Even if it celebrates its 90th anniversary this year, the Museum of Romanticism in Madrid is still in a very good shape, at least if judged by its online presence. This “Museum dedicated to the Nineteenth century in the middle of the Twenty-first century” opened in 1924 thanks to the efforts of the second Marquis de la Vega-Inclán, and it still shares the mission of its founder, bringing visitors closer to the life of the Romantic period, when modernity began.
After 8 years of renovation and reorganization of the collections, the Museum reopened in 2009, opening up the institution also to the potential of communication and interaction offered by organizing online events and exploiting the social networks. The Museum of Romanticism was the first among the Spanish museums to use Spotify and organize guided tours specifically designed for art bloggers. Thanks to a digital strategy that aims to engage with the public, and to a direct and friendly tone of voice, the Museum offers its public a 360 degrees visit, both online and off-line (just have a look at their “How romantic are you?” questionnaires, you won’t be disappointed).
The reputation of this museum has continued to grow since its reopening, to the point that, in September 2013, the first study on the use of social networks among Spanish museums rewarded it as first in terms of engagement on Facebook. A proof that it is not the quantity but the quality of the interaction with your public what can make the difference.
We had a chat about the museum’s communication strategy on social media with Maria Jesús Cabrera, Community Manager, and the only member of the digital team, since 2011, who splits his working days between the Communication and Education department.
D: The Museum of Romanticism is a real pioneer in Spain in the use of Spotify as a tool to tell the story of the Museum to its public in a different way. What prompted you to open an account on this platform and what kind of content do you offer?
M: Music played a fundamental role during the Romantic period, and we wanted it to also have a starring role in the digital world of the Museum. Our strategy involves three main types of content. On one hand, we create playlists with the songs from the most important concerts that we organize – like the “A las veinte cero cero” concerts – in order to reach a larger audience. On the other, we put together playlists with songs related to different aspects of the culture of the Nineteenth century (such as songs written on texts by Bequer), or musics that can enrich the fruition of some pieces in our collection, like the music you could listen to by operating one of the carillons in the permanent exhibition.
Finally, a significant group is represented by playlist designed to integrate the exhibitions, something we are very proud of. The goal is to offer the visitor an all-round aesthetic experience. Two examples: the playlist created for the exhibition “Los espejos del alma. Paisaje Alemán en el Romance,” a selection of German songs chosen by our violinist in-residence, Pablo Toledo, which could be accessed through a QR code placed in the entrance hall; and the list that we have just launched to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Museum. Thanks to this playlist, people will be able to listen to a waltz while they are visiting the Ballroom, or to a “zarzuela” in the Hall of the Costumbristi.
D: One of the priorities when planning a digital strategy is the preliminary study of the public. How did you select your potential audience before reopening the Museum?
M: One thing was clear from the very beginning: we were interested in being where our users already were, to listen and talk to them, trying to find out what they appreciated the most about the Museum and what they would have liked to change. At the same time, however, it seemed equally important to look for new audiences, too. One thing to keep in mind is that a significant number of our most loyal visitors is, on average, 50 years old. The Web 2.0 could be the perfect tool to reach a different and younger audience: people between 20 and 40 years old, passionate about culture but who didn’t know us yet. We observed that the “word of mouth” works very well among our visitors, and social networks are an excellent way to share information with friends and family in a very direct and informal way.
D: Which social media did you open first? What kind of content do you post on each platform?
M: The Museum decided from the very first moment after its reopening that we needed to move from Web 1.0 to 2.0, as we were – and we still are – fully aware of the radical power of these tools and of the incredible opportunities that they offer to cultural institutions. This idea was the premise for a solid project planning. Some questions were fundamental: why do we want to be on social networks? Which could be the most useful to us? Where do we start from? Is the museum staff trained enough on the use of these tools?
The digital strategy of the Museum began in 2010 with Facebook and it has expanded to a more open concept since then. It was important for us to convey information, share and create content with users, and establish a more direct relationship with our followers. For this reasons, we realized that, if we wanted to be open to the community and to offer different kinds of content for different audiences, we had to open ourselves to all possible channels.
