So how do you get a couple thousand twenty-somethings lining up to get into a museum?
Museums anticipate that they will at some point say goodbye to visitors during their teenage years, and start welcoming them back well into adulthood. The allure of capturing the imagination of this elusive young adult demographic is that much stronger in this age of social media and mobile, where the connections and information sharing between millenials are a massive reservoir of energy.
The Solution: DJs, Drinks & Dinosaurs?
Since January 2013, the Canadian Museum of Nature (CMN) has been running the after-hours program Nature Nocturne (#NatureNocturne), which opens the Museum in the evenings and offers visitors a night of “DJs, dancefloors, bars, art installations and food”. All of the galleries and programming are still available, but it proposes a much different experience for a more mature audience by letting them “act their age”:
“During the week when there are a lot of people in the building, there are a lot of families with young kids, and there are a lot of social pressures of how to behave when there are children around. So what we wanted to do is see what would happen if we took those away, and made the Museum more inviting to adults.” – Cynthia Iburg, Project Lead for Adult Programming, Canadian Museum of Nature
“[The] event for us is about building audience. We focus on the 19-35 age group, but really it can be for anyone. But this is a group that we didn’t have any programming for, and we really wanted to bring them into the Museum and show them that we could offer them something.” ~ Ryan Dodge, Social Media Coordinator, Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)
Creating a “social media-friendly” environment
Bringing social media and mobile elements into both the promotion and the physical experience of Nature Nocturne at the CMN was key, given that these are the ways in which the 18-35 crowd are communicating. First, the message had to be tailored to the medium. The landing page for the event on the nature.ca website was one of the first of the site to be rendered mobile-friendly. The page needed to be shareable via social media. A Twitter widget was added, to capture and share the surrounding hype. Tickets were made available through online purchase.
Once in the building, social media and mobile elements were woven into both the general feel and the activities of the event. A live photo wall, displaying photos in real-time from Twitter and Instagram carrying the #NatureNocturne hashtag, greeted visitors stepping into the foyer. From the get-go, the visitors and the participation become the focus. Of note for the hosts, the live photo wall was actually one of the greater technical challenges. Competition for Wi-Fi bandwidth to run it was cited as a problem, especially later in the evening after the majority of patrons had arrived (the ROM noted a similar challenge with their #FNLROM series, where competition for Wi-Fi was a strain on Internet-based activities like their live photo wall).
For the non-“Tweeps”, texting is fairly universal for mobile phone users. The Museum also released an SMS code, which allowed access to a VIP lounge. This “Exclusive Product Offering” helps make the visitor feel like a privileged 1-in-2000, but it also allowed the Museum to see how people were finding out about the program.
At every event since the inaugural in January 2013, the Museum continued to up its new media game. The addition of digital signage, QR code art installations exploring the human genome, mobile scavenger hunts – not to mention the slew of ever-changing physical offerings and activities like themed drinks and food, new musical acts, artists, and crafts – appeals to the potential return visitor with fresh offerings.
How did they measure up?
Probably the greatest advantage of these types of “wired” social media events is the ability for the Museum to be reactive in real time with party-goers. At each step of the evening, staff worked the Twitter feeds to help coordinate the flow, pointing people in the direction of the activities, or even to a less busy bar to order a drink.
As important, of course, is the post-event qualitative analysis of the chatter. This is an invaluable source of feedback, which allows planners to see what worked, what didn’t, and how to best serve guests at future events.
“… we’ll be pulling together the databases that we have from the Twitter wall, from the photographs, from all of our other social media pools, to be able to see visually and verbally – and through all these sources – what people were talking about, what they were doing, what they liked, what they saw, and really mining that for more information about what is going to work in our future programs and where we want to go.” – Cynthia Iburg
For museums or other cultural attraction, usually the final say in the measure of an event’s success is found in the float at the box office. At the CMN, poring over the mountain of metrics to find links between online activity and ticket sales is the job of Anne Botman, Head of Web and Digital Initiatives. The correlations are not hard to find: for the March 2012 Nature Nocturne, there were over 4,000 unique visits to the event’s landing page, with about 30% of that traffic on the actual day of the event.
The Museum’s mobile- and social media-friendly Web strategy for word-of-mouth advertising had visible successes. The first event saw 14% of traffic to the landing page originating from mobile devices, and only one month later it had risen to 26%. With respect to social media, about 17% of the traffic to the landing page came directly from social media sources during the March event (in contrast to Nature.ca as a whole, which averages about 4% social media referral traffic). This number climbed over the first 3 events, and the social media space was an important area to monitor with respect to driving traffic to the website, and which should ostensibly translate to ticket sales.
“About half of the people are coming from search engines, about 20% of it is coming from referral sites – other sites that have mentioned the links to Nature Nocturne – and about 27% of the referrer sites are coming from direct referrals. What that means is that it’s either people sending email links to each other, or it’s something called ‘Dark Social’, where we can’t measure where people are coming from. We’ve seen that direct referral traffic has increased by 7% over our 3 events, and that suggests that there’s a real increase in word of mouth traffic for this particular event for the Museum.” – Anne Botman, Head of Digital and Web Initiatives, Canadian Museum of Nature
While social media is the ever-growing area to watch in event promotion, we see that Google still reigns for getting event information on the Web. Roughly half of visits to the Nature Nocturne page were still originating from search engines. For museums promoting events, this is particularly noteworthy. Given that most website traffic related to tourism is still directly from search engines, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics for improving search rankings of your pages remains incredibly important. Note that any social media strategy should be well-linked to SEO, in this era where “search is social” (i.e. common social media platforms are indexed by Google).
After a short summer hiatus, the CMN launched back into #NatureNocturne in full force, with a special Star Wars-themed August event in promotional partnership with the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. #FNLROM in Toronto is also gearing up to kick off its fall 2013 series.
We look forward to updated, detailed and first-hand info about the successes and challenges of social media in these events. In November 2013, the Canadian Museum of Nature and the ROM will be chairing a panel on museum events – tentatively titled “Onsite Social Media activation, in real time” – at the upcoming Museum Computer Network conference (#MCN2013) in Montreal (for more information, see a recent CHIN post about the conference).