Russell Dornan tells us about how he used his museum’s Instagram during a collaborative, fun day out visiting a group London institutions.
How many museums have you managed to visit in one day? If it’s more than six, I doff my cap to you. When I and five other museum social media managers visited six museums in the same day earlier this year, I was pretty puggled. It took planning, coordination, determination and stamina, and I’m going to tell you all about it.
I’ve recently relocated back home to Scotland (working for V&A Dundee). I’ve come from London, where I latterly spent three and half years as Web Editor at Wellcome Collection; part of my job was managing their social media and I had an awful lot of fun. Wellcome Collection is an art/science/medical museum that explores what it means to be human, and does so with bravery, boldness and elegance. I was able to develop a provocative, challenging and slightly irreverent tone across social, and enjoyed every minute, even if members of the press office didn’t so much. Here’s my finest work.
It was whilst working at Wellcome that I came up with the idea for #MuseumInstaSwap in 2015. You can read more about it elsewhere, but here’s the idea in a nutshell:
A group of ten London museums paired up, with someone from each pair visiting the other and sharing content from that museum on their own museum’s Instagram. It was a way for us to show our audiences another museum’s material and vice versa. We wanted our combined audiences to discover new museums, or see their favourites through a different lens.
It was a success. Interrogating a museum object from a totally different angle or placing it in a different context brought an exciting new perspective to it and made the public, as well as us, think about our museums in a fresh way. But it involved visiting just one museum and immersing ourselves in it for a couple of hours, and then posting photos from it on particular day along with the other nine museums involved. For its follow up, I thought we should do something more ambitious.
The concept of MuseumInstaTour was for us social media managers to gather as a group at the start of the day (irl; ikr), and then traipse around each of our institutions, Instagraming as we went. And that’s just what we did in June 2017.
This was just before I was to move back to Scotland. I wanted MuseumInstaTour to be a kind of London swan song for me, so I got in touch with colleagues in museums around London to see who would be up for this at short notice. I’m glad to say that five were able (and keen) to get involved.
Arranging it last-minute worked out well. When a few of us originally talked about this last year, we had a list of 13 organisations taking part; now that I’ve done six in one day, the thought of doing more than twice that is h i l a r i o u s. The last-minute nature of the planning meant only a few could even take part, which turned out to be a blessing.
The organisations that took part were: Wellcome Collection (me), London Transport Museum (Kirsten Riley), Tate (Erica Hopkins), Science Museum (Alicia Eames), Royal Academy (Alice Primrose) and the Royal Museums Greenwich (Sam Potts).
We started the day by meeting at the Science Museum. After getting more acquainted, we discussed how we wanted the day to work: we would only give ourselves 20-30 minutes in each museum to find, photograph and post the shot. We would use Instagram Stories as we went to give a bit more insight behind the scenes; a sense of the journey and transport we used. To give us a focus, we decided that each person from their museum should set a theme for the others to capture when going around. Alicia was up first and gave us ‘flight’. So off we went into the Science Museum looking for anything that fit.
To quote Daisy Steiner from ‘Spaced’: “this…is the good shit”. This is what made MuseumInstaSwap so interesting, and what I was hoping to repeat with the tour. I was running about the Science Museum, searching for something that matched the theme. But it also had to photograph well. Importantly, it had to be of interest to Wellcome Collection’s followers too. Achieving all of this in half an hour was a challenge, but one that really makes you think about where you are and what you’re seeing. It’s like a heightened version of what many social media managers do on a daily basis: looking for interesting stories, objects or opportunities, and then sharing them in a way that will be compelling to our followers. The pressure added to the excitement, but it also brought those skills into focus.
With my photo of ‘flight’ captured, edited and posted, I re-joined the group (who had done the same) and then we were off to the next stop on the tour: The Royal Academy.
For the rest of the day, the six of us rushed between each museum using a range of transport methods London offers: buses, boats, tubes and our own two feet (we supplied those ourselves). We used Instagram Stories to capture some of that excitement and to illustrate how easy it can be to get around several museums in one day. Most of us posted a “hero” image from each organisation onto our Instagram accounts, and supplemented that with Stories to show behind the scenes; some chose to use only Stories throughout the day. They tended to be a bit more fun and informal compared to permanent posts.
There has been some discussion about the ephemeral nature of Instagram Stories, but for some organisations it offers a way to get involved in something without committing to posting something permanent. For Wellcome Collection it made sense to use Stories to add colour and dynamism to our MuseumInstaTour, but they were always anchored by the permanent image we posted from each institution. For us, there had to be a record of the project. Also, being able to search a hashtag later and still see the content is really useful; actually, the commitment to certain activities is something I think is quite important too.
Having said that, I can still understand why some would prefer to use Stories only for certain projects, and at least this format allows those organisations to take part in whichever way they can (an organisation like Tate has many competing demands across its channels). Also, Stories are fun!
By the end of day, we’d finally made it to our sixth and final destination, Royal Museums Greenwich (we took the boat from Tate Modern). Our feet were sore, we were tired and almost ready to stop, but the end was in sight. After posting photos throughout the day on themes ranging from Pattern (Royal Academy) to Life & Death (Wellcome Collection), Gender (Tate Modern) to Design (London Transport Museum), we had all seen something new. Whether it was something in another museum we hadn’t noticed before or something about our own that someone else had highlighted, it was a day for noticing the details (something we often lose sight of).
There aren’t enough opportunities for museums and other cultural organisations to engage with each other. It’s a lot of fun to see two of your favourite museums having a conversation online (whether they’re asking each other silly questions for #AskACurator or sharing their creepiest babies), and projects like MuseumInstaTour are one more way to bring us together. Spending the day visiting a bunch of cool places, tagging our museum friends along the way, and sharing each other’s spaces and collections, is an idea I hope I can bring to Scotland in some way. Is Dundee ready?
In fact, having spoken to friends in the US, Canada and others (many of whom have pleasingly replicated the original MuseumInstSwap idea), we’re all keen to design a format that will work across the world and bring a global range of museums together, allowing our cumulative followers to discover something a bit different. Something unexpected.
Watch this space!