Agree a social media blueprint for your museum

This guide, by Dr Sophie Frost, forms part of the University of Leicester’s One by One project aimed at building digital literacy and confidence in museums. Sophie worked with Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton and Hove to explore ways to develop digital courage within the service. This social media blueprint was one of the project outcomes.

This approach is suitable for any museum or service wishing to take a strategic approach to using social media and to involve staff and volunteers in delivering it. It offers a step-by-step guide to creating a social media blueprint suited to your particular situation, whether you bring in an external consultant, work with someone in-house or swap skills with another museum to do so.

Jump to: Why is social media important for museums? | What is a social media blueprint? | What problem does it solve? | Who is it for? | What is required? | How long will it take? | How do I measure success?

Why is social media important for museums?

Social media has come to play a significant role in raising the profile of the collections and activities of most museums. However, many museums still struggle to find a shared voice for their social media platforms that encapsulates their founding ideals and ongoing relevance. Social media is defined here in its broadest sense – from the evergreen to the ephemeral; from long-form content such as blogs, podcasts and online website articles to more transient and short-lived posts made via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or Instagram. Both types of content invite social interaction – through comments, sharing, feedback and the development of networks.

Whatever the size of your museum, taking the time to develop a nuanced, context-based and consensus-led approach to social media engagement can ensure a coherent representation of your mission, vision and civic role to the widest possible audience.

What is a social media blueprint?

A blueprint is a guide for making something: it is a design or pattern that can be followed. A social media blueprint is a series of affirmations and interventions that form a ‘blueprint’ for online engagement at your museum.

The affirmations are a set of statements or intentions that determine the character and mood of your social media outputs, for example ‘[museum] tone of voice is… risk-taking, accepting, responsive, collaborative, trusting, boundary-breaking, brave…’. The interventions are a series of actions that assist in making these affirmations possible. They offer potential solutions for enabling, for example, the specific tone of voice or curatorial agenda that has been expressed in the affirmations.

The creation of a social media blueprint for your museum can be a way of inspiring deep-rooted change to take place. The process is underpinned by a spirit of collaboration and developed through the consensus of participating staff and volunteers. This method requires time and patience, as well as a willingness to listen to all voices. It is also important to note that the blueprint is a guide, which in no way destabilises the real-world experiences of visiting museums, but rather supports, enhances and re-invents them for a 21st-century audience.

What problem does it solve?

A successful blueprint can:

  • Provide a coherent and holistic strategy for social media that all staff are happy with.
  • Include short-term and easily implemented action points as well as long-term planning for the future of your online engagement.
  • Extend and build openness and enthusiasm for social media and how it relates to both individual and organisational storytelling.
  • Further galvanise staff and/or volunteers around your organisation’s mission and vision and help them to feel more closely affiliated with its values.
  • Increase awareness of different digital capabilities within the existing workforce.
  • Build digital courage and individual creative agency regardless of job role.

Who is it for?

The activity of building a social media blueprint requires the involvement of a cross-section of your workforce, including staff from various departments, salary bands and contract hours as well as volunteers. In a smaller museum, it may involve everyone.

For large organisations made of 20+ employees, at least 25 per cent of museum people should be included in the creation of a social media blueprint. For smaller organisations, all staff and volunteers should ideally be involved in this activity. Whatever your size, the social media blueprint must first be supported by your board of trustees, or governing body, in order to ensure organisational commitment to the affirmations and interventions reached.

Creating a social media blueprint is an exercise in digital literacy building; a form of reflective practice that reframes the way that museum people consider the role of digital within their specific museum context. The process of determining a suitable set of interventions requires a collective appreciation of the existing digital competencies of staff and volunteers, as well as a consideration of what kinds of capabilities are still required. Your social media blueprint, therefore, is an articulation of what kind of digital literacy is most suited to your specific museum setting.

What is required?

A nominated ‘change agent’, either an external consultant or an internal employee, is needed to lead the creation of the blueprint. Everett R. Rogers, author of Diffusion of Innovation, would define this person as an ‘innovation champion,’ someone who acts as a broker and arranger of the informal coalition of museum people working on the blueprint. According to Rogers, the key qualities of this person are to:

  • Occupy a key linking position in their organisation.
  • Possess analytical and intuitive skills in understanding various individuals’ aspirations.
  • Demonstrate well-honed interpersonal and negotiating skills in working with other people.

Whilst a consultant could be effective in this role, with enough leadership support there is nothing to stop an internal staff member being appointed to this position. Alternatively, two museums could swap a staff member and undertake the social media blueprint process concurrently, helping each other along with the process. Whoever is appointed, the change agent needs to have enough time and autonomy to implement the project successfully. They should be impartial, friendly and approachable; able to easily garner the support and confidence of their co-workers.

How long will it take?

The process of creating a social media blueprint consists of six phases. You can see an example from the International Council of Museum (2019). Allow at least one month for each phase:

Phase one: Context-gather

  • The change agent undertakes rudimentary research to figure out the biggest issues facing the museum in terms of social media and online communication. This information will be fed back to staff and volunteers attending social media workshops in Phase Three.
  • In order to gather a greater understanding of these issues, the change agent may have informal discussions with a range of staff members and volunteers, as well as trustees and other interested parties. They may also gather information on current social media activity as well as social media activity undertaken by other cultural organisations of a similar size and scope.

