My 2020 Digital Engagement Resolution: Rethink Audio

Momentum is a tough thing. There’s a tendency that if something seems to be working, we don’t question whether it could be better, or more efficient, or we keep doing it because “that’s what we’ve always done.”

I spent a lot of early January asking questions and looking at data, specifically around audio at the museum.

  • How many people really listened to our audio tour?
  • Did they listen more onsite or offsite?
  • What types of tours do they tend to prefer?
  • Do they make it through the entire tour or just a few stops?

Museums are challenging what type of audio belongs in a gallery. Podcasts are making their way into these spaces. A great example of this is the Guggenheim’s new tour by Roman Mars of 99% Invisible. Listening to this tour made me rethink the types of audio we share and how we do it. I found the tour of the museum riveting, even though I wasn’t physically on site. And it made me wonder, would people prefer to listen to audio tours if they were a 10-15 minute podcast instead of 10 1-2 minute stops? Would they prefer if there was a host that introduced multiple voices rather than the curator or artist?

I started asking friends, co-workers, family, basically everyone: do you listen to audio tours in museums? Would you listen to a podcast about that museum instead? Basically everyone, regardless of age (though I admit my totally non-scientific anecdotal data gathering was primarily Gen Y and Z) preferred the idea of listening to a podcast on their way to the museum or after their visit, to actually listening to something in the gallery.

Using this as a starting point, I went to our audio data. We use OnCell and SoundCloud for our audio tours. When I started digging into the data, I noticed that over half the people who listened to the OnCell version you get through a mobile website were listening off site, perhaps before or after a visit, or because they wanted to experience the exhibition and couldn’t visit.

We’ve also done some experimental tours. For David Levinthal: War, Myth, Desire we chose to do a podcast with chapters instead of a traditional audio tour and we hired a podcast team to produce it. That tour has nearly three times the amount of listeners than our other tours.

The second most popular tour featured stories behind the works produced by Eugene Richards, and the third was a variety of artists who shared what memory meant to them in relationship to photography, some told stories, some crafted definitions, and one even wrote a poem.

This year, I want to use what we’ve learned and what we’ve seen works with our audience to test something new: a podcast preview of our exhibitions. It will feature a “host,” include multiple voices such as the artist and local experts, and will offer guests an audio introduction to the artist, their process, and the experience they will have in the exhibition.

The evidence shows this is a direction we should investigate, but there will be challenges:

  1. This format takes more work to create. Unlike our traditional audio tour that has only some editing to remove breaks and “ums,” this would require thoughtful editing of audio to produce a coherent single discussion.
  2. This format will take more funding. To get high quality audio, we’re going to need recording equipment that is better than what we have. It won’t be much money, but it will take some.
  3. We need buy-in from the staff. If we’re going to invest in this format, we need to really make it part of the experience, create something worthwhile, and promote it well. That requires everyone to be on board with this new experience.
  4. It also means being ok with giving up the whole one… this may be the most challenging. I think there’s a perception that some guests will be upset that there isn’t a traditional tour. But honestly, I think running this as an experiment will give us a lot of important data. Maybe we do have a bunch of guests say they don’t like this: GREAT! Then we’ll have that data to back up doing the old method.

Now, I’m off to read Hannah Hethmon’s Your Museum Needs a Podcast.

Reflecting back on Museums and the Web 2019

Usually I try to write up my conference experience a few days after the conference, but this year I returned to a heavy workload and teething newborn.

But now, I’m finding myself returning to my notes with a different perspective- not the fresh off the conference high where I feel like I can move digital mountains, but rather a more realistic view determining what I can actual implement with the limited resources and time I have available. I’ve also had a few ideas from the conference that I’ve already been using to shift our strategies and change up our engagement.

Instead of sharing my takeaways, I want to share the things that have still stuck with me a few months later, and the things I still want to pursue.

Wellcome Collection’s approach to online writing

  • Jennifer Trent Staves and Alice White, Wellcome Collection
  • Description: Wellcome Collection share their writing strategy, which is mirrored off traditional journalism where they only have specific types of articles: essays, pictures interviews, book excerpts, serials and comics. The goal wasn’t just to share their collection, it was to focus on stories that are important and relate to brand whether it relates to specific collection objects or not.
  • Their Outcomes: They found that this type of strategy was increasingly popular with their audience and users enjoyed the specific formats. They also focused on telling clear stories, paid authors and editors to do their work, asked for article proposals, and updated their old content to fit the new style.
  • My Thoughts: I’ve been increasingly thinking about how we can take a strategy like this because I think it’s brilliant. While we haven’t moved towards this yet, I am bringing up the idea and have started moving our content towards a few different types, rather than being completely open.

Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum’s Human Centered Design

  • Michelle Grohe, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and Laura Mann, Frankly, Green + Webb
  • Description: The museum used visitor journey mapping to inform their engagement, as well as organizational, strategies. In trying to improve the visitor experience, they gave visitor services and guards a key role in collecting information and changing visitor processes.
  • Their Outcomes: Using information collected from visitor journey mapping and from staff, they were able to create a more useful mobile guide. My favorite task and outcome was that guards had notebooks to write down visitor questions, which were then used to create a better mobile guide. They also made front of house staff more aware of what was being offered in the museum so they could offer more to guests.
  • My Thoughts: What I loved about this presentation is that it was all about improving the staff experience to improve the visitor experience. As the speakers noted: “How we treat each other impacts the visitor experience”.

Easter Eggs in Exhibitions

  • Seb Chan, ACMI
  • Description: Australian Centre for the Moving Image’s Wonderland Experience had an Easter Egg hidden in the exhibition that could be discovered by following a series of directions. The goal was to reward the most curious visitors. Guests had to mail a letter to the museum with the solution to a riddle, and then they’d receive a key that opened a door within the exhibition.
  • Their Outcomes: They only had a small number of guests discover the Easter Egg and actually come back to the museum, but those who did were really into the experience.
  • My Thoughts: I keep coming back to this idea of Easter Eggs in exhibitions as a fun way to get guests to look closely. Looking ahead, I hope this is something we can incorporate into our design.

Attracting Diverse Applicants for Museum Jobs

  • Jennifer M. Williams, Public Programs Manager, New Orleans Museum of Art
  • Description: This Diversity Panel had three speakers that shared their own stories of how they started in the museum field, and what they were doing now to help increase diversity in museums. One of the audience members asked: “What advice can you give to hiring managers so they can attract diverse applicants?” Williams responded: “Reach out to diverse pool of applicants- be intentional, post in a wide variety of locations not just traditional job sites”
  • My Thoughts: This is the panel that has stuck with me the most, and the one I have tried to take action on. I’ve begun sharing job descriptions on Facebook in hopes that will help expand our pool of applicants. I’ve noticed a high number of applicants coming through that channel- and those applying through Facebook do seem to be a fairly diverse group of individuals.

Hands-On, Interactive Storytelling about P.T. Barnum

  • David London, Performer
  • Description: As part of the conference, we had the option of attending a participatory performance about PT Barnum. It is a traveling show that goes to schools and other museums. David London shares the story of PT Barnum in a fun and interactive way, using both real objects and facsimiles. It was a fantastic take on the life of Barnum, and it was interspersed with activities, objects, and magic (London is also a magician).
  • My Thoughts: I’d love to think about how to do a version of this for our museum. The mix of exciting storytelling, audience participation, humor, use of objects, openness to difficult subjects and the use of music and visuals to engage made it a thrilling experience that would be interesting to use for other subjects.

My Favorite Quotes

  •  “How we treat each other impacts the visitor experience” — Michelle Grohe, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
  • “Everyone, not just senior staff, should be able to articulate goal and mission of each project.” — Seema Rao (@seemarao on Twitter)
  • “Experience happens. If you don’t plan it then it happens badly.” –Seb Chan, ACMI
  • “Our digital channels don’t promote our museum and library, they ARE our museums and library” –Jennifer Trent Staves and Alice White, Wellcome Collection
  • “Why does immersive experience matter? Create clear distinction between the outside world and inside the exhibition. Make the museum a magic circle where visitors can attain super powers.” –Max Evjen, Michigan State University

My 2019 Museum Digital Engagement Resolutions

Every year, I take some time to think about what I’ve accomplished and what I’d like to accomplish in the next year.

Focus More on Instagram Stories

Even with my personal social media, I tend to be the type that takes the photo and then shares it hours or even days later when I’ve had a chance to think about what I want to say. This type of approach doesn’t really work well with the Instagram Stories feature, which is meant to share things as they occur in a playful manner.

However, Instagram stories are not going away- they are not a fad. In fact, they are increasing in engagement when the rest of the social media world seem to be decreasing. 

