How do you museum?: Marketing user-generated content to engage audiences
AbstractIn August 2015 the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the La Brea Tar Pits Museum launched an innovative destination campaign called #HowDoYouMuseum that combined traditional and digital media. It was designed to both sustain the momentum gained from the museums’ recent renovations, and to brand-align two institutions that had long been marketed separately. The campaign was meant to run for at least two years. This multi-faceted campaign engages visitors by asking them to share their experiences at the museums; the museum then takes the user-generated content and applies it as an additional marketing tool in both paid and non-paid media. In addition, the museums produced a series of videos starring (unpaid) local celebrities describing their personal experience. The aim of the videos is to inspire others to visit, discover their own experience, and share it with the world. This paper will discuss how the museum was able to generate more than three million views of their videos and reached more than 2.3 million viewers who saw their UGC posts in just a matter of months. It will further discuss the correlations between the campaign and record attendance numbers; the evolution of the creative; the use of both traditional and UGC to engage new audiences; re-purposing UGC for traditional media, metrics, strategies, and key learnings; and the challenges associated with sustaining a two-year campaign on limited resources.
Keywords: social media, audience engagement, marketing, UGC
Over the last eight years, a dramatic transformation at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHMLA) culminated in the creation of a series of new exhibits, amenities, and 3.5 acres of outdoor garden space. NHMLA’s board of trustees and leadership then turned its attention to its sister institution, the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, and began to develop plans to transform it into a modern, evocative destination as well. In 2014, a series of indoor and outdoor renovations ensued at the La Brea Tar Pits, with a larger master-planning process for the entire site unfolding now.
Though the two museums are very different—in size, content, and their trajectories as evolving destinations—one unifying philosophy began to emerge: a new visitor-first ethos, in which indoor and outdoor experiences were created with multiple layers of access and information for people with different backgrounds and interests. It was in this spirit that the marketing and communications team sought a forward-thinking destination campaign. It needed to promote both museums under one brand umbrella—something that had not been done before—that resonated not only with a broad range of modern audiences, but also appealed to each visitor in very specific, individualized, and surprising ways.
There were two early inspiration points for the nascent campaign. Malcolm Gladwell’s “stickiness” concept, explored first in The Tipping Point (2000) and popularized in recent marketing theory and best practices, supported the idea of the centralization of an audience’s presence in one online location, where quantitative measurement could then take place. To that core idea, the campaign team added the “spreadability paradigm,” in which audiences create their own participatory content in unexpected ways, which is then circulated through many channels until periphery awareness becomes active engagement (Jenkins, Ford, & Green, 2013). Using this spreadability paradigm, the roles of producers, marketers, and audience shift and blur with increased collaboration, and producers and marketers must cede a bit of editorial control. However, given the new visitor-centric focus at the museums, it seemed like the right direction.
In August 2015, NHMLA and the La Brea Tar Pits Museum launched the innovative destination campaign called #HowDoYouMuseum. It combines traditional and digital media, designed to both sustain the momentum gained from the museums’ recent improvements, and to brand-align two institutions that had long been marketed separately. The campaign is meant to run for at least two years.
The cornerstone of #HowDoYouMuseum is a co-created content cycle. The campaign leverages the social cache of cultural “influencers”, solicits user-generated content (UGC), then combines both of these content streams with paid and non-paid media. Influencers include celebrities such as Will Ferrell, as well as Instagram personalities with thousands of followers. It’s a range inspired by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s (2013) categorization of influencers, from the media to the cultural elite. The influencers appear in videos that convey their personal experience of the museums, in the hopes of inspiring others to visit, discover their own experience, and share those experiences with the world. This kind of content cycle empowers and converses with the social audience, redefining the museums through the lens of the visitor’s personality. The museums are not using marketing to dictate how one should enjoy and experience the museums; rather, the campaign recognizes that everyone’s experience and interpretation is unique. With this approach, the museums were able to generate more than three million video views and reach more than 2.3 million viewers who were able to see their UGC posts in just a matter of months.