Phase two: Coordinate

  • The change agent devises and schedules a 90-minute social media workshop based on their findings during phase one. Depending on the size of the organisation, several workshops may need to be scheduled. A maximum of 10 to 12 persons per workshop is recommended.
  • Staff members are invited to attend a workshop, understanding it as an opportunity for their voice to be heard and that the workshops will contribute to the writing of a consensus-led policy for social media at their museum.
  • Some participants may need persuading if they do not consider themselves to be already digitally literate. The change agent needs to reiterate that the social media workshops are for everybody, regardless of skill level. It is vital that all staff feed into the final blueprint.

Phase three: Consensus-build

  • It is important that everyone who attends the social media workshop feels able to speak freely. At the beginning of the session, the change agent may want to emphasise that the workshop is a safe place for people to express their opinions. Talking about social media often triggers the discussion of wider issues associated with the organisational structure, mission and values of a museum. The opportunity to have these conversations openly is integral to the creation of an effective blueprint.
  • The social media workshops may take place based upon the following structure:
    • Each person is asked at the start to verbally assess how digitally confident they consider themselves to be. This normally establishes a mixed level of confidence and skillsets in the room.
    • Part One: group brainstorm. Participants are asked to consider: what do you expect to achieve from social media? Where does its value lie for you – as an individual and as part of the organisation?
    • Part Two: scenarios. The workshop group are presented with three recent social media situations that have occurred in the museum. These scenarios are generally something that has not gone as well as was hoped, for example, negative audience reactions over Twitter to a public event. Participants are asked: What felt right and wrong in each of these examples? What could have worked better in terms of our approach to social media?
    • Part Three: decision making. Participants are asked: what are the key action points that we need? This is in an immediate sense (bearing in mind the need for being pragmatic and risk-averse) as well as in a visionary sense, towards a forward-thinking blueprint for social media.
    • The change agent may wish to present some successful interventions that other museums have made, in order to develop ideas for their own museum.

Phase four: Collate and create

Based upon the outcomes of the social media workshops, the change agent creates a first draft of the social media blueprint:

  1. Purpose of this document – outline the specific needs of your museum and how this blueprint responds to them.
  2. Context – overview of your museum’s mission and purpose, as well as the nature of the workshops and their participants.
  3. What is the perceived value of social media at your museum?
  4. Social media guidelines – a series of easily implemented action points, which includes advice on issues felt most pertinently on a day to day basis within your museum context. These may include:  how to deal with difficult and unpredictable issues, image embargoes and copyright or privacy and confidentiality.
  5. A social media blueprint
    • Affirmations – a series of statements that define the desire direction of travel of your museum in terms of its social media strategy
    • Interventions – at least six to eight interventions that will assist in realising the affirmations, for example, regular skill-sharing opportunities or ‘Takeover’ Days on social media channels.
  6. Conclusion – a suggested action plan for the implementation of interventions

Phase five: Call for comment

To ensure that the social media blueprint is truly consensus-led, participating staff need to be invited to feed back on the first draft at this stage. It might be, especially for a larger organisation, that feedback for the blueprint is only invited from senior leadership and/or digital teams. The change agent needs to be open to all reflection and comments, for example in terms of language or feasibility, and to adjust the document based on this feedback.

Phase six: Circulate

Once the blueprint has been approved, it can be circulated in several different ways. While some organisations may prefer to release the whole document immediately to their staff and volunteers, others might find it useful to roll it out in two phases, beginning with the circulation of the social media guidelines which detail things that might change in the immediate-term. Ideally, this is a one-page document that everyone can have on their wall or by their desk. The second phase would be to publish the affirmations and interventions alongside an action plan for how these will be implemented and measured in your museum.

By the end of this process, all staff and volunteers should have a sense that the blueprint has captured the spirit and shared voice of their museum whilst providing a tangible and effective social media strategy going forward.

How do I measure success?

Social media is changing at a rapid pace. As a result, the blueprint can be considered as a ‘live’ rather than an immutable and unchanging document. The change agent who creates the social media blueprint must establish a plan for when the document will next be reviewed and suggest when another blueprint process might take place, potentially in three to five years.

The success of the blueprint will sometimes be evident quickly, sometimes slowly. It is likely that the process of its undertaking will inspire both individual and collective reflection on the museum and the role that museum people can have in building and representing its online profile.

At Royal Pavilion and Museums, the social media workshops had the effect of motivating more staff to generate new evergreen content of their own. The implementation of the interventions will also be a marker of success. It may be that some interventions are less rewarding than others, while some may bring with them new – and previously unthought-of  – possibilities for audience engagement. This is precisely the kind of experimentation and reinvention that the blueprint process enables and promotes.

For a more detailed example of how one museum created its own Social Media Blueprint, see: Working together to grow digital courage.

Further reading

How can I adapt this idea for my museum?

This ‘how to’ guide is suitable for all kinds of museum whatever the size, governance or collecting area. It is also suitable whatever stage of digital literacy you and your staff and volunteers are at. Social media in museums often develops organically, in reaction to new channels and opportunities. If you don’t already take a strategic approach to it, or don’t feel as though you are using it effectively to engage with your audiences, developing a social media blueprint is a good way to take control of the situation:

If you’re a complete beginner this process will help you to work out what you want from social media and what ‘voice’ you want it to use as you begin the journey.

If you use social media already but feel it could be more effective, this process may offer opportunities for more staff members to contribute to the blueprint – and to your social media itself – creating a better interaction with audiences.

If your museum is already full of confident social media users, this process may help identify new directions to explore. Agreeing a series of affirmations together will ensure that all the various strands are complementary and it may identify new, less confident, users who have stories to contribute.  Working out new interventions could help your social media communication to become even more effective.