Interweaving Social: An Interview with the Cleveland Museum of Art's Reena Goodwin, Part 1

“We have to consider the connections that we as a museum can make with our current and potential audience, and what connections are they drawing with us,” says Reena S. Goodwin, the Cleveland Museum of Arts’ Digital Communications Manager. For Ms. Goodwin social media is a natural extension of the museum, and uniquely reinforces the museum’s physical experience, sense of community, and creative voice. AMT Lab’s Kristen Sorek West spoke to Ms. Goodwin to learn more about the museum’s approach to social media both online and in the museum. Ms. Goodwin provided a multitude of insights, including:

  • Measure and report engagement using both qualitative and quantitative metrics to get a fuller picture of audience participation.
  • Look outside of your industry for inspiration. For Ms. Goodwin, when revamping the CMA e-newsletter, looking into e-newsletters from outlets such as creative retail helped her see content curation and presentation from a fresh perspective.
  • Curate and organize content in such a way that not only represents your organization’s wide range of stories, but in a way that is also accessible for audiences.

Images provided by University Circle and the Cleveland Museum of At via Instagram and Twitter

Please continue reading for the full interview. Click the following links to learn more about the Cleveland Museum of Art’s use of technology in art education and Gallery One’s app, ARTLENS.


KSW: What is the relationship between the Cleveland Museum of Art’s (CMA) social media and the visitor’s experience within the museum in general?

RG: The CMA encourages the use of social media by visitors while they are exploring the museum. There are some limitations concerning copyrights, but overall the museum appreciates the fundamental value of social media. Often people come into museum with smartphones, texting and tweeting about what they are seeing in front of them, something they have learned, or how they are feeling about their experience or a work of art. These communication channels let visitors share their experiences and moments of awe outward and immediately.


KSW: How has the use of social media the Museum affected the museum’s social media communities?

RG: We are finding that social media use by visitors has increased inside the museum overall. We have also implemented the use of hashtags in special exhibitions, encouraging people to tweet while they tour.


KSW: How is the CMA implementing this? How have audiences responded?

RG: Right now we are encouraging the incorporation of social media references and hashtags inside the exhibitions. While those who are already apt to use social media are likely the people who are more inclined to use it, it’s important to remind or prompt and encourage people to share their experience online in real-time. We’ve found that our visitors have a connection to this place, with full human experiences, emotions, and memories. We are encouraging them to translate that experience onto social media.


KSW: Have you seen social media spread the creation of these memories and experiences?

RG: Yes, we see in the comments on social media. We witness each day how the content is relevant to them personally and how they want to share it, and vice versa. If we post content that is excited, we’re finding that more and more, people are tagging their friends in messages or images, seeking to share or suggest that content, be it an event, an exhibition, a work of art, to their network. Instagram in particular is growing in this respect. The comments give us great information about engagement – it takes more to contribute a comment than double tap a picture.

We are about to embark on a digital communication and participation evaluation, led by our Research & Evaluation team, in an effort to gain qualitative and quantitative means of measurement and from those measurements draw insight. One form of measurement cannot exist without the other – for instance, reach and some engagement metrics are quantitative, and these numbers are important. However, the qualitative engagement assessment shows not only the number of mentions or shares, but the overall sentiment, as well. It is extremely important to listen and understand what your audience is saying and the context around it. A phrase I really like is “museum collections make connections”. We have to consider the connections that we as a museum can make with our current and potential audience, and what connections are they drawing with others.


KSW: That sounds like such a large task. How do you accomplish monitoring so many comments across multiple channels?

RG: In terms of growing networks and expanding into new networks – you have to be mindful of where your brand voice is. It is not necessary to be everywhere, on every social media channel. We have a Snapchat account, but we’ve seldom used it. We had to really evaluate where our audience was and if they be interested in this form of content. Currently our analytics tells us that our dominant audience segment on social media is between ages 25-44, but Snapchat’s median age is 18. So it may or will be worthwhile if we were targeting a specific segment, but it isn’t an ideal platform for broader use. Before you launch into an entirely new strategy on the newest platform, it’s again so important – especially as a nonprofit with limited time and resources -- to know who your audience is, and assess if there is a need to connect with your core audience on that platform.