This paper will discuss the process and challenges of creating a multi-faceted destination campaign, taking a deep dive into the success of a UGC-driven content cycle that incorporates paid and non-paid media. By revealing lessons learned about data-driven insights that streamline the campaign’s content, we can help future campaigns at other institutions. We also explore the correlations between the campaign and record attendance (1.2 million visitors between both museums in 2016), the evolution of the creative, and the metrics, strategies, key learnings, and challenges of sustaining a two-year campaign with limited resources.
By mid-2015, NHMLA knew it needed a new evergreen campaign that would enable the museum to start a digital conversation with the Los Angeles community, and to keep that conversation going. The team wanted to convey that the museums were approachable and relatable, educational while entertaining; and that museum experiences are more than just four walls and static objects. Experiences at both museums range anywhere from visitors watching real paleontologists at work, to getting hands-on with live insects and animals, to running through the water features at NHMLA or even rolling down the hills at the La Brea Tar Pits. In other words, they’re indoor, they’re outdoor, they’re hands-on, and sometimes they’re not even on-site, as is the case with citizen science efforts that encourage people to look for nature in and around their neighborhoods. The two-phased campaign, developed with assistance from outside agencies Imaginary Forces and Guru Media Solutions, created a way for both museums to showcase all aspects in a cohesive message, while simultaneously creating brand alignment. Prior to this campaign, NHMLA and the La Brea Tar Pits had been marketed separately and without any overt association between the two, beyond a similar-looking logo. It was time to align the two organizations by their joint missions and create an ongoing platform for content creation.
To do this, the team decided to launch with a traditional media buy that created general awareness for both institutions at a time when neither had any major special exhibitions up or new attractions taking place. The campaign would also begin the brand alignment in a more public-facing way: it allowed the team to redefine the dictionary definition of the word “museum.”
Phase 1: “Museum” becomes a verb
The campaign first launched as #ANewWayToMuseum with the philosophy that every visitor’s experience is different and always engaging in some way. In this context, “museum” was not a place, but a verb that cues other actions that people can engage in at the museums. To help disseminate this idea, we created a multi-treatment print, outdoor banner, and digital banner ad campaign. The headlines are as follows:
A NEW WAY TO DINOSAUR (NHMLA)
Figure 1: A New Way to Dinosaur billboard for NHMLA
A NEW WAY TO GEEK OUT (NHMLA)
Figure 2: A New Way to Geek Out billboard for NHMLA
A NEW WAY TO DIG IT (LA BREA TAR PITS)
Figure 3: A New Way to Dig It for La Brea Tar Pits and Museum
A NEW WAY TO ROAR (LA BREA TAR PITS)
Figure 4: A New Way to Roar billboard for La Brea Tar Pits and Museum
All ads contained the tagline “A New Way To Museum.”
The outdoor and print campaign launched in August 2015 and ran for the remainder of that year. The campaign seemed to be working to keep both museums as top-of-mind destinations, as evidenced by an increase in attendance at both locations at times when visitors numbers tend to drop (between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, in years with no special exhibitions). But we also found that use of the hashtag was low, and that we weren’t starting a conversation with our visitors. Admittedly, we were still trying to define the experiences for them.
With this data and evaluation, we began to plan Phase 2, which would move the campaign into the digital space.
Phase 2: #HowDoYouMuseum
In Phase 2, #HowDoYouMuseum transformed into an evergreen digital campaign that can be continually refreshed with user-generated content from celebrities, influencers, and visitors, and integrated with museum programs, exhibitions, and digital activations. The campaign became a new lens through which to frame and experience the museum.
Reaching new audiences digitally was of major importance in the development of this campaign, including groups that extend beyond the museum’s core. To accomplish this, the content strategy was based on the imperative that everyone enjoys the museum differently, and created audience segments (families, musicians, artists, yogis, etc.) that serve as a framework for audience-specific activations and events. This content strategy easily complements paid media campaigns as a way to selectively target and cross-target new audiences based on the content created by members of that audience segment. To further encourage participation, the team developed a monthly contest to offer a variety of museum prizes to those who submitted content.
With the #HowDoYouMuseum campaign, all the campaign content is displayed on two mirrored campaign landing pages (nhm.org and tarpits.org), on museum social feeds, in paid media advertising, and at the museum itself, creating a fully integrated campaign.
