Digital Engagement and Museums


Royal Pavilion, Brighton. Photo: Jenny Siung

I decided to up the ante this year and attended a 5-day course on developing digital content for museums with the International Museum Academy of the British Council and Culture 24. Set in the seaside city of Brighton, this course introduced us to a number of case studies in museums in the UK as well as develop and present our own budding experiments using digital engagement with the support of our mentors.

The course demystified pre-conceived concepts I had regarding digital engagement. Digital engagement is

  • not the same as digitisation, i.e. the representation of an object, image, sound, document or signal (analog) and assigned numbers. See
  • a form of communication with museum audiences. Digital engagement requires museums to meet the needs of digitally-engaged audiences
  • about having the right people in or outside museums communicate in multiple formats, i.e. different voices communicating about different aspects of interest with their audiences e.g. a teen writing a blog for museum teen club or a curator sharing curious facts about the collection on You Tube
  • a range of media aimed at a wide range of audiences such as Facebook, Twitter, websites, Periscope (I have to admit this was new to me), blogs such as WordPress & Medium, Wikipedia, GLAM Wiki (Wikipedia for Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums), You Tube, Tumblr, Flickr, MOOCs, Instagram, etc.
  • open to experiment and trying different things out that may/not work but worth a go e.g. a word-heavy blog about an exhibition may only attract a small number of people yet an image-heavy story about a quirky aspect of an exhibition on Tumblr/Instagram may capture the attention of many



Fashion Cities Africa exhibition, Brighton Museum. Photo: Jenny Siung


Fashion Cities Africa exhibition, Brighton Museum. Photo: Jenny Siung


Photo: Jenny Siung


Billboard image, Globe Theatre, London. Photo: Jenny Siung


When exploring digital culture museums need to look at the type of digital technology available for their organisations; what kind of digital technology is available to audiences and how do museums communicate about their collections and buildings through these channels? Audiences want to share their experiences with their friends and social circles. (Ref Kevin Bacon, Royal Pavilion and Brighton Museums).

It is important to look at audience types, behaviours and motivations when developing digital content. Museums can often make assumptions when designing websites and other related content without approaching audiences. It is paramount content is fit for purpose; once this content has been developed, tried and tested, it is advisable it is designed with built-in data analytics. More importantly content can be changed and updated to fit different contexts, i.e. it is good to hold regular crits with audiences for feedback and updates.

I could summarise the course I attended but it would take too long (in a long-format blog post). And it may be a course museums could consider for continuous professional development. So instead these are my take-aways

  • go for it – be brave – try a small experiment and start a blog by a not so obvious staff member e.g. front of house, shop staff, volunteers etc. Their insights are refreshing as they encounter audiences all the time. See Brighton Fashion Week blog postings on Instagram, Royal Pavilion and Brighton Museums as an example by Ruby McGonigle
  • there are so many innovative examples out there – and imitation is flattery so why not borrow ideas from them?
  • Russell Dornan of the Wellcome Collection is a refreshing museum professional with a background in curating natural history and is currently one of two digital engagement staff. Their experiments with Instagram inviting visitors to take selfies in front of a slimming mirror in one of their exhibitions proved a hit although some colleagues did not initially ‘get it’
  • check out Abhay Adhikari and the Digital Identity Framework
  • there are excellent case studies on Culture 24 and their Let’s Get Real campaign
  • The Royal Pavilion and Brighton Museums have a well-thought out website based on audience research and planning as well as the V&A’s new website (they won Museum of the Year on Friday 12 August 2016)
  • other insights from my time in Brighton include: Facebook may work in Europe/North America etc. yet QR codes are very popular in mainland China with museum audiences
  • most visitors have a hand-held device that can download content from websites and apps may become obsolete over time as they are costly and need constant updates – so ditch the app and embrace easy and accessible content
  • if at first you don’t succeed, ask your audiences for feedback and then try, try again
  • share your learning with peers and other organisations
  • digital engagement has been in the news for quite some time. See Digital Engagement Framework by Jasper Visser and Jim Richardson
  • by the time I post this blog post there most probably will be a new social media tool