A quick review of social media on museums’ websites

I am doing some research at the moment on the use of social media by museums, and I have just finished carrying out a small survey of museums’ websites.  I wanted to have more of an idea of whether those anecdotal comments that we all make about museums and their use of social media are actually comparible to what a member of the general public will find when they visit a museum’s website.  I took a random sample of 5% of the list of MLA accredited museums as a starting point and then went to all of their websites to see what I could see.

As a visitor to a website, what references were there to social media and where on the site were they to be found.  Then I went in turn to Facebook, Twitter and Flickr and searched for the museums from the sample, one by one, and noted whether they were present and what their levels of use of the social networking platform were.

I’ve started to put together some of the main results, and have detailed a few below, but am happy to share all the data, just drop me an email if you’d like it!


The sample was made up of randomly selected organisations from the Museums Association list of accredited and provisionally accredited museums in the UK.  Of a sample of 1793 organisations, 5% were selected using the =RAND(). formula.   For each museum, the type of museum and the type of collection were identified.  This identification was based on the statements given on the museum’s website, and was associated with the main generalised criteria for the MLA museums accreditation scheme:

  • University
  • Local Authority
  • Independent – National Trust / National Trust Scotland
  • Independent – Other
  • Ministry of Defence funded
  • National
  • Public Heritage Body

A breakdown of the funding types within the sample is included below:

The collection type was identified from online information, and where collections were multifaceted, the main type was identified through museums’ own statements on their public websites.  The types are derived from the MLA’s categories for collection subjects, available from the Culture24 site (http://www.culture24.org.uk).

Confidence Interval

The sample consists of 5% of the overall total of accredited museums in the UK, this is by no means supposed to be representative of the all museums in the UK, but is intended to serve as an illustration only of the current climate in social networking platform use.

Presence on major social networking sites

A strategy was designed to identify social networking sites used by museums using two different approaches.  This approach intended to discover the extent that the following statements are true:

a)                  Museums’ use of social networking resources varies dependent on many factors, including their size / type.

b)                  Museums’ use of social networking resources does not vary dependent on the nature of their collection.

c)                   Where social networking resources are used, the existence of advertising on the main website for the museum will have no or little effect on the activities on the social networking platform.

Using other academic work recently carried out on social media and museums, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr were identified as the most popular social networking sites, with YouTube, Blogs and RSS and social bookmarking included as popular choices for museums also.

The survey consisted of two main parts.  In the first instance, the main website for each museum within the sample was identified and the following references were looked for on the splash page for the website:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Flickr
  • YouTube
  • Blog
  • RSS/Social Bookmarking

In the instances that the museum was included within an overarching website, for example if part of a local authority website, the main page for the museum was considered as the ‘splash page’.

Once this information had been collected, the same references were searched for throughout the rest of the website.  Each page on the website was visited, until the website was exhausted.  No in-website searches using search facilities were used.

The second phase of the survey comprised visiting each of the following platforms in turn and searching for the museum:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Flickr

These three platforms were identified in the first part as being the most likely to contain museum profiles.  For each platform, the museum’s title was searched for initially, but other search terms were also used if a profile was not immediately apparent.  For museums’ located within a higher authority, such as a national group of museums, an independent trust, or a local authority, the titles of those organisations were also used, but profiles dedicated solely to those organisations and not the museums themselves were not included in the data collected.

When a profile was identified the following data was collected:

  • Facebook:
    • Profile type (group/page/person)
    • Friends/Likes
    • Twitter:
      • Followers
      • Flickr:
        • Profile type (group/person)
        • Items
        • Contacts/members

Of the sample, 6% of museums had a blog that could be located, and 9% had made access to their collection database possible through an online interface.  There did not seem to be a notable correlation between access to collections and use of social networking platforms, but there was a clear correlation between maintenance of a blog and use of social networking platforms.   In fact, 100% of museums that had a blog also had a Facebook and Twitter page, and 80% had Flickr profiles/groups.  Within the top 10% of highest Facebook ‘likes’, 2% had blogs and again, within the top 10% of Twitter ‘followers’.  The result was also 2%, and within the top 10% of items available on Flickr, 2% of this total also had blogs.  The top 2% were the same organisations in instances of Facebook and Twitter, but were different for the Flickr image sharing.

Museums that had a social networking profile, did not necessarily always have more than one type.  51% of museums had an active Facebook profile, 29% of museums had an active Twitter profile, and 27% of museums had an active Flickr profile.  Profiles were deemed to be ‘active’ if there was activity within one month of collecting the data.

An overview was achieved of the differences between advertised presence of museums on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr, compared to actual profiles.  The results show that many museums have profiles, but do not link them to their websites.  Of the top 20% with the highest Facebook ‘likes’, 67% had made a link to Facebook available from the splash page of their own website.  78% of the top 20% of museums’ Twitter ‘followers’ had made a link to Twitter available from their splash page.  Only 23% of museums that were in the top 20% of highest Flickr items available advertised their use of Flickr on their front page.

Within the sample, the following presence of references to social networking platforms was noted compared below to funding types and then to collections type.  Where social networking platforms were being used, National Trust and/or National Trust Scotland funded museums, and public heritage body funded museums showed the biggest range of uses of social networking platforms. Local authority funded museums also used a range of different platforms to engage with the public.  University funded, MOD funded and independently funded museums tended to have a lower percentage of social networking platform use, although social bookmarking was being used highly by independently funded museums.  A smaller percentage of nationally funded museums used social networking platforms than public heritage body funded museums.  When considering the type of collection predominately advertised to be held by the museum on the public website, the arts, crafts, science and nature and literary collections seemed to have the highest incidence of use of social networking platforms.   Art, industry and transport museums advertised using the broadest range of types of social networking platforms.

In comparison, the percentages of types of use when considering the collection and funding type are as follows.  It is apparent that independently funded museums, although not advertising the use of social networking platforms on their main websites, are using Facebook, Twitter and Flickr, in that order of popularity.  Facebook seems most popular with the museums that are using it, with Twitter being the next popular, followed by Flickr.  Design, industry, maritime and also science and nature museums are the top users of social networking platforms generally, with archaeology, design, maritime, military, science and nature museums being high percentage users of Twitter.  Art, crafts and transport museums seem to be low users of social networking platforms.

More about the results (and some pretty diagrams) in my next post…