Figure 5: #HowDoYouMuseum tactical map
User-Generated Content (UGC)
By engaging visitors, media, and influencers of all kinds with the question “How Do you Museum?”, the campaign invites members of the museum community, both in person and online, to share how they experience NHMLA and the La Brea Tar Pits in creative ways. Visitors are taking part in an ongoing dialogue about what it means “to museum,” in which individuality and participation are now part of the museum experience. Putting the visitor front and center in the content strategy led to a focus on UGC, both online and onsite. This is content that utilizes submissions, photos, videos, and even original artwork, all posted on social media by everyday visitors (Krishnamurthy & Dou, 2008). The team found a way to showcase and highlight these unique community offerings on the websites and social channels, as well as on channels of participating influencers.
Asking users to submit their own content allows #HowDoYouMuseum to be a campaign that regenerates itself with new sources of material that can be utilized on campaign Web pages and, moreover, in paid social advertising. To date, the museums have received over 5,500 submissions. Featured content is carefully chosen to showcase a wide variety of people and museum experiences, adding to the campaign’s overall broad appeal.
Paid social media ads
A key part of the campaign was amplifying UGC, influencer content, and museum-produced content to reach the largest audience possible. This was accomplished through paid social advertising, with an emphasis on Facebook and Instagram.
By utilizing UGC and influencer content, the team had access to a much larger creative pool to pull from than if it relied on just its own. It also enabled the team to serve relevant content to a number of audiences. For example, the team showcased prominent chef Ray Garcia, who visited the museum and explored the Edible Gardens, to people who identified as foodies on Facebook. Content that featured kids exploring the Tar Pits was served to local parents.
Facebook’s advertising algorithm works by serving ads to a select group of people within a target audience, and then optimizing the ad campaign based on user-set objectives. For this campaign, the primary ad objectives were driving engagement with the content, and traffic to the website. With so much content to work with, the process of optimizing the campaign was easy. The team selected multiple images and videos and let Facebook’s algorithm find the people that resonated most with that content.
The paid social campaign empowered the targeting of influencer-generated content to the audiences in Los Angeles most likely to visit the museum. While all the influencers involved in the campaign were based in Southern California, their followers resided all over the world. In order to hone in on social media users likely to become museum visitors, the team promoted the best influencer content only to people in the Los Angeles area. The combination of strong content from a trusted influencer targeted to the local population has proven effective.
In addition to promoting individual pieces of content, paid social is used to promote the campaign overall primarily through rotating monthly contests. Each month a series of ads highlights the winners from previous months and invites people to share their experiences with the hashtag for a chance to win.
Since the launch of #HowDoYouMuseum, the total media spend has been $9,000 per month, and the team believes this is the first museum campaign to put ad dollars behind UGC. To date, the paid social campaign has reached over 4,533,768 people.
Campaign landing pages
Although they are both popular Los Angeles destinations and landmarks, NHMLA and the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum had not previously been promoted together as part of one museum brand.
The #HowDoYouMuseum campaign served as an ideal experiment by which to test, alongside branding efforts, the reaction to a “joint” campaign, and reinforce the museums as part of the same family. To explore this, the team utilized a mirrored campaign landing page strategy to display UGC and featured video content.
Influencers and visitors use the same platform to share their creativity, with their content living side by side. By developing a “tapestry of content,” the #HowDoYouMuseum campaign encourages an online community that puts all visitors on equal-footing in sharing their points of view. The websites also feature videos created with influencers in order to inspire other visitors to participate in the campaign.
Social media aggregator
To create a “tapestry of content” on the site, a social media aggregator pulled in UGC. The platform Stackla integrated with the back-end Web development atmosphere, and provided a highly-customizable solution for the visual integration with campaign branding. The aggregator creates a social feed on the website, pulling content from Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter channels, and can be programmed to aggregate user content around a hashtag or hashtags—in this case, #HowDoYouMuseum. It also pulls in content from any visitor who is posting while at the museums by using a geofencing feature (i.e., a virtual geographic boundary that triggers software when a user enters or leaves the bounded area).
Although Stackla can populate UGC in real-time, the team curates and moderates content before publishing to the feed, keeping the campaign family-friendly. This curation allows the addition of custom branded elements within the tapestry to reinforce messaging and further integrate the campaign branding.
