Introduction

Over the weekend (October 2020), the British government announced another national lockdown, to last a minimum of four weeks, requiring all but essential service businesses to close. This wasn’t a surprise, with infection rates rising daily, but everyone in the country hoped it could be avoided.

By Thursday, 5 November, bars, restaurants, gyms, cinemas and other leisure facilities will be shut. It also means that museums, art galleries and heritage sites will close too.

The heritage sector has been suffering for a while, as funding and financial support has been reduced over the last few years. The last lockdown, in spring of 2020, has caused further damage, and many venues may never recover from that enforced closure.

It’s vital, then, if you want your site to stay top of mind and to receive support and donations, that you embrace online, digital marketing and communications, and quickly. Everyone is forced to stay at home, and as the weather gets worse, even those with gardens won’t be able to go outside as much. They’ll be looking to the internet for entertainment.

Digital Marketing Won’t Work for our Heritage Venue

Over the last six months, I’ve attended a range of conferences and webinars for historical and arts venues. A lot of the discussion was around how to stay relevant in the post-Covid world, and digital marketing was mentioned quite a lot. Although many people didn’t see the point in it.

Several attendees posted in the chat (and one or two speakers made similar claims) that they felt digital and online types of contentmarketing was a waste of time; ‘It’s not as good as an in-person experience.’

That’s true, of course, but there ARE no in-person experiences, and if we’re honest, even in the period between the last lockdown and the new one, visitor numbers remained lower than usual because people were worried about their safety and wellbeing. And you can use new technology to enhance the visitor experiences when you can reopen.

I also heard one speaker say that their visitors didn’t like looking at things online, and did so begrudgingly because they had no other choice. I’d argue that many of your visitors would be happy to see better online offerings from you, and to not make an assumption about all of them based on the responses of a few people.

I can’t be sure, but I suspect that those respondents are long-term supporters (and their needs must be taken into account, of course), from back when a mailing list was people you actually wrote letters and circulars to, rather than emailed.

Digital Marketing is Hard and Expensive

Another objection I’ve heard a lot over the last few months is that digital marketing is difficult and requires specialist knowledge. There is also an assumption that you need to invest in expensive equipment before you get started.

Neither of these things are true, but I understand how you might have that idea. If you’ve participated in any Museums at Home events and done the virtual tour of the Louvre from the comfort of your sofa, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you need a video camera and a crew to operate it.

However, it’s worth noting that the Louvre virtual tour, the most popular in the world, has been available for a long time; way before the Covid pandemic. It’s also good to remember that the Louvre is also one of the most popular museums in real life, and they can afford to invest in top-quality videography.

That shouldn’t put you off. In fact, you should see that as a challenge, and look for ways that you can create a tour of your site, even if it’s one gallery or one room of your stately home.

How You can do Digital

Almost everyone has a smartphone these days, and they have the capacity to help you start with digital marketing today. Right now, this very second. You can take a photo of your favourite artefact and add it to a Tweet, an Instagram post or upload it to your Facebook page. Tell people what it is, when it’s from and why you like it. And that’s it.

You can record audio, video, broadcast live on any social media platform, ask questions, engage with your visitors in real time, share exclusive peeks behind the scenes, and find out what they’d like to see from you. And don’t forget the other important part of digital marketing – curation.

If you work in heritage, I’m sure you’ve got a fairly good idea of what the curator does. However, in the world of online marketing, curation is about sharing content from other people.

Rather than seeing them as competition, retweet posts from other local venues. Look for other museums around the country that have a similar focus to you – perhaps you’re Roman forts at opposite ends of England; perhaps you both own one of John Martin’s epic works (if that’s you, please let me know! I’m a big fan of John Martin) or you were bequeathed something from the same Victorian philanthropist. Or just share it because you like it.

Look to see what other sites are doing, and take inspiration from them. Join in with the #curatorbattle on Twitter, where museums share objects each week related to a theme. Or start your own hashtag! Find enthusiastic local historians and get them involved. Look for writers and artists you could feature on your website and social media.

Please don’t think that you can’t succeed with digital marketing or it won’t work for you – if you give it a go, it might be the difference between you being able to reopen in the new year and locking the doors for good.

Further Resources

There are lots of businesses who can help with digital marketing and social media. I’ve also put together some of my content, which I hope will be helpful for you.

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