A Digital Presence for Amersham Museum
Dates from March-June 2013
What was the Project aim(s)?
We want to improve our presence online, principally through our Web site but also through social media. We will improve the presentation of the Web site and redevelop the content so that it provides better access to the collection and contains differentiated content for our different audiences. This includes remote access to the museum’s files so that volunteers could work from home more easily.
What was the impact of the project?
The project has had an enormous impact on our understanding of an effective digital presence. The consultants have focused on the creation of a simple, targeted and user friendly Web site that meets the needs and expectations of our current and potential visitors. They have achieved this by assessing our current offer, considering best practice and our competitors and the needs of visitors.
Staff, trustees and museum volunteers have been involved in the project from the outset. All those involved (six people) agree that they have developed insights, understanding and new skills in creating and maintaining a more effective presence.
The new Web site enables the museum to be more efficient. Much of the content is powered by a new database (notably the events programme) and this content will feed Facebook, Twitter and create an e-newsletter. Previously we had to separately enter data on to each of these media. The newsletter has always been time consuming and complicated and fell short of how we felt it should be presented. All of these issues have now been resolved.
Visitors will certainly gain a better service. The new site is clean and simple and significantly easier to use than our existing offer. We have highlighted elements of the visit that can be confusing (limited opening hours) and made them much clearer for the visitor. We will test the site over the next few months but initial feedback (amongst volunteers) is that it is a significant improvement. The new site will be more enjoyable and provides the virtual experience that we were aiming for. Where the existing site communicates through lots of text, the new site is much more visual and interactive. Visitors can now see the highlights of the museum through an interactive floor plan and focus on objects more readily and effectively. The content is also more clearly differentiated for our different audiences.
The advice, guidance and technical assistance with developing the site certainly puts the museum in a more positive position for the future. The existing Web site was dated and text heavy, with visitors complaining that they couldn’t find what they needed. Museum staff and volunteers can easily maintain the simple, but highly effective, solution created by the consultants.
What went well and what didn’t go well?
As a small museum we have limited resources, but we can also be flexible in our approach. The museum’s main project of the year took place in May; a pop-up exhibition in a vacant shop in Amersham-on-the-Hill. Over 5,000 people visited the exhibition and there were a series of events to support it. It was a busy time for the museum but we managed to complete the initial work with the consultant for this project in April and organised the training and feedback on their technical suggestions and design in May. We knew it would be a busy time so we planned accordingly and it all ran smoothly.
The consultants were definitely the right people for the job. They are respected brand and online consultants and live locally. The local link was useful because they had the knowledge and understanding of the local audience, the museum and the needs and expectations of our visitors.
All those asked to be involved in the project (trustees, volunteers and the curator) really engaged with the objectives and outcomes of the project. Now the consultants have trained us in how to use the site we are populating it with content and will launch it in July. This will be the opportunity to engage with the rest of our volunteers and a wider audience. We will actively seek feedback to help us improve the offer. The consultants have been very happy for us to continue to contact them with questions once the site is launched.
What are your plans for the future?
In many ways the learning has already been implemented, with the creation of a new Web site. The consultants’ report laid down a clear set of guidelines, best practice and advice in how to both improve our offer to visitors and reduce the workload for us (thus making it more sustainable for the future). There was some advice that extends beyond our digital presence, regarding presentation in marketing and PR more broadly. We shall certainly integrate that into our future plans.
The project has reduced the workload for us and has resulted in the creation of new ideas that we would like to explore in the future. We discussed the creation of an interactive timeline, to complement the floorplan, telling the history of the town through objects in our collection. This was beyond the scope of this project but it is something that we now feel capable of creating for ourselves.
We are not planning on submitting another grant application as a result of this project. However the project has led to discussion about how our digital presence can help to raise income for the museum. On the advice of the consultants, and with the support of the trustees, we are now including a donations facility on the new Web site.
We will continue to invest in training and support for our volunteers. Initially this will involve sharing the learning from the consultants with more of our volunteers, so more people are able to create content and edit the site. Once the site is launched the consultants are happy to help with any questions. We may need support in the future but this project has given us the skills, understanding and knowledge that we need to ensure that our Web site and wider digital presence is clear, targeted and engaging for our visitors.
Overall Cost of Project