15 marketing tips for small and medium-sized museums during the Covid-19 outbreak

The Coronavirus pandemic has brought unprecedented uncertainty and challenges for everyone. And with government briefings and advice being frequently updated, museums are having to react nimbly and creatively.

Mindful that many small and medium-sized museums don’t have any dedicated in-house marketing staff and may be overwhelmed in the coming months, I’m ramping up by blogging with the aim of providing more useful resources aimed at these organisations during this time. Future blogs I’m planning include:

  • ideas for social media content during this time
  • free marketing training ideas
  • crisis communication
  • tips on home-working (having done it for over seven years now).

But I’d really welcome other ideas you’d find useful or questions you might have.

For now, here are 15 marketing tips aimed at small and medium-sized museums during these challenging times:

1. Unschedule social content

Look at all scheduled social media content and unschedule it if no longer required (e.g. for an event that’s no longer happening) or if it’s not appropriate in the current circumstances.

2. Evaluate upcoming plans

Look at all upcoming marketing and change course if necessary. If you were promoting an upcoming temporary exhibition that will now not open, can you pull any print or adverts or change their content? Pause, take stock and reflect.

3. Communicate clearly and compassionately

Be honest and open with your team, audiences and suppliers. A lack of communication leaves room for uncertainty and rumours, so even if you don’t have the answers yet, it can be useful to go out with some communication to show that you’re on the case.

4. Prioritise customer service

Prioritise customer service and responding to enquiries, rather than pumping out lots of ‘clever’ content for now. Your museum is likely to face so many questions from audiences about the cancellation of events, how to get money back, what’s happening to memberships and so on. For larger museums with different functions such as visitor services and front of house, work jointly to ensure the process and communication is consistent and as smooth as possible for audiences.

5. Be part of your community

Many people are understandably incredibly anxious and unsettled at the moment, and museums can play a really important role in helping their audiences and communities deal with these new circumstances. This may be online by sharing practical advice and information; sharing a message for help from a local foodbank; being a reassuring presence by continuing to share your usual weekly photo from the archives; or just providing a welcome distraction from the torrent of Coronavirus news in people’s social media feed. We’re all in this together.

6. Be authentic

I think a lot of people will be looking for things that will reassure them, ground them and help them keep a semblance of normality under these abnormal circumstances. Museums, their objects and stories are steeped in history and can anchor us while the world around us is such an unknown. Make the most of the amazing objects, knowledge and stories you’ve got.

7. Be sensitive and human

Don’t use this as a crass bandwagon opportunity. Be sensitive in what you use in your marketing, and the tone and language you use. Know when to remain silent. Already there are some organisations getting it right, being honest, approachable, heartfelt and generous, whilst others are not. Chances are that many people will remember how they were treated by organisations when we emerge from this mess.

8. Share your education resources

If you already have materials online, contact your key schools asap to let them know about what you have, as the schools I’m in contact with are planning their teaching materials now in anticipation of school closures. If you haven’t got anything online yet, consider whether you can make things available on your website, since parents and carers will be looking for things to stimulate and entertain their children with if or when they are stuck at home.

9. Partner up

There are already lots of conversations happening in the museums sector about promoting each other’s resources and working together on ideas and solutions during the Coronavirus outbreak, for example on the GEM JISCmail and MCG JISCmail. There’s a new #MuseumFromHome hashtag over on Twitter where people are sharing quick videos of themselves taking about a museum object for one minute. Get involved!

10. Listen and adapt

The situation we’re in is unprecedented and very hard to predict. Your audiences’ needs are likely to change over the coming weeks so listen and be responsive to their needs.

11. Create good digital content

If you find that the main flurry of customer service questions starts to quieten down, you might have time to think about content to post while your museum is shut. Now more than ever there’s a need to be in content mode not selling mode. Think about content ideas around your museum, its collections and stories that might engage, interest, entertain, move or stimulate your audiences. With more and more people forced to limit social contact and outings, make the most of video. Whether you do some behind-the-scenes at your museum, an interview with a curator, a recorded mini education session, or a quick Instagram story of Facebook live. Remember it doesn’t have to be polished and perfect. Experiment and bit and get something out there, it will get better. The Museum Social Media Managers group on Facebook is worth joining to learn what other museums around the world are doing at the moment. And keep an eye on Mar Dixon’s feed on Twitter as she announces sector-wide hashtags e.g. #WhyILoveMuseums is on Wednesday 18 March.

I’ll expand on this point in a future blog post dedicated to social media content with lots more ideas

12. Repurpose old content

Some teams might find they will have no access to their museums or collections at all during this time which will call for even greater creativity. Can you organise a virtual ideas generation session with colleagues to give you more ideas? Is there any content from a year or two ago you can repurpose? Do you have access to object photos you can share and if not, do any colleagues have any relevant photos on their phones worth sharing

13. Resuscitate your “never get to” list

As most business-as-usual activities will have stopped, you might find that a lot of your normal to-do-list actions are no longer required. If that’s the case, see if there are some of those important-but-not-urgent jobs that you could tackle. For example, undertaking some evaluation, expanding website content, labelling photos and sorting computer folders, doing that online training course you keep meaning to.

14. Team contact and communication

As most museums and offices are closing and encouraging people to work from home where possible, it’ll be really important to keep in contact with your colleagues. Partly so that you know what’s going on and partly to avoid social isolation. This may require some time to set up and get used to new ways of working, maybe using some new tech tools. Be patient and open to trying new things.

15. Look after your well-being

And finally, and arguably most importantly, look after yourself. These are exceptionally difficult times for everyone personally and professionally and you need to be kind to yourself. Mind have put together lots of tips and resources to help you look after your mental health and wellbeing. For me I find daily fresh air, exercise, a gripping book, baking and chatting to friends and family are key, whilst limiting social media and news scrolling as much as possible. I’ll expand more on this in a future blog post with tips on working from home.

Lessons on content marketing

Yesterday I read an interesting article on Medium about how a change in editorial strategy — from blogging to magazine-style storytelling — has enabled Wellcome Collection to reach and engage more people. The content sits under the heading of ‘Stories‘ on their website.

The piece was written by Jennifer Staves, digital content manager at Wellcome Collection, and I spotted it thanks to a share on Twitter by Tom Scott, head of digital there.

I mainly work with small and medium-sized cultural organisations, but even if organisations don’t have a team, expertise or budget that are comparable to Wellcome Collection, I think there are some key lessons in the article that are universal.

I’ve put together five transferable tips which I share when delivering training on content marketing and that the piece on Wellcome Collection highlights:

Continue reading