Digital Strategy? A map for the engagement! The Royal Ontario Museum tells us how

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We hear more and more the words “digital strategy” for museums, at conferences, in articles and blog posts.  But what is it about? Why is it so necessary to have one? Who is supposed to be in charge of it?

To answer these and even more questions, we interviewed Ryan DodgeSocial Media Coordinator at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, an institution which plays a leading role in social media management and, most importantly, which pays a special attention to the ability to use these tools to build meaningful connections with their community.

We hope that his experience on Digital Strategy and his point of view on topics such as connections between digital channels and on-site experience will be useful to provide some good inspiration: #svegliamuseo!

Ryan Dodge will be talking about Social Media Strategy, with a focus on Google tools, during our next Svegliamuseo On Air appointment: Wednesday 23rd July at 11.00 EST. To follow the live broadcast, or watch the recording later on, click here.

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F: Museums are more and more discussing, creating and publishing their “digital strategies”, which is kind of becoming a buzzword in the field. What do you mean by “digital strategy” and what are the ingredients that characterize it?

R: A digital strategy can mean many different things to many people, but in my opinion a digital strategy is a plan or a set of guidelines establishing how you will use digital tools to engage with people.

Having a strategy for this activity is a must because there is so much that can be done, it is impossible to do it all. Providing staff with a set of guidelines or areas of focus to use as reference when deciding where to put their efforts is key to an efficient team when there are so many directions to choose from.

In my opinion, a digital strategy is not a stand alone document, it should be integrated with your institution’s overall strategies and really should be something that staff can use on a day-to-day basis but also something that helps deliver on the institution’s overall mission and objectives.

2466811780_8c382ca5fc F: How many people work in the digital department at ROM? More in general, how do you relate with different departments (such as curatorial and education) in pursuing your work?

R: We have a very small team here at the ROM, there are four of us who work on the web team including our manager and three others who produce digital content mainly for exhibitions. That said, our small team spends a lot of time training staff across the organization in various aspects, whether it is writing for the web or how to tweet effectively. We hold monthly workshops and often will sit down with staff one-on-one to help them become more effective and efficient online communicators.

F: What kind of skills would you say are necessary to work with digital interpretation and communication in a museum? What does the museum do to create and sustain 21st century skills to the staff?

R: I am not sure there is a complete set of skills that one needs to work with digital interpretation and communication in a museum. I have met many people who work in this area across the world and we all have a different set of skills. That said, I think the most important thing is that you have a love of the arts/history/culture and the passion to share that with others.

You should also enjoy learning new things, to be constantly challenged and love to experiment with emerging technology/tools. Of course, an education in history, anthropology, fine arts, marketing, communications, computer science, etc is helpful but I do believe that the first step is showing an interest in museums and wanting to share their importance with others. In my case, I have a BA in History and an MA in Museum Studies and have wanted to work in a museum since I was very young.

F: Why does the museum use social media? What social media channels the museum use and what is the content strategy behind each?

R: The purpose of social media at the ROM is to build connections with our communities through conversations. Conversations enabled by social media help to achieve many important goals, including building connections with our community by fostering direct, timely, and responsive dialogue and enhancing the museum’s public profile by increasing awareness and understanding of the ROM as a resource of expertise in our research and collections areas.

Right now, our focus is on Twitter and Facebook, in that order. We also have a presence on Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest but our day-to-day activity can be found mostly on Twitter and Facebook. Our content aligns with the web, marketing and communications teams, but we do have a bit of wiggle room and can jump on news stories that relate to our collections or things that pop up, like the Blue Whale story last May. Above all we value the conversations we have with people all over the world and are ready, at any time of the day, to respond to our community. Our social media activity directly delivers on our institutional promise to connect people to their world and to each other.

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

R: We connect the on-site experience and our social media presence in a number of ways. If available, we print the personal/profession Twitter handles of our curatorial staff in our floor plan (see here an example). This enables physical visitors to connect with our curatorial staff in real time if that would like more information on an object/exhibit/display.

We also have signs around the museum reminding people to connect with us online and have placed decals on exhibit cases with hashtags to bring visitors into an online conversation with our experts and the museum. Our Google+ Hangout on Air content has also been re-purposed in our galleries, playing on a loop in one of our exhibit spaces.

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F: For the last question, I would ask you to give some small tips to a museum that starts from scratches with digital communication. We have a bunch of Italian institutions that struggle in getting started and finding orientation. What would you say is the best approach to kickstart a digital strategy?

R: I have found Jasper Visser’s Digital Engagement Framework to be very helpful when trying to get the digital strategy conversation started at the ROM. As I said in the response to the first question, there is so much you could do with digital, it is very difficult to start thinking about how you will use these tools if you do not know where you want to go or what goals you want to achieve before you start.

So I would suggest you download the Digital Engagement Framework and hold as many workshops as it takes, with as many staff that show an interest in this area. That is the only way to put together a solid, collaborative strategy that the entire institution can be proud of. You may already have a core team that are already working in this area, they will become your champions and will need to educate the rest of the staff on the benefits of using digital tools. Once you step back from the actual work of producing content and look at it strategically, that’s when you can figure out which platforms your institution can use and how to use them for the benefit of your communities. Continue to hold training sessions and workshops as often as possible to get your staff up to speed and ensure that they are communicating effectively and efficiently with their communities.

Ryan Dodge, Social Media Coordinator Royal Ontario Museum

Ryan Dodge, Social Media Coordinator Royal Ontario Museum

Ryan Dodge will be talking about Social Media Strategy, with a focus on Google tools, during our next Svegliamuseo On Air appointment: Wednesday 23rd July at 11.00 EST. To follow the live broadcast, or watch the recording later on, click here.