Museums in times of social and technological change – my thoughts

I have just finished reading the post Museums in times of social and technological change written by Jasper Visser. It is an edited transcript of his opening keynote lecture at the Canadian Museum Association Conference in Toronto, April 2014.

It is 3 years later and I find it to still be relevant. Most articles I read about the subject focus on the opportunities new technology and social media brings to museums. How an online presence can reach out to a wider- even global audience, that is a fact. This article takes up many good points, two that stood out to me were engagement and co-creation. However, I personally get snowed in on my love for social media and the new digital culture it creates so…bare with me.

Engagement, digitally or otherwise, is the pinnacle step in the development of a relation between people and institutions. If museums don’t activate their audience once every while, they will lose them to competitors who provide the opportunity to participate/../
– Jasper Visser

When traveling most of the museums I visit are the ones I could read about online. On some rare occasions I stumble upon an “unknown” museum irl and that always feels like I found a treasure. I don’t know what to expect so the experience feels like an adventure. In fact those are the visits I charice the most. But looking up those places later, when you know what to look up, you will probably always find tons of travel guides etc that mention them.

A challenge for museums today is how to show off what they have to offer and at the same time surprise the visitor. You have to make a visitor online realise that it is worth the trip because it is a completely different experience to actually be there in person but without overselling it. Social media is really important  – posts from other visitors can help a lot, that is one of the reasons I feel that free wifi should be a must in all museums. Museums where photos are not allowed would probably benefit on having “photo-stations”-  marked places where a photo is ok to take.

Imagine having 500 visitors a day and half of them posting about their visit on social media, that will guaranteed reach a much larger number than 250 people – every person have, most likely , a number of followers and if they use a hashtag they will reach even more people, so imagine of they use 5 hashtags, maybe they mark the place on a map so when tourists in the area look up what’s going on nearby they will find it…you get the picture (no pun intended).

Visser takes up the ABBA museum in Stockholm as an example of a museum that engages its audience:

The ABBA museum in Stockholm is my favourite recent example of engagement done well in gallery. I’m not an ABBA fan, or wasn’t when I went to visit the museum ‘for professional reasons’. A carefully curated exhibition full of appropriate opportunities to engage (dance, do quizes, sing, explore) later I can say I’ve become an ABBA fan. Not because of the interactives, but because of the combination of artefacts, audience engagement and action. And the music, of course. The ABBA museum claims you will walk in and dance out, and they’re right

I recently had a similar experience at the EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam. I still can’t stop talking about it, when asked what I enjoyed the most in Amsterdam I start gushing about EYE. I read a little about it before, I had friends that recommended it but I still didn’t really know what to expect. Just like Visser describes the ABBA museum there were a lot of activities to engage in, in their permanent exhibition such as quizzes, watching movies, recording your own movie in front of a greenscreen and making your own flipbook. It was a perfect and playful contrast to the current exhibition of Béla Tarr – Till the End of the World (21 jan- 7 may 2017), a  dark but beautiful exhibition. Entering the Tarrs exhibition we got a little information from the staff but were told “…that’s all I am going to tell you because this is something you have to experience by yourself”. And what an experience it was! It was the perfect combo of promotion, information and surprise!

Vi har en helt magisk upplevelse på EYE Filmmuseum 🙏🏼

A post shared by Amanda (@okashiidays) on Mar 2, 2017 at 7:40am PST


My point is that social media makes museums co-create its treasures online together with their visitors, and engaged visitors are most likely the ones who wants to share.

A social institution is an institution that structurally engages its stakeholder to co-create value. I believe museums (and others) will increasingly become social institutions as the years progress. Or they will become extinct. – Jasper Visser


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