Cultural Institutions and Social Media

Cultural Institutions and Social Media


With the application of web2.0 and emergence of social media, more channels have been made available for people to get information and news. At the same time, a platform has been provided for the masses to release and disseminate information. In general, social media refer to a category of communication-based media for social interactions of users, tools and platforms for people to share their opinions, lessons and views (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013). The rapid development of social media has not only changed people’s lifestyles, but also gradually influenced cultural institutions. More and more cultural institutions such as museums and galleries have strengthened their construction of websites and social platforms. Thus, social media have become important means for communications between museums and the masses.


Moreover, the use of social media is helpful for extending specialized information of museums and art galleries, enhancing effects of exhibitions and attracting more audiences. A report of American Pew Research Center suggests that, networks and social media, involved in different aspects of cultural organizations like museums during their operations including curatorial practices, exhibition, education, philanthropy and activities, have become indispensable parts of cultural fields. 97% of 1,224 art institutions financially subsidized by the National Endowment for the Arts in the United States have set up their homepages on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr or other social media and platforms. For 69% of these organizations, they arrange their employees to construct their personal web pages as members of their organizations. 45% organizations creating homepages are updating on a daily basis, including 25% organizations which update several times a day (Li, 2013). In this essay, I will argue that the development of cultural institutions is driven by social media. This essay will mainly focus on reasons for social media to promote the development of cultural institutions and means for employing social media in the cultural institutions.


Reasons for Social Media to Promote the Development of Cultural Institutions

By social media, museums and art galleries may not only obtain effective ways for communication, but also change the models for running museums. The emergence of social media is of great significance for development of museums and galleries.


Firstly, museums and galleries can publicize themselves based on the advantage of social media for disseminating information fast and attract more visitors. “Sharing and participation” are essential for social media. More and more participants can share their information and views after their experience through social media, or upload photos taken inside museums and art galleries on networks such as Facebook and Twitter (Goode, 2010). According to a Research Report on Social Media of Australia in 2010, 3/4 Australian netizens discover brands, products or organizations through social media and networks. 63% people are Facebook users. 46% people choose to click the button “link” on the Facebook for related products or brands, while 43% netizens share their viewpoints about brands and products through social media. 53% people interact with organizations on social media and networks (Yan, 2013). Official websites of museums and art galleries are not the sole means for the public to obtain information from the museums and the galleries. It has been a development trend of many cultural industries to develop a type of interactive models through social networks or platforms and audiences. Therefore, social media may not only assist enterprises or organizations in their larger-scale online publicity and marketing, but also attract more audiences.


Secondly, social media have transformed previous exhibition models of cultural institutions while shortening the distance between museums and audiences (Kelly & Smith, 2009). In the past, the audiences of museums and art galleries could only appreciate arts and cultures through comments and descriptions in words. Nowadays, social media have more and more diversified contents and forms, including words, pictures, audios and videos. Simple, fast and convenient transmission of these contents on social platforms contributes to improved effects of exhibitions and museums’ closer distance from audiences.


Thirdly, social media have brought many opportunities for communication and cooperation between museums and audiences such as cooperating with each other to host exhibitions and improving information about exhibited products. For instance, information about most exhibited products may be seen on the website of the Powerhouse Museum. However, not all uploaded information of exhibited products is complete. In 2009, an “audience” discovered an exhibited product named “H7507 Inclinometer” that only indicated place of manufacturing without any other incomplete information. Subsequently, he attempted to contact the exhibition planner of the museum and finally helped them confirm the real origin of the exhibited product. One week later, three high-precision pictures and 746 words were added to the exhibited product to tell its story on the website (Zhang, 2013). Audiences are not purely media consumers any more, but have turned into participants. Audiences can deliver their own opinions anytime and anywhere through social platforms (Hinton & Hjorth,2013). Therefore, a bridge has been built between the masses and the museum through social networks and platforms, so that the audiences can have a zero-distance communicate with organizations and artists. Networks have created a new space for social interactions.


