Museums in social media

Best Practice Session
Natalia Dudareva, Denmark

Keywords: social media, Facebook, museum audeinces, typology, communication, arts marketing

What makes social media relevant for arts and culture marketing: a study applied to Facebook pages of three museums in Copenhagen

1. Introduction

Social media is transforming the way people interact with each other, make decisions in their daily lives, and receive information (Qualman, 2009). Therefore, museums are trying different approaches to utilising these media for improving their marketing and communication practices (Kelly, 2013). In this research, I explored the existing audiences of museums on Facebook in order to find out what motivates them to read these pages.

I present the results of research conducted as a part of master’s thesis aimed at finding out how social media can be relevant for marketing of museums. I view the pages of museums from the standpoint of marketing strategy, and through this research I seek to describe how social media can be used for the marketing strategy of museums.

This research was conducted in collaboration with three museums located in Copenhagen: The National Gallery of Denmark, The National Museum of Denmark, and The David Collection. Each of them opened up the opportunity to share the quantitative questionnaire through their Facebook pages.

Results of the research demonstrated that the audiences of museums on Facebook are not homogenous. Instead, different kinds of motivations are involved in following museums in social media and interacting with them online. Although I identified a connection between following museums on Facebook and visiting them, it is possible to say that the online representation of museums is becoming an experience of its own, which means that it also attracts those who do not tend to visit museums regularly. These findings make it possible to suggest how social media can be used to enhance long-term relationships with audiences of museums and to engage new audience groups with the museum experiences.

How did I research the relevance of social media for museum marketing?

The goal of this work is to explore the possibilities that social media can offer for enhancing the marketing strategies of museums. Therefore, I analysed a range of academic works on arts and cultural marketing, and museum marketing in particular. This analysis showed that to reach the main goals of museum marketing, such as attracting more visitors and expanding access to museum experiences, it is necessary to understand what kinds of consumers attend museums (Kotler, 2008). Moreover, it is necessary to identify on which of them the museums would like to focus their marketing efforts (Ibid.).

Bringing knowledge of museum marketing into the environment of social media, I referred to works that elaborate on the characteristics of this online environment and on the ways that museums can represent themselves in these media. Analysis of different works on social media shows that they are regarded as online platforms that provide functionality for creating personal profiles and interacting with other profiles, building communities, and sharing digital media resources (Qualman, 2009).

Placing museums into the environment of social media, Kelly (2013) proposes to examine social media as platforms for providing and developing two-way communication between museums and their audiences. Yet in order to develop this mutual communication, it is necessary to understand why the users of social media are following pages of organisations on Facebook and how the resulting interactions can be managed and developed (Wallace et al, 2014).

To find out why the users of Facebook choose to follow and interact with the pages of museums, I based my research on the frameworks of motivations and values of cultural consumption. By combining the categories of cultural experiences described by Foreman-Wernet et al. (2011) with the factors explaining arts attendance described by Bakke (2009) and the four dimensions of cultural experience elaborated by Petkus (2002), I formed my own approach to exploring the motivations for following the pages of museums on Facebook. It includes three core groups of motivations: the intrinsic benefits of arts and culture, manifestation and development of personal identity, and education and intellectual development. To adapt these motivations for a study in social media, I supplemented them with the fourth element that is crucial for this environment: socialization and interaction. Figure 1 demonstrates these four elements as a part of motivation for cultural consumption in social media.

Figure 1: four groups of motivations for cultural consumption in social media

four groups of motivations

This figure illustrates the four groups of motivations that were formed through analysis of literature on museum marketing, social media environment, and the characteristics of cultural experiences.

I formulated a quantitative questionnaire based on these four groups of motivations. Its main goals were to provide a description of the Facebook users who follow museums in social media in terms of motivations for doing so, and to supplement it with a general description of these audiences, as well as with information about their visits to museums.

Three museums located in Copenhagen provided an opportunity to reach out to their audiences on Facebook. The National Gallery of Denmark, The National Museum of Denmark, and the David Collection distributed the survey through their pages of Facebook, inviting their readers to fill it in. Thus it was possible to collect 311 complete answers for the questionnaire.

