Artboard 1
Principles for Digital Curation in Museums – Göteborgs konstmuseum

During a one-year research and development project we have explored curation in digital media from various perspectives through research reviews, interviews, surveys, and workshops. Here we present an overview and summary of the experiences in nine principles for effective curated content.

Digitality is now an integral part of everyday life, making it often meaningless to distinguish between physical and digital experiences. Our mobile phones and social media have increasingly made the digital world always present for us. Our existence is digilogue (digital+analogue).

Digitalization enables and requires changed ways of working and interacts with the larger museum transformation that has shifted focus from preservation and expertise to societal contributions and public experiences. The digital museum is not a replacement for the physical one but can complement and expand the relevance of museums.

Digital communication is characterized by being more reliant on shared presence in time, rather than physical location. Thus, more employees and roles can interact with the digital audience. The target audience is also determined more by language, content, and communication than physical location. The digital museum is in our hand, while the physical museum encloses the visitors. Digital curation is therefore more akin to books, film, and TV than physical exhibitions.

Here we present several principles for effective digital curation. The principles are not a simple checklist. Rather, each principle is quite self-evident on its own. They are also partially overlapping and mutually explanatory. It is not about the need for technology or resources, but rather about what can be done within each museum’s own prerequisites. Each principle is accompanied by an example designed to inspire practical application.

Focus on the audience

To create a relationship-based digital platform, we must tailor the content of the operation to the target audience. In digital media, we meet the audience on different platforms and in a variety of formats, each of which has specific conditions that we must understand and relate to in order to create engagement and build relations. It is important to understand the audience’s needs, desires, emotions, identity, language, and stories – and prioritize the content and channels that are relevant for them.

Example of application

Develop a clear strategy for meeting the audience on different platforms based on their respective conditions. Have high accessibility. It should be easy to navigate and easy to understand. Create content with a clear address that is inviting and engaging.

Create value

To create relations with the audience, we need to communicate valuable content that meets the museum’s social mission. We are socially relevant when we engage people and respond to their needs and desires – and offer in-depth perspectives, knowledge, conversations, and meetings that create trust and connections. Our goal is always to contribute to a good society based on our subject area and specific mission. This requires clearly formulated missions and goals that guide the operation.

Example of application

Understand the target audience’s needs and motivations and how they relate to our mission, goals, and brand. This provides opportunities to create engaging content that promotes audience participation in society.

Find the right tone of voice

A personal tone of voice at eye level with the visitor creates better conditions for engagement and relations with the museum. The tone of voice can be said to be a brand’s personality and is important for how we are perceived, especially in text, but also in image and graphic form. The tonality should be based on the museum’s core values, although there is an opportunity to cut loose in some situations. No one speaks in the same way in all different relations.

Example of application

Lower the barriers with a more personal approach rather than an anonymous institutional voice. Avoid talking about the organization in the third person. Adapt the address to different target groups, media, and contexts. Follow common writing rules.

Promote interactivity

We need to increase the opportunities for interactive and co-creative moments on our digital platforms and invite those to whom the museum could be beneficial and useful to become involved in creating the content. The audience can be actively involved and co-creative in various ways, which is almost a prerequisite for relations-building communication.

Example of application

Invite the audience to co-create content. Provide digital opportunities where the audience can engage actively. Give more (for example) artists and external partners the opportunity to contribute editorial content to the museum’s platforms.

Think transmedial

All platforms and channels have their specific conditions and strengths, like different branches in a digital, transmedia system. We make strategic choices of channels based on their usage areas, but also on how they interact with our physical environments to create a cohesive transmedial visitor experience. We need to be better at creating cohesive stories for different media that together provide valuable information and experiences for visitors – both on site and online. The obstacles to thinking transmedially are usually organizational rather than technical.

Example of application

Develop a channel strategy that can guide channel selection by usage and target audience. Do not let digital become a separate part of the operations. Instead, consider the museum’s entire transmedial opportunities (works, objects, exhibitions, texts, catalogues, audio guides, digital platforms, and more).

Curate with themes

Focuses and thematic sections on the website offer increased accessibility and richer content for audiences. Curated, thematic explorations can, for example, pique curiosity and generate interest in the museum’s collection, individual works and objects, or the entire range of content. It is often effective to create series of in-depth presentations based on a clear and easily understood theme that can be distributed across various channels. Deepening and exploring a concept also builds content that can become exhibitions, program events, or similar.

Examples of Application

Use a dynamic media mix with text, images, film, sound, illustrations et al. Utilize the strengths specific to each media by taking advantage of digital opportunities for response presence, narrativity, cross-cutting, interactive engagement, high-resolution close-ups and hyperlinked contextualizations of art and cultural heritage.

Dramatize your stories

Regardless of medium and format, stories have a unique ability to capture and interest the recipient, which is particularly expedient for museums and cultural institutions. Dramaturgy is a tool for creating target group-adapted stories with a message. The experience of works and objects is enhanced by a well-dramatized story that creates context and engagement; that offers knowledge and develops emotional ties to the audience.

Examples of Application

Tell stories with commitment and passion to living and concrete recipients – regardless of format. Use both rational and emotional arguments. Offer exciting, inspiring, and surprising content that people want to talk about and share.

Experiment and evaluate

We should experiment more with different ways to present our work and not be afraid to make mistakes. We must be open and willing to try new formats for different types of content. To improve our digital presence, it is essential to collect and analyse data to develop our operation. We shall work to fulfil our mission and goals and continuously evaluate our work. We shall continually ask ourselves if we are reaching our chosen target groups and try to find better ways to create engagement and digital relations.

Examples of Application

Set relevant impact goals and analyse results to find good avenues for further development. Experiment more to gain better tools of analysis. Develop the ability to qualitatively evaluate audience interactions with various specific parts of the digital offer.

Use our own platforms

We should prioritize creating content for our own platforms. On the website, in collection databases, and in newsletters, we can develop editorial and cumulatively available content. Content on social media has a short lifespan. We use social media primarily to create engagement for different types of content and for dialogue and networking. We also make our collections available through open, collaborative platforms. Our mission is to make art and cultural heritage experiences an accessible and relevant resource for the audience and our society.

Examples of Application

Develop towards a more editorial website. Use newsletters for editorial and relational content. Focus on open, linked data and a stronger visual experience for collection databases. Choose open collaborative platforms as much as possible; for example, make images available on Wikimedia.

Johan Lindblom, Digital Communication Specialist, Klas Grinell, Development Manager.