Title:Audience+: A Holistic Approach to Developing Social Media Guidelines for Swiss Museums
Authors:Axel Vogelsang, Bettina Minder
Publication:MW2011: Museums and the Web 2011

The project "Audience+, Museums and the Participative Web" investigates the challenges and opportunities for Swiss cultural heritage institutions with regards to the use of digital social media. It is supported by the Organisation of Swiss museums and aims at developing best practice guidelines for Swiss museums.

The project, running from spring 2010 until spring 2011, is unique in its kind, at least in the German speaking countries of Europe. Audience+ does not only involve a quantitative survey amongst Swiss museums but also a series of five workshops with a group of seven representative institutions. During those workshops various aspects surrounding the use of social media were discussed as well as examined through various hands-on briefs.

Cultural heritage institutions in Switzerland are just now waking up to the possibilities of social media but a certain insecurity and reluctance still prevails. We found that what prevents many museums from a more sophisticated usage of Facebook, blogs and other tools is not only the lack of resources and know how. As important is the question of how to fit social media into the existing strategies and into the institutional culture. We soon realised that institutional settings and hierarchies do often challenge the use of social media. In this context, not only vertical hierarchies can be an obstacle. Horizontal relationships specific to museums, such as the traditional separation between education, marketing and curation/collection do have a similarly strong influence on how social media are considered and used. Traditional beliefs about the role of conservation and research in a museum context also seem to be in conflict with ideas of stronger audience participation through new technologies. Whilst some of these aspects are specific to Switzerland, many findings are transferable to institutions all over the world.

The medium-term aim of Audience+ is to support Swiss museums in making informed decisions about the usage of social media. Accordingly the guidelines we are currently developing will be more than a museum marketing manual. We are taking a holistic approach by trying to help the institutions and individual employees to understand how their institution or their particular field of expertise can gain through the use of social media. The guidelines will also explain what kind of institutional setting is needed in order to support social media. We will then discuss how the acceptance towards social media can be raised and we will give advice on how to integrate social media with existing strategies. How-to manuals and links to best-practice case studies will further support the guidelines. In line with our topic we are also planning to open up the process of writing the guideline to our community of arts managers and museums.