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Making the Transition: From one-way communication to conversation

Peter Skogh on how strategic marketing, clear objectives and conscious branding have been some of the success factors for the Swedish National Museums of World Culture.(1) In around 10 years, the number of visitors to the four museums that make up the organisation has increased by more than 350%, and some of the country’s most prestigious cultural institutions have been successfully repositioned. But with a highly streamlined organisation (2) and a limited budget, the rapid development within digital media, which in itself contains so many positive opportunities, is a major challenge.

How do you incorporate digital media into the marketing and communication strategy? And what about the budget; do you necessarily have to increase it? And if we are to make full use of the potential offered by this new technology, what demands does this place on the communication department and the rest of the organisation?

I will be discussing these topics in the following chapter, with the help of two different cases from my own organisation. In 2010, we abandoned traditional ad campaigns with bill boards etc., and carried out an experiment. We launched two major exhibitions using a combination of traditional PR and digital media only. As an organisation we have learnt a lot from the exercise, and based on this we have also begun to formulate our strategy for digital and social media which I hereby would like to share.

The focus will primarily be on marketing and communication, but will finish with conclusions that concern management and the need for new working methods throughout the entire organisation.

The cases show that if the ambition really is to make use of the possibilities offered by new media, you should go beyond just moving a portion of the advertising budget and promotional activities to the internet. You have to find new, more holistic ways of working between the various departments within the museum organisation.

Our route to a strategy for digital and social media
Initially we had difficulty taking stock of developments within digital media. It also seemed that social media provided plenty of opportunities for communicating with our target groups, but equally the concept was new for us, and something that we needed to learn more about. In order to handle this, the communication function spent 2009 finding its way by participating in conferences, seminars and carrying out study visits. It was important for all employees within our department to be given this opportunity so that they could then make suggestions as to how to move forward based on their own particular areas of expertise. We also invited leading experts to meet in order to have the chance to discuss in more detail. Two important points emerged from this:

• Start testing immediately – it is only then that you understand how it works

• Make your own website the hub for all communication

So in 2009 we created our own Facebook pages, started uploading our own digital material on a small scale on Flickr, Youtube etc. to facilitate distribution. We began following social media and linking them to our websites. We also started to work more closely with educationalists as, they had also seen the potential in social media and been testing it out by starting to participate in various digital networks. We also prepared the ground for our future development by securing funds in the 2010 budget for a completely new website, which will form the hub in all our future communication and become the backbone in our new communication strategy.

How do you then use digital and social media to support communication and marketing? In 2010 we chose to take it to the next level and test things in practice in order to learn from it. Our experiences from the two launches, which characterised our strategy for digital media, are described in connection with the two case studies below.

Key lessons from two major exhibition launches made using digital media
We usually launch large exhibitions using outdoor advertising and major advertising campaigns in print media. In the marketing launches for (In)human at the Museum of Ethnography, and Destination X at the Museum of World Culture we chose instead to spend our money on various forms of communication using digital media. The reason we chose these two exhibitions in particular was in part because we regarded them as being well suited to this type of launch, considering that the main target group in both cases was young adults. The cases are different, as are the approaches. They complement each other since the main focus in the (In)human campaign is more on social media, and in the case of Destination X it is more on digital advertising.

Case study 1 – (In)human (3)
(In)human is an exhibition about equality and Swedish racial biology. This is an exhibition about how categorisation and sorting can become a problem.

The exhibition is a joint production between three organisations and comprises two separate exhibitions which initially are shown at two different sites in Stockholm for a period of one year, and then will be brought together for a 3-year tour of Sweden. The main target group for the exhibitions is teenagers and young adults, with the aim of encouraging them to consider fundamental human rights, norms and the kind of sorting mechanisms that we have today.

The joint communication and marketing group for the project felt for several reasons that a standard advertising campaign was not the right way to go about launching the exhibition. This was due partly to the nature of the exhibition’s material (4) – which is not particularly suitable for use in advertising, but also because of the media habits of the target group concerned. Even more important was the impact goal, i.e. to get a discussion going within the target group about how we, consciously or subconsciously, sort and categorise today. Using social media therefore felt like a suitable route to take, particularly since the exhibition would later go on tour and a blog, for example, could live on and grow over time with local cases being added.

We also felt that the issue of categorising would be regarded as relevant, since “tagging” is now a widespread phenomenon among young people, particularly among young people using various online social media. Tagging is after all a way of categorising and organising people today, often harmless and rational, you tag your friends on Facebook, etc. But there are also controversial, but popular, sites where you can upload images of yourself for others to judge how attractive you are. Cyberbullying in social media is also widespread, as is the practice of sending text messages to someone and tagging them with words like ”#ugly”, ”#pretty”, ”#idiot” etc. We decided to bear this in mind and built the campaign around this phenomenon.

