Are museums and tribes a perfect match?


How could museums benefit from going tribal? Could museums collaborate with tribes to attract new visitors? What new ways of thinking, working and organizing would this require?

These questions and many more are being explored by Kajsa Hartig on her interesting blog about Cultural Heritage and Digital Communication. Kajsa works as a Digital Navigator at Nordiska museet in Stockholm, Sweden. You can read up on her blog posts on tribes herehere and here. Our exchange inspired me to write a blog post on how to collaborate with tribes: 4 steps toward tribal collaboration.

Kajsa’s questions and engagement also inspired me to look at how museums communicate on the net, and the remainder of this post is a short summary of my reflections. Many of the challenges and opportunities I discovered relate to organizations and companies across the board.

1. Relevance 

If I were to summarize my impression of the challenge that many museums appear to face, it would be: relevance. I see an untapped potential for the stories and experiences that museums share to deeper connect with their potential visitors. However, this requires more tailored communications that creates the desired effect: “Yes, this is 100% me!”. To be relevant a well defined target group is required. I definitely think a tribal approach to communication could help museums become more relevant.

2. Join existing conversations

I think Abhay’s advice to join existing conversations is great! It reminds me of an article by Grant McCracken about brands connecting to present day culture and discussions:

“I like to think of branding as breathing. It is taking in cultural meanings and giving them off. Inhale, exhale — but in this case the stuff of respiration is not air but culture. Culture in, culture out. (There’s no point of joining a conversation unless you’ve got something to say.)”  Read the full article here.

All companies and organizations need to look for footholds to anchor their messages and contributions. Without them they can grow isolated in a world of their own.

3. Make your next event a tribal happening!

While many companies and organizations struggle with creating events, museums live by them. I would recommend museums that want to try a tribal approach to use their next exhibition as a starting point. An exhibition is a perfect opportunity to evaluate something new within a limited time span. It will provide interesting lessons and results which can be used as a proof-of-concept to convert the sceptics and get everybody onboard in the organization. My advice: use your next exhibition as a launch pad for your first tribal project!

4. Find the passion

If you decide to follow this advice you will be back peddling! You will have a product – an exhibition – with an unclear tribe to invite. To solve this problem you will have to get creative. For example, the Nordic Museum is hosting a workshop on wigs in March. While you probably can find tribes that are passionate about wigs, it may be more beneficial to look further. What you need to do is unravel the passion (the heart) in this formula:


Besides the obvious passion for theaters, the passion could be costume drama movies. This could result in a lovable and sharable infographic about wigs, such as the 10 Most Villainous Wigs of all Time. You get the idea.

5. Pick the lowest hanging fruits

When starting off with something new, it is always good exercise to begin with the lowest hanging fruit. The reason is that it will provide a good learning experience and produce quicker results.Enthusiasm and momentum is always a good thing! Your tribal spotting could begin by identifying common tribes among your most loyal visitors. This is a great starting point, because they will most likely be happy to carry your torch for you.

6. Trend forecasting and analysis

I would encourage museums to spend more time on trend forecasting and analysis, considering that they do a fair amount of exhibition planning ahead of time. Remember that we wanted to be contemporary and part of an ongoing discussion. One good place to look is in popular culture, because they draw upon historic material for art, books and movies etc. It will actually prove quite easy to find common ground. For example: HBO is going to release a new ambitious TV-series on Vikings today. This could be an opportunity, for museums with viking material, to communicate with the potential HBO Viking tribe. Another example for museums working with Swedish cultural heritage would be to piggy back the Nordic food trend.

7. From visitors to co-creators

Tribes should not only be seen as an opportunity to attract new visitors, but also as an opportunity for co-creation. What would happen if museums regarded their visitors as participants or co-creators of meaning and content? Un-conferences have become increasingly popular during the last years. What would an un-exhibition look like?

Co-creation is great for building engagement and extending the museum experience  to include a richer “before” and “after”. Vacations illustrates this well. People like to dream about, read up on and plan their trips ahead of time.  When they come home they want to share their experiences with friends. How does that lend itself to museum experiences? How can tribes be invited to help plan events? How can they contribute before the event? One concrete idea would be to invite people to help plan museum events online through collaborative pin boards. More inspiration can be found in this blog post: 6 examples of tribal co-creation.

Here is a timely example of the Novia Scotia Museum hosting a Harlem Shake. An excellent example of joining existing conversations, trends and experiences:

8. Encourage the sharing of experiences

I found that many museums are great at engaging their visitors (or shall we say co-creators from now on?) with workshops and activities. However there seems to be a larger potential to encourage them to share these experiences with family and friends. One concrete idea would be to encourage people to share their photos on Instagram using a common hash tag. The Instagram photos could be featured on the museum website in a widget, and in the museum on screens. The best images could be posted on Facebook and other social media channels. This is another example of extending the museum experience beyond the actual visit.

9. Retention

Museums that begin working with tribes have a great opportunity to build long lasting relations centered around common passions. This implies that their communication can be increasingly relevant and tailored over time. All of this is a great basis for working with retention, for example through design and management of the customer life cycle.  This will help museums build engagement over time, aiding the journey of people from simply being potentially interested towards becoming followers and finally ambassadors.

Do you think museums and tribes are a good match? How would your organization benefit from working with tribes? Perhaps you already do? Do you have any ideas that you would like to add or develop?.

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