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Planning A Phenomenon: The Benefits of Consistency

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

Readers of this blog may already be familiar with the Philbrook Museum of Art and its savvy use of social media, via this popular post on their Cat Cam. Today Jeff Martin, online communities manager for PMA, gives us an update on their cultivation of online communities.


Noun: A fact or situation that is observed to exist or happen, especially one whose cause is in question.

In less than three years time, Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma has grown its online communities by more than ten fold. This growth is due in large part to a more concentrated institutional focus on this area while providing a steady stream of exhibitions, public programs and other offerings that keep the public engaged. But more than anything else, the success can be boiled down to a single word: consistency.

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We recently experienced what can only be referred to as a “phenomenon.” The term viral gets tossed around often, most of the time for things that haven’t truly earned said status. On November 28 of last year, during what seemed like any other Monday morning, Philbrook’s director of communications forwarded me something that “might be fun for Facebook.” Originated by the Detroit-based College of Creative Studies, the images were part of the campaign to recruit students for art school. Using the “Just Say No”/1980s anti-drug style, the pieces feature worried parents and their “rebel” children under captions such as “Know the warning signs of art,” “Doodling is a gateway to illustration,” and best of all, “1 in 5 teenagers will experiment with art.” I found the campaign both funny and on point. I knew right away that our Facebook audience would love it. I just didn’t anticipate how much.


Did you know that “1 in 5 teenagers will experiment with art” or that “Doodling is a gateway to illustration.” This is just hilarious. Share. Share. Share.


For a popular post, we sometimes get as many as 100 comments/likes. Within the first hour, that number had been surpassed.  By the next morning, the piece had been liked and shared more than 1500 times. By the end of that day, the numbers were approaching 5,000. Industry blogs and trendsetting websites were picking up on this, attributing it to Philbrook. At this point, the post had gone beyond our control. It was truly “viral.” For a brief but glorious period (about 24 hours in all), Philbrook Museum of Art’s Facebook page was the most viewed of any museum in the world according to the tracking site It was quite a site to see us ranked above MoMA, The Louvre, The Met and other industry giants.

It didn’t take long for the College of Creative Studies to contact us about the post. Obviously, they were thrilled. As it stands now, more than three months later, the post on just our Facebook page alone, has been liked nearly 25,000 times, shared more than 23,000 times, and features more than 2,200 unique comments. At the height of this frenzy, our page was gaining more than 150 new likes a day. The College for Creative Studies did some digging in the back-end analytics and confirmed the virility of the post, finding a reach of “more than 1,000,000 hits and shares on various social networking and blogging sites including Facebook and Twitter.” And while all of the credit for creating such a funny, engaging, and ultimately compelling piece belongs to CCS, the school was quite gracious in recognizing Philbrook’s role in the phenomenon. “(The campaign) went viral due to a post from the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Philbrook Museum of Art’s Facebook page.”

Did we know this would happen? Had we planned for such response? No. That would be impossible. But what we (and you) can do, and practice on a regular basis, is to post engaging, relevant, conversational content that creates the best possible environment for something like this to happen. You just never know!

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