In the end the campaign was made up of traditional PR, a campaign using social media and a campaign in schools, which included various posters and flyers.

Campaign set-up
The hub in (In)human’s web launch was our own blog and Facebook page. The strategy was first to get young people visiting the blog, generate interest and commitment to the issues and then get them to visit the exhibition and share their experiences and opinions online (according to the AIDA model: Attention-Interest-Desire-Action).

A number of real cases where categorising/tagging led to discrimination and assault served as examples. (5) Their stories were summarised on flyers and posters, which were distributed at schools and in other places relevant to the target group. The same cases, together with a few cases with a historical link, were also published on the blog and Facebook page. Special teachers’ briefings were organised to show the educational material that was available and explain how the exhibition could be linked to the curriculum. There was a particular focus on courses for various professions within the care industry, with ethical issues on the agenda.

A crowd sourcing initiative was launched alongside the PR campaign for print media, to find out which bloggers would consider writing about the exhibition and its theme. The initiative also aimed to find out which of these bloggers to focus on in order to get the message out and encourage people to visit the exhibition and the blog. These bloggers were contacted and given detailed information about the exhibition. Afterwards the bloggers’ own cases of discrimination, categorising etc. were published, both in their own forums with a wide readership, as well as in the project blog.

Since the exhibition opened, in addition to the comments and entries in the form of people’s own accounts, the (In)human blog has been updated with at least three entries a week from the three contributing institutions on themes such as discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, ability and gender.

Despite a good result in the traditional media, which reaches an audience that is broader than the target group of young people, as well as the fact that the exhibition was also highlighted in the museum’s usual ongoing advertising, it was felt at the museum that the exhibition did not attract enough “general visitors”, and that during the period of the exhibition the museum had been, and is, too “invisible”. (6) It’s still too early to say for sure, but it seems like the number of young visitors, and mainly school classes, increased, while the proportion of older, traditional museum visitors is lower than usual. However, all in all it appears that the museum will reach its target for the number of visits during the year.

It is clear to us in the communication department that we are in the middle of a learning process. The most important lessons we have learned in connection with the launch of (In)human are:

• Positive to have a dialogue with the target group: To suddenly experience two-way communication reduces the distance from the target group. You get instant feedback and can create new content together with sections of the target group.

• Working with digital social media is time-consuming: It takes time to understand the new media landscape, to understand which bloggers and communities are relevant to your organisation and the exhibition you plan to launch. It takes time to get selected bloggers on board. It takes time to build possible new platforms, such as your own blog, for example. And most of all it takes time to keep the social dialogue going, to fill the blog with new content and maintain a constant presence in the various social settings.

• Work with bloggers in the same way you work with journalists: In principle, the PR campaign for print media followed the usual pattern and was not treated any differently, but there are several similarities between working with PR and working on an issue, a message or content with bloggers. Because you have to select different bloggers depending on what you want to get across and to whom, in the same way that you target newspapers, magazines, radio channels etc. to get a particular message across. And you need to cultivate your relationships online with individual bloggers that are important to you in exactly the same way that you establish relationships with different journalists and maintain those relationships.

• And as always, you need the right mix of activities to achieve the desired effect: School seems to work well as the primary channel for getting young visitors to the exhibition. That will help us to achieve the museum’s overall visitor targets. However, it doesn’t appear that the two-stage strategy of getting young people to come to the exhibition via our own blog works to any great extent. In order for it to have worked, we would probably have had to launch a bigger campaign than the one we had via external bloggers to direct people to the exhibition blog. Things are developing slowly at the moment. The fact that we didn’t launch a bigger campaign is most likely to do with us not considering the exposure required to achieve a particular effect, something that we have knowledge and understanding of with other media, but that we lack here. There is also a discrepancy between the project’s prioritised impact goal and the museum’s overall quantitative goals.

• Be very careful about explaining and getting the endorsement of the rest of the organisation: Many people within our own organisation are unfamiliar with social and digital media. Having media habits that differ from those of the target group can mean that people miss communication activities and as a result believe that nothing is being done. We are also sceptical about whether the project’s steering group has really understood the consequences of the choice of target group and launch method. And they miss our usual visitors.

• Integrate digital media and opportunities for dialogue online with opportunities at the exhibition: Both the exhibition and communication would be vastly improved if we saw the exhibition and communication as a whole. It is only then that we make use of the full potential of social media. At the moment there isn’t even an opportunity at the exhibitions to submit views in the blog or on Facebook. Furthermore, the final content and design of the exhibition drifted away from the focus on young people, to the more traditional, which made it difficult

Case Study 2 Destination X – a digital campaign (7)
Experiences from the launch of (In)human are comparable with those from the Destination X exhibition at the Museum of World Culture. However, the emphasis here was on a digital campaign in order to achieve widespread publicity, i.e. exactly what we lacked in the earlier launch.

