The Rabbit Hole - Edition 1: 4 Video Lessons from the British Museum


Welcome to The Rabbit Hole—a recurring column where I, Rachael Wilkinson, become completely obsessed with a topic, dive deep, and come out the other side with actionable and practical tools that any nonprofit can implement.

Like most obsessions, this grew out of a genuine passion of mine. I enjoy learning—really about anything—and where better to dive into historical topics than with a venerated establishment like the British Museum. I’m currently obsessed with their social videos. Go ahead, take a look—they’re on the British Museum’s Facebook and Youtube. You can easily spend hours exploring every single aspect of history. These videos cover everything, from recreating ancient bread with a chef to meticulous restoration projects.

Of course, my obsession comes with the caveat that I view all video through the lens of a marketer as that is my heart and my career. Video has become an incredibly integral part of any organization’s content strategy, affecting nearly every digital marketing channel. Video content improves the open rates of emails, sends social engagement through the roof, and ultimately makes a viewer much more likely to purchase. When video content is good, it becomes a self-perpetuating marketing tool: over 90% of people who watch videos on mobile share videos with others. And with more hours of video content being consumed digitally than ever before, it’s crucial to ensure your video is ready for the web.

It’s easy to understand why organizations like the British Museum invest in their video creation. Additionally, they’re spoiled for content-riches, which (at first blush) may seem like an advantage your organization doesn’t have. Capacity Interactive’s 2016 Benchmark Survey shared that half of arts organizations struggle to create compelling content for online channels, including video. But even without the treasure trove of the British Museum, there are universal lessons from their YouTube channel all nonprofits can utilize to support and maximize their own video content (to ultimately drive engagement and revenue).

1. Find your experts to interview...

A current favorite video from the British Museum is one from their Pompeii series and features a chef baking bread. He uses a textbook photo of some bread immortalized in the eruption of Pompeii and then attempts to recreate it. Which, at first glance, is fairly rudimentary. Nothing ground-breaking here. I’ve baked bread before. I watch "The Great British Bake Off." I consider myself relatively aware of the processes involved in the creation of bread. But having a real expert look at a photo of ancient bread and recreate it was mind-blowing. His expertise and interpretation took a simple task (baking bread) and made it into something extraordinary. This you can absolutely do at work. There are things and people in your organization with a knowledge base for you to take advantage of. Just do it.


2. ...then interview like experts

One of the British Museum’s series is “Curator’s Corner” where subject matter experts discuss a particular item or process. And they are ready for it. These curators and experts have been trained or received media prep and perform interviews like a professional. For example, they repeat the questions they’re asked aloud, creating a seamless story line that doesn’t require a narrator or voice over.

3. Anticipate your audience’s questions

Let’s face it, sometimes curators do some weird stuff in the name of preserving history. I was seriously perplexed as I watched conservator Hannah Vickers vacuum a centuries old tapestry through a mesh the size of a matchbox. Surely this was a joke for the camera. Why would they do such a small area at a time? Luckily, the British Museum anticipated the question and in the video below, Hannah explains it allowed her to hold the mesh with one hand (while vacuuming with the other). Whatever your video's topic, take a moment to consider the subject from your audience’s point of view. What will they question? What is something taken for granted in the field that you should explain for someone who doesn’t have your insider knowledge?


4. Show, don’t tell.

Perhaps the oldest rule, but one the British Museum follows consistently. They know how to use video to tell stories, even if there isn’t much action in the moment. As a curator or expert explains something, the video shows what they’re talking about. The shot doesn’t even have to be more video, the below example cuts between still images and video of the object at hand. It’s a superb example of an organization utilizing their resources to their full advantage.


Video content has been a sticky challenge for brands and organizations of all sizes. What have you found helpful in rolling out social videos?

Rachael Wilkinson is the Digital Marketing Manager at Studio Theatre in Washington, DC. She is passionate about digital strategy and data-informed decision-making. At Studio, Rachael project-managed the overhaul and rebranding of Studio’s Tessitura-integrated website. She manages Studio’s social platforms, email marketing, and website. Prior to joining Studio, Rachael was a senior research associate and social media manager for the Arts Management and Technology Lab at Carnegie Mellon University, where she received her Masters of Arts Management and good deal of nerd street cred. Rachael is originally from Bettendorf, IA, and received a BA in Arts Management from Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA. In her free time, Rachael enjoys exploring obscure DC museums and brunching hard.