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Museum Marketers: Crash Course

Whether a grand international arts institution or a one-room exhibit space dedicated to a niche subject, most museums share the constraint of their physical space and the ability to showcase their collections with visitors. Museum marketers can overcome these challenges!

Using digital technology, however, museum marketers have broken down the physical walls of their art spaces. They’ve expanded into a world of infinite possibilities by creating content that not only leads out of town visitors to a museum’s website, but drives visitors from around the world through their doors.

Here are a few ways that museum marketers can use well-curated digital content, including images, streaming video, virtual tours and social media to connect and build loyalty with their audiences.

Create ‘Behind the Scenes’ Tours

Like the ‘bonus footage’ on your favorite movie, museums with extensive art collections have been able to expand their gallery footprint through the internet. Today, online visitors can access images and information on entire museum collections, as well as enjoy ‘behind the scenes’ experiences through a variety of media.

For instance, the Guggenheim offers online visitors the ability to explore its collection of works by artist, venue, medium, collection, and more, providing access to works not currently on display. Meanwhile, the Corning Museum of Glass has developed an entire YouTube Channel, with online videos of artist demonstrations, instructive how-to’s on glassblowing, as well as an interactive ‘you design it, we make it’ series of glass-blown pieces.

These online offerings enable out-of-town visitors to take advantage of museum resources while helping these art institutions develop a lasting relationship in a global community.

Creating content such as online interviews, podcasts, and virtual exhibits keeps a strong fan base and opens the door for new interactions

Create Virtual Tours of Top Exhibits

While bringing art patrons through the doors of a museum or cultural institution is the goal, today, museums can also welcome visitors through virtual tours of their galleries.

Perhaps the best-known museum in the world, the Louvre Museum offers virtual tours of its Egyptian antiquities galleries, It also offers online visitors a tour of one of The Louvre building’s earliest fortress foundations. Through Flash technology, this tour guides visitors around a perimeter moat and other remains that date back to the 1100s.

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History offers an online virtual tour to explore the entire museum, past the famed African elephant in the museum’s Rotunda through the Hall of Mammals, its Butterfly installation, not to mention the gift shop. And at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, virtual tours of the galleries of surrealist art excite Dali fans about their upcoming visit and serve as a memory of a past trip to the museum.

Interviews with Artists, Curators & Experts

While many art lovers relish the opportunity to learn more about an artist’s beginnings, techniques, and worldview through in-person lectures and interviews, it’s nearly impossible to accommodate a large fan base or following. As a result, many institutions have developed a robust streaming library of artist and expert interviews, offering audiences a deeper understanding of an artist’s work.

At Dia: Beacon, there is a growing catalog of interviews and discussions with the artists on exhibit. But even more notable is the institution’s longest-running program of commissioning artists to create original projects for the internet, offering free access to these innovative works through its site.

For museums outside the art realm, look no further than to the International Spy Museum. A curator and history host a popular weekly podcast, interviewing ex-spies, intelligence experts, and espionage scholars on topics related to today’s news headlines, as well as the role of espionage in the history of world affairs.

Getting the Most from Social Media

Behind-the-scenes video, virtual tours, and streaming artist interviews provide great content for posting and promotion on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms. They are useful to promote newly posted and available website content. Museum marketers can also use social media platforms to create and distribute fun, informative, and engaging content that drives out-of-town audiences to their websites and encourages future visits.

Social media tools can bring active exhibit to users across the world through live videos and story updates

Facebook Live

Facebook Live is one of the most exciting tools available today for museum marketers. Institutions are finding innovative ways to engage audiences around the world on this powerful platform.

For instance, Royal Museums Greenwich has developed a strong following with its broadcasts of events like a lunar eclipse from the Royal Observatory. During these events, museum experts discuss the natural phenomenon, how best to see it, and stream live footage of the moon through its AMAT telescope, reaching tens of thousands of viewers.

Another notable Facebook Live event took place in 2017 when five international museums teamed up to bring together Vincent Van Gogh’s five sunflower paintings. During the broadcast, The National Gallery (UK), Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam), Philadelphia Museum of Art (U.S.), Neue Pinakothek (Germany) and the Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art shared their masterpieces with the world. They discussed each work and what made it exceptional, ultimately bringing together all five pieces in a  ‘virtual room’ for millions of viewers.

Other ways to incorporate Facebook Live to reach out-of-town visitors include curator interviews as they work in a gallery to prepare a new show, gallery tours. Consider live artist demonstrations or coverage of a museum-hosted event. Or keep it simple with a weekly ‘unveiling’ of an object from your collection along with an unscripted ‘show-and-tell’ chat from a museum curator or expert to connect with viewers near and far.


Encouraging user engagement and inviting followers to be part of the conversation is one of the most effective ways that museums use Instagram to connect with out-of-town patrons.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s posts focus on works from the collection, current exhibitions, and museum events. Recent posts include images from exhibitions in the galleries along with a review quote from a top newspaper art critic. Other posts connect master artworks with current events, such as the new season of “The Crown”. The museum also uses hashtags that takes content outside of the art world, such as celebrating artists’ birthdays using the #onthisday hashtag.

Speaking of hashtags, The Field Museum used #TattooFM when it launched its body art exhibit, encouraging people to share images of their own ink with the dedicated hashtag. The result was a dialogue between the museum, visitors (including some who came to visit the exhibition’s working tattoo shop), and the social universe who shared posts of their individual tattoos.

To sum it up: you have options!

Pose a question to followers about their art likes and opinions. Use a post to invite followers to link to content on your museum’s website. Create an Instagram story for an exhibit or event. ‘Hyperlapse’ the set-up of a new exhibition. Encourage fans to express and interact with a current show in an online exchange. Instagram offers a vibrant, visual, and virtual portal to interact with art and museum fans.

Would you like a partner in creating digital content and promoting your museum to worldwide audiences? Our team of tourism and museum marketing experts is here to help. We’ve developed and implemented award-winning public relations and marketing programs for some of the country’s top museums and cultural institutions. You can contact [email protected] to learn more about our cultural marketing capabilities.

Written By

Karyl Leigh Barnes

Karyl Leigh Barnes is President of DCI’s Tourism Practice. Since joining the firm in 1998, Karyl Leigh has led destination strategy and created marketing communication programs for destinations on every continent except Antarctica.

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