Figure 6: screen grab of nhm.org and tarpits.org #HDYM Stackla feeds
Digital influencer content
A key strategy to reach new audience segments was to tap into the growing number of digital influencers. These are individuals who have amassed anywhere from thousands to millions of online fans and regularly create content for their social platform of choice. Their fans are “the consumers you want your message to reach: those who belong to your preferred target segments.” (Powell, Groves, & Dimos, 2011).
To kick off the campaign, the team invited 50 influencers from a variety of backgrounds (families, photographers, comedians, dancers, etc.) in the Los Angeles area to NHMLA for an exclusive event, where they were encouraged to explore the museum and share their experiences on social, using #HowDoYouMuseum. This provided a strong baseline of content and helped build relationships that would be activated throughout the campaign.
Each month the team reaches out to new influencers, inviting them to visit the museums and share their experiences using the #HowDoYouMuseum hashtag. This content is reposted on the museum websites and social channels, and promoted through paid media, giving the influencers additional reach as well as building a deeper relationship with the museum.
Examples of the campaign’s influencer content are as follows:
- A Snapchat story from social media entrepreneur Logan Paul showcasing different exhibits during his night at NHMLA, which reached his audience of over 1.5 million followers.
- An exclusive yoga class for yoga influencers held at the La Brea Tar Pits in partnership with local yoga studio, Modo LA. Attendees were encouraged to take and share photos for a chance to win a prize package provided by the museums and the yoga studio.
- Inviting influencers such as fashion personalities Leanne Barlow and Hallie Daily to come and experience NHMLA and the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum with their children. Since most of the time they are partnering with other entities, they usually create content on their own, so this unique experience involved their children in a positive way.
- Partnering with fashion influencer Tommy Lei to do an entire editorial series and photo shoot at NHMLA, and then using this content to target people in the L.A. area interested in fashion and highlight aspects of the museum that might interest them.
In addition to third-party content created by museum visitors and influencers, the team produced its own video content as part of the #HowDoYouMuseum story. Some of these videos were created in partnership with influencers who in turn distributed the content on their channels.
These videos started with high-end production provided by the agency Imaginary Forces. As the campaign ensued, the team made in-house productions that focused on UGC and to a certain degree, the influencers. The highly-produced first round included 10 short videos featuring A-list actor Will Ferrell, who pretended to be a museum volunteer and ad-libbed funny responses to questions from visitors. Two other series featured local artist Gary Baseman, who often features the La Brea Tar Pits in his sketches, and local science communicator Cara Santa Maria, who focused on insects at NHMLA.
Figure 7: screen grab of a Will Ferrell influencer video
Figure 8: screen grab of a Cara Santa Maria influencer video
Prior to the launch of these videos in early 2016, the team conducted a series of focus groups to test their efficacy. While the groups really enjoyed the Will Ferrell videos for their entertainment value, they resonated more with the UGC videos and those of the local personalities where they learned something. These were the types of videos that focus group participants would most likely share with their networks and that would inspire them to submit their own (The Morey Group Focus Group Study for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 2016).
The results of the focus group shaped the rest of the video content strategy, and turned out to be a better fit for the campaign. Smaller productions utilized smaller, mobile production units, and the flexibility to adapt to schedules and events as they happened. Knowing that audiences liked educational content helped inform the tone and narrative structure of the videos later in the campaign.
For instance, historian D.J. Waldie visited the Becoming Los Angeles exhibition and was invited to choose a couple of his favorite items from the exhibit. He chose the Cahuenga Treaty Table and 1902 Tourist automobile, and wrote short scripts about why he thought these two unlikely objects were so important to L.A.’s growth from small pueblo to metropolis. This footage was supplemented with B-roll from museum archives and other sources to bring his stories to life. To the team’s surprise, these videos performed exceptionally well, and the numbers backed high user engagement on Facebook and less so YouTube (see section 6.2). The team leveraged these assets to create ad spots on the local PBS station, which helped increase awareness of the campaign with a new, older audience.
Figure 9: screen grab of a D.J. Waldie influencer video
These video productions allowed us to sustain the campaign with new content and to be nimble enough to shift focus from visitor to influencer to museum staff as needed, creating a breadth of content. The videos are shared on museum Web pages and throughout its social networks.
