In the era of COVID-19, community engagement has shifted to the virtual.
The effects and challenges of COVID-19 have pushed many institutions to develop innovative strategies and tools to reach and engage audiences. Museums have been required to create solutions that accurately reflect the shifting needs and priorities of their communities to ensure that their work remains relevant and successful. For many, without in-person contact, engaging and connecting with audiences has become a rather daunting task.
No matter where your institution is at within the re-strategizing process and no matter the size of your staff, this article will help you understand what community engagement during a global pandemic looks like, why you should consider reevaluating what you know about your audiences, and how you can build and maintain stronger engagement.
What Does Successful Community Engagement Look Like in the Context of COVID-19?
According to Urban Institute’s article Pivoting Community Engagement during COVID-19, in this new era, successful community engagement might be attributable to three main factors: first, having the capacity to assess and reframe all work in the context of COVID-19; second, the employing of new methods and modes of engagement; and third, the ability to develop and refine a plan.
In discussing his 5 tips for building strong social media communities during difficult times, Carlos Gil, social media consultant and author of The End of Marketing: Humanizing Your Brand in the Age of Social Media and AI, shares this notion: “For years, social media has been shifting away from its social roots to become more of a branding marketplace, but the COVID-19 pandemic gives us all a chance to swing the pendulum back in the social direction.”
When it comes to investing in a strong community on social media, Twitter’s Regional Content Lead Christel Quek offers what she calls the “Humanifesto for Community Building on Social Media.” A simple acrostic for you to follow and adapt, especially during these difficult times, the Humanifesto reads as follows.
- C -- Collaboration (Collaborate, don’t control -- remember that your brand story is getting shaped by your community and not just yourself)
- O -- Openness (Be open and transparent in what you do)
- M -- Mediation (Don’t antagonize, mediate when you run into crises)
- M -- Magnetic (You need to be magnetic and charismatic to inspire your community to greater and better things)
- U -- Utilitarian (Reflect useful and practical content your community can identify with)
- N -- Nice (if you’re not nice, it won’t pay back)
- I -- Integrity (Integrity should anchor your actions, or your community will sniff you out)
- T -- Tact (Be respectful, show some tact, don’t type what you will regret)
- Y -- Yield (Your brand should put the yield of your community above the yield the brand might get)
How Well Do You Know Your Audience & How Well Are You Meeting Their Needs?
The Association of Independent Museums has put together a Success Guide for Understanding Your Audiences. The guide ultimately looks at how you can best understand your audience and use your insights to deliver your strategic goals and make your organization more resilient.
In 2017, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Reinvestment Fund, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Social Impact of the Arts Project, surveyed the range of ways museums and libraries of all types aim to address community challenges on their own or through strategic partnerships, and even spur change. Although three-years old, the case studies and conceptual framework presented translate to 2020 audiences. Read the Strengthening Networks, Sparking Change: Museums and Libraries as Community Catalysts report.
Chicago Beyond created the Why Am I Always Being Researched Guidebook as a way to level the playing field and reckon with unintended bias when it comes to research. This Guidebook will help bring awareness to any underlying biases and assumptions, and in turn, will lead to a more authentic, collaborative truth in your research process.
The American Alliance of Museums offers a Community & Audience Engagement Assessment to help your institution gather better input from your constituents, develop a more nuanced view about your community’s demographics and needs, and incorporate these findings into planning and operational decisions.
Resources to Create Deeper Community Engagement
For institutions both large and small, Culture Connect offers a useful COVID-19 Resource Center for Museums and Libraries, where you’ll find a variety of articles including:
- Your Guide to Rapid Content Development
- How to Get Your Field Trips, Education & Public Programming Online
- Bring Archives & Library Collections to Life!
- Scavenger Hunts & Games
Over the past few months, Cuseum has focused multiple webinar conversations around community engagement. Some recorded webinars include:
- How to Keep Your Audience Engaged, Entertained, and Inspired in the Age of Coronavirus
- Virtual Memberships: Creating Digital Benefits & Virtual Access for Members
- Re-Opening Museums & Cultural Attractions: Succeeding in the Post-COVID Era with Digital Tools
- Membership Marketing, Audience Shifts & Community Engagement after Coronavirus
From organic social media strategy, to website analytics, Sprout Social offers 41 Must-Have Digital Marketing Tools to help you save time, keep your sanity, and successfully grow your online community.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, many museums have harnessed the power of social media to make virtual visitors feel more connected. The International Council of Museums (ICOM) offers a list of inspiring examples that go beyond museum walls to create a deeper experience for audiences.
We hope these resources and tools will be of value to you and your institution as you continue to create your own, unique online community that is worth being a part of now, and in the post-COVID-19 era.
Let’s put our audiences at the heart of our work.
Written by Jessica Noyes, Communications Coordinator, WMA