I resolve to make an effort to share more through Instagram stories. To achieve this goal, I’m going to:

  • Make an Instagram stories strategy that is separate from Instagram; by treating it as its own channel, I’ll be able to produce content that is perfect for that style of interaction and use it to the fullest
  • Set calendar alerts to remind myself every morning to check engagement; stories are difficult to track because we don’t have great analytics, so I’m going to make it a priority to check on them every morning
  • Crowdcourse content and reshare content; I’m increasingly tied to my desk (or working remotely with my ten week old baby), so I’m going to double my efforts to get co-workers to send me content, and celebrate visitor content by sharing more

Bonus: create branded GIFs… this is one of my champagne dreams for the year. I’d love for us to have some fun historic GIFs we could share. Fingers crossed this happens.

Use Analytics More to Inform Strategy

I hate to admit this since I’m a huge fan of data, but when things get busy, analytics are the first thing I drop. Why? Because really diving into the quantitative and qualitative data takes time, time I don’t often have. Instead, I’ll do a surface check of the big numbers and move on. This year, I’d like to start paying more attention to the details of our analytics to craft strategies that are better informed.

Of course, I’m still tight on time so here’s how I’m going to do this:

  • Take a little time at the beginning of this year to review all the different measures we could possibly look at and the institution’s broader goals to determine what are the most important
  • Set a calendar event for myself every week, and a longer one each month, and an even longer one every quarter, where I dedicate time to creating a report that sums up what we are seeing from analytics and how it relates to our goals

Bonus: write up some qualitative thoughts and insights from each of these meetings as notes to myself that I can refer to. The double bonus would be taking the time to share those with the broader museum and social media community.

Build Something

I like to have one project each year that taps into my creative side and gives me the chance to flex my digital muscles. In 2017, I was able to work with my cousin, an artist, to create a video game for an exhibition, and I crafted a new front-end for a database. Last year, I started learning more about Photoshop so I could create engaging layouts and designs for our website and social media, and I developed an interactive skin for a different database (yes, this seems to be a recurring theme in my work).

This year, we’re hoping to tackle some big projects that will improve engagement in exhibitions, and I want to build something that gets visitors excited about what we do.

This goal isn’t as concrete, but here’s how I’m thinking I can do this:

  • Find a project that pushes my skills; I want a challenge, something I can learn from, but something that is also doable. There’s a digital card project that fits, as well as a a project using an API that is possible.
  • Write up the entire experience; when I was in grad school I would share the progress of my digital learning- I miss doing that, so I’m going to make this a priority with my next digital project.

Bonus: hide an easter egg in it for other nerds 😉

Work More with Influencers

This is a world that I’m still not totally comfortable with; even though we’ve seen some good results from doing events and programs for influencers. The influencer world is not going away, it is merely changing. Now, we’re seeing a trend towards micro-influencers and authenticity. That means finding people who are trusted within their little online communities; which is a tough thing to do.

My goal this year is to identify at least 10 influencers locally and 5 nationally that I can target. How will I do this?

  • Start following relevant hashtags to find the micro-communities on social media and follow along to determine who fits our brand and approach, and would be good to bring to the museum.
  • Create interesting private events for influencers, or public events led by influencers, that will attract new audiences. When we’ve done this in the past, it has been highly successful, so I want to make it more of a priority.
  • Find a diverse range of influencers to fit the diverse range of visitors we have- not only do we want locals and tourists, we want researchers and scholars. This means finding people who aren’t traditionally ‘influencers’ to come out and share their experience at the museum.

Bonus: create a low-maintenance experience for influencers that would be VIP, cool and unique, but that doesn’t require a lot of staff time and is easy to repeat.

My Interview on Beyond the Prof

In February 2016, I was in the Denver Airport enjoying a complimentary glass of sparkling wine at the United Club bar (yay for credit cards that give you free passes). I had just finished a three day interview with a university for a tenure-track position in Anthropology. It was the type of position I had been working for during my entire PhD, the type of position that advisors envision their proteges getting, the type of position that departments brag about.

But I wasn’t sure I wanted it even if I ended up being offered the job. As I sat their sipping my wine, staring at the flight updates screen, I realized that this was the job I was supposed to get, but it wasn’t what I wanted for my life anymore.

When I got back to Michigan, I felt lost. I hadn’t been prepared to apply for non-academic jobs, and graduation was quickly approaching. The next weekend, as I was teaching a day-long boot camp in digital engagement, I realized something important: this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to do digital engagement, to use digital tools in creative ways. I also realized I wanted to move back to New York to be closer to family.

So I started looking for jobs in my hometown around digital engagement, online marketing, and social media. One month later, I was interviewing for the job at the Eastman Museum, and one week after that I started working there.