Another effective way to incentivize submission of UGC was contests. To provide the lowest-possible barrier to entry, visitors to the museum and website users shared photos or videos with #HowDoYouMuseum to be entered to win. Signage in the museum supported the contest with a simplified three-step process (take a picture or video, add hashtag, win) to encourage entries. Contest terms and conditions are displayed on the website (nhm.org/howdoyoumuseum and tarpits.org/howdoyoumuseum).
The prizes rotate each month to keep the contest fresh, and highlight different events, exhibits, and activities at both museums. Here too, the team could draw connections between NHMLA and the La Brea Tar Pits.
Figure 10: screen grab of contest winners
As mentioned in the Digital Influencer section above, the campaign debuted with an exclusive event at NHMLA, to which media, influencers, and friends of the museum were invited. The party opened with a cocktail hour and a brief overview of the campaign, before guests were welcomed into the museum to explore, share their experiences, and therein, help launch the campaign.
The team launched the #HowDoYouMuseum campaign into pre-existing events such as the monthly First Fridays talks and concerts; they added signage encouraging people to share their experience using the hashtag; and they invited musicians involved with the events to tour the museum and post content. We also staged campaign-specific events focusing on specific audience segments, like a yoga class that was held after-hours inside the La Brea Tar Pits Museum,
On the ground level of NHMLA, in a high-traffic corridor leading to its cafe, an entire wall dedicated to the #HowDoYouMuseum campaign shows the aggregated UGC feed using a custom Stackla interface and a digital projector. The wall also displays a large graphic of the hashtag. By hosting the content on-site in real time, visitors who may not have seen the campaign before are encouraged to participate, rewarded by the prospect of seeing their own photos on display at the museum.
Figure 11: on-site promotion of #HDYM campaign at NHMLA
Signage is used throughout the museum to reinforce the #HowDoYouMuseum campaign branding and activate visitors at the exhibit level. The breadth of the campaign concept allows the team to prompt visitors to engage with the exhibit and then share unique experiences. Takeaway cards for the audience breakouts (parents, musicians, etc.) are provided as a starting point for participation, suggesting ways for people “to museum.”
Social media management tool
Social Studio is an enterprise tool for social media management that has allowed efficient management of the #HowDoYouMuseum campaign and analysis of the social media audience. Social Studio has provided the flexibility to pre-schedule campaign posts, report on weekly engagement numbers, and track the reach of the campaign hashtag #HowDoYouMuseum. The platform’s analytics tool provides data with which to report post volume, fan growth, top keywords, engagement trends, reach trends, and post engagement. The team also set up a topic profile for #HowDoYouMuseum that provides a social listening summary on engagement with the campaign hashtag.
Since the launch of the digital campaign in February 2016, the videos alone have had over 5.6 million views, with over 100,000 views weekly. In addition, more than 5,500 people have shared their own UGC. A complete outline of the outcomes are provided below. (Figures reflect January 1, 2016 – December 31, 2016.)
Tables 1-3: #HDYM campaign metrics overview
Reach—The number of people who see your ads at least once. Reach is different from impressions, which may include multiple views of your ads by the same people. For influencer and UGC content, we calculate reach based on the number of followers for their account. We only count their followers once even if they posted multiple times.
Impressions—An impression is counted as the number of times an instance of an ad entered the viewable area of people’s screens for the first time. (For example, if people see an ad two different times in a day, that counts as two impressions. If someone sees an ad, scrolls down, and then scrolls back up to the same ad, that counts as one impression.)
Table 4: #HDYM campaign social media reach vs. impressions
#HowDoYouMuseum social post engagement
Definition: Engagement is calculated as a combination of likes, comments, and shares on any social post. Exact numbers aren’t always available for influencer and UGC posts, so the total is extrapolated based on the average engagement rate and follower count.
Table 5: #HDYM campaign engagements
Tables 6-7: #HDYM campaign social media audience growth
HDYM landing page traffic
Tables 8-11: #HDYM landing page traffic for nhm.org and tarpits.org
Top UGC ads
Success of the ads is measured based on the lowest cost-per-engagement. These are just a couple of examples from each museum. Screenshots for both desktop and mobile ads show how users see the content when run as an ad.
