We might never know what vision had Charles III of Spain in mind when he asked his architect, Juan de Villanueva, to build a house for his Cabinet of Natural History, in 1785. What we know is that this Cabinet became the Prado Museum, now with 1,300 works on display, 3,100 on temporary loan, many others in storage, of which 1,000 are accessible with full description in English, and more than 5,000 in the Spanish version, through the museum virtual gallery.
The 10th most visited museum of the world in 2011, and the Spanish museum with the largest number of followers on social networks, the Prado has come a long way down the road towards modernity. Today, it collaborates with Samsung to enhance its in-gallery digital activities, has just developed a mobile app to guide its visitors through its galleries and exhibitions, and is showing an admirable openness to the international trends in museum communication & technology, together with a willingness to keep improving. Its website is undergoing a new development, and we don’t know how it will soon look like, but for now, the Prado on-line communication appears simple and elegant, almost essential, in its black and white framing. The colors are all in the Museum lavish paintings. To know more about the Prado digital strategies, we have been lucky enough to interview Javier Pantoja Ferrari, Director of the Web Service and Online Communication Department. We are extremely thankful to him, and his staff, for having found the time to answer our questionnaire, giving us the chance to compare our situation in Italy to what is currently going on in Spain in the digital field of museum communication.
1. The Department
Javier, the Prado is one of those happy realities where the museum has invested in a Department specifically dedicated to on-line communication. As such things are very rare in Italy, we would love to be allowed a sneak peek into your world, and to learn more about the organization of your staff. J. The Web Department belongs to the Communication Department and, apart from myself, it has two people for programming and website design (at the moment helping to develop a new website); a professional in charge of video with two assistants, and a person who deals with social media.
2. Which background?
The debate in Italy is very strong on which (educational and/or career) path should be followed to become a Community Manager for cultural institutions. If you don’t mind, could you tell us yours? J. In our case, the person who deals with social media has a background in communication with a strong knowledge of the Museum. Nevertheless, we consider it essential to keep up to date on a daily basis as social media is constantly evolving
3. Social Media
Different digital and social platforms have different finalities and should be chosen carefully depending on the information that needs to be conveyed. How is the Prado choosing and using its channels, and how is it making them appealing to its audience (also, what kind of audience do they each reach to)?
J. The on-line audience is very similar to the on-site visitor, most people being around 25-55 years old. We prefer to combine different channels to maximize impacts. If we refer to a certain painting on Twitter, we provide a link to our website’s online gallery. Later, we create a Storify or a Pinterest board about that conversation.
Official website: We are developing a new website focused on facilitating the visitor on-line experience of the Prado with more content available, semantic search, and, in the future, open data. We want our visitors to realize that visiting the website is another way of enjoying the Prado experience. Facebook: We use it to announce activities and exhibitions but also to play riddles with our followers. Twitter: We look for engagement. You can find different activities in our Storify account (N/A: for those who never miss out on a detail in a painting, here’s an example from the series #cielosencerrados , “#framedskies”; and here’s some fun for birds’ lovers: #HistoriasNaturales – Ave del Paraíso, “NaturalHistories – Birds of Paradise). Pinterest: It is very attractive for us as it enhances visual content. We use it to reinforce other activities on Twitter or our website itineraries. On the other hand, we do not have many followers as Pinterest is still relatively unknown in Spain (N/A: check out the board with the favorite works of art by the Prado Twitter followers: #ObraFavoritaPrado – a smart way of presenting the museum’s “best of”) Google+: We have more than 400,000 followers in G+ although they are not as active as with Facebook or Twitter. At the moment we focus on videos and images, not so much on activities as many of our followers are from Latin America. Foursquare: We update the information about exhibitions but we are not very active in Foursquare. It is helpful to engage with those checking in via Twitter, though. YouTube: Video has become essential to the promotion and diffusion of exhibitions. For us, Youtube is a great tool to upload and share our videos. Also, they offer great analytics. (N/A: paintings are full of musical references, but have you ever wondered how this music must have sounded like? The Prado, together with the Proyecto Iconografía Musical, has made available the music of 7 of its masterpieces:“El Sonido de la Peintura”, “The Sound of Painting”.)
[A simple, yet successfull, example of combined social activity: the same content reached 4th position in the world as most engaging tweet of the week, according to Museum Analytics. On Facebook, as you can see, it reached over 5,600 likes.]
So far, we have analyzed your Social and Digital Media by discussing their content and their diverse strategies. Our investigation, however, wouldn’t be complete without also taking the final results into consideration. That is, are digital tools ultimately effective in engaging the audience in the museum activities? And are Spanish museums actively using them? J. Social Media are very effective in engaging with the audience, as you are communicating with people that expect to be informed about “what’s on” in the Museum. To engage people further on depends on how you use those digital tools to keep people interested in your activities. Also, it is very affordable and you have feedback from your followers and from social media platforms to see how you perform.
5. The Interactive Museum
Innovation, In-gallery engagement, openness: how is the Prado approaching the emerging technologies (such as augmented reality devices, QR codes, mobile apps etc.), and the current issues of open data and crowdsourcing? J. Samsung has now joined the Corporate Member programme of the Museum as a Protector Sponsor with the specific title of “Technological Collaborator” to help the Museum in those challenges. (N/A: the agreement was signed last fall 2013 for a two years period, during which Samsung will develop a digital system including information points, educative areas and wi-fi accessibility). To conclude, we hope you have found learning more about the digital strategies of the Prado as engaging as we did, and if so, keep exploring their social platforms and keep an eye on their future developments (we are sure more will soon come).
And as usual, #svegliamuseo! Let’s keep waking up!