Ways for Museums and Art Galleries to Employ Social Media

As internet entered the age of web2.0, cultural institutions have successively introduced social media and networks as well as technologies and applications to attract audiences and bring new visiting experiences. Firstly, social media and platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have been constructed for connections and interactions with more people. With the availability of social media and platforms, museum staff may launch exquisite antiques on platforms for appreciation, introduce anecdotes of museum work and create different meaningful activities, so as to have good interactions with audiences under joyful atmosphere. Hinton & Hjorth (2013) says that social media, supporting different offline activities, really belong to a consequence of society, economy and cultures. What is more, to attract the masses, many museums have launched “virtual exhibition halls” of real exhibitions on their websites. The masses will be able to experience through the internet as if they were there in person no matter where they are. Unlimited by time and space any longer, “virtual exhibition halls” may present essences and themes of exhibitions such as 360° field panoramic representation to the greatest extent.


Secondly, interest communities are constructed to carry out dissemination and interaction activities dominated by the masses. With the development of intelligent terminals and mobile networks, people may not only develop their own interpersonal circles with the aid of their acquaintances through social networks, but can also create thematic activities, build interest communities with people sharing common interests in any places and make publicities. For example, in a photography exhibition named “Florida” held by the Orlando Museum of Art, 120 works delivered by photography enthusiasts of the whole state were exhibited on Facebook for audiences to appreciate and vote. Those 45 works winning the most votes were ultimately exhibited inside physical venues (Hunan Provincial Museum, 2012). Therefore, it is advisable to attract audiences and have good interactions with them via these social networks and platforms.


A case study

For instance, the Powerhouse Museum of Australia treats social media projects as parts of its internal construction. Firstly, the museum has constructed its own characteristic social interaction platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, through which it exhibits its collections and communicates with its users.

屏幕快照 2016-04-17 下午7.21.17.png

28,437 people are fans of the Powerhouse Museum’s Facebook, 7,169 people follow on Twitter and 9,087 people follow on Instagram. From 2005 to 2009, its website visits increased from 2,462,231 to 10,239,301.屏幕快照 2016-04-17 下午8.19.13.png

Secondly, museums often promote activities on social networks to attract audiences. For example, the Powerhouse Museum has designed and launched activities for disseminating and educating about thematic scientific and cultural knowledge. For instance, it helps users understand water resources management through its game known as Water Cycle. The museum attracts the audiences by various online and offline activities, making them feel as if they were there in person. More and more people have been accustomed to acquiring more information through social media. In addition, an online channel has been set up on the website for people to buy its tickets and favored by 1,134 persons.

屏幕快照 2016-04-18 下午12.54.22.png屏幕快照 2016-04-18 下午1.03.54.png


In the age of web2.0, the development of social media has brought forth new ideas and opportunities for cultural institutions and audiences, facilitating the development of these industries. Moreover, cultural institutions have brought relationships between audiences and museums closer via social networks and platforms, to shape good images and create typical brand effects for the museums. In the future, forms of cooperation between such cultural institutions and social media will develop continuously.



This course is highly helpful and influential for me. For instance, I have learnt new theories of social media and how to analyze social platforms. Besides, I have really put what I have acquired into practices. After taking this course, I have also obtained practice opportunities, and personally publicized my own organization through social media. In the past, I just chatted with friends and family members with some social media. Nevertheless, I have known more social media and software, mastering more skills of some social media.


In my campaign, on the first week of publicity, I neither quite understand minds of audiences nor know how to publicize. By the 3rd week, I came to know how to better attract audiences and got adept in some technical operations with social media. It is critically important to create more activities and maintain good interactions with the audiences. In the future, I will try using social platforms more skillfully in the next campaign and pay more attention to brand marketing and interactions with audiences.

DI CHEN (440036900)



Goode, L. (2010). Social news, citizen journalism and democracy. New Media & Society, 11, 1-19.


Hunan Provincial Museum, (2012).



Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. (2013). Understanding Social Media. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.


Kelly, L.& Smith, S. (2009). Revisioning the Physical and On-line Museum: A Partnership with the Coalition of Knowledge Building Schools. Journal of Museum Education. 34. (4): 55-68.


Li, H. J. (2013), “New media and museum visitors” in the survey report digital technology to enhance the social integration of the Museum. China Culture Daily.


Yan, Y.M, (2013), Applications and the Policy Interpretation of the Social Media in Australian National Library. Library of Guang Dong. pp78-82


Zhang, P. (2013). Social Media Bring New Opportunity for Museum, The Research of Museum. pp25-29.



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