well as chief of new media departments that have to add Facebook and Twitter to the daily tasks. To structure objectives that you can coordinate with the work load it is thus key. Keep it focused and move on!

Sarah Banks told us about how at the Air and Space Museum the digital goals are tied to the museum strategic goals. The social media strategy supports the mission of the museum and the institution will soon release a digital engagement strategy. The choice of not limiting the document to social media, but rather extend it to the whole range of tools and thinking about them as a synergy, reminds a little bit of the Tate Digital Strategy, Digital as a dimension of everything (we will be talking about it on #svegliamuseo very soon so stay tuned!).

There is no spoon as much as there is no “target audience: everyone”

(there is no spoon = a completely unrelated quote from Matrix)

David.Asch/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

David.Asch/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Although very simple, this concept is so important that deserves a section on its own. Effie Kapsalis, Smithsonian Archives, highlights that a very common pitfall for many organizations is setting too broad target groups by saying things like “the museum and its channles are for all, open to all that want to join, everybody is welcome!YaY!”

A museum as well as its online activities are not for all but need to be targeted with precise categories in mind, real people, rather than faceless masses of public. This doesn’t mean that we have to limit our online activities to researchers, families or students and that noboby else will ever care about entering our doors. However, we need to be aware of the specificities of the museum and be able to address them, especially with online tools.

Tactics and Strategies

Waponi/CC BY 2.0

Waponi/CC BY 2.0

Once the goals are set, we can skip to tactics and strategies, two terms that are often confused. A strategy can be, for example, using social media to reach the public we have in mind and engage them in the activities related to an exhibition, a series of conferences or a “behind the scenes” event. Tactics are the tools and the actions that we chose to fulfill a strategy.

After that, we can start measuring and evaluating the impact of the tactics that we picked. It is important to decide WHAT do we want to measure by deciding a few parameters. Furthermore, as Brian Alpert points out, the benchmarking is really important if we want to establish what is normal: 100 likes? 2000 followers? 10 milions of shares?

This should be an ongoing process, structured as long as the activity goes on. There are in fact factors that can influence the fluctuation of data. Imagine that we are measuring the online activity related to an exhibition: data, in order to be representative, should take into account the “buzz” of the opening that will certainly engage more people, as opposed to two months from the opening.

Goals – strategy – tactic. Confused? Here is an example, or maybe two.

cliff1066™ /CC BY 2.0

cliff1066™ /CC BY 2.0

Erin Blasco, American History Museum, told us about the donation of a group of puppets (among which there were also some of the popular Muppets), that entered the Museum’s collection. The online activity started right before the official announcement of the donation. It is important to highlight that the media department would focus the press release on Miss Piggy, as it is one of the most famous icons included in the donation.

– Goal: engage the public with the whole story of the exhibition, not only with the most popular objects.

– Strategy: engage the public in the accession process of Fraggle, one of the less popular puppets

– Tactic: post on Twitter and Facebook a close-up of Fraggle’s hair and invite the public to guess what object would have soon entered the collection

This has been done by releasing different clues on social media before the “official” news was released. This way the Museum ensured that less known objects were represented as well.

Another example:

– Goal: communicate the concept that from the donation, objects would have not been immediately on view.

– Strategy: engage the public in the complex restoration process.

– Tactic: blog post on “behind the scenes” and Flickr photo set with narrative captions.

This way, the Museum established sustained engagement with different aspects of the accessioning story.

Quantity VS Quality: which metrics should we include?

Brian Alpert divides possible metrics in three categories:

– Quantity of stuff: number of fans, followers, tweets etc. These are not actionable data, but define the scope of your activity and put the museum in context. Ironic note: in other words, these data are really meaningful for our directors when giving institutional speeches and “showing off” the institution with astonishing numbers.

– Quantity plus: Reetweets, shares, comments. Far more significant than quantity of stuff, as they show a stronger engagement.

-Advanced/metrics that can be trended. In a blog post by Avinash Kaushik metrics are classified based on the concept that “what is important is what happens after the tweet, the post or the invitation to join“. From the rate of conversation that a post can trigger, to the amplification of the post through shares and number of applauses (likes) that informs the institution on what the audience like, up to the actual economical impact that the social media activity can generate.

Caro Wallis/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Caro Wallis/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It looks like anecdotal data can tell us more than a trillion of followers. But how can we measure in so much details when we have so little time and lots of other things to do? – a participant of the workshop asked. The speakers agreed that it is important to identify specific parameters to track. For example, by tracking comments that show that visitors have absorbed and learned something or demonstrate that they liked a certain activity, we can decide to program future activities accordingly. Other important metrics can be retweets from newspapers, leaders or famous persons in interested fields.

At first you might feel that you don’t know what to look at in terms of things to measure, but as much as you will apply the concepts to your institutional priorities, you will start to be “trained” in recognizing what is important as opposed to what is not.

Brian Alpert concluded that these metrics can be useful in tracking a certain program that runs for a limited amount of time, while long term institutional activities can be more difficult to track in this sense.

How to track and “assemble” the data

r2hox/CC BY-SA 2.0

r2hox/CC BY-SA 2.0

Third parties platforms can help you track the activities online, such as HootSuite, TweetDeck and True social media metrics. These platforms allow to open free accounts for basic actions. Facebook Insights and Twitter Analytics can also help in documenting the activity on the related platforms.

Sarah Banks’s first priority in defining a framework for the Air and Space Museum, was to keep the task manageable. As a result and according to what we decide to measure, dedicated platforms can help tracking certain kind of data, while for others might be necessary to create spreadsheets. This latter option needs to be considered carefully, as it can be difficult to manually record and arrange large amount of qualitative data. The Air and Space Museum also creates monthly, quarterly and annual reports about its online activity, sharing them respectively with the digital department, internally to other departments and externally, with the communities of practices.

Erin Blasco, Smithsonian American History Museum, told us about how sometime it is important to adapt the language of the reports so that it would be comprehensible to the management of the institution. In fact, not everyone in the museum might use Twitter and thus we should include screenshots of the tweets as well as “translations” of specific terms. This concept is really important as it contributes to a process of sensibilization around digital tools and generates awareness.

Brian Alper, on the other hand, suggests the structure of your data should be pretty much like a story, responding to the question: what happened? what does it mean? what do we think about it and what happens now? By doing so, data will be more accessible and it will be easier to make a case for our initial goals.

All in all there are many available tools and techniques and we may need to test some of them and apply them to the specific contexts of our institution in order to determine which ones fit better to our scopes and time.

Do you have examples or suggestions? Cases, platforms or resources that you would like to share? Let us know in the comments!

Source image: Joseph Ma.Rosel/CC BY 2.0