It seems that there’s a new museum being announced every week. Some are small and niche; some are large and have ambitious attendance goals.

It’s heavy lifting to get a museum going. The planning and strategy, followed by site selection and construction, takes years. But you don’t have to wait for your grand opening to build an audience: a loyal, engaged, active audience. The power of your message online can begin the minute your mission is established.

Build the brand online

Your mission has an inherent message which gets illustrated through your collection. There’s an audience out there who’s interested in that message and your mission right now.  So start engaging them through social media.

Peterson Automotive Museum started their campaign years before they opened their doors, with a website called Car Stories.  Now integrated into the museum website, they were able to develop thousands of engaged audience members nationally as they built out their museum.  It helped develop a devoted following, creating excitement as the grand opening approached, and the website garnered rich audience-written content that supported their mission.

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Maximize the message

One of the examples we use to show the power of audience engagement is @history_pics. They have 2.4 million followers on Twitter, putting them ahead of Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth. And it’s not a passive audience. The average post gets shared and liked by several hundred people.  Their best posts clear 2000 shared, and they hit that level of engagement at least once a week. Any museum would kill to get numbers like these.

History Pics Build Audience

So what makes tweets like history_pics do so well? Their content is not promotional. It isn’t asking someone to show up at an event, donate to a cause, or contribute to an institution. It’s just providing engaging content for its own sake.  And the public loves information that aligns with their interests.

We underestimate how hungry the world is for knowledge—trustworthy and interesting knowledge.  The explosion of MOOCs, the use of Wikipedia, the preponderance of social media sites that provide what magazines used to—topic-based weekly writing, is a clear sign that if you build it, they will come.  And you aren’t limited to your 50-mile radius. There are no boundaries on your audience when you maximize your online presence.

Tailor to the target

Depending on the age group and the topic area, you can hone in on a single platform or work across a few.  We highly recommend that you don’t try to tackle more than three social media platforms to begin with. You can always grow, but launching with thinly populated content across too many media platforms dilutes your message and your brand.

Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Vimeo, or the myriad other options, it’s important to know the age and engagement of your core audience (and please understand that the core audience isn’t “everyone”). Once you know who you are targeting, then you need to understand where they get the kind of information you are providing. You want to swim in the same stream they are already in, instead of trying to get them to change behavior.

This can be a challenge with a limited staff (which is typical of a museum pre-opening) and potentially a limited array of artifacts and objects to use for the narrative. But it isn’t an insurmountable issue.  Companies like our parent company TeamWorks Media can provide content that ties directly to the mission. We also help identify core audiences and their social media habits. And it’s a forgiving tool, unlike print. You can be nimble, adapting as you see what your audience responds to.

Is it worth the effort?

It may seem hard, but building your audience as early as possible only enhances your brand reputation. Imagine being able to whet the public’s excitement for the items in your collection by telling stories of how it was acquired, why it’s important, how it connects with people emotionally and, most importantly, how it ties into the audience’s interest. Would it enhance your standing with your donors, your grantors, and the press, if you have an online audience in the thousands or hundreds of thousands? How does it change your ability to demonstrate value to the community where your museum is being built?

Our experience has been that museums in their early years have to elevate their brand reputation, but they also have to silence the naysayers about the merits of a new museum. A robust and engaged online presence does both.

It is one of the most cost-effective tools to get momentum going for your museum. And you can start right now.

Ready to start or interested in learning more? We’d love to chat! Contact us here.