Museum’s profile online of offline
We have talked with museum professionals from Estonian museums. All of them have experienced working in different museum departments, from research to education and marketing. Tartu City Museum is the only local museum from this study who gets financed by local authorities, while the others were financed by the state in the moment when interviews were conducted.
All interviewed professionals consider that the web pages connected with the museums are not sufficiently exploited because they offer basic information about museum activities, contact data and museum description and in some cases (Kumu Museum) online collections are also presented. In the case of Estonian National Museum, the web page is in development phase and there are plans for “integrating all exhibitions and to link it to the online environment, which it would be more then a web-page, so you could not only prepare your visit, but different target groups could do different things there.” (Agnes Aljas & Pille Runnell interview). Only Maritime Museum has a page specially designed for mobile users, while Kumu Museum is using responsive web design.
Visitors have different expectations from museums in a strong connection with museums’ profile. Maarin Ektermann from Kumu Museum stressed the importance of integrating in museum’s communication the presence of participatory activities, since the majority of users don’t expect this from an Art Museum for example. Krista Sarv, from Tallinn History Museum, brought up same point: some visitors still behave in museums like in “churches or theaters”.
Given the popularity of Facebook among Estonians, part of museums’ online profile are the Facebook pages. Facebook page is used for communicating events in general. Kumu museum designs separate Facebook pages for every big exhibition while in a series of experimental projects used Facebook for collecting photos and text. Estonian National Museum uses also Twitter for communicating news about the museum. Maritime Museum manages comments received from visitors in social media and has in plan trying to answer all comments.
Main problems when it comes to managing webpages and social media accounts come from the lack of human resources specialized in these platforms, or in the case of Estonian National Museum, the fluctuation of marketing and communication professionals. As Agnes Aljas (Estonian National Museum) points out the use of social media in museum practices “depends of how museum professionals themselves are users of social media”. The curators are usually the ones that integrate online components also.
Participatory museum, partnerships
While participatory museum as a theoretical concept has the same meaning for all museum professionals interviewed, they all identify different levels of participation, from being more active for one community or minority to collecting objects from the online environment or sending letters as part of exhibition experience. Most museums have these type of participatory activities designed for children, integrated in educational programs. Strong narrative connected with Estonian cultural values, with the Estonian pride works better for engaging audience and determine participatory behaviour as in the case of the event organised by the Maritime Museum when the submarine Lembit was removed out of the water. Allowing full audience participation in curating the exhibitions it doesn’t seem to be an option, since there is the chance that “participants act like experts” (Pille Runnel). Kaie Jeeser (Tartu City Museum) explains that “opening the storage rooms” is one simple activity that engages visitors, an existing plan for Tartu City Museum.
Multiple platforms, social media, apps and games
When museums professionals were asked about the main challenges they have encountered while trying to use multiple platforms for different purposes, two main approaches were observed. One of them is connected with using multiplatform as a display method, practice that is not so appreciated in connection with art and archeological objects that have their special aura. In the Maritime and History Museum it’s a tool that has already successfully been used in connection with gamification elements and hands on way of interacting. History Museum also offers the visitors the opportunity to use their audio guides through a mobile app.
While Kumu Museum has a traditional way of displaying artefacts, strongly connected with the experience that art lovers search in an Art Museum, Maritime Museum and History Museum have successfully integrated onsite interactive devices that allow users deeper immersion in their story-world. They have used these type of technology for attracting visitors, integrating these experiences in their communication strategies also and their success is partially based on this method.
Social media and especially Facebook is broadly used for promoting events and museums’ exhibitions, but professionals mentioned the fact that the use of social media is connected more with marketing practices and it involves a lot of resources both financial and human.
User-generated content, users engagement
The only practice connected with user-generated content that is functional is the traditional way of collecting stories and objects from users, letters with stamps and phone calls.
