Case Study: Canada's Got Treasures!

A Virtual Museum of Canada Lab Project in collaboration with the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Canadian War Museum, National Gallery of Canada, Canada Science and Technology Museum, Canada Aviation Museum, Canada Agriculture Museum, the Canadian Museum of Nature, the National Capital Commission, the Library and Archives Canada, and Concordia University.

Project Summary

Canada's Got Treasures! ( (No longer available) is the product of a partnership between the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN), the Canadian Museum of Civilization (now called the Canadian Museum of History), Canadian War Museum, National Gallery of Canada, Canada Science and Technology Museum, Canada Aviation Museum, Canada Agriculture Museum, the Canadian Museum of Nature, the National Capital Commission (NCC) and after the project started, Library and Archives Canada. Later in the project, when the content had been created, a cross-promotional partnership agreement was struck with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and the National Film Board (NFB). Project discussions began in spring 2009, and the project launched on to coincide with International Museums Day.


CHIN was interested in working with the national museums on a collaborative social media project. The partners began meeting in spring 2009 to discuss a project that was intended to use social media to create videos for “national treasures” in national museum collections and to challenge Canadians and Canadian museums to upload web site images or videos of their own treasures. At the same time, there was also an intention to replace a very popular but outdated exhibit The Canadian Museum Treasure Hunt with a new treasure hunt. In summer 2009, discussions took place with Concordia University to involve students from a graduate art history seminar in the project, and they joined the partnership. The project started up intensively in September 2009.


The national museums had expressed a desire to experiment with social media, as at the outset of the project, there was not a lot of social media experience within the group. The project also aimed, through the use of social media, to reach young adults, an age group that can be difficult for museums to engage. The challenge was to develop a project that would allow for museums to showcase their treasured content, while at the same time engaging the audience at which the project was aimed. The project also tested the use of combining a social media platform such as WordPress with sites such as YouTube and Flickr, where young people might already have accounts, or be interested in creating accounts.


The original national museum partners began meeting in spring 2009; meetings continued in the summer, as Concordia joined the project.

The original plan was to create 52 treasures, initially one to be rolled out every week for the year in connection with quiz questions. Subsequent discussions determined that this would be too long a rollout, and it was decided that in the first week, four treasures would be launched, and thereafter, two treasures would be released on a weekly schedule beginning with the final treasure released . The number of treasures was divided among the institutions in the partnership, and each institution held internal discussions regarding the treasures to highlight. Not all treasures were made into videos, so discussions also determined which treasures would be featured as video content, and which would be photographs.

The students visited each of the national museums in September 2009. In the early stages of the project, planning and preparing for the student visits at each museum were fairly resource intensive on the part of the museums. A coordinator at Concordia worked with the museums on the details of the students' visits to the museums for research and planning the videos. This involved an extra layer of coordination in the projects, as museums had to prepare for initial student visits, filmmaker visits, and additional student research done on site.  The students all visited each museum on their first visit.

Staff were involved from several areas within the individual institutions, including communications, education, collections, conservation, library and archives, and subject matter experts. The time to choose the treasures to highlight ranged from a couple of days to several weeks, and the preparation for filming had a similar range in the time required.

There was a variety of approaches used. Some of the museums had the students prepare only the scripts, while others had the students create both scripts *and* voice-over work. Most of the students developed the texts for the scripts—writing, editing and revising—, which took approximately 4 months to complete. The students were supervised by the project coordinator and supervisor as well as museum staff. One obstacle noted by the Concordia project coordinator was that the research time was limited, and the editing process also occupied the students' time.

Photography students produced artworks inspired by the museum treasures, and the museums accommodated their visits as well.

The video production company worked with the students and the museums to plan the schedule for the videos. The video production meant there was heavy involvement up front on the part of the museums: preparatory visits to the museums (6 days), filming (9 ½ days), editing (30 days), and creating titles and captions.

The film company provided the following points for the museums to consider when scheduling the video shoots, which may provide useful information for other museums planning a project involving filming:

  • Will the video have a voice-over or on-camera personality? (Voice-over implies a script written and performed prior to any filming on-site.)
  • Will there be a prepared script written in advance?
  • What restrictions to access to filming exist? (An object can only be filmed during certain times, can only be filmed when museum is closed, can only be filmed after or before a certain date–particularly important for pieces that are outside.)
  • Will the piece need to be moved?
  • Can the piece be moved if that would facilitate filming?
  • Are there visual elements in your museum that the filmmakers can not use in the film?
  • Will the filmmakers be permitted to set up additional lighting?
  • Will the filmmakers have access to power for additional lighting?
  • Will the filmmakers be permitted to adjust existing lighting?
  • Does the museum already have appropriate rights cleared music?
  • Would the filmmakers be expected to provide music?

For the product launch, promotional cards were given to all partners, and the project was promoted at the Canadian Museums Association conference as well as provincial museum associations. In addition, partner museums collaborated in media relations plans.

