From Local To Global And Back Thanks To Social Media: The National Museum of Women In The Arts

When we think about Washington, D.C., we think about a monumental city in which the many cultural landmarks stand for the values and the ideals of a Nation. The National Museum of Women in the Arts preserves and displays a collection of 4,500 objects that celebrates the recognition of women’s creative contributions in the U.S. and beyond. Founded in 1987, it is the only major museum in the world solely dedicated to this topic and the inspiring ideals that are connected to it.

Besides the fascinating collection hosted in a wonderful building, the museum offers exhibitions, programs, events, and educational activities devoted to the exploration of women contributions to every form of art and culture. Take a look at their website! This Museum is definitely an example of how culture can transcend the artistic information and become meaningful, with ideals and symbols brought to life by the stories the artifacts enclose.

We had the pleasure of interviewing one of the members of the Museum’s Digital Media team, Laura Hoffman, Digital Media Specialist. Laura shared with us some insights on the Museum’s media activity and strategy. We hope that you’ll like it so much that you’ll start following the Museum’s online activities right away, regardless if you are a man or woman!

V: How many people work in your digital media department and what kind of skills would you say are necessary to work with digital tools in a museum?

Laura: I’m the Digital Media Specialist, my colleague is the Website Administrator, and our supervisor oversees both Education and online initiatives. My background is in Art, Art History and Museum Education, and I was hired by the museum to manage the re-design of the website, a task for which I had to prepare a great deal. Regarding social media, we have a cross-departmental approach.

The skills that I think are necessary to work in the field certainly include the ability to be flexible since technologies are always changing, as well as the ability to communicate and work with the entire staff, because everyone has a stake in digital offerings. Furthermore, I would say it’s imperative to prioritize digital offerings both for the museum’s and the online visitor’s perspective, so that the benefits are maximized for both.

V: Why do you use social media? What social media platforms does the museum use and what is the content strategy behind each of them?

We are a mission-based institution—meaning that people support us not just as a museum, but for the mission that we represent: a place for women in the arts. Because of this, many of our supporters live far away and never get to set foot in the museum. Social media allows for us to connect with them in a very personal way, and it also helps place us in a more global context.

As mentioned, we have an interdepartmental team that works on social media and its strategy to get a more holistic approach. We have several social media platforms but ones we are currently focusing on are our blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Foursquare. Overall, we try to have a consistent voice throughout the platforms and have them work together when possible.

For our blog strategy, we provide in-depth content about the latest exhibitions, collection highlights, new programs, and institutional history. For Facebook, we focus on important events and happenings at and around the museum. We have the largest amount of followers on this platform.

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We handle Twitter a little differently because we tweet several times a day, so we are able to include the greater context of our mission, tweeting about other institutions and organizations that are doing similar work in addition to our own. We also participate in live tweets and international Twitter events, such as #MuseumWeek, Museum Memories Day, etc., that provides us with a more global approach.

For Instagram, we document the Museum visually, giving behind-the-scenes views, sharing our institutional history, and creating a vehicle to share related photos from our followers. We also do exhibition-themed contests on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter as an opportunity to further interact with our followers. For YouTube, we have recently begun creating exhibition-related playlists and uploading our own videos; for example, we have compiled a playlist that highlights each of the ten video artists represented for our new contemporary video art. Lastly, our Foursquare strategy focuses on a more local audience. We do exclusive Foursquare deals, like half-off admission throughout Women’s History Month in March, when you check in.

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V: Is social media integrated with the broader digital strategy of the institution? If so, how?

Yes, for both we are aiming to be very online visitor-centered keeping the different platforms in mind. We are just starting to develop a broad digital strategy, which can be a difficult feat, given the rapid and ever-changing nature of online technology.

V: How does evaluation enter in the processes of the museum? Do you evaluate your digital tools and campaign?

Every month I run analytics for both the website and social media platforms. Additionally, after each major exhibition, staff meets to go over all the initiatives, review the data, and reflect for future exhibitions and projects. Also, the social media team and the digital team will look at a year in review to evaluate and strategize.

dreusaunders/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

dreusaunders/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

V: How do you connect the activities that you conduct on your digital platforms with the on-site experience and vice-versa? Is there an example of a program or a campaign that has been particularly successful in this sense?

We have signage around the Museum (at the entrance, in the elevators, on institutional brochures, etc.) that either has the links or icons to selected social media channels.
For some of our events targeted to a younger demographic (namely our “NMWA Nights” events), we have in-gallery social media contests. For example, at the last “NMWA Nights” event we had an Instagram contest to post pictures throughout the evening, which we displayed for everyone to see. For the next “NMWA Nights” event, we will be doing social media-based video tours in the NMWA collection galleries to complement our exhibition Total Art: Contemporary Video, which opens June 6.

V: For the last question, I would ask you to give some small tips to a museum starting from scratches with digital communication. We hear stories from institutions that struggle in getting started and finding orientation. What would you say is the best approach to kick start a digital strategy that makes use of social media, in cases as such?

As you get started, a digital strategy can seem like an overwhelming task. First, get together with the main stakeholders and discuss what your main goals are. They can be simple. What is your organization? Who are your digital visitors? Then, think about how digital media platforms can reflect your goals. What are you trying to accomplish on the website? How can social media help reach those goals? Once the website is up and full of the content you want, start with one or two social media platforms that target the goals you set out. It can take a while to build an audience, so starting with one or two and build over time.

Do your research and investigate what other institutions are doing. Ask yourself, “what will help achieve the goals we’ve determined?”  It’s important to start conversations and collaborate with institutions nearby or institutions that have similar missions.

What do you think about Laura’s approach and advice? Anything to add? Do you feel you might be able to apply such an approach to your own institution? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Image source: wallyg/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0