Campaign set-up
Destination X is an exhibition about travel and the circumstances of travel. The goal was to create interest and publicise the exhibition through the use of digital media. We decided to create a game that drew in players and led to the rapid spread of public interest. There were prizes in the form of traveller’s cheques from various well-known travel companies as an incentive.

The game was in two parts; one with our own questions whose content we could keep in synch with the exhibition theme and a part where users themselves created games from their own photographs. Those who attracted the most players to their games won the prizes. This was intended to encourage users to spread their games to as many people as possible via email or Facebook.

Banners linked to the game were added to several games sites and to a popular travel site, with the justification that visitors to the site were interested in travel and would therefore enjoy the exhibition. We also expected that they would already have plenty of travel photographs they could quickly create a game with. The games sites were chosen in order to generate volume and thus achieve publicity for the exhibition.

The campaign had clear quantitative targets regarding the number of banner clicks (1500); the number of contestants playing all three of our games (750) and the number who would create their own games (200).

None of the targets were reached. Advertising on the cheaper competition sites was more productive than on the themed site. The number of Destination X visitors was not as good as is usually the case during the first week of a new exhibition. However, after three months the number of visitors is at a normal level for an exhibition of this type.

It is clear that we are still in a learning phase. Despite an investment in a more comprehensive digital campaign with clearly defined goals, we failed to reach them or achieve the same effect measured by the number of exhibition visitors as a conventional, print-based outdoor campaign. What were the reasons and what should we focus on?

• Perform a reasonability analysis of the publicity and compare it to the desired effect: Comparing the effects of different media is often difficult; it can soon become a comparison between apples and pears, but try anyway to gain a feeling for what can reasonably be achieved with a campaign. How many visitors will the site with the banner have altogether during the campaign period? How many are likely to click on the banner, proceed further and in this case play a game, create their own game and send it on to someone else? Compare this with the other media you usually use. The travel site we chose only had 3400 visitors during the campaign period; the gaming sites had significantly more visitors but compared to an outdoor campaign, exposure to unique visitors was still only a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of people who see the advertisements on trams and at tram stops during a campaign period. The approximately 500 people who played our game or had games sent them by the target group are not enough. Nor can long exposure times lasting several minutes that the average visitor spends at e.g. the travel site or the many minutes devoted to gaming, outweigh the sheer quantity of exposures if we do not reach sufficiently many overall. We still lack knowledge and feeling for how “big” a digital campaign must be in order to provide the effect we desire measured in visits. Had we but reflected for a while we would have certainly realised that the campaign was not of the scale required.

• Activities intending to create great self-publicity should be quick, easy and entertaining: We feel that the game we used to draw attention to the exhibition was a little too advanced to spread quickly and get taken up by more people than was the case. People love to share fun games, and if many are to try out a game it has to be quick and easy. Several extremely successful campaigns in Sweden have shown this to be true, even though there are naturally a number of activities that appeal to other senses and emotions that can also be put to use (see e.g. how various aid organisations work with digital media). We have since lowered the bar in other campaigns to make it a lot easier to participate.8 This has had an extremely good publicity effect and created a buzz in social media.

• Digital media as a complement – mixed advertising again: Allocating such a large part of a small marketing budget to the development of games was not putting the budget to best use. In our position it would have been better to run the digital campaign as a complement to more conventional advertising. The complete abandonment of public advertising in city spaces seems too risky. The museum will probably have to assert its position and presence there too. With hindsight we feel that it is not a simple case of will we or won’t we, not even at a museum where 60 per cent of the visitors are under 30 years old. Regarding the digital campaign as a complement also provides a degree of internal financial proportion in the advertising mix.

• Integration of digital media in the exhibition: As was the case with (In)human there were problems with integrating the game with the exhibition. It was difficult to find space at the exhibition, and to find the technology, time and content with which to integrate the game. Here too, both the exhibition and PR would have been much better had we seen the exhibition and PR as a whole in order to exploit the medium’s full potential. In this case it was probably marketing that came along too late in the process.

Strategy platform for PR and marketing via digital media

What conclusions can we draw thus far?
The advice to make our own website into the hub for all PR may with hindsight seem obvious and trivial, but it brought with it more clarity and order than anything else. Along with the other piece of advice – start testing digital and social media immediately by using them – it provided invaluable experience and knowledge.