Having gathered the data, I analysed it using statistical methods. To group the respondents into types of relationships with museums on Facebook I used factor analysis and cluster analysis. I identified two scales that diversified the respondents: “personality and connection” and “desire to interact.” The former gathered motivations related to developing and expressing one’s own personality and connecting with social communities formed around museums and with the museums as well. The latter described to what extent each member of the audience was willing to participate in interactions with museums through Facebook. Cluster analysis resulted in forming five types of relationships.

I supplemented the typology by describing each type through other characteristics and analysing how following a museum on Facebook is connected with visiting this museum. These analyses were conducted using cross tabulation and “One-way Analysis of Variance” techniques.

2. Five types of relationships

The main result of the research is formulation of the five types of relationships : “Enthusiast,” “Connected,” “Contributor,” “Interested,” and “Informational.” Notably, none of the demographical characteristics (e.g., age, gender, region of residence) showed significant difference in distribution among the types. This indicates that the motivations and values of following a Facebook page described through the two scales are not directly related to the demographical characteristics of the respondents. Figure 2 summarizes the characteristics of the five types.

Figure 2: characteristics of the five types of relationships


The types demonstrate different levels of involvement with museums and motivations for following them on Facebook

“Enthusiast” is both the most engaged and the largest group among the relationship types. This group receives the Facebook news and updates with attention and reacts to them. The “Enthusiast” joins Facebook to connect with like-minded people and the museums they are interested in. By demonstrating the fact that they like certain museums and events, the members of this type are showing their personality and interests to their network, thus building social connections around their cultural experiences. When it comes to expressing opinions and experiences on museums’ Facebook pages, the “Enthusiast” feels confident to share and interact on these pages. Moreover, the “Enthusiast” sees the Facebook pages of museums as a good place for sharing and interacting.

Learning about an interesting topic strongly motivates the “Enthusiast” to follow museums on Facebook. Another important use of these pages for the “Enthusiast” is getting practical information about the exhibitions and activities offered by the museums. News and updates that the “Enthusiast” receives through the Facebook pages of museums serve as highly inspiring for visiting the museums, which also corresponds to actual museum attendance: the “Enthusiast” regularly visits the museums they are following on Facebook. This type is also active in following a variety of other museums on Facebook, and is interested in reading articles and reviews both online and in the printed press about the exhibitions and events offered by the museums.

“Connected” expresses high levels of emotional connection with the museums through their Facebook pages and with the communities formed around these pages. Nevertheless, the “Connected” person demonstrates less interest in sharing and participation in conversations about museum experiences or contribution to the curatorial choices.

Although the “Connected” person sees the Facebook pages of museums as good places to share their opinions with museums and related communities, they do not feel confident in participating in these interactions. The “Connected” person places high importance on the information about exhibitions and events that museums provide through their Facebook pages, and gets inspired by these updates to visit the museums. Another important source of information about the exhibitions and events for this type is articles and reviews in online or printed press. The inspiration that “Connected” gets from Facebook updates of museums turns into action, as this group of respondents regularly visits the museums they follow on Facebook.

The “Contributor” gathers the respondents with the highest desire to interact with museums through Facebook. This type is highly interested in contributing to discussions with museums, but does not identify itself with abstract feelings of connectedness as much as the “Enthusiast.” This means that “Contributor” has confidence in sharing his or her own opinions on the Facebook pages of museums and wants to participate in the development of museum exhibitions through social media. Moreover, this type sees the Facebook pages of museums as a good place for sharing and interactions.

The “Contributor” uses the Facebook pages of museums as the means to get information about museums, but does not see them as a definitive source for learning something new about an interesting topic. Nevertheless, the updates received by the “Contributor” serve as an inspiration for visiting museums. It is interesting to note that despite the strong willingness to interact through the pages of museums and the inspiration that they provide for the visits, this type is moderately active in visiting the museums they follow on Facebook.

“Interested” represents a moderate extent of involvement with museums on Facebook. Although “Interested” agrees that the Facebook pages of museums are good places for sharing opinions and experiences with them, they do not feel very confident in sharing on these pages.

The “Interested” person uses the Facebook pages of museums as a means to get information about their exhibitions and events. While they do not see this information as a source of new learning, it provides inspiration for visiting the museums. As a result, the “Interested” person sometimes visits the museums that they follow on Facebook. Another source of information about museums that the “Interested” person is using rather often is articles and reviews online and in the printed press.

