April 2021 SIG Corner: Strategy SIG.

By Tricia Robson, Senior Project Manager at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Susan Wigodner, Manager of Integrated Media at the Obama Foundation – Strategy SIG Co-chairs.

Much has been said about the seismic shift brought on by the pandemic for museums—and ultimately our world. We quickly adapted to new ways of working, connecting with our audiences, and showcasing the objects in our collections. Now, many months into the pandemic, many of us are now taking a step back to analyze the audience trends and new digital programs initiated during this period. Many in the Strategy SIG are asking how we can best capture and analyze the data and feedback from our audiences, and how it will inform our strategy moving forward.

Cocktails with a curator Rembrandt's Self-Portrait

Inspired by conversations in our group’s message boards, we hosted an open conversation in December focused on KPIs for digital engagement during COVID-19 in collaboration with the Data & Insights SIG, and the conversation has continued in our group since then. 

What are we finding and discussing?

Engagement spiked in Spring 2020. Many colleagues across institutions report a spike in online traffic and engagement following museum closures and lockdown orders in the Spring. Data from Google’s “Year in Search” tells a similar story. Additionally, this Morris Hargreaves McIntyre study focused on the Washington D.C. culture market (released in February, 2021) found that 58% of participants reported that digital content from cultural institutions had helped them cope with the pandemic.

Data visualization from Morris Hargreaves McIntyre study, February, 2021
Data visualization from Morris Hargreaves McIntyre study, February, 2021, via https://mhminsight.com/articles/webinar-washington-dc-audiences-11308

But screen fatigue is real. Anecdotally, many of us feel this fatigue ourselves, over a year into the pandemic. And, in conversations with colleagues across institutions, data supports this sentiment. More specifically, the Morris Hargreaves McIntyre study confirms that 39% of participants polled said they plan to stop engaging with content from cultural organizations once they can return to the real thing. 

For the most part, users are looking for free content. A special Culture Track study released in July, 2020 by LaPlaca Cohen found that only 13% of participants report paying for access to digital cultural content that they used. Whether or not museums should monetize their content has been a big discussion throughout the pandemic period and prior. Recorded panel discussions on the topic are available on the Strategy SIG’s Basecamp for members (see below for info on how to join). 

Museum programming benefits from becoming more inclusive. In collaboration with La Placa Cohen, Slover Linett and other researchers further analyzed Culture Track’s recent COVID study in an effort to decolonize and democratize their study on the impact of culture and community during the pandemic crisis. A key finding is that BIPOC Americans value arts and culture organizations as highly as, or higher than, Whites/Caucasians do—and for several BIPOC groups, that perceived value is higher during the crisis than in normal times. Additionally, the study found that online programs were reaching audiences who hadn’t been able to participate in person. These results make clear the importance of inclusion, access, and diversity.

Data visualizations from Slover Linett study
Data visualizations from Slover Linett study, December, 2020, via https://sloverlinett.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Centering-the-Picture-full-report-CCTC-Wave-1-findings.pdf

Finally, “on the fly” changes are aided by advance planning. A Knight Foundation report from January, 2021 confirmed that investment in staffing, infrastructure, and strategy were key to organizations’ ability to respond to changes the pandemic demanded, particularly in digital engagement and remote work. 

There are more questions to answer, and the conversation continues. How do you best measure the impact of virtual offerings? How do you best synthesize and share this data with leadership? How do you effectively compare member vs. non-member engagement? And more.

Interested in joining the conversation? 

If you’re interested in the Strategy SIG, please fill out this form. As museums undergo great change and redefinition, the MCN Strategy SIG seeks to create a space for both emerging and existing museum leaders to consider strategic directions for the sector—to focus on the “why” of museums and museum initiatives—and to build together the skills and connections to support our shared professional development.

To join the Data & Insights SIG, please fill out this form. The group brings together a community of professionals with an interest in areas of  data collection, usage, insights, analytics, and more. By pooling our experiences, we help provide a space for our members to share knowledge, seek help, and explore opportunities. 

We look forward to hearing from you!

Interested in joining a SIG?

Through Special Interest Groups, all MCN members have the opportunity to connect with colleagues doing similar work, explore opportunities to collaborate among them, share resources and effective practices, or discuss ways to advance their area of digital practice.