Case study: Tumblr for museums

This case study, from our Let’s Get Real action research programme looks at whether having the freedom of their own Tumblr account makes curators at one of the Brighton and Hove Museums more likely to participate in social media. Previously, all social media activity was carried out by a dedicated team.

About the participant:

Name: Krystyna Pickering

Organisation: Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton and Hove

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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?

The aim of the digital team was to see if we could encourage our curatorial team to be more active in our online presence and engage audiences with their work behind the scenes. We wanted to provide greater awareness of our programme of work while engaging with ‘virtual visitors’ through our collections and buildings.

We decided to focus on the Booth Museum and posed the question: ‘would the curators and volunteers at the Booth be more willing to participate in social media if we allowed them the freedom of their own Tumblr account to do with as they liked?’

Why was this important to your organisation?

This was a highly interesting and significant experiment. The digital team are the main force behind all social media content and interaction. Repeated requests for material and curatorial input is often dismissed or given begrudgingly, to the point where initiatives and features have been abandoned.

At the same time the team is asked, by both curatorial and organisation staff, why we are not partaking in certain social media events or platforms. Knowing the increasing importance of a useful, prominent online presence, it is essential that we find a way of achieving this to benefit and not burden.

What did you do to implement this?

We already have a main Tumblr account for the Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton & Hove. We decided we would create a new Tumblr blog within this specifically for the Booth Museum.

We trained the curator and keeper of natural sciences in using it and left them to it.

What happened?

The Booth are used to producing detailed blog posts for our WordPress site, which prove very popular. To begin with, they approached Tumblr much like a blog post with lengthy detailed comments and descriptions, which seemed to be lost on most of the Tumblr audience. It also became clear they had not fully got to grips with using hashtags. They had a few regular followers and the odd like. After the initial collection induction posts, the enthusiasm seemed to wear off.

It was decided another training session was needed. I spent a morning with guys at the Booth, smoothing out quirks and exploring Tumblr with them, to show them what could be done. We searched posts and hashtags for inspiration and tried to relate popular trends to the Booth’s collections. Afterwards they had a list of relevant hashtags and ideas for showcasing the collections and themes to work to.

Once they were given more guidance, direction and encouragement, the team at the Booth were more than happy to carry on.

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

The main challenge was getting the Booth team to be enthusiastic and self-motivated, and committed to an additional aspect of their work when they had no previous experience with that form of social media.

Trying to do this without looking like I was monitoring their work, when we had pitched it on the idea of it being entirely their own media to play with, was a difficult balance.

What did YOU learn?

I learnt that it may take longer than first thought for a team to adopt something new to them and have the confidence to run with it straight away. Giving someone the freedom to work in their own time and with their own creativity may be what they would like, but they still need guidance and encouragement before they can really do it themselves. And often they won’t ask if it’s not going to plan. A brief check in once in a while was usually the best approach.


The digital team realised that with the right training, guidance and encouragement we could get the curators involved in our online presence. Although it initially took time and a lot of assistance before they felt comfortable to post regularly and be involved in online interaction, it has certainly paid off.

It seems that when they have control over something, and can see the success of it, it stays more relevant to their workload. And they don’t forget it, unlike the request for an image of the month that they don’t know where to find online.

What next? 

From the success of the Booth Tumblr, which has overtaken our main account, we’ve established that the best way to work with social media is to give the curators the freedom to post what they would like rather than us requesting specific material.

Since the awareness of the Booth’s Tumblr has increased across the organisation, we have had requests to create three other department Tumblr blogs. Knowing now that this appears to be a more beneficial way to work, we can use this strategy with other curators and departments.

We have identified the need for top-up training for those with current Tumblr blogs, which we will do soon. Then we will move on to encouraging other curators to join in.