“The Museum Hooked Me Up on Instagram!” The Social Adventures Of An Italian At The DDR Museum in Berlin

2The museum of the German Democratic Republic – Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) – in Berlin is one of the most visited museums in the city with almost 500,000 visitors every year.

From the very first lines of presentation, the DDR Museum is defined as an interactive museum where history comes alive through the visitors and their experiences. It prompts the public to come into direct and physical contact with collections and history – indeed, the stories behind the objects.

“Look, touch, try and experience”, these are the most commonly used verbs. The phrase that ends the mission has all the basic philosophy of the museum: “only with the help of our hands, the exhibits come alive”.

But Berliners are not only “a lot of talk and a badge”, as Robert De Niro would say, and they arranged to be present on the major social networking channels in an active and attentive way. Besides, they partnered with the Google Cultural Institute to make available images of objects from their collection in a virtual exhibition entitled “Years of Change“.

This approach to innovation and experimentation was introduced to us by an Italian girl who is currently working in this museum. We had the pleasure of chatting with Federica Felicetti who  is working – together with her colleagues – on social media management and strategy for the DDR Museum in Berlin.
As usual, we hope that her answers will be useful and that her experience will be an inspiration for many of you.

The Background

1. How many people work in your communication and social media department? And which kind of background do they have?

All staff participates to the process. Each employee deals with a particular section, one or two times a week, which is published on Facebook, Google + and Twitter. There are those who write about recipes of the DDR, who gives advice on the television schedule, who comment once a week an item from our collection. Me and my colleague Michael Geithner – who studied as film directors at the university –manage the coordination of all platforms, we maintain contacts with visitors who interact with us and we give a more concrete contribution to the evolution of our social accounts.

2. Let’s talk about social networks. The museum have numerous accounts on the main social media channels and we would like to understand how do you manage them. In which way and with which criterias the DDR Museum has chosen and used its social channel, which strategy has it been using to make them interesting for the audience? And then, how social media are integrated with other media and activities?

Museums are working on the interaction. According to us, the visit does not stop to the museum itself but it goes on after. Therefore, it is right to offer a virtual place where visitors can interact with the institution and each other, exchanging experiences and opinions. Our social channels want to give this opportunity to the visitors thanks to the use of hashtags or geolocation.

We try to integrate our social media strategy with traditional media strategy, which is mainly based on the use of flyers and posters. They usually have a QR code that points directly to our website. We do not use social networks for advertising (like we do with the flyers and posters), but primarily to interact with our visitors and create with them a stable and lasting relationship that goes beyond that time of the visit.


3. Your experience catched our attention since your first email, when you said that you have been contacted by the DDR Museum via Instagram. Tell us what happened briefly, what differences have you encountered with Italy and which were the difficulties of the beginning and the first steps that the museum had to face.

I am here in Berlin thanks to a Leonardo project. Through that program I have been doing an internship for a period of three months. The internship should be easily found by the host organization that operates as a sort of employment center, this did not happen to me and so I had to roll up my sleeves and start the search on my own.

Walking through the streets of Berlin, I stumbled upon the DDR Museum – located exactly in front of the Duomo, on the other side of the river – and I decide to go in (taking advantage of the reduction on the ticket).

I really liked the museum, I found it very interesting and interactive. I took a lot of pictures, which I  posted on Instagram with the hashtag #ddrmuseum. My future colleague Michael replied to me almost in real time, saying that the photos were beautiful and – since it was the Museums Week – he asked me to share them on Twitter with the appropriate hashtag.

I accepted and suddenly an idea came up in my mind: “Why not just ask them if they need an intern?”.

So I wrote an email saying that I would have loved to work with them. Everything happened very quickly: they called me for an interview, I talked a little bit with the Director and after half an hour he asked me: ” When can you start?”. The next day I found myself at a desk with a new computer and the desire to learn.

I don’t think that in Italy they would have given me a chance like that, people tend to be skeptical toward youngest generations and their potentials. Surely. they would not have considered my initiative because I didn’t pass through the institutional channels.


From Theory To Practice

4. The museum calls itself  “interactive” and highlights its role as a place where visitors are invited to “open the doors and look behind the drawings”, rather than a container of objects to look at. How does this phylosophy get translated online?

Even online it is possible to “open doors”, thanks to links we post and share all the time; we point our visitors and users towards new pages, articles, photographs even outside our channels. We don’t just write content about us and our museum, but we try to expand our community outside the “ordinary visitors”, involving history lovers or nostalgic of the DDR, for example, who feel included and want to collaborate and give their opinions.

5. Tell us about a social initiative, through which you got some key and exportable learnings,  by the DDR Museum or that you’ve stumbled upon during your permanence there.

A really cool initiative is “Frange Dr. Wolle” (Ask Dr. Wolle) who is the expert and one of the curators of the museum. My colleague Michael has created these short episodes in which Dr. Wolle answers to questions asked by our followers on various social media platforms.
At this link you can find the playlist with all the episodes of the mini-series.

6. Based on your experience at the DDR Museum, which kind of advice would you give to a museum to start a social media strategy or which suggestion to engage the audience?

First of all, I would recommend them to plan a media strategy. Many museums are still at the very beginning. They still rely on traditional media only because they think they are sufficient, but they are not enough!

I wrote my thesis on this topic, i.e. how museums can better interact with their visitors through a well-built social media strategy.
The use of hashtags is very useful because it allows you to quickly find what you are looking for thanks to an indexing process. Museums can exploit it in their favor trying to encourage the engagement of their followers, for example through contests (even photos on Instagram or Tumblr) related to the hashtag.

On May 18, Germany also participated at the International Day of Museums and – for example – two hashtags had been launched #IMT14 and #MyCollection14 trying to get visitors involved in the event.