Newly released videos were promoted on a bi-weekly basis on VMC Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Intended Outcomes

The aims of the project were to:

  • Share the lessons learned with heritage professionals via CHIN's Professional Exchange (, and increase knowledge and competencies.
  • Create interest in museums and their collections in young adults through the new content and the innovative use of social media.
  • Encourage wide engagement by the public, e.g., to create their own responses to the selected museum objects.
  • Attract visitors to the partners' collections, to the Virtual Museum of Canada (VMC), and to their local museums.

Intended Outputs

The project goals were to create a project website using third party software, produce 52 videos, one for each treasure, provide contextual information about each treasure, create related groups or channels on selected social media sites, create a quiz, provide a mapping function, create learning objects for the VMC Teachers' Centre, and add an invitation for Canadian museums and the public to participate by creating either their own treasure videos and uploading them to the project's YouTube channel or adding a photograph through Flickr.

Obstacles and Issues

One of the challenges at the outset was that the project was inspired by two existing projects, with two different audiences. One project, The Canadian Museum Treasure Hunt was aimed at primary school children, while the museums wished to aim this project at young adults who are users of social media. The other inspiration for the project was the YouTube series, "Un Jour, Une Photo".

Other issues encountered were:

  • Museums considered the project “finished” when the videos were done, as so much time staff time had been spent on the early stages, and other priorities took over. They did not factor in the activity that was involved in successful social media population.
  • Turnover in some institutions resulted in delays in completing the videos.
  • Institutions did not have full social media capabilities at the time of the project and competing priorities meant that staff spent time on other projects.
  • Returning to shoot additional footage required additional time, and money.
  • It took too long for objects from each institution to appear due to the staged release of the videos.
  • The project goals needed more focus, an issue due to two different project models.
  • Numerous add-ons to the original planned project of videos added to the workload and schedule (e.g., student papers, student photographs).
  • There were two audiences being served with one project: young students with the quiz and young adults with the social media aspects of the project.
  • The technology chosen was based on the technical environment, which resulted in some technical issues.
  • During early planning, it became clear that it wasn't realistic to do 52 videos, and, therefore, some treasures had an image created for addition to Flickr.

Using third party applications proved to be problematic during the project. Administrative and technical matters related to YouTube, Flickr, and Google Maps were beyond the control of the project. For example, the process for submission to the project relied on the existence of groups in YouTube, but they were discontinued in December 2010. Technical challenges included the fact that Flickr accounts needed at least 5 images in order to show or else they were considered spam and not displayed, javascript functions for the French interface were not functional at the outset, and Google Maps necessitated the addition of video metadata information such as GPS location, which submissions often lacked. Neither the WordPress application nor Facebook handled French diacritics well, and as a result posts had to be rewritten with HTML codes for diacritics. Another issue encountered with WordPress is that the site pages could only handle a certain number of video submissions, leaving a portion of submitted YouTube videos not visible to visitors. Additionally, there was a disconnect between the Canada's Got Treasures! site and user comments in the social media channels.

Actual Outcomes

Although the target audience for social media contribution was 18-35, the Canada's Got Treasures YouTube videos were mainly watched by Baby Boomers (60%) followed by Generation X (30%); Generation Y and Z (digital natives) represented less than 10% of all visitors.

Over 100 videos and 200 photos were submitted to the project. The social media channels experienced growth in subscribership. The largest proportion of videos and photos contributed was from CHIN member museums.

Surprisingly, very few visits to the site came from social media. Most visits came via search engines. As of November 30, 2010, Canada's Got Treasures had received a total of 345 treasure submissions: 120 videos (17/month), and 225 images (32/month).  Almost all of the video submissions were attributable to CHIN's intensive colonization activities, and most Flickr images were recruited through phone solicitations to museum institutions.

This project report represents the lessons learned for heritage professionals to increase knowledge and competencies.

Actual Outputs

The project achieved most of its goals. The project website was developed using third party software; videos were produced for 40 (instead of 52) of the treasures; each treasure had contextual information; the selected social media site, Flickr, had a related group, and YouTube had a channel; and the project included a quiz, a mapping function, and an invitation for Canadian museums and the public to participate by creating either their own treasure videos and uploading them to the project's YouTube channel or adding a photograph through Flickr. Learning objects were created after the project was completed.

Final outputs of the project included forty 60-second video clips and 12 still images of treasures from the national partners.

The Concordia art history students produced:

  • 52 short descriptive texts (250 words)
  • 34 film scripts (150-175 words)
  • 52 long texts (5 pages)
  • 49 artist write-ups

The Concordia photography students produced 49 artworks inspired by the museum treasures.

CHIN produced 18 learning objects, and added 14 learning objects created by the NCC.

Lessons Learned

It is clear that a project such as this requires a clear focus on the goals of the project and the audience. Defining the audience will help answer some of the following questions related to video production.

It is important in a video project to consider what you want, and the tone of your productions. The following are some points to consider about the type of video:

  • Is there something unique about your museum that you want to convey in the video?
  • What approach are you taking?
  • Will you have a scripted approach with an on-camera person, a pre-recorded voice-over, or interview and edited conversation?
  • What film style would you like? Serious? Whimsical? What style is your institution comfortable with representing itself?
  • Are there specific angles you want to be sure are captured on video? Surrounding objects/areas that need to be filmed as well?