After practicing with Facebook, we have expanded our online presence by opening accounts on Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Foursquare. Since 2012, we have added Instagram and Spotify to the list. Every social network conveys different kinds of content for different targets!
Instagram reveals the “behind the scenes” of what is going on at the museum, allowing people to know, for example, how the installation of temporary exhibitions works. Flickr is designed for art lovers or for people who are curious to investigate topics related to the Nineteenth century. On Facebook, the content is more heterogeneous, although – unlike Twitter – it is always related to the Museum, presenting pieces of information on activities on site, the celebration of “special days”, contests, a rich repertoire of photo albums (a way of showing the collections and our educational activities, as well as of adding a visual component to the page), but also links to content posted on our other platforms (especially Flickr, Youtube and Calameo). As for Twitter, the dynamic, active and vibrant character of this platform allows us to pursue a different strategy: we usually tweet aspects of the museum’s life, but also more generic content, covering different aspects of art, museology and culture. This platform is our primary tool for interacting with our audience and with other museums.
Trial, “learning by doing”and by mistakes are the basis of our social network philosophy. The only way to know what matters to the public is experience and direct questioning. The sense of “closeness” and familiarity is the ingredient that can not be missing from any social media strategy. I think one of our biggest successes with these has been our ability to create a community, which was possible by maintaining an intense and constant relationship with our followers.
D: In 2012, you launched the hashtag #undiaen, whose aim was to tell the “behind the scenes” of the museum (once again anticipating a practice that is very common at present). How and when do you use hashtags?
M: One of the first digital goals of the Museum was to let the public know the institution’s work from an internal point of view, and this gave birth to the idea of #undiaen. Our best performances are the monographs on Twitter, through which we deepen the knowledge on cross topics of the museum’s collections. One example is the hashtag on ‘pieza del mes’ (‘art piece of the month’): since 2010, every month or quarter of the year we choose a piece of art from the collection and we study it in depth on a dossier made available on our web page, then we create the corresponding hashtag. A good example is the monograph #comounseñor (‘Like a gentleman’), which enlightened aspetct of the jewelry ornaments and the accessories used by the Nineteenth century gentleman.
We also use hashtags for off-line actions such as #tuitdelectura, in which we convert a reading club on site into an online initiative that allows the public to learn about the literature of the Nineteenth century while actively interacting with the museum by sharing personal opinions and commentaries.
D: In a previous interview, you mentioned that “being a small museum facilitates closeness between employees from different departments and therefore the creation of cross-content”. Could you explain this better?
M: All the things that we share online involve different aspects of the museum and go beyond that: we do not only talk about the art of the Nineteenth century, but we expand it so that it includes fashion, science, technology and history. This variety of content is made possible by the multidisciplinary nature of our collections, but also by the ease of interaction within different departments of the museum, such as the library, the archive, the technical staff, etc, an easiness that derives from being a small museum.
We organize regular interdepartmental meetings, where each department presents the activities they are working on and the related social initiatives. Communications between the Department of Circulation and other units are very fluid. For example, when I’m planning a monograph on a specific content related to the collection, or the library, I start by talking with my colleagues, then I write texts on my own and I ask them to proofread them before I put everything online.
In this regard, I have to admit that we are lucky, since the Direction fully supports the online presence of the Museum and firmly believes that these tools are fundamental to make any institution communicative and open at every level (and unfortunately many other cultural institutions still don’t share the same view).
Domenico Berardinelli has an extensive experience as an art project coordinator in the fields of Education and Exhibition. At the MACRO of Rome, he sensed for the first time that he would have ended up working in the contemporary art world; at the Festival Interferencia of Barcelona, he figured out how to do it; and at the NABA, Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti Milano, he managed to combine passion and practice, coordinating for six years the three-year BA in Painting and Visual Arts.
Today he lives in Barcelona, where he collaborates with the International Festival of Illustrated Books. He is deeply convinced of the ability to mediate between Museums and their public that social networks convey. He writes for “Arte e Critica”, and when he is not sitting at his desk, he travels for exhibitions, his ipad and notebook in hand.