Different projects have been implemented that triggered users’ participation online. If some of them were successful considering the number of participants and the number and quality of the materials gathered, the museums don’t have the method, according to the Museums’ Act, that allows them to collect these digital objects and consider them artefacts. There is no model of success yet connected with these type of projects and given the popularity of the story and other factors, some of them might work and others won’t. Museums professional are constantly testing these methods, but for now they associate them more with marketing practices.
The online database that connects all museums collections using one digital platform it’s not very popular between professionals that used it. Al of them stress the importance of having this type of system, and the content digitized, but the interface and the user design need to be improved in their opinion. The opinion was unanimous opinion was that especially for non-professionals users the process of accessing an item it’s very complicated.
Story world, potential for developing integrated projects
Questions connected with the model of organisation of museums as institutions were part of these interviews. Their purpose was to enquire the possibility of developing transmedia projects in collaboration with museums focusing both from a narrative perspective but also on the production model. Recent established museums have a much stronger story connected with their brand (Maritime Museum), while smaller museums have issues in communicating the story of their exhibition. Their functions became their stories.
For the purpose of this study I have assumed that marketing and communication department are the ones responsible with developing the stories about museums using different methods and platforms. In two cases, the marketing and communication department is involved in a later stage in the development of the exhibition, while in other two cases there aren’t any professionals that work only with the exhibitions from that particular museum.
Museums plan their exhibitions in advance with two or one year. This time is used for searching for finance, research, produce and in the end market the exhibitions. Local museums have less financial power then the national museums, but their price ticket is also very low (2 euros).
As an extension of this theme, an interview with the person I charge with Museums from the Ministry of Culture was conducted. Marju Reismaa explained that the process of creating foundations for museums is ongoing. This would allow specially small museums to better manage themselves since the decisions will be made by a management board and a supervisory board. In this was museums will have more freedom also regarding their financial plan, but also in their management processes. But this won’t allow allocation of bigger financial resources, but only formal organisation.
In the majority of cases museums can be considered transmedia spaces, where the story of the artefacts is expanded in connection with museum profile and its specific role in the community. In some cases by using integrated communication models are actually applying transmedia models, without naming them in this was. From this perspective, maybe the particularities of transmedia models are not very clear, being the equivalent of good marketing practices.
While the potential for developing integrated communication based on a grand narrative is there, museums fail using online extensions for providing pre- and post- experiences for the visitors. Their online profile, characterized in the majority of cases only by web-page and Facebook account and in some cases the online galleries act like crossmedia components and are used for delivering the same messages across multiple platforms, without proving the immersion into the story-world. But in Kumu Museum have been developed successful partnerships with telecommunication companies that provide technical support for creating mobile apps in connection with the narrative behind the exhibitions (app for rolling dices in connection with a sculpture representing dices).
Online platforms that are used so far are missing the innovation factor. Museums don’t redirect their communities in a meaningful way. The audience is not being targeted in the online environment and in this way museums miss the chance to educate their visitors after and before attending exhibitions, enhancing in this way the onsite experience. This mainly happens because the social media strategies are based on the experience and interest of museums professionals in using social media.
In connection with museums narratives, in most museums the crossmedia approach is used. just for transporting basic information from one to another.
By creating foundation, the Minister of Culture is offering the regulatory support for flexible management systems. Authorities don’t intervene in the ticket’s sales. Although the lack of resources is one contributing factor, innovation could be imposed in the way museums are organised, first of all by acknowledging the fact that online environment has changed the way audience interacts with museums, at least by having the initiative in organising workshops, teaching museum professional how to obtain the maximum profit from social media for example. In an ideal way, marketing department should be present in every museum, having professionals hired.
The regulatory authorities what to reach high levels of independence for museums, financing them, but not intervening in their activities. On one hand they are free to do whatever they want, but they are expected to engage more and more audiences and to use participatory practices, while even the most successful museums from financial point of view still expect state money.
In the context of our project, I think that interviews helped both by validating the theoretical part, but also as a validation for our project. We have received positive feedback regarding the prototype presented. But most important I think that they can be considered spaces where multiple approaches to transmedia storytelling can be tested with a greater emphasis on the audience participation.