Here’s how four Swedish cultural institutions that receive over 1 million visitors, re-imagined storytelling to create positive social impact
How can cultural organisations encourage reflection, education and even behaviour change without budgets for blockbuster campaigns? Four museums participated in the 2015 edition of the Swedish Digital Identity Programme to answer this question. Between them, they receive over 1 million visitors a year.
Let’s take a long-term view, what does your organisation really want from digital?
It’s tempting to define success by the number of re-tweets, views, likes and shares your content receives. Whilst it is possible to get impressive results in the short-term, you’re competing for attention in a fragmented space. Before you know it, you’ll be on half-a-dozen channels and this will consume a serious chunk from your marketing budget and staff capacity.
Creating participation on social media requires greater commitment from the organisation and the outcome can remain nebulous for quite some time.
The end-goal of the Digital Identity programme was audience participation. This requires greater commitment from the organisation and the outcome can remain nebulous for some time. After all, what does participation really look like? Is this a sustainable operating model? These were some of the questions each organisation set out to answer for themselves.
Why do we need to re-invent the wheel, yet again?
Organisations tend to look for good practice within their own sectors even though no two are alike. As a result, they can define unattainable goals or they are put off by innovation entirely, as it feels like starting from scratch. But on social media, someone, somewhere has probably done what you want to achieve. This is why discovery is an important part of every project. Most of us don’t do enough of it.
The first phase of the Digital Identity programme was dedicated to discovery within the organisation and outside. Participants used this time to develop a project idea that had the support of a cross-departmental team. We also looked for inspiration from other sectors and explored how we could re-purpose their participatory and engagement models. This includes young LGBT Youtubers like Hartbeat/Queried who are unafraid to address topical issues; campaigns like Kodaikanal Won’t, which successfully newshacked the risqué Nicki Minaj track Anaconda to start a global campaign for environmental justice; and the Rice Bucket Challenge, a South Asian iteration of the successful Ice Bucket Challenge.
Once you have the idea in place, it’s important to give staff the time to develop a digital mindset, especially when working with a cross-departmental team. We had a period of unstructured activity during which every member from each participating organisation was encouraged to learn new operational skills as well as understand how they can benefit personally by contributing to the team’s social media activities. Participants also used this time to understand that working socially won’t dilute the quality of their own work.
The benefits of this approach are evident in the #rättvishistoria campaign that was run by Historiska museet. The objective of this campaign was to create equal representation of women in Swedish history. Every member of this team can be seen on the home page of the campaign website. This shared ownership also created permission to try new ideas out. Outside the organisation, it presented the audience with a choice of narratives through which they could explore and relate to the project.
What is the smallest possible step you can take to make your ‘big idea’ public?
Let’s assume you have secured the enthusiasm and support of a cross-departmental project team. You may also have a great idea in place. What’s the smallest possible step you can to take to put this idea into action? It’s common for organisations to develop a beast of an idea internally. But the problem is, when you offer your busy and distracted audience this fully formed idea, you’re effectively creating a binary choice. They can either choose to participate or not. What do you do if they don’t engage?
In order to manage this risk, each organisation participating in the Digital Identity programme was asked to define the smallest possible step through which they could make their ideas public. The team from Historiska museet decided they would work with their community on social media to identify the women who should be included in Swedish history. So their first step was to run a half-day crowdsourcing activity.
This step can also create clarity within the organisation. The team from Naturhistoriska riksmuseet decided to launch an Instagram channel as their first step. They wanted to create an institutional voice that would allow them to talk about evolution and climate change. These are contentious issues and the museum was keen to establish a clear set of boundaries that would enable them to engage with their communities in a constructive manner.
Breaking a big idea down into a series of small steps that can be made public helps manage risk. The day the team from Historiska museet launched the #rättvishistoria campaign they were challenged on Twitter. The team had anticipated this reaction and were able to address it with the right tone of voice. They were also able to crowdsource the names of 40 women in one afternoon.
The team from Naturhistoriska riksmuseet built a sizeable community on their Instagram channel. The team from Tekniska museet recognised the impact they can achieve by using a co-ordinated cross platform strategy. The team from Stockholms stadsmuseet, who were running the hyperlocal storytelling project #punktfarsta went through a series of social tools to settle on one that allowed them to work in an open and accessible manner.
Ok folks, it’s time to burst out of the engagement bubble and discover new audiences
At this point in the project we took time to recognise success as well as discard ideas that did not work. The teams realised the impact they can achieve by working collaboratively in small, well-defined steps. They also understood the value of going online and setting the agenda, rather than dictating the terms to their audience.
The end-goal for each organisation was to create new forms of participation as a direct result of storytelling on social media. Now it was time to burst out of the engagement bubble and discover new audiences. The risk-managed strategy that teams had followed so far, had allowed them to improvise in real-time, which enhanced the outcomes of their campaign. They had the confidence to experiment with the tone of voice to find new audiences online.
Historiska museet commissioned a series of videos asking public figures to participate in #rättvishistoria. This includes people like Özz Nûjen, a Kurdish stand up comedian who lives in Sweden. He nominated Eva Ekeblad, the first female member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
In the video he shares a humorous anecdote to explain his choice. This tone was a departure for the museum. Similarly, based on the success of co-producing content with the community for their Instagram channel, Naturhistoriska riksmuseet now asked this community to participate in an offline urban gardening project to help Stockholm go from grey to green.
What does success look like?
The Digital Identity programme supports internal digital transformation and encourages innovation in audience engagement and participation. It’s tempting to use a one-size-fits-all approach to define success, but it would be unfair to use one set of criteria to evaluate the different projects.
After running the pilot project over the summer, Naturhistoriska riksmuseet introduced the urban gardening project to 60,000 people at the largest gardening fair in Sweden.
Integrating online and offline activities has contributed to the long term sustainability of social media activity for every participating organisation. It has also enabled them to use their existing resources to expand their remit and scale. For example, after running the pilot project over the summer, Naturhistoriska riksmuseet introduced the urban gardening project to 60,000 people at the largest gardening fair in Sweden.
By the end of the programme, all participants were thinking beyond engagement metrics to define the outcome of their campaigns. They were working with cross-departmental teams and were able to try several ideas and discard the ones that didn’t work. For some organisations, this has led to the development of new digital-first projects. Others have re-allocated budgets and decided to build a permanent cross-departmental working group. The teams have also understood the value of discovery and they take time out to recognise success when they run an experiment for the first time.
The Swedish edition of the Digital Identity programme is run in partnership with IdeK. It was co-facilitated by Kajsa Hartig, chair of IdeK. This one year programme helps cultural organisations develop innovative narratives to bring their stories to audiences online. In 2015, we worked with 4 national organisations who receive over 1 million visitors a year. The participants of the 2016 programme are Nordiska museet, Världskulturmuseet and Musikverket. The 2017 programme begins in January, if you would like to take part, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org You can also get in touch with @gopaldass or @IdeK_SE on Twitter.