Figure 12: Top NHMLA UGC ads
Figure 13: top La Brea Tar Pits UGC ads
Influencer post highlights
Figures 16-20: #HDYM campaign influencer post highlights
Last year the Natural History Family of Museums had a record number of visitors: 1.2 million. Though the team is careful not to attribute this wholly to the campaign, there are correlations between an increase or maintenance of attendance figures and the launch of the new videos during periods of the year when attendance numbers historically tend to shift lower. In the coming year, the team will focus on how to better integrate this campaign with the museums’ CRM system in order to re-market to these viewers and determine if posted UGC results in actual visits that can be tracked.
- The best performing content driving traffic to the website leads users to consume more content. For example the Chef Ray Garcia video series led users to a page with more videos and recipe content leading to an average time on site that was 66.91% above the NHMLA site average.
- Audiences respond better to people like themselves, who are relatable. 15 of our 25 (60%) most engaging content ads were images that everyday visitors shared of their experience at the museums.
- Users are interested in learning. We’ve found that longer video content that educates viewers drives a lower cost per click than traditional teaser style content. We produced two videos featuring the historian D.J. Waldie talking about features of our Becoming Los Angeles exhibit which drove traffic to the website at an average cost-per-click (CPC) of just $0.16. In comparison, an ad promoting our Pterosaurs exhibit that was more of a teaser video showing exhibit features had an average CPC of $0.32.
- Tapping into the audiences and perspectives of influencers paved the way for the team to highlight exhibits in ways it wouldn’t have thought to do on its own. For example, a design-focused influencer “Design Love Fest” commented about how the colors in NHMLA’s gem exhibit inspired her to think differently about her work. Seeing the museum through the user or influencer’s eyes helped inform messaging and utilize their perspective to reach like-minded people.
- One of the challenges throughout the campaign is balancing the passions of core audiences, interested primarily in science and history content, with the new, more diverse audiences reached through this campaign. Initially the team posted campaign-related content three times a week across each museum’s channels. This was reduced to twice a week to help maintain a balance. It also became apparent that maintaining a connection to the core museum values was necessary, even as new audience experiences were expanding.
- With the advanced photo technology and filtering capabilities of smartphones, content is high-quality enough to perform and represent the museum well. This helps in the management of overall budget since fewer photoshoots are required, and resources can be focused on amplifying the UGC.
Given its goals, its phased execution, and the reach and range of its results, the #HowDoYouMuseum campaign has been a success. Garnering over five million video views far exceeded our expectations, and the process of creating the videos has revealed invaluable information about online audiences. The team believes the campaign has bolstered the perception of both museums as top-of-mind destinations with locals and tourists, but also engaged new audiences for the first time.
While the original intention was for the campaign to run for approximately two years, its success suggests it should continue as long as it garners significant engagement. In the coming year, the plan is to continue creating local influencer videos with evergreen topics that tie in with upcoming exhibitions, public programs, and events, including NHMLA’s First Fridays series, the museum’s first virtual reality exhibition, festivals devoted to nature, bugs, and dinosaurs, and more. The team will also use social advertising as a way to build the museums’ email list for future marketing purposes, and then incorporate that list into a custom audience on Facebook to promote participation in the #HowDoYouMuseum campaign.
It is clear that the museums’ visitors want to be educated and inspired, and the campaign has revealed how to do this more effectively. Putting visitors at the heart of the campaign and allowing their experiences to drive the content strategy reflects the institution’s “visitor-first” standard and extends it beyond the museums’ walls. A conversation has begun with the on-site and digital community that we hope will continue through the infinite ways there are “to museum.”
We’d like to give special thanks to the following individuals for their tireless efforts and support: Cynthia Wornham, Senior VP, Strategic Engagement at NHMLA; Chip Houghton and Tosh Kodama, Imaginary Forces; Jared Levy, Guru Media Solutions; Kristin Friedrich, Nick Hulea, Emily Carlson, and the NHMLA Creative Services Team; and Katlen Abuata at NHMLA.
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. "How do you museum?: Marketing user-generated content to engage audiences." MW17: MW 2017. Published January 31, 2017. Consulted .