Learn more about what I’m doing now, how my PhD helped me land this job, and why I’m loving my new non-academic direction on Beyond the Prof:


Tips, Tricks and Insights on Digital Engagement Advice from TBEX North America on Medium

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending TBEX North America 2018. TBEX is an international conference and networking event for travel bloggers, online travel journalists, new media content creators, travel brands and industry professionals.

Want to learn my top takeaways from this conference? Check them out now on Medium! 

My Top Takeaways from #MW18, Now on Medium

Last week was the 2018 Museums and the Web Conference, held this year in lovely Vancouver, Canada. Since this was my second year, I was a lot more prepared for what to expect and how to navigate it. I also got a lot more involved by volunteering, chairing a session, presenting a workshop, and participating as an expert on the Web Application Critique panel.

Check out my article on Medium for some of the major takeaways I had from the conference and some cool tools I discovered: “My Top Takeaways from Museums and the Web 2018”

Turning Employees to Brand Ambassadors

This morning I attended my first ever PRSA Coffee and Conversation. I usually don’t think of myself as a PR person, usually I see myself as more in the digital humanities realm than anything else, but the topic was one that I’ve been increasingly interested in and think is important for museums: turning your employees into social media ambassadors.

At a museum, there are often so many different things happening at the same time, it can be hard to know all of them, and sometimes, these missed opportunities are really cool and fascinating. By having staff at the museum share what they are doing, it provides a behind the scenes look for visitors, is an easy way for other staff to see what’s happening, and it provides the museum with easy re-shareable content.

There are downsides, of course. By getting staff to share, you run the risk of them sharing something inappropriate or just “not quite right” or off-brand. There’s also the chance that their personal social media accounts aren’t appropriate or are highly political and if they don’t make it clear that these aren’t the views of the museum then you could be in trouble.

Instead of thinking of all the ways that having employees as ambassadors could go wrong, I want to focus on how it can go right and the tactics we discussed for doing this. Here are some of my top takeaways from this event.

1. Reward employees who share great content

You probably already have people in your organization that are sharing great content and just need a little extra encouragement to share even more! Reward employees who share by acknowledging the great post in person, re-posting on the institutional account, or mentioning the great share to their boss. One person suggested making brownies for ambassadors!

2. Have a broader code of conduct that covers behavior on and offline

In order to protect your employees and the institution, you probably already have a code of conduct or handbook that outlines what types of behavior are appropriate and what are not. These often apply online and offline, so if employees are interested in sharing, remind them to check that code of conduct before they do.

3. Provide employees with training and examples of good sharing

What someone considers a “good post” can vary dramatically, so it’s a great idea to provide employees with examples of appropriate posts, like sharing photos that demonstrate good museum behavior and using the right hashtags. You may want to provide some positive guidelines and examples. Other institutions suggested creating a bank of images and text that employees are allowed to use if they want to share.

Personally, I provided the staff here at the museum with a list of ten things that make a great social media ambassador, including:

  • Identify yourself online as a member of staff
  • Be authentic and positive
  • Share amazing things behind the scenes (if you have permission)
  • Be a digital docent to our online guests
  • Model good museum behavior
  • Tag us, tag them, tag everyone
  • Get involved with digital communities
  • Provide details about collection objects if pictured (if you have permission to share)

Of course… the full presentation was illustrated with cat photos. But I’ll save that for another day.

My Top Takeaways from #SproutSessions: Inspiring Action 2018

Sprout Social has been hosting a series of online webinar-based conferences, where digital attendees can hear from a variety of speakers on topics relating to social media, from how to use influencers to crisis management.

There are a few things I enjoy about these webinars: 1) they are totally free, 2) they feature a diverse group of speakers who work at a wide variety of companies and at different levels within them, 3) they are available on YouTube so if you miss one you can easily catch up, and 4) the topics are fabulous and the speakers usually give you some easy takeaways for your brand.

I didn’t listen to all of the talks- some weren’t as relevant to me and what I’m doing at the moment- but, I wanted to share some of the top things I learned and how I’m hoping to implement these into my social media strategies.

Want to catch up? You can access all of the videos here:

Want to read my full takeaways, check it out on Medium: 

My Vision for 2018


In October, Nina Simon wrote a post on Museum 2.0 about creating a vision for yourself in your job, specifically looking at how this exercise could help her and her employees clarify their thinking for the future and empower them.

