Case study: connecting with international audiences using Periscope

This case study, from our Let’s Get Real action research program, looks at how the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology set up and used Periscope to film a curator’s talk and museum activities with international appeal.

About the participants:

Name: Richard White and Sarah-Jane Harknett

Organisation: University of Cambridge Museums

Jump to:

What was the research question behind your experiment? | Why was this important to your organisation? | What did you do to implement this? | What happened? | What were the personal challenges you faced when carrying out this experiment? | What did YOU learn? | What did YOUR ORGANISATION learn? | What next?

What was the research question behind your experiment?

How can the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA), whose collections span nearly two million years of human history, on all six inhabited continents, find an immediate way to connect international audiences with its international collections/activities?

Why was this important to your organisation?

The MAA has a collection that spans all six inhabited continents, meaning objects held within the museum are of interest to world-wide audiences. Although there is information available on collections databases, the MAA website and social media platforms, the opportunity to talk about those collections in a live environment, with interaction by viewers, provides the MAA with a deeper connection and level of engagement with international audiences.

What did you do to implement this?

We introduced MAA to Periscope, a free live-streaming tool created by Twitter. We created an account, trained staff on how to use it and, with no promotion, started by filming a curator’s talk on their current exhibition, The Power of Paper. We then worked on a plan to use Periscope four times over MAA’s Days of the Dead activities. Richard wrote a document about the marketing aims and Sarah-Jane worked out a schedule and questions to address.

We promoted these films via Facebook and Twitter and provided information about how to use Periscope, as well as when we would be filming, on the MAA Day of the Dead webpage.

The films covered:

  • Set-up. The blank space being transformed. Why are we doing this? Who is the Mexican Society?
  • Who is the altar in honour of? (in Spanish)
  • A look at the objects on permanent display
  • The complete altar, an explanation of what it all means

What happened?

The first ‘scope’ – with little promotion – attracted over 100 live viewers, but had a low retention rate, mainly due to the broadcast being quite long.

The following Day of The Dead scopes had more planning behind them, more engaging forms of filming/content and a better marketing strategy.

Although the four broadcasts attracted less live viewers, the retention rate was much improved and the MAA’s Periscope account started to attract more followers.

We realised it would be best to scope outside of normal opening hours to avoid filming members of the public or children. We planned out the scopes and did one at the end of each day as the Day of the Dead altar grew.

What were the personal challenges you faced when carrying out this experiment?

Most of the personal challenges were practical issues: making sure there was a strong Wi-Fi signal; ensuring those presenting were comfortable and knew what was about to happen; getting over the nervousness of everything involved when live broadcasting; Sarah-Jane’s dodgy camera work!

The Day of the Dead activities are a busy time for the museum, so this Periscope project was another ‘thing’ we were asking staff to make time for, but even so, it didn’t prove to be too disruptive and fitted in well with the schedule.

What did YOU learn?

We realised how easy and fun it was to use Periscope. MAA staff picked it up quickly and enjoyed the spontaneity of live streaming, and the idea of presenting the museum’s activities at, potentially, any given moment.

We learnt that some broadcast formats work better than others. Short over long, questioning over presenting.


That the University of Cambridge Museums (UCM) has the potential to live stream a wide number of its museums’ events and exhibitions on a regular basis, further promoting the university’s museums and Botanic Garden to international audiences.

Using Periscope has helped the UCM to realise how responsive it can be to broadcasting live moments in museums. The MAA has developed an appetite to continue ‘scoping’ and aims to implement the platform into future exhibitions/events and general planning.

Other points:

  • Certain formats of ‘scoping’ work better than others. Filming the curated talk lacked any potential for interactivity, plus it was quite long.
  • Difficult to film during normal opening hours/pre-booked tour. Difficult to avoid members of the pubic being filmed
  • Have another member of staff on a connected device to answer any questions (if the person filming is unable to answer).
  • Have good wifi.
  • Retention rate is low – choose your ‘scopes’ wisely.
  • The audience truly is international
  • Potential to expand life of content on YouTube + other platforms
  • Planning is essential to make it go well, but too much can make it stilted and less interesting.

What next? 

MAA will be using Periscope again. We are presenting the project to other University Museums and are investigating whether it is better to scope from one central account or each museum individually.