Social media websites like Facebook and Twitter are essentially a person-to-person networks and while businesses and cultural institutions may try to leverage these for marketing, most are missing its full potential by treating this new media as they did the old.
In the real world, people share their opinions on the world around them, and this kind of conversation is the most powerful influence on the products we buy, and the way we choose to spend our free time.
Research shows that a recommendation from a friend is more powerful than broadcasting advertising messages, and on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter the same is true.
Personal recommendation isn’t new of course, ten years ago I might have told a handful of people about a new exhibition or a performance I’d enjoyed, but social media amplifies this ‘word-of-mouth’ marketing, so instead of me having to go and tell each person about an experience, in one click I can spread the word to hundreds, or thousands of people.
I think that cultural institutions need to rethink how they are approaching social media, moving from the perspective of ’what do we want to say?’ to ‘how do we get people to talk about us?’.
There are many ways that you can make it easier for people to advocate on your behalf or encourage them to talk about your cultural institution.
Get people to ‘like’ you.
Facebook and other social media websites make it easy for people to share things that interest them with their friends through ‘social sharing’ buttons.
These share buttons can be added to any page on your website through a simple line of code and when someone clicks this, a link to the relevant content appears on the relevant social network, sharing this information with their friends.
The average Facebook user has 130 friends, but research shows that the people who click Facebook ‘Like’ buttons have on average twice as many friends on the social network.
Ultimately I think this technology will step beyond the internet, for example a museum could have a ‘Like’ button next to a painting, and when a visitor swipes their smart phone next to this, it instantly posts a link on your Facebook wall.
Ask people for reviews
One way that TATE get people to talk about their exhibitions is through a reviews section on their Facebook page. This is an incredibly powerful advert for their exhibitions with real people sharing their experiences of TATE.
TATE use a free Facebook app called ‘Reviews’ to power this functionality on their Facebook page, and any museum or gallery could add this to their own page in minutes.
If you do choose to add reviews to your Facebook page, you need to also consider how you are going to inform people about this. You could use signage in your venue to inform visitors that you would like them to leave a review or if people are buying tickets, take their email addresses and send them an invitation to leave a review the following day.
Take in a lodger
Another interesting way to get a member of the public to share their experiences of a cultural institution is to invite someone to live in it. That is what the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago did when they ran a contest to find someone to live in their museum for a month.
The museum received over 1500 applications to live in the museum, and they selected a woman called Kate as the winner.
She did experiments, spoke to visitors and shared her experience with members of the public through a blog, through videos and through Twitter. Having an individual who is one step removed from the institution gives this social content more credibility than if the museum had written it themselves.
While in this case it was a museum that took in a lodger, I could imagine that this could also work for other cultural institutions, imagine a theatre enthusiast sharing a behind-the-scenes look at a new play taking shape.
Treat bloggers like rockstars
You don’t have to go to the extreme of having someone live in your cultural institution to get them to write about you, just reach out to bloggers.
Blogger outreach is increasingly becoming common place. It takes a little research to build a ‘press list’ of bloggers who matter, either in your geographic area or in your field, but the results can be impressive.
For an exhibition which I developed two years ago, I made friends with four or five relevant blogs. Collectively they had a readership of over 100,000 each day, and that was a very targeted readership of individuals interested in the subject of my exhibition.
Once you have a list of bloggers who can be useful to your organisation, invite them to press previews and encourage them to write about your exhibitions, events or performances by giving them access to photography to illustrate a blog post.
Your social media activity should not just be focused on what you want to say, you should be constantly looking for opportunities to get others to talk about you.
How can you use social media to get people talking about your exhibition, performance or event?
This article was written by Jim Richardson, founder of Europe’s major conference on social media for museums, MuseumNext and managing director of Sumo, a creative agency with a reputation for developing innovative digital marketing.
Jim regularly speaks at conferences and contributes to publications on social media and digital marketing.