By Daniel Gale-Rosen
Two weeks ago, Alley Interactive had the privilege of attending the joint Western Museums Association / Alberta Museums Association conference in Edmonton, Alberta. Apart from being our first visit to Edmonton, we got a chance to discuss the challenges around being a museum in North America in this day in age, which aren’t just digital.
There were a few topics we saw running through the conference, all tied to the overarching theme of “UNITE.” Communication — between organizations, within organizations, and between organizations and their patrons — was the key.
Museums have always been social spaces, albeit offline, but now more than ever are trying to become this online. Tied to this is the theme around “safety” and museums trying to make their physical and digital spaces safe for anyone and everyone. As a progressive digital agency, this point is always interesting to us. We saw organizations taking to social media, as well as their own websites, to bring in visitors and community-members, and get them to discuss important issues like indigenous culture, climate change, and others. Not only were they creating these conversations, but they were looking to do so in an accessible, open manner – available to anyone on the web.
Equally important, but often rare, we saw organizations reaching out to each other, sharing these tactics and working together towards improving their digital presences. In the past, we’ve often seen our clients initially trying to reinvent the wheel, to create their own tool to do something that already exists somewhere else. But this transfer of information between museums really helps minimize this — allowing marketing, collections, and every other facet to maximize their time spent on the things that really matter, not hitting their heads against a wall that already has a doorway in it.
Whether it’s event ticketing or social media management, there are digital tools available, much of it open source and/or free, that many organizations are simply unaware of. For example, Hootsuite is a free tool that allows for scheduling social posts, allowing staff to bank content and not always worry about logging onto Facebook at a particular time each day. Other systems, such as WordPress, are incredibly customizable, allowing each museum or gallery to choose how they implement the exact features for themselves. Hubspot has a free option to track contacts such as donors, as well as encourage mailing list signups and other ways for patrons to get involved.. Google Drive allows for collaborative and simultaneous editing and storing of documents, which is very useful when you’re getting a lot of feedback from a lot of people. Finally, Slack is an amazing tool for communicating within — and between — organizations. This is especially relevant for those smaller organizations looking for ideas — talk to those who already have the tech, and you can learn how best to use it. You can start your own team chat for free, but there are also numerous other shared interest groups that you can find with an easy online search. We’re in the process of building our own community for museums to share digital advice, so look for that soon!
Integrating your community into the daily life of your organization leads to an increased connection, further interaction, and, overall, more engagement on and offline. This makes sense in the context of practically every museum’s mission statement, but also from a socially responsible one — by truly becoming part of your community’s life, you’re improving it, making it richer and more supportive. Especially now, in both Canada and the United States, this is often sorely needed. If you’re having trouble with the digital aspects of this, we’re happy to offer further suggestions and tool recommendations, here at Alley. We look forward to seeing the developments between this year and next, and are excited to see everyone again in 2018.
Daniel is the Director of Marketing at Alley Interactive, a digital agency that partners with museums and galleries of all sizes. We provide industry-leading software development, user experience, visual design and strategy for the museum field, from catalogs to events to publications. Our clients include the American Association of Museums and Freer and Sackler.