Manchester Museum

Manchester Museum in Quarantine: Tips for opening up museums online

Manchester Museum explores themes including content, identity and accessibility as it helps ensure you are offering the best possible experience to audiences during coronavirus lockdown.

Connection and inspiration is needed during challenging times like this and museums can play an important role in making that happen. Manchester Museum is a social space loved by many and very much missed by its visitors. As a consequence of Covid-19, the need for awe and wonder in difficult times is something we’ve been thinking about. Like many museums across the world, it was a priority for us to open up the museum online; whether that be for enjoyment, learning or keeping busy while indoors.

As cultural institutions are reliant on their social media channels and websites to open up their spaces online, the role of people working in digital communications is rapidly changing. A museum’s website and social media channels are now the ‘go to’ places for a valuable cultural experience and people working in communications are leading on helping facilitate that change. It is now more important than ever for people working in digital communications to work collaboratively across teams to ensure we maintain an institutional and cultural presence whilst there are no buildings to open.

Here are some of the ways we have successfully opened up Manchester Museum online:

Use existing content

Although the museum is closed we wanted to continue to offer access to exhibitions, education and volunteering opportunities, for all ages. The museum already has engaging and innovative online resources, we have made them more cohesive and accessible by coordinating them in a central space that is easy to find. We have curated ‘Manchester Museum in Quarantine’ an easy to navigate mobile site that would assist the needs of our visitors right now, uploading some of our best existing online content. The purpose of the site is to help entertain, educate and spark joy and wonder until the museum reopens.

Manchester Museum aims to be the most inclusive, imaginative and caring museum you might encounter and it is important that we continue to work towards this vision. The site has been organised to reflect this:

  • You can explore the museum’s current exhibitions and displays with multilingual interpretation available too.
  • We want to raise awareness of overlooked and rarely told histories and the site has a section that helps shed light on the things they didn’t teach us in schools – a great resource for everyone.
  • Parents and teachers are catered for with home-schooling and fun activities for the family.
  • The site includes creative and fun activities and workshop ideas for carers that can be completed at home.
  • We have a selection of our best resources for adults and researchers, including online volunteering opportunities and learning courses.

We wanted to create something flexible that we could regularly update with new content and resources. To do this in a short time we worked collaboratively across the museum to collate content and build the site ensuring it is relevant and useful for our visitors. Collaboration also meant we incurred no costs as we were not creating anything new, but repurposing what we already had.

The social media campaign to promote the mobile site #MMinQuarantine received an amazing response with a reach of over 200.000 impressions in the first 24 hours and great feedback from the public, with many comments from schools and parents enjoying ‘virtual trips’ of the museum and people enjoying looking around our exhibitions and displays in their own homes.

Top tip: You don’t need to create something new. You will have already existing resources that would be useful to your visitors. A quick win is to ensure these are easily available and visible online so visitors can engage in ways they find beneficial to them.

Be uniquely you

Manchester Museum is an encyclopedic museum with over 4.5 million objects that tell the story of the world. Our mission is to build an understanding between cultures and a sustainable world. While closed we have launched a new social media campaign ‘Manchester Museum’s Encyclopeadia of Wondrous Objects, your daily dose of awe and wonder.’ The campaign uses objects from our collection to tell stories that relate to our mission.

So far, the campaign has been hugely successful attracting new audiences online. It has offered the opportunity to use storytelling not only to highlight the objects in our collection, but the wider project based work we do in partnership with amazing organisations in the voluntary, community and faith sector too. This has ensured that Manchester Museum is still uniquely itself and using digital communications to maintain our presence and connection. This has meant we can cut through the noise online and continue to be relevant and useful to our existing audiences, whilst attracting new visitors at the same time.

We are working towards being a multilingual museum. At Manchester Museum we were actively including multilingual interpretation in the physical space. We have continued to explore multilingual interpretation online and this is evident in our Beauty and the Beasts exhibition online.

Top tip: Utilise the uniqueness of your institution and think creatively about how this can be easily translated across multiple social platforms. Bite size content that allows people to explore at multiple levels works particularly well. This will ensure you are able to compete confidently deliver new content on a daily basis that is uniquely you and can cut through the noise.

Collaboration is key

As many communication teams in cultural institution have limited resources, collaboration across departments is key to help delivering services online. Think about how you might be able to work with colleagues who have existing digital skills to support curating and distributing content online.

To curate and distribute content online successfully it is essential to work in collaboration not only internally but also with external with partners and stakeholders. This will allow people to continue to feel connected with the museum and able to still collaborate and co-curate with us, albeit online. Through distributing content through key networks, you are also able to amplify the work you do to new audiences who might not have encountered the museum before but would be interested in the work you do. Partnership working is essential for reaching out to new audiences online and through collaborations, and cross marketing cultural institutions can benefit hugely and attract new audiences online.

Working with partners has enabled us to amplify causes and issues we care about. One of our most recent inclusions in our Encyclopedia of Wondrous Objects campaign told the story of our Refugee Life Jacket, helping us to raise awareness of the difficulties refugees and displaced people are facing as a consequence of COVID-19 and how we can all help by supporting fantastic charities like Refugee Action and others.

Top tip: Create a list of partners and stakeholders your institution has worked with and ensure you continue to reach out and engage with them on social media. Share your online resources with them too as a beneficial way of engaging with your institution online.

Things to remember

Engage not broadcast – just like you would chat to your visitors in real life, make sure you are talking to them online. Actively reply and respond to any comments on social media and create opportunities for dialogue encouraging conversation through posing questions.

Accessibility is a must – just like in the physical space accessibility is a priority, the same should apply online. Where possible use audio descriptive captions, multilingual interpretation and BSL and subtitling where audio content is present. Manchester Museum is not yet fully accessible online, but we are actively working towards making this happen as a priority and to be truly inclusive.