Museums and the Internet

Mark Walhimer Museum Planning, Starting A Museum 2 Comments


Museums and the internet, an amazing combination!   A blog or a website is a form of communication, a museum’s introduction to the world.  Your internet presence is your chance to communicate with the visitor before they visit your “bricks and mortar” museum.  As with any good communication, be a good listener, share information and be polite.

When I was the Director of Exhibits at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan (1994-1997), I was at a meeting and Andy the Museum Director, said, “Content is King”, it was the first time I had heard the term (the term is from the Bill Gates article 1996).  With that one quote, my thinking about museums had changed, now the content of museums would be accessible both “in person” and on the internet, a very significant change in framework. is now the world’s most followed website for information on museum planning and exhibition design (Alexa ranking 262,000).  I have been blogging since 2007, looking back now I realize how little I knew about writing and blogging.  I would like to share some of what I have learned.

1. What is your question? Maybe more than anything, the internet is a forum for answering questions. is based on two questions, “How do you start a museum?” and “How do you design an exhibition?”.  I have found it fascinating that as I narrow the focus of the blog, the topic broadens and I find more and more to write.  Keep the content of your museum’s website (and your museum) narrow, answer questions.  Decide what questions your museum / website / blog will answer.  Be a good sharer, answer as many questions as questions you ask.

2. What are the words? I literally and figuratively “own the words “Museum Planning”, I have tried to purchase all of the related domains and make sure that my content is always related to topics of museum planning.  Be very specific in the key words of your website / blog.  The more specific the key words the better.

3. Be Local  The Arizona Science Center (Alexa 652,00) becomes a local resource for science in Arizona and Phoenix area, the Mobius Science Center (Alexa 5,000,000) requires association to the Spokane area.  I find it very interesting associating Alexa ranking with museums, (the lower the Alexa the better).  I have ongoing research into the correlation between the world’s largest museums and their online ranking, the interesting part is often smaller museums have a higher online visitation than their larger counterparts.

4. Move People. Literally and figuratively, tell personal stories.  …and the internet is like a lint ball, as you move it around it gathers more lint.  Move people from Facebook to twitter, from twitter to youtube, from youtube to Linkedin, each time you move people around you gather more people.  You will notice that I try to be consistent with my naming,, “own the words”

5. Be yourself I started a blog as a way to organize my thoughts, I am still amazed that people are interested in my thinking. I am a strong believer in “Built to Last”, that companies have a “personality” and will attract similar clients / customers.  I am consistently surprised that many of my clients are from the business world and bottom line driven, I tend to attract business minded people.  On the internet your writing is your “voice”, have a clear and consistent “voice” .  The internet is a form of communication.  The internet has grown into a forum where each user has a persona, even if you don’t want to have a persona, you become a noob.   I have a website but I think of my website as a portfolio, it is a static form of communication, a place to direct potential clients who are interested in our projects.  A blog is a converstation, every participant in the converstation has a voice.  As with any conversation it is important to be polite and communicate your point of view.  I spend, (time working of online projects) 90% of my time working on my blog and 10% working on my website.  If I was to make a recommendation, I would suggest the same to any “start up museum”, spend time your time on your blog.

6. Tools Use the tools of the internet:

  1. Research other related museum domains using Google Ad words,
  2. Buy related domains, I use Go Daddy for domains and hosting,
  3. Sign up for Google Analytics and install on your website,
  4. Use Google Ad words to research “competitor” ad words,
  5. Use relevant key words in your website, using tools like, and
  6. Drive traffic to your website using tweeter, Linkedin, Facebook, Vimeo, Youtube
  7. Monitor how users are getting to your website, using Google Analytics,
  8. Use Alexa to monitor your Google Page Rank and Alexa ranking, 
  9. Work to create website links

Experiment with new tools. I have had many failures, but I keep trying, facebook worked, didn’t, tweeter works, Paper LI didn’t, keep trying new technologies, keeping true to your mission.

7. Write I try to write at least once a week. Remember, “Content is king”, you need to create content on a regular basis.  I try to write one long blog post per week on Monday night, then create a “Museum Trends” blog post on Wednesday.  It helps me to have a regular schedule.
8. The Democratization of Content.  One of the most important and interesting aspects of the internet is the “democratization of content”, or visitors vote with their clicks.  It is an amazing development that museums now compete on a following of their content.  A small well targeted , well designed museum blog can have many more online visitors Corning Museum of Glass (Alexa 344,000) than a less well designed, less focussed website Museum of Glass (Alexa 1,000,000).    I am still working on my “clicks vs. bricks” theory, but I believe there is a correlation between the online experience and the in person experience.  I believe their is a multiplier for in person visitation or a goal to have three times as many visitors to your internet presence (clicks) as your  in person visitors (bricks).
9. Drive your visitors – Give your visitors, both online and in person a reason to visit.  Create new content on an ongoing basis, both on line and at the museum.  I have been experimenting with quick blog posts, it has been interesting, as long as the content is very targeted, quick posts are as successful as lengthy posts.   Create online programming, on line pre visit materials, on line forums, drive traffic to the “bricks and mortar” museum through new exhibitions and new programs.

10. “It is still virtual”  I am a sculptor by training and I believe that an online experience will never replace an “in person” experience.  …But, it is worth trying.  I like to think “Pre-visit”, “Visit” and “Post Visit” an online experience can support and compliment an “in person” experience.  A visitor’s online experience before visiting the museum can be as important as the in-person experience. The online experience can be 2/3 of the visitor’s experience.

Comments 2

  1. Thanks for the article Mark. It is very simply and concisely written. It is also very relevant to a noob blogger like me! I totally agree with the importance of having good content, be it an exhibition or a blog. Looking forward to reading more articles from you.


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