How the MERL diversified their online audiences
Joe Vaughan is the latest Digital Content Editor for The MERL and Museums Partnership Reading (an Arts Council England-funded partnership of The MERL and Reading Museum). We talked to him about the benefits of mixing up your approach when talking to your audiences online. It’s easy to become stuck in a routine in the way that you speak to your online audiences. There is the trap of getting caught up in vanity metrics such as follower counts and engagement rates and posting the same old content. Don’t get us wrong, metrics and a consistent posting schedule are important to attract new online audiences, but they don’t tell the whole story of what your followers come to your channels for. Speaking to your audiences in a different way and changing your approach to your social tone and voice can have a profound impact on encouraging new audiences to take notice of your organisation, which is exactly what The MERL found out!
The Challenge: Diversify online audiences for a small, regional museum.
The museum began work on #DigiRDG: Town and Country, an Arts Council England-funded project. This project broadly aimed to diversify their audiences by improving their digital behaviour and processes through a variety of different initiatives, training and a digital audit. The team had access to an online database of images, so the digital infrastructure allowed for quick image searches of their collections.
This project allowed the team to reconsider their current social and online presence and adopt an agile manner of working across teams. This new approach in the teams’ thinking around their digital audiences was the catalyst for the extraordinary success of a single tweet, tweeted by Adam Koszary, Project Manager.
The ‘look at this absolute unit.’ tweet was the high point of the project, but not the end of the story for The MERL, which is the most interesting aspect of their approach to digital from this point onwards.
Going viral is the ultimate in social media wins for any organisation. It brings huge new follower swarms and engagement rates and great PR - all great things to achieve. However - how do you keep up the momentum once the dust has settled?
What happened next?
The success of this tweet allowed the team to reconsider further their approach to their copy, tone and strategy for digital - particularly on Twitter. Joe Vaughan is the latest Digital Content Editor for The MERL and Museums Partnership Reading and emphasises the importance of having full buy-in from management for their social strategy; “People high up in The MERL are aware of the value in digital and are very willing to invest in that. We knew that there were loads of audiences to engage online.”
Trust is given freely to his vision for their social streams and due to the extremely speedy nature of internet culture, this is a necessity for success. Vaughan has a varied workload with a variety of demands on his time, which is challenging for planning a consistent content creation. He manages this by looking constantly towards the future when planning the content schedule, while keeping the plans fluid to allow for quick changes if necessary. Vaughan considers upcoming trends for threads and then uses their collection database to search for a relevant item or image linked to the museum’s collection. He then uses this as a springboard to educate visitors on their channel about various aspects of English rural life from days gone by.
The digital team believe that their audiences are as important online as they are offline. The aim of the social strategy is not solely to drive in person museum visits but to actively engage, educate and inspire online audiences. Vaughan accepts that “not all of our audiences online will even know who we are when they first see our tweets or ever set foot in the museum. The whole mission is to share the history of rural England and its people, and we are doing that via our online presence.” And yet, by taking this approach, the museum has seen an enormous rise in in person visits, with notable numbers of visitors writing in the museum guest book (for instance) that they visited after discovering and following the museum's social media channels.
Vaughan always stresses the importance of authenticity in tone of voice, copy and content for The MERL. A humorous approach to your social copy is not a one size fits all strategy - it has to work for your own organisation and the people you have working on this aspect of your online presence. “Content is most important. Long-term thinking in social media - it’s not just a flash in the pan. Has to be worked on constantly.” Keep your goals in mind and consider how you can freshen up your approach to achieve these. Approach your audiences with what your organisation has to offer with true enthusiasm!
Vaughan remarks on this “You’re wanting to open access to the public - not each other. Don’t do it for likes and retweets or validation. That’s not sustainable and not the point. Have set goals and do it with intent.”
Someone may not have heard of you before but telling the story of what you have to offer can be freeing and exciting for those who come across your social presence. Your socials can be the perfect place to reach audiences who would never be able to hear of you or visit you otherwise. Be audience-led - meet them where they are with your content, not necessarily where you hope to lead them! Nobody wants to be lectured to, least of all on a Tuesday afternoon while scrolling their twitter feed! Amuse, inspire, entertain, and then consider educating with your collections, exhibitions, shows and events after. You may be surprised where this approach can take you with your audiences.