KSW: Which tools are you looking into?

RG: My wishlist engagement tool at the moment is Curalate. It is a platform that manages visual content and analyzes its impact, partnering with such channels as Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook. Another great feature is that even if your brand isn’t mentioned in an image caption, the Curalate software can read the pixels of images posted on social media and identify the image, where it is being shared, and how frequently. It also analyzes words associated with the images. It’s really interesting but, unfortunately, it isn’t cheap.


KSW: Which analytic programs are you using to monitor your audiences?

RG: I use a combination of Hootsuite, Google analytics, Facebook Insights, Twitter analytics, Iconosquare for Instagram, YouTube analytics, and Pinterest analytics to monitoring and measure.  I have yet to find one tool that does it all. The CMA has not completed a formal sentiment analysis of its social media channels yet, but that might be incorporated into upcoming digital communication research project.


KSWEarlier you mentioned working with the programming department to incorporate social media calls-to-action and hashtags into programs. What is progress like on that front?

RG: It’s definitely an evolution, and therefore won’t happen overnight. Like everything else in the museum, we are of course trying to be as thoughtful as we can in any way to help to enrich the pre, during, and post visit activities of our patrons. We want people to talk about what they are experiencing, have experienced or hope to experience at the CMA on social media, and we want to stay in touch with them and engage them along the way.


KSW: Do you see social media as a compliment to relationship building?

RG: Social media is yet another channel of communication where yes, we can and strive to build relationships with our community. It’s more than just putting your Facebook logo on a program or asking you to “like us” or “follow us.” It’s about you, too. I think it’s more fruitful when you can report back with a deeper engagement with your audience rather than just increased number of likes. That increased engagement takes relationship building. That doesn’t mean we don’t put social icons on tangible collateral, but if anything while we are trying to keep social media present on tangible collateral, it’s a reminder that there is an offline experience, as well. And offline, we of course use digital communications to reinforce that this museum is a physical place to visit with a multitude of unique and rich engagement opportunities in person.


KSW: What other museums or arts organizations are you looking to for inspiration relating to social media?

RG: In terms of digital communications and the arts, I just think the Tate has been doing a fantastic job for a while now. And with their creative content, I love their TateShots series, which educates the public about their collection, but also is also entertaining and engaging. I think it ultimately helps the museum feel more accessible to their audiences.

I think it’s also important to go outside of museums and get inspiration from non-museums, as well. There are certain challenges that come with social media in museums, like being short staffed or time and resourced challenge. But there is no harm in admiring a great idea that comes from a corporation or a start-up and draw inspiration. You might be able to adapt it for your particular organization.


KSW: Are you looking at any particular relationship building techniques in non-art organizations?

RG: One technique that’s become critical is visual storytelling. We live in a visual society and now, with social media, we are able to communicate those visuals more easily. My education was in journalism so I’m always keeping an eye on what media outlets are doing. An example of one in particular is Refinery 29, who I think are doing great job of telling stories visually. Museums have an infinite amount of stories they can share. So the question becomes, how can we package them and share with our audiences? One of our biggest opportunities at the CMA is communicating the stories to tell in a way that is both interesting and accessible. Social and digital media can do more than inform audiences, it can also captivate and inspire them to take action. Curation becomes very important, helping the audiences navigate the material and discover content that is informative and relevant.

When we redesigned our e-newsletter we looked at retail e-newsletters. Places like Refinery 29 and Dot and Bo present content well. Both are image-heavy, much like us. Obviously, it’s best to show art when you’re talking about it. The question becomes, how do we best present a number of images and messages in an intriguing and engaging way in a short amount of time? A number of retail e-newsletters do a great job at this. Not to compare fine art to retail but, regardless of industry, time is of the essence to capture someone’s attention online. Our attention spans are short and there is a lot of competition for their attention. Curating and creating content so that it is eye-catching and interesting is a gateway into a relationship.


Stay tuned! Come back next week to read about Ms. Goodwin's experience using social media for CMA events and collaborating with audiences in the second half of her interview. To learn more about Ms. Goodwin follow her on Twitter. For more on the Cleveland Museum of Art visit their TwitterFacebook, or website