#FACTORC: Audience engagement, storytelling and culture

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4 practical examples of audience engagement to strengthen the relationship with the audience through digital storytelling

Canova Storytelling Audience Engagement Cultura
Photo: Courtesy of Museo Gypsotheca Antonio Canova, Possagno (TV)

“Out of sight, out of mind.” So they say.

Yet over the past two pandemic years, which have seen cultural institutions alternate between periods of opening and closing, this has not been the case for all the entities that have been able to maintain direct engagement with audiences. On the contrary, both internationally and in Italy, we have witnessed an incredible acceleration in the development of digital storytelling and audience engagement through social media for the Culture sector. Museums, bookstores, and theaters have experimented, got involved, and virtually opened their doors, strengthening their digital presence and engaging new audiences with hitherto unexplored storytelling and audience engagement activities.

Now that restrictions are disappearing and activities can be carried out on a regular basis, all we have to do is make the lessons of the past two years our own and use them to improve our interaction with the public and the narrative of our own institution.

Audience development and audience engagement. Some clarifications.

Audience development consists of a planned approach, which must involve the entire institution, aimed at developing new relationships with the public. Audience engagement, on the other hand, consists of the more operational stages of audience development: it can take the form of processes, actions and behaviors that can include a wide variety of tools and approaches: mediation activities; the proposal of new educational workshops, educational initiatives, digital tools, co-design and co-creation with the audience of cultural products.

So how can cultural entities consolidate relationships with their audiences through storytelling, and in particular through the telling of their collections? Let’s look at some examples.

The artists’ word

The first example is presented to us by Lindsay O’Leary, Head of Content at the Tate, during the latest MuseumNext Digital Summit.

You will certainly be able to argue that it is easy to bring examples of structured realities such as the Tate, in which the Digital Communication Team can probably count on professional video-makers and photographers, as well as significant budgets, while in most Italian museums we would be lucky to have a figure in charge of communication only.

In this case, however, the examples we have chosen to bring can be realized with a simple smartphone, microphone and stabilizer, without excessive instrumentation or technical preparation.

Back to us, the first example Dr. O’Leary brings is “Let the artists speak”: let the artists themselves tell their stories, share their stories through the Museum’s channels. If you are lucky enough to work in contact with artists, the best thing is to interview them. Nothing is more powerful than direct storytelling about one’s own work and life journey. Visits to artists’ studios in particular are very popular right now, and there is a great interest in this kind of content from the public.

Tate shots reel instagram Storytelling Audience Engagement Cultura

Audience Engagement: behind the scenes

The second proposal is about telling the everyday story of cultural reality, offering a peek “behind the scenes.”

Observing conservators and curators at work, discovering previously unseen works not on public display, telling the stories encapsulated in archival materials, and following the different stages of preparing exhibitions or events represent formulas of involvement and storytelling that can be translated into a type of content that is very interesting for the public, as it is able to convey the vibrancy and variety of the institution’s daily work.

In this case, storytelling can take the form of short stories, in-depth features on the museum’s blog documenting complex restoration interventions, even with professional videos, simple posts, reels or posts on Linkedin that perhaps tell of an encounter with another entity in the area.

The possibilities are endless.

Audience Engagement: Quiz and questions

To engage the audience and establish an authentic and lasting dialogue and exchange, an effective starting point is to pose as a listener and seek feedback through simple questions. This is a strategy that can be adopted on any channel but is especially applicable to Instagram stories, which lend themselves well to this format.

Audience Engagement Storytelling and Culture Rijksmuseum
Photo: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

In the Gypsotheca Antonio Canova Museum’s follow-Tuesday column, for example, the public is asked to choose a Tuesday in-depth topic. The Museum then responds publicly to the various questions received privately, thus allowing all users to explore the topic further.

In this way, social media also becomes an educational tool by allowing the deepening of curiosities and the discovery of new information.

Audience Engagement: Art influencer and Art-sharer

In addition, to reach new audiences, collaborations with various types of influencers have also become widespread in the cultural world in recent times.

In fact, even in the art world, several institutions have begun to activate influncer marketing campaigns, with varying degrees of success and recognition. Currently, as this tool matures in the cultural sector as well, its application in a way that is targeted, strategic and appropriate to communication and ultimately mission objectives becomes crucial.

In order to make this type of engagement tool effective and efficient, it is necessary to program and plan interventions by identifying clear and as far as possible measurable objectives in order to be able to comparably and objectively verify performance parameters, whether qualitative or quantitative.

In conclusion

Developing strategies aimed at audience engagement will involve a different path for each cultural entity, which is why it is important to know your audiences and find out what aspects of your institution are interesting and important to them.

Likewise, it is crucial that the institution’s goals and mission serve as a guide in this journey.

The aim of this operation must be not only to bring visitors into the museum space, but in making art and culture more accessible to the wider public, confirming the role of Museums as places for reflection and understanding of the world around us.

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