Last week I had the opportunity to attend Internet Week New York, an annual gathering of speakers and events related to technology, business, and culture. Unlike other conferences I've attended, which are more focused on the museum sector, Internet Week provides a glimpse into the world of for-profit digital media projects and advertising issues, which I found incredibly relevant to the work being done in the nonprofit world as well.
Over the course of four days, I attended nineteen wide-ranging panels, from the inspiring Welcome Address by Mayor Bill de Blasio (@billdeblasio)—who spoke passionately about New York City's ongoing commitment to growing the tech business community and to bridging the digital divide that still exists within the five boroughs—to more specific discussions like "How Data Can Save Lives" (answer: it can't). After taking a few days to review and digest all of this information, I've identified some broad themes that I found relevant to our work here at the Met.
Design for Flexibility
Not surprisingly, the talk at several of the panels was about mobile and responsive design, and about creating a consistent experience from device to device. Even those of us in the slightly slower museum world have begun to see the huge move away from desktop traffic toward mobile devices for our various pieces of content. I did pick up a few additional hints about what this means in terms of implementing change:
* Don't invest heavily in anything that doesn't play well on mobile.
* It makes sense to go responsive selectively and incrementally, based on your particular audience and the size and type of your website.
* While responsive design is important, it's even more important to optimize the speed of your site; heavy pages mean slower load times and higher bounce rates as your audience loses patience. This seems particularly relevant for museums, which like to publish image-heavy, beautiful features that may take longer than three seconds to load.
I'm happy to report that even in the for-profit world, quality content is still the most important thing on everyone's minds; it's what continues to attract and retain audiences. This is great news for museums, as we have a wealth of incredible content (our collections, events, scholarship, and research) at the heart of what we do. The big emphasis about content now, which came up in several of the panels, is distribution. If design is "mobile first," then content is "social first."
There is a transition away from people finding content via search to people finding content exclusively via social media. As Stacy Martinet (@stacymartinet) of Mashable.com said during the panel "The Future of Media and Digital": "What's changed from search to social is we're not writing for machines anymore, we're actually writing for real people on social networks" (who will share the content).
This means, among other things:
* Social must be central to any publication, not an afterthought.
* All content must be easy to share.
* Publishers should encourage authors to use personal accounts to distribute and share the content.
How do we apply this in a museum setting? First, every time we plan a blog post, we can start thinking about how to get it out to the right/interested audience via social media. (Not all content will have the same audience, which means it's more important for us to identify our various audiences.) Second, social media must be integrated throughout all of our digital publications, and easy and intuitive for our readers to use. Finally, we can (as we have just started doing) recruit curators, scientists, and other experts to help us promote their own posts/exhibitions/publications via social media to the audiences they already have.
Video: Vary Formats, Create Options
Almost every content discussion I heard assumed that video was the primary if not exclusive way that audiences are consuming online content these days. While museums have grown significantly in terms of publishing video content, I'm not sure we are meeting the demand, especially for more informal, first-person types of videos. Our audiences are accustomed to watching a lot of other content via personal, raw, and "authentic" videos, while many museums continue to focus video resources on highly polished, highly edited, Ken Burns–style documentary pieces. Perhaps we're ready to give video production and publication responsibilities to more people to offer our audiences a wider range of voices and content types.
Marketing and Content, Content and Marketing
"If marketing is done well, it feels editorial." This was one of the points made in a session called "Planning for Discovery: 4 Keys to Winning the Content Revolution" presented by Kodi Foster (@kodifoster) of Outbrain. While I could write an entire post just on marketing topics that were discussed throughout the week, my main takeaway was that we in the museum world already have what so many marketers struggle to find: great content. Almost every panel about marketing raised the point that content is marketing and marketing is content; what we need to do is put the right content in front of the right people at the right time, and this means understanding our core audiences and their habits. Which leads me to…
Know Your (Online) Audiences
Something that most museums are already good at is measuring and tracking visitors to our physical spaces. Thanks to ongoing visitor research, we know quite a bit about who comes to our galleries and when, but there's so much more that we can learn about how people are engaging with our content outside the museum's physical space. Peter Koechley (@peterkoechley), a cofounder of Upworthy, went into detail about the metrics they're using to find out where people are, locate a core audience on social media, and build a community around that. Upworthy is, in fact, using a new metric called Attention Minutes to measure engagement on their site, and they're releasing the source code so that other organizations can also use it. Whether or not that particular metric is a good solution for an organization, the idea that we need to invest more time and resources in learning about our online audience—at least as much as we do for our physical audience—is becoming an increasingly necessary priority for museums, which will need to remain relevant in a changing cultural sphere.
These points are just a snapshot of what I heard at Internet Week, and I would be happy to discuss any of them further. Feel free to post a question below, or to contact me directly at @eileenmwillis or firstname.lastname@example.org.