The Museum of World Culture with its large, young public – and functions such as education and PR with strong incentives to work with digital media – is the museum within our organisation that has advanced the farthest. By starting straight away their presence in the social media has increased significantly and most importantly they have begun to develop a working method by making the website into a hub (as far as is technically possible). Things that were previously difficult to gain an overview of and which were perceived as being individual initiatives from different operations are now seen as parts of one big picture.

Based on this and the experience we have so rapidly gained, our PR and marketing strategies have been impacted in the following ways:

1.Digital media must be integrated throughout the entire operation
a. We must link our exhibition and programme activities to the internet with the aid of digital media. This also applies to educational activities and our collections

2. Our own websites must become the hub for all communication
a. All communication channels must be connected via the website and vice versa
b. All digital material must be gathered and linked to the website
c. Experiences from exhibitions and programmes must be integrated with the internet via our websites

3. PR and marketing activities must continue to be synchronised in relation to each other in order to achieve maximum impact
a. Digital media must be integrated into the marketing and PR mix
b. The role of digital media is mainly complementary in the case of larger launches; however the relative mix will be determined by the target group concerned
c. Special care must be taken in digital campaigns to understand and safeguard publicity so that the desired effect can be achieved; publicity targets and impact goals must be synchronised.
d. The publicity tools in digital campaigns must be easily accessible and fast; they must stimulate action
4. Social media are significant from and operational strategy standpoint and should involve the entire operation

5. Social media are a medium for dialogues, not a sales medium
a. Work with bloggers as you would with journalists

Items 1 and 4 are crucial for the development of the entire operation, for which reason they will be adopted for the guidance of the entire organisation.

If we consider a museum’s purpose and the opportunities digital media provides, we soon see that communication, and thus the role of the communicator, should change owing to technological developments. One of a museum’s main responsibilities is to communicate knowledge and provide an experience of some kind. New technology brings an opportunity for us to extend this experience beyond a museum’s physical walls and engage in dialogue with users and potential users. We are moving away from one-way communication toward constant dialogue. This will require new ways of working.

It will no longer be possible for PR staff alone to have the responsibility for digital communications. We will also need to release control over publishing and rely on the fact that things which normally take place in house may now also take place on the internet. This will probably result in a dialogue we have long looked forward to, which will in turn alter our role as communication and PR staff. Instead of merely pushing out information our role will be to provide target groups and communities with the sustenance they require to act and express themselves.

We’ll help them make it simple and fun to do wherever they are. This will require our conversational exchange to be of sufficient interest, and this is where units other than marketing and communication come into the picture. When several voices take part in a conversation it is important that we create a joint direction regarding the ambitions of various departments and projects, and this will be the new role for marketing and communication.

Our greatest challenges will be in managing the transition time-wise; that we in the management group understand that dialogue is one of the most important interfaces for imparting the knowledge we shall provide as museums, and that we prioritise this by allocating time and personnel resources. It’s time for us to become a social organisation.

Peter Skogh – Communication & Marketing Director, Museum of World Culture, Sweden

Notes | References | Bibliography

1. The Swedish National Museums of World Culture is a state authority and consists of Etnografiska museet (Museum of Ethnography), Medelhavsmuseet (Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities), Östasiatiska museet (Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities) in Stockholm and Världskulturmuseet (Museum of World Culture) in Gothenburg, where the authority is based.

2. The Marketing and Communication department that is shared by the entire organisation comprises seven people with responsibility for five brands, internal communication and sponsorship. A total of between 15 and 20 exhibitions are launched every year, as well as approximately 500 programme activities in two cities. This results in 700,000 – 800,000 visits and more than 3,000 features in the media every year.

3. The campaign managers were public relations officers Tina Candell, National Museums of World Culture, Bitte Wallin Forum for Living History and Therese Jonasson, Swedish Travelling Exhibitions in collaboration with Pronto, one of Sweden’s oldest word-of-mouth agencies, established in 2003 .

4. racial biology, human remains and highly emotive human tragedies

5. A person who was assaulted at a party because he was #queer, a woman who wasn’t allowed on the bus because she was #disabled, and a teenager who wasn’t allowed into a nightclub because he was a #paki.

6. However, the exhibition itself did not suffer the same problem. Some 70 different forms of media have written about or run features on the exhibition. E-newsletters have been sent, the exhibition was included in ongoing advertising as well as the printed programmes and the museum’s website.

7. Anna Mighetto and Joel Wolter from the Swedish National Museums of World Culture were responsible for the creation and launch of the Destination X exhibition, in collaboration with the Jerlow advertising agency.

8. E.g. discounts on tickets to attractive premieres; come dressed up as a Cosplay character for free admission to Kimono Fusion, an exhibition on Japanese street fashion etc.

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