The Natural History Museum of Florence and its social media communication strategies

Best Practice Session
alba scarpellini, Italy

Keywords: Museum of Natural History, MSN, Florence, social media, social network

The Museum of Natural History, University of Florence (MSN) is the most important Italian natural history museum and one of the largest in Europe. Founded in 1775 by Peter Leopold of Lorraine, one of the most “enlightened” European rulers of the time, the MSN was the first Italian natural history museum to be open to all (nobles, clergy, the third state and common people) with set times, and to have admission tickets issued, called “Pizzini.”

The museum visit was designed to present knowledge and discoveries about nature in its entirety, playing a role to educate and disseminate the secrets of nature: from the Earth, with the mineralogy at the sky with astronomy, through botany, zoology and anthropology.

The success and curiosity about the MSN were testified to by the number of visitors who visited it. During the first three years of its life around 20,000 people frequented the museum and  30% were women.

Nowadays the natural and artistic collections of the MSN (8 million artifacts) are set in different buildings in Florence. The MSN is a very complex reality to communicate and should have significant financial resources in order to ensure adequate means for enhancing its collections, involving a wider audience in its activities and reporting its important research.

In 2008, the MSN was the first university museum in Europe to have its own avatar on Second Life with the exhibition, “Virtual Renaissance Art in Second Life and Virtual Words”. The MSN continued to experiment with different aspects of virtual reality. The Museum’s educational department designed and developed some educational games online with 2- and 3D videos that are an important platform in the area of environmental education and the dissemination of scientific culture.

The MSN created its FB profile in February 2010.

2012 was the year of the explosion of MSN on social networks. Thanks to the exibition/ event “Dinosaurs in Flesh and Bones: Science and art bring to life the rulers of a lost world (DCO)”, MSN opened up profiles on more social platforms, and tested the validity of its multi-channel and interactive communication strategy.

Communications were planned with the Fondazione Sistema Toscana. DCO’s Jurassic Media Team was able to create a strong engagement with the community and the MSN earned the title of “most social natural history museum in Italy”.  Its Facebook page was the strong point of the campaign: during the six month exhibition, MSN’s community grew in number and in quality. In March 2012, the Museum had 1,300 Friends; in September of the same year the number was 13,600, with an average of 40 interactions per post published.

With its Tumblr platform, gaming activities and competitions were carried out that involved many people. Tumblr is a platform between blogs and social networks; its ease of use enables you to insert text, images, links, music and videos. In 2013, MSN  used Tumblr to promote another event

MSN participated in Twitter’s museums week # MuseumWeek @storianaturale and it shared in direct and unprecedented experiences with the public. MSN also shared hundreds of photos on Flickr and Instagram.

On its Youtube channel there are over 25 videos with thousands of views. The most watched videos show the project, “Bat-Box – a bat to a friend”. Bat-Box is a citizen science project that involved many people for the Protection of bats that are a species at risk of extinction.

MSN’s social communication strategy proposes that communication is successful when its content is not improvised.

First you should identify the goals and analyze the internal and external context of the museum to engage users. It is also necessary to know the potential of digital media. Each channel has its own function: the website is the container for general information, Twitter is for spreading the news and Facebook to dialogue with users.

The editorial plan provides for the publication of messages that communicate the activities related to the daily activities of the museum, but must also convey news of a more general character thought to maintain attention on social media. MSN’s Facebook page also offers content curation that is trying to aggregate, organize and share important news on the themes of nature, biodiversity and climate change.

Inside the Museum visitors can take pictures and shoot video, and are welcome to share their content on social networks. We all have in our pockets technological tools that allow us to become the main players in the communication process. Who does not enjoy sharing a special lived experience in an unconventional way while visiting a museum?

MSN has joined the movement of the “Digital Invasions” (invasioni digitali) and for two years has organized events which were attended many people. Interaction with the users of MSN is very important. For example: last year, on the occasion of the devastating burning of the City of Science, MSN promoted a campaign of information daily and joined the international movement that was immediately activated thanks to social networks. During a special opening of MSN the Museum collected € 4,500.

MSN is committed to increasingly involve more of its community. MSN working on a project that involves the setting up of a new room of Geology, which will be designed to house a 10-meter whale fossil and in general will be dedicated to science on biodiversity of marine environments. It wants to involve its fans both online and offline inviting them to provide us with suggestions and tips. MSN will launch a campaign on social networks with a specific hashtag and we will organize meetings and events in the museum that will be used also raise money for this project.

To have a profile on social media do not require huge investments. The main social networks are accessible free of charge to all. Of course, especially after FB changed its algorithms, the visibility of posts is subject to limitations, but it is also true that the costs of paid listings are definitely sustainable. Investments should be made in people who are dedicated to this activity. Unfortunately in Italy there are still very few museums that have an internal staff with specific training and social responsibility in communication and marketing. Even those who have already worked in this area for a long time rarely have a proper job classification and compensation. A museum must be open to the public to research, acquire, preserve and exhibit its artifacts but above all it has to communicate, so should the communication activity within social media should be considered equal to all other activities fundamental to a museum.

The MSN participated in Museum and the Web Florence in 2014 and spoke of its communication campaign on social media. It hosted the masterclass “How to Communicate Science.” The participants could visit the MSN and exchange viewpoints and fresh ideas about the future of museums and social media.


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Cite as:
a. scarpellini, The Natural History Museum of Florence and its social media communication strategies. In Museums and the Web 2013, N. Proctor & R. Cherry (eds). Silver Spring, MD: Museums and the Web. Published May 27, 2014. Consulted .

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