As technology advances, museums are exploring new ways of utilizing it to create digital exhibits and other experiences that share their content. Digital storytelling can use anything from websites to podcasts and social media to reach people across the globe. It also provides new ways of interacting with your collections or adding new layers to your in-house exhibits.
Because digital content can be accessible to anyone with a phone, it is important to determine a strategy for what your museum wants to do with its digital content. Is it to share your museum’s exhibits with those who can’t come to the museum? Or is it to give additional perspectives on your exhibits? As in other aspects of museum work, having a clear strategy means you can create more effective content.
The sections below explore approaches to digital storytelling through digital exhibits and social media.
Crowd-sourced content lets museums create a digital exhibit that is community centered. It also allows museums to connect and engage with groups of people and craft an exhibit that represents their community’s experiences.
One way of collecting this content is to ask people to respond to a prompt with a story of their own, and your museum can use these responses to create a digital exhibit. As American Alliance of Museums notes, this can center the stories of previously underrepresented communities and share their voices with those who can enact change, such as politicians or activists. Crowd-sourced digital exhibits provide a way to enact change and involve your community.
A digital exhibit using crowd-sourced content can involve any form of digital media the community submits: images, artwork, recordings, and more. The Autry Museum of the American West collected materials on the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests during the COVID-19 pandemic via a digital submission form; the form invited participants to submit photos, protest signs, ephemera and more to document the historic event.
You can start a digital exhibit with these materials by simply creating a webpage through which visitors can submit materials, or even a blog to accompany your virtual and in-person exhibits. Whatever form these take, you should consider following the same practices as when you create in-person exhibits to focus your digital exhibit. You can visit our page on exhibits for further information.
The Tenement Museum and the Europeana Blog are examples of museum’s using digital storytelling successfully. The Tenement Museum’s Your Story, Our Story is an example of digital storytelling that uses community involvement in shaping their exhibit; community members can submit pictures of objects and stories. The Europeana Blog outlines how they plan to use their blog as a digital storytelling component for their museum partners and serve as an example for how your museum may utilize blogs in a similar way.
Digitizing your current collection(s) is another way your museum can create a digital exhibit. For information on best practices for digitizing your collection(s), you can visit our page on digital collections. PBS Newshour also has a list of the many digital collections and exhibits out there. A digital collection doesn’t have to be anything complex: it can be about giving visitors access to your collections, or it could be creating a database for visitors to search. You can also use open source software for creating digital databases and exhibits. (contextualize)
Podcasts are a way for your museums to create content and engage with audiences, particularly those that may not be able to afford or geographically close to the institution. With how popular podcasts are, a museum podcast on any of the major podcast-hosting platforms, such as Apple Podcasts or Spotify, can reach a vast number of listeners and tell them about your museum.
Podcasts offer one way for museums to do what they do best: tell stories. Manuel Charr explains how museum staff can use their niche collections to tell stories they want or may not get to otherwise. You may choose to cover one object every episode, or you may cover a range of objects or stories organized by a specific theme. However, it may be best to determine your who listens to your podcast to figure out how you want to structure it. Forbes breaks down podcast demographics and listener habits.
Fortunately, starting a podcast can be easy. You could even start with just your phone. Hannah Hethmon lists ways you can start your museum’s podcast, and B&H PhotoVideo details what technology and software you may need:
Social media helps spread your content better than many other digital platforms. Millions of people use social media and spend a large amount of their day on it. If you’re looking to set up your museum’s social media and learn how to effectively create posts or videos and engage your audience, then you should check out our social media page .
MuseumNext shows how social media lets museums connect with their audience. This can mean connecting with people that may not otherwise know of your museum, and your following may turn into people who visit your museum virtually or in person. Social media also offers a chance to speak with people and share your mission.
Here are some examples of museums using social media for digital storytelling related to exhibits and collections:
- The National Gallery of Art used Twitter to create tours of their museum from home to remarkable success. Small museums might consider creating video tours on Twitter or Facebook or posting a thread of images to create a tour-like experience.
- Black Country Living Museum (UK), the Rijksmuseum (Netherlands), and the Historical Society of Mendocino County (US) are some examples of museums using TikTok to talk about their collections or connect with an audience.
- Indianapolis Museum of Art’s or the Chicago History Museum’s Pinterest boards offer examples of how your museum may use the platform.
- The Tank Museum’s YouTube channel shares their collections and staff knowledge. They also use interesting prompts for stories, such ranking pieces of their collection, which you may consider.
- The Louisiana Museum of Art uses Instagram to showcase and tell the story behind their art collection. Museum Revolution provides tips on using Instagram from the top museums using the platform.