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Simple Ways Museums Can Use Content Marketing to Engage Their Audiences (and Attract New Ones)

Category: Alliance Blog
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Most foodies are familiar with the concept of Michelin starred restaurants. If you’re not, The Michelin Guide is revered by food-centric travelers and ambitious chefs stake their entire careers on receiving one, two, or the most-coveted, three-star rating.

Yet, you may not realize that the entire Michelin Guide was created as a content marketing initiative back in 1900. The brainchild of the Michelin brothers, who’d started a tire company 11 years earlier – yes, those Michelins – were looking for a way to encourage their customers to drive more.

The concept worked.

People started taking more trips with restaurants as destinations. The restaurants were thrilled, the people had a great time (and needed more tires as a result of driving) and now, The Michelin Guide is a powerful marketing tool for restaurants.

Today’s content marketing is different. It’s more frequent, bite-size content delivered through a variety of channels and museums have excellent subject matter to intrigue visitors.

Content Marketing + Museums = Natural Fit

Museums are already focused on storytelling and engaging audiences. However, delivering a portion of that story, and deepening it through relevant digital means is a way to connect with audiences in a new and modern way that people have come to expect.

When asked about the role of content marketing in museums, KC Hurst, the Director of Marketing and Communications at the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) said, “Museums have long focused on engagement and storytelling, but the role of content marketing is broader and asks the question: How do we drive a more meaningful experience for the people we want to reach and keep people engaged with this experience?”

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As a former museum educator, I think these are the questions that drive education and programming and the technology makes it 1000 times easier than it was just a decade ago. Take for example the idea of segmenting your audiences by interest. In 2005, I attempted such segmentation in the historic house where I worked when email marketing software was in its infancy. Now email marketing software makes it simple to keep your family interest lists separate from the young professionals and offer events (and information) that appeal to each.

Of course, email marketing and who receives what messages is one (important) component of content marketing, but there’s also the content creation piece which is also far easier thanks to technology.

Let’s visit the Dallas Museum of Art again, KC Hurst said the museum recently hosted a Frida Kahlo exhibit. In addition to a variety of special programming, they recorded the behind-the-scenes footage of the art installation and that video is the museum’s most viewed to date.

The beauty of today’s smartphones is that everyone has access to a high-quality camera in their pocket. With minimal prep, anyone can record quality video or do a live stream about virtually any topic. For example, imagine interviewing the head curator about the tough decisions that are made about what to include in an exhibit. Another video could show crates being assembled to ready works for traveling.

People crave a deeper understanding of things they’re interested in. It’s the reason they watch the “making of” television shows and museums are perfectly situated to capitalize on this desire now that quality technology is available to everyone.

Developing the Publisher’s Mindset

Part one of successful content marketing requires quality content—in blogging, email marketing, video, and social media—built around audience education. Part two is determining the distribution channels and integrating it within your marketing/communications plan with consistency.

Publishers plan content themes, create/find/commission content, and then deliver it through relevant channels on a regular basis. Since museums are already doing this with exhibition and programming schedules, and already thinking through the different audiences, then it’s a matter of extending that awareness to the online content and tying it together in inventive ways.

Sometimes, like the DMA’s art installation video, it’s possible to document a process that’s happening anyway and share it with the public.

The Met took a similar approach when it 2015, it detailed the restoration of a new acquisition, Charles Le Brun’s 17th-century painting “A Portrait of Everhard Jabach and Family.” In the past, this would have resulted in a press release and perhaps new signage in the museum. Now, in the age of digital media, the Met was able to share the restoration process with the public. Curators wrote 18+ blog posts and videos detailing the restoration. Over a million people followed this journey.

It’s easy for smaller organizations to dismiss such initiatives as beyond their scope but it’s not. Museums have long been creative in getting things done and these days, everyone has the tools to create good – even great – content without elaborate editing equipment.

Perhaps what’s even more exciting is that once the content is created and uploaded, it can live for months and years to come which means it will continue to attract visitors.

Three Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Create Content

Before you throw yourself into a mad frenzy of content creation, stop and think about your audience. What are the questions they ask, what have been your most successful programs/topics and how can you incorporate this into your communication strategy?

Best of all, museums have the opportunity to help your visitors add to the stories through designated (and branded!)  “Instagram spots” or similar.

Here are three ideas to help you refine your content marketing:

1. What stories do we already tell well and how can we add another dimension to it?

Museum educators have done this for years – adding a period music recording in the exhibit, having an area where children can dress up in period clothing, offering historic cooking programs.

Content marketing offers ways to capture these via video/blog/live stream and put them on your website so that future visitors can enjoy them. Then, you can include links to them in your emails and social media posts so that more people see them.

2. What are our “behind the scenes” stories?

Just like the DMA showed the process of installing the Kahlo installation and the Met told the story of restoring their prized acquisition, every organization has behind the scenes stories. Maybe it’s a series of interviews with curators and educators each sharing their insight into the planning of a new exhibition or a long-time volunteer on why they volunteer.

3. How do we connect our stories with our audiences?

Marketers know that it’s essential to show up where the people are and it’s clear the people are online. From micro-blogging on social media platforms to offering branded “selfie spots” at your museum #funatyourmuseum, to email segmentation, it’s all smart content marketing.

Just like the Michelin Brothers were innovative in their content marketing efforts, today’s museum professionals can invite their audiences to be part of the story in new ways. What stories will you help your audience discover?

Jennifer Phillips April is copyrighter, ghostwriter, and content marketer for Write Words Marketing. Having started her career in museum education she has a unique perspective on museums and content marketing. 

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