Social Media and Mobile at the Musée du Quai Branly: Digital Synergies Toward an Integrated Strategy

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Featuring indigenous art and cultures of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas, the Musée du Quai Branly is the newest of the major museums in Paris.

We had the opportunity to discuss with Sébastien Magro, New Media Manager at the museum, as well as Candice Chenu, New Technologies Project Manager. We peeked into the projects and the strategy of an institution that is geared toward a use of digital for interpretation and access – in the broadest sense –  of its collections.

Besides an interesting perspective on social media role and functions, the Quai Branly offers a number of mobile experiences for people of all needs and abilities. There are “traditional” multimedia tours on loan on iPod touches; a multi-sensory iPad experience that includes captioning and French Sign Language interpretation, and an NFC (near-field communication) mobile phone audio tour. But accessibility doesn’t seem to be only achieved with technology. For example, for people with low vision there is an audio-descriptor tour and tactile maps, as well as a seated listening station throughout different exhibition halls.

Let’s take a closer look at what we discussed!

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

S: Four people work in the department with different responsibilities: from managing the website, to social media and on site multimedia. The department is more of a service to the other units in the museum.

In terms of the necessary skills, I would say that being able to write compelling content is one of the most important. It is also crucial to be open minded, listen to users’ questions, to their needs and requests.  You have to know who they are and what are their visiting habits.

Basic knowledge of HTML and CSS can help, along with knowledge of marketing and communication.

V: Why do you use social media? What social media channels the museum use and what is the content strategy behind each?

S : Starting from a basic observation, I would say that you have to be on social media because people are using it. So that is necessary for an institution to use these platforms, to be able to answer questions, help their visitors, or even just know what they are saying about you.

As Jim Richardson said, social media should be used for three main reasons:

Communication: meaning institutional communication. This approach considers the museum as an institution with a collection, exhibitions and programs. Through social media, these activities are communicated.

Interpretation:  in French this is called “mediation”. This is the part of what I find most interesting of my job. We are something like an ethnographic museum but we have an artistic point of view on our collections. The museum chose to present them like work of art. So social media are useful for us to contextualize objects, go beyond this approach and add multiple perspectives on objects.

Information:  social media functions as an immediate tool to answer people questions on the museum and its day-to-day activities.

Jean-Pierre Dalbéra/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Jean-Pierre Dalbéra/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Regarding how we manage the platforms:

On Twitter I am the one writing most of the tweets with some exceptions in which my colleague tweet as well.

We have different pages on Facebook: one is dedicated to the museum, created in 2009. We have events-focused pages as well. For example, for Photoquai, the Biennale of Photography that we organize in front of the museum, we created a Facebook page, managed along with an external agency, that we update only for this event.

Staff from the Education department manages the page for the Before, a series of parties that blends music and artists performances four time a year. Another interesting case is the Media Library. Only researchers and students can access this space in the museum, so we created a Facebook page to make content accessible to all. The page is managed by the staff of the Media Library, I only coordinate it.

I am currently writing a report on social media. We are trying to think about what we have done so far and how we are going to develop our content strategy on different platforms. Our two major social media are Facebook and Twitter. Now that Facebook is turning into a paying format for institutions we are considering to be present on different social platforms with less publications, less posts, but with better quality of the content, more visitors oriented and truly tailored for the platforms.

V: Are social media and other digital projects integrated with the broader digital strategy of the institution? If so, how?

S: We don’t have a broader digital strategy right now. It is a slow process: the museum has many digital projects that are like dots that need to be connected. For now we try to develop a digital strategy for each exhibition: we create a basic package on social media and other tools. One of the main challenges is the digital literacy. As you know, technology moves at a really fast pace so you need to have internal buy-in before starting something. And even when you do, it will always be a work in progress.

V: How do you connect the activities that you conduct on your digital channels with the on-site experience and vice-versa?

S: It’s quite separated from now. We have been trying to connect both worlds, digital and physical. A few months ago we started inviting visitors to share their experience on social media, using pictograms and a suggested hashtag.

Besides we put our social media logo on printed materials. We have been seeing that people use our hashtags more often. The #MuseumWeek changed many things: more people are now aware that we are on Twitter and got interested in our hashtags.

At the same time, onsite interpretation is challenging without WiFi. As soon as the museum will be able to provide it, I expect things to change.

V: You have recently launched the new version of an app for the exploration of the visible storages about musical instruments, The Musée en Musique. Traditional interpretation for these objects is challenging, why did you decide that mobile was the right tool to “augment” it?

C : The Musée en Musique app is a learning tool. It is a focus with a gaming approach on our collections linked to music (sounds and videos of our intangible collections, musical instruments exhibited, observable musical instruments stockrooms, museum backstage…) . The point is to discover our museum by an other way and to learn more about our collections. The primary goal is to lead visitors to the real objects. This app helps them finding the objects when they are in-situ before being able to access to the complementary contents. Furthermore, a game is included to lead visitors to elaborate a personalized photo album with objects of the app that he has reached to find.

V: The app includes different versions according to the location of the user – on site/offsite. Could you explain how is the experience different in the two modes? Why did you decide to include this feature?

C: There are two different uses are associated to two very different contexts of use and motivation. When you are inside the museum the point is to find the real objects and to avoid using a screen navigation / when you are outside the point is to prepare or to help you to remember your visit) with specific bonus.

V: This app uses know NFC technology allowing two-ways interactions, so, ideally, as contents are triggered, visitors can respond and in some way have an impact on the experience. Is this component present in the app? In what way NFC as it is used here is different from QR Codes?

C: It is mainly used as more aesthetic and pedagogic QR codes : for this version, we designed brand new boards with clues written on it (instead of QR code sign). First, visitors have to identify the correct clue and then access to the appropriate content by tagging it.

V: What is next for the mobile strategy (or, more preferably, for the whole digital strategy) at Quay Branly?

C: We are heading toward transmedia*: ARGs, off-site events and emerging forms of both promotion and interpretation, in exhibitions as well as our permanent collections.

*For a closer look on the definition of transmedia and related quai Branly projects, see this paper from MWF2014 

V: For the last question, I would ask you to give some small tips to a museum that starts from scratches with digital tools. We have a bunch of very small Italian institutions, such as the one descripted below, that struggle in getting started and finding orientation. What would you say is the best approach to kickstart a digital strategy that makes use of social media, in cases as such?

S: To start. Similarly to when you learn how to swim, you have to jump in the water and start. From there you will be able to see what works and what doesn’t, testing what people like and want.

Header: ho visto nina volare / CC BY-SA 2.0