Creating a Digital Strategy for Your Institution

As museums move further into the age of digital, museum visitors have a stronger expectation to engage with institutions and their collections through digital portals. Museum Professionals are developing and strengthening their outreach through experimentation, and recording their findings in their digital strategies. Creating a strong digital strategy for museums helps ensure that collection access and visitor experience continue to align with the museum’s mission and its technology resources.

This digital strategy for museums blog series will provide insight into creating a strategic digital plan, how your plan may work with your institution’s other strategies, and how some Gallery Systems clients handled their own digital strategies.

What Does It All Mean?

In a 2014 article on digital strategy for museums at London’s Tate museum, Harvard Business School lecturer Jill Avery stated that being digital “means thinking about digital as a strategic priority and thinking about what your objectives are for it, and how you are going to measure success before you jump in.” Although institutions may have differing goals, the approach to achieving those goals can be similar. Digital planning allows your institution to make proactive decisions, rather than reactive responses.

Who Should Be Involved?

One of the most important things about implementing a strategy is involving the entire institution. Take it from the Andy Warhol Museum who published their digital strategy online, “If the museum is to thrive in the digital age, it is important that all staff become comfortable and proficient with the new tools and workflows emerging technologies afford.” Involving the entire staff underscores the importance of the digital initiative, solidifying institutional commitment to the goal. Simply hiring one staff member to complete these tasks or leaving it to a single department is not enough; there needs to be a broad, institution-wide embrace of the full strategy.

expect to invest a lot of time in your digital strategy efforts

How Long Will This Commitment Last?

Developing and implementing any new strategy won’t happen overnight, and outsourcing strategic tasks or letting the details of digital initiatives slip will result in unfulfilled project goals. A well-executed digital strategy can yield a great deal of informative data that can help the institution grow. Evaluating the resulting data is just as important as the strategy itself. Therefore, keep in mind that the project isn’t done after it’s been implemented, and will take ongoing commitment. However, that commitment is well worth it and will leave you with a wealth of information to help support your mission.

Where Do I Start? Mission, Themes, and Goals.

The first thing to consider when starting a digital strategy for museums is the mission and overall goals. Linking digital strategies back to the larger mission assures that the strategy won’t stray from the institution’s brand, governing requirements, or duty to their public.

Using the mission and institutional goals as a foundation, develop multiple areas that your team is interested in expanding on for your strategy. For example, when the Warhol created their strategy for 2015 – 2017, they focused on 4 themes:

• Experience and Engagement
• Narratives and Access
• Organizational Adaptation
• Financial Solvency

create themes for your digital strategy

After selecting your themes, assign each theme to an institutional goal. For example, if an institutional goal is to grow education and research, the theme of Narratives and Access can be aligned under it. A digital strategy or objective to achieve this goal could be creating a curriculum archive on the museum website, creating digital initiatives for academic research, or other projects. The intent is to identify a need and then find the best course of action to fulfill the need in an efficient and purposeful way. Remember to remain flexible, as there may be the need for reevaluation during the process of implementing a digital strategy for museums.

Your team should also consider your ultimate purpose for your digital strategy, which is your audience. Understanding how your audience will consume your content and digital components will drive a major part of what technology your institution should invest in. All of your strategies, across the institution, should serve your user. A good place to start may be with your audience’s digital habits, outside of your institution’s involvement. For example, if you notice a lot of social media interaction with your works while users are in the gallery, then working towards a stronger presence on social media may help to support them better. If you find that your audience is using your wifi to look up online articles about the objects in your collection, then creating a digital gallery and informative online space may provide them with content they’re already asking for. Ultimately, your digital initiatives should include an interest in creating audience connections.

Defining Projects

In creating your digital strategy, each action will need to be justified by the mission. Creating an outline will provide a clear roadmap from mission to action. When planning digital initiatives, consider the following:

• Resources
• Time frame
• Platforms
• Evaluation
• Content

As you move forward in your digital strategy, you’ll also want to consider your institution wide strategies that already exist, and how your digital strategy will fit with them. Seeing how other museums have handled their digital strategies will also be helpful in creating your digital strategy guide. We’ll cover both of those topics in part two and three of this digital strategy blog series.

2018-07-12T07:25:02+00:00

About the Author:

Cat Bradley became part of the Gallery Systems team in 2016, and has a background in art museums and diversity policy for nonprofits. Cat holds an MA from the University of Oregon in Arts Administration for marketing, a grad certificate in Nonprofit Management, and a BA from the University of Central Florida in Art History, specializing in public art and 20th Century Mexican Art. When she’s not writing case studies or analyzing market data, you can find her wandering the art museums and galleries of New York City, squeezing veggies at the Union Square Famers Market, or playing the ukulele at open mic night on the Lower East Side.