“Informational” is the smallest group in the typology, and it represents the respondents who do not feel an emotional connection with museums on Facebook and are not interested in contributing to discussions with them on this network. The “Informational” follower does not feel a desire to interact with the museums’ curators on Facebook or contribute to the collaborative development of experiences, and this group does not show confidence in sharing their experiences either. Nevertheless, the “Informational” follower sees Facebook as a rather good place for these interactions.

When it comes to the influence of the pages, learning is not a process that attracts the “Informational” person to follow the studied profiles. They rather see the pages as sources of practical information about the museums and as an inspiration to visit them. Nevertheless, “Informational” does not regularly visit the museums that they follow on Facebook.

3. Social media as a part of museum marketing strategy

This research demonstrates that social media provides an opportunity to remain connected with museum audiences outside the actual visits. For example, user types like “Enthusiast” and “Connected” emotionally engaged with museums in social media and are willing to interact and share their experiences on museums’ pages. Nevertheless, the “Informational” type does not have a strong feeling of connection or desire to interact, but still this type follows the museums’ social media ,while the actual visits do not take place as often as for the “Enthusiast” and “Connected” person. The “Interested” follower appears to be a moderately involved type that may possibly change the position according to a cycle of customer engagement to be more or less involved depending on their personal characteristics and communication style of the museums.

Results demonstrated that Facebook is more than an advertising tool in museum marketing strategies. It offers vast opportunities for direct communication with target audiences, maintaining long-term presence in their consideration, and even involving them at the core of the museum experiences. The value of Facebook and other social networks for word-of-mouth marketing is large, especially with the high importance of recommendations of family and friends for the choice to attend certain museums and exhibitions.

Therefore, one of the key challenges that museums face when using social media for marketing purposes is to move further in using it as an informational and advertising platform. Museums need to establish approaches to encourage participation and interaction on their pages, and according to Grøn et al. (2013), choice of suitable content can be one of the keys to establishing the interactive environment of the pages.

Nevertheless, the results also demonstrated that an existence of a mute audience share does not always mean that the engagement of users is low. Instead, it is important to remember that different types may have opposite preferences, and only a portion of all respondents is actually feeling confident and willing to interact with the museums.

This research also demonstrated that often the Facebook presence of museums inspires their social media followers to visit them at their physical locations. It indicated that there is a connection between the fact of following a museum in social media and attending it. Nevertheless, the causality of this relation could not be described.

The results of this study are largely explorative and provide inspiration for museum marketing strategy formulation. Yet this approach needs to be tested further on different samples and to be supplemented with further characteristics in order to deepen the knowledge of the possibilities that social media provides for reaching the goals of museum marketing.


This work would not have been possible without the collaborations, assistance, and help that I received. I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who supported me throughout this project: Imagine Institute at Copenhagen Business School, Golden Days Festival and Kulturkik, the communication departments of The National Gallery of Denmark, The National Museum of Denmark, and The David Collection, friends who participated in testing and proofreading of the questionnaire, and others.


Bakke, M. (2009). “How can we communicate with the arts audience?” In L. Foreman-Wernet and B. Dervin (eds.). Audeinces and the arts, 101-121.

Foreman-Wernet, L., & B. Dervin. (2011). “Cultural experience in context: Sense-making the arts.” The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society 41, 1-37.

Grøn, S., L. Hansen, & M. Holst Mouritzen. (2013). “Dos and don’ts on facebook across museums.” NODEM 2013 Sweden, 49.

Kelly, L. (2013). “The connected museum in the world of social media.” In K. Drotner and K.C. Schrøder (eds.). Museum communication and social media – the connected museum. New York, Oxon ed., 54: Routledge.

Kotler, N.G., P. Kotler, & W.I. Kotler. (2008). Museum marketing and strategy: Designing missions, building audiences, generating revenue and resources (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Petkus Jr., E. (2002). “Enhancing the application of experiential marketing in the arts.” International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing 9(1), 49-55.

Qualman, E. (2009). Socialnomics. John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Cite as:
N. Dudareva, Museums in social media. In Museums and the Web 2013, N. Proctor & R. Cherry (eds). Silver Spring, MD: Museums and the Web. Published June 1, 2014. Consulted .

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