It is important to be realistic about the stages of video creation. Changing things after initial filming, such as adding new images and adding new voiceovers, add to project time and budget over-run.

The different museums used a variety of ways in which to choose the treasures to feature:

  • popular items (education department)
  • objects on display
  • no copyright issues, or easily cleared rights
  • objects that would be enhanced by having videos online
  • objects on display, but also ‘hidden treasures' that the public did not normally have access to
  • objects that reflected the diversity of the collection
  • the condition of the object–cleaning, taking out, does it need anything to be done to it, and staff who will be involved with preparing it
  • outdoor objects are subject to weather and time constraints for filming
  • lighting
  • what kind of supplementary materials are available to make it interesting
  • partners for extra material.

The challenges of presenting content on a third-party site have been discussed in Challenges. It is important to be aware of the conditions of the site when you plan a project that incorporates social media, as your project will be subject to the conditions of the third party site.

The Quiz that was added on to the site required a log-in and password. Very few visitors (150) requested a personal code, in spite of the fact that the very outdated Canadian Museum Treasure Hunt ( (No longer available), one of the inspirations for the project, continues to receive visitors and requests for the quiz answers.

A social media project requires much nurturing in order for it to grow unless there is a contest or some sort of tie-in that provides a benefit for users to participate. CHIN staff spent a lot of time monitoring the site and soliciting contributions from both other museums and the general public in order to encourage the growth of the site. CHIN sent the partners a list of activities (See Appendix) they could undertake. Many of the museums had other project pressures by that time, or had concentrated so much energy on the creation of the videos that there was little staff time and momentum to concentrate on the social media phase of the launched project. Future projects of this sort should ensure sufficient time to nurture the project, or have some sort of contest or marketing plan to encourage participation, as creation of videos is labour intensive, and expecting user-generated content of videos without some sort of enticement is idealistic, and possibly unrealistic.

As has been seen in other successful user-generated content, museum projects such as the Guggenheim Play project—a contest to encourage quality submissions—, is one way to ensure a lot of user uptake. This was also mentioned in the user acceptance group that took place a month before the site launched.

In the user group, there was a general feeling that there should be access to related content. If someone found one video for which they were interested in the subject matter, they would like to be able to search for related content. This site did not feature this, but it is something that is expected, particularly because of the association with YouTube.

Interestingly, one of the students in the user acceptance group commented that it wouldn't draw her in, in spite of the fact that it was aimed at her age group, but she thought it was something that her grandfather would love. She felt that in its current form, it had a better appeal for an older demographic that may be wary of technology.

Although the aim of the site was to encourage users to add content, most of the user group felt that the strength was in the professionally uploaded content.

One of the museum recorded its voice-overs *after* initial rough cuts, which is not recommended. Other museums on a project such as this should provide a previously recorded voice-over and music to edit the film to rather than the reverse.

There was a significant amount of marketing activity throughout the duration of the project. One CHIN staff person was very active in animating accounts, actively searching for content that might be related the Canada's Got Treasures!, forming partnerships with national institutions, such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and the National Film Board (NFB), and encouraging addition of the content by associated institutions as well as by individuals.

When aiming for online or social media participation, make it easy for the user. Creative high quality content that is catchy will attract interest of viewers.

A project such as this should have a post-launch budget to address issues that come up during its lifecycle.

Next Steps

Concordia University expressed interest in creating additional treasures in the academic year 2010-11. Originally, the intention of the project was to ‘close' it as of November 2010 when the final treasure was launched. Although this site is finished, content can continue to be added; new functionality, however, will not be added.

The format of this report is based on the Case Studies Template created by Group for Education in Museums (GEM).


Promoting Your Video or Photo project

Traditional Marketing

Media relations

  • Contact key media, journalists, bloggers for potential coverage.

Online Marketing

  • Publish a message on your Institution's corporate Facebook account
  • Publish a message on the "what's on your mind?" wall box of your corporate Facebook account
  • Publish a news item on your institution's corporate LinkedIn account
  • Publish a news link on the News section of your corporate Linked In account
  • Publish tweets on your Institution's Twitter account
  • Create a hashtag for your product and use it when you send out Tweets about it. Ask your followers to also retweet it to their network.
  • Colonize video channels, blogs, wikis, groups… (key phrases)
  • Find blogs, wiki pages, groups…use relevant keywords and synonyms as search terms on Google blogs, technorati,, and/or Respond with added value and a link to the respective video on your site.
  • Send an announcement to all employees
  • Send an announcement to all employees AND ask them to spread the good news on their personal social media spaces. Provide suggested announcement and small promotional messages.
  • Add a promotional email signature to your corporate email template
  • Add a promotional default footer message to your institution's business email template
  • Solicit links from target community websites
  • Identify webpages based on keywords and approach organizations to add a link to your project's target page
  • Write a news item in your Institution's newsletter
  • Write an article about your project in your Institution's newsletter
  • Send an email message to your stakeholders and your professional network
  • Send a press release email message to your stakeholders and professional network.