Beyond Reach: Reassessing ‘best practice’ for digital audience engagement

Tuesday, April 4th: 9:30am - 11:00am


Joint Curator / Lecturer in Museum Studies @ University of Glasgow (Hunterian Museum & HATII)

Paper Abstract

For many small and medium sized cultural heritage organisations, following the lead of larger institutions within the sector has been the only way to keep apace with burgeoning trends in digital audience engagement. These larger organisations tend to have the resources to ‘buy in’ appropriate technical and strategic expertise for all things digital, and so it makes sense that the case studies formed from such projects are packaged and promoted as ‘best practice’ for the sector.

Or does it?

Digital audience engagement has become markedly more important to cultural heritage organisations – and this was suddenly pushed to fore during the Coronavirus pandemic. The highlighted internally, the different levels of maturity in digital strategies and ways of integrating digital in different areas of operation of cultural heritage organisations, as well as the skill levels of staff. In terms of outward facing, as more exhibitions, displays and events went online, quantitative data – such as ‘likes’, ‘clicks’, ‘page visits’, ‘shares’ and ‘views’ – became a ready and accessible means of gauging the reach of digital engagement efforts. Advice on how to grow our organisations’ reach and improve on these types of metrics is abundant – but it does not allow us as a sector to fully understand the impact that our digital engagement activity has had and continues to have on our audiences. Numbers only tell half of the story, and so it is important that relevant qualitative data is also gathered. Reaching out and offering diverse activities online at challenging times was carried out but several cultural organisations, but there were also several others that were badly hit by furloughs, staffing problems, and challenges accessing resources. Despite the numerous case studies of good practice highlighted by reports all over the world, what do we actually know about the quality and depth of digital engagement? The gap in this area has become acutely visible since the pandemic, but t

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