She wrote that “A vision is not a solution to a problem. A vision is a detailed history of the future. It’s a story written from the vantage point of a few months or years from now. It’s a story of what happened after you launched that program, gave that speech, conquered that challenge. What does the world look like in that future? What’s different about your life, your work? That’s the story a vision tells.” She continues to write that it one should “Put in everything you want to see happen–even if it seems impossible. Don’t focus on how you got there. Write about where you arrived.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about my job and my goals for the next year, and I keep coming back to that blog post. So instead of sharing my goals, I’m going a few of my visions for the next year.

My Visions for 2018:

  • My colleagues feel empowered to create their own digital content to be shared online: they write blog posts, they take photos meant for Instagram, they suggest stories and opportunities, and become actively involved in our social media using their own personal or professional accounts.
    • Curators and assistant-curators share favorite objects, updates on the exhibitions they are working on, and behind the scenes looks at what their job consists of
    • Conservators and object prep share the work they are doing and how they often have to come up with creative and innovative methods to conserve the objects in the collection
    • Visitor Services staff and docents will share stories that they hear from guests, because they are our frontline and know first hand whether we are achieving on site what we hope to
    • Marketing, membership, maintenance, development and more will show how a museum is more than collections
  • We are the go-to contact when any other museum, non-profit, or local institution is doing a social media campaign.
    • Whenever someone launches a new social media hashtag campaign, they think of us and reach out to have us join in and share our collections.
    • Whenever someone wants to do something fun and different to engage people online, they think of us and reach out to brainstorm interesting ideas.
  • People come to the museum as a way to get inspired and share these work on social media, tagging the museum or the works that inspired them.
    • Visitors to our exhibitions, theater, mansion and gardens see these spaces not as static spaces, but as a place where they can go to get inspired, to ask questions, to have conversations, and think creatively.
    • By sharing the experiences of other guests and creating spaces where they feel comfortable, guests continue to share, discuss, and engage before and after the museum visit.
    • To aid in this, we have an international and local network of influencers around the world who help us to create content, share their experience of the museum, and help us promote the collections in new and exciting ways.
  • We re-assess the ways we are using social media and the accounts that we have to create a more unified but also more personalized experience for our followers and guests.
    • Social media is dynamic, and so are we- we use analytics to look at all our accounts to see which are in need of a makeover, which are good to continue, and which should be decommissioned (or if new ones need to be created).
    • We experiment with new types of content and new campaigns to reach different audiences and re-engage our current fan base.
  • I learn more about the ways that people interact and engage with social media
    • Over the next year, I keep up with the new scholarly research from across different disciplines about how people engage online
    • I seek out different social media and digital humanities groups to learn from, and continue to build my own knowledge of what is happening broadly in online spaces

What is your vision?

Beyond the Boost: Facebook Advice from Camille Zess

Our local visitor industry council hosted a seminar on Facebook ads with Camille Zess of Break the Ice Media. I’ve used Facebook ads before, primarily to promote events, so I knew that this was something I needed to learn more about. The seminar walked us through the basics of creating an ad, different types of audiences, and how to create reports that are meaningful. Here are some of the top takeaways from this seminar:

Think critically about what you want to do in advance

A little planning goes a long way with Facebook ads. Instead of simply boosting a post or just sending out something that looks like your other Facebook posts on your page, Camille suggests thinking about what success means for this ad, and how you’re going to demonstrate that. This will help you decide what type of campaign, which audiences to target, and whether there should be different ads within the same campaign.

Create campaigns, not singular ads

Instead of creating an ad and moving on to the next, you can create a general campaign with multiple ads within it that target different audiences and have different budgets, but the same goal.

On a practical level, it makes navigating the Power Editor a lot easier- instead of lots of individual campaigns you have just a few to move between. It also makes reporting easier- you can quickly compare how your different ads did, like whether one audience or the other worked better.

Experiment and adjust

While it may seem easier to create an ad and let it run for weeks, Camille suggests that it’s better to create ads, check in on them, and adjust given the results. By doing shorter ads you have the opportunity to test out different audiences. Create a campaign, try two different short ads with different audiences, compare the results, and then run whichever one works for a little longer.

Use lookalike audiences

Did you know you can upload a list of people who are already following your business, and Facebook will find an audience online that has similar interests and behaviors as your current audience?! That way, you are promoting to people who have a higher potential of liking your content but aren’t already following you. Mind blown.

Use Pixels

One of the issues of social media is not knowing whether a post inspires people to take action. By using Pixels, you can fix this and track people throughout the process. Pixels are a code you add to your website- when someone clicks on your Facebook ad and then takes action on the website, the Pixels code will report it back to Facebook.

This seminar definitely inspired me, and I’m excited to experiment a little!