Digital heritage pros share top tips for developing strategy

You’ve probably heard for some time now that you need a digital strategy, but what does that mean? There can be many facets to developing a strategy. Really though, you only need to grasp a few key ideas to establish your mindset and focus first on the aspects that are most important to you and your audience. For this post, I asked some trusted friends in the field to share their top tips for framing a digital heritage strategy.

Don’t Confuse Needs and Wants

“Many times we come into the creative process with a really strong idea of what we want—or rather, what we THINK we want. More often than not we’ve been charmed by something we saw somewhere. Maybe it’s a new piece of hardware. Or a shiny interactive. Or a really generous check (with or without strings). We are lured by the siren song of a design idea that may or may not actually meet the needs of the place, heritage, or collection we are trusted to interpret. Getting clear about your goals, actual needs, and nice to haves up front will help minimize the pain of mismatched expectations as you move ahead in your development process.” 

Stacey Mann, Museumism

Invest in Visual

“For Mount Vernon, our key was investing in visual mediums that translate really well from our mission.  Our Virtual Tour was one of the first investments and it has paid off tremendously.  One of the second best investments was in video, particularly hiring for a few years someone to regularly create short form video on our YouTube channel.  At one point were were up to posting 95 videos per year and because the history and storytelling rarely changes those are all still paying dividends on views and driving subscribers.  One thing cultural institutions like ours overlook is YouTube is the second largest search engine.  Treat videos like SEO for your website and it will be a great strategy.”

Matt Briney, Vice President, Media & Communications, George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Start with Purpose and (Good) Data

“Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a tool. A repository of the organization’s collective knowledge about its guests, members, and donors. Successful CRM implementations start with two things: concrete problems/needs data can help solve and… good guest data. An example of a concrete problem might be “After two years of Covid-19 closures, we need to retain members now more than ever. How do make ensure first-year members renew?” The data to drive this would come from an integration with the ticketing system to link ongoing membership sales, card scans, and renewals. You can then start chipping away at the problem by creating dashboards to monitor first-year member renewals and implementing email marketing automation programs to ensure members visit and use their benefits over a year, and build a sense of relationship with the organization.”

Steven Beasley, Field Theory

Invest in Flexible Platforms

“Many stories, objects and resources need to be strategically curated to tell history. Not only are there many different kinds of assets in digital storytelling, but the relationships between these elements weave a complex web. That’s why we focus so much on building flexible platforms that enable these stories to come to life. Where it’s the entire platform, a log form story page, or mini-site. the palette of content storytelling tools needs to be robust enough to express all aspects of these stories.”

Eric Holter, Cuberis

Leave Time and Space for Content Development

“In any digital installation project, it can be easy to become so enchanted by the technology that we forget what visitors really connect with: storytelling, content. Creating original content takes a ton of time and resources and needs to be planned into the project from the outset, whatever the intended technological solutions might be. Content has to come first. When it doesn’t, you’ll find yourself too late in the process and with too much of your budget spent and not enough time or resources left to create the story — the part that’s really going to capture your visitors’ hearts and minds.”

Jeremy Taylor, Project Director at GSM Project

Design with People in Mind

“I think when you hear the term “digital strategy” or “digital transformation”, you automatically jump to the technical aspects: what’s the technology and platforms that will be used. But digital strategy should start with people. It must have utility for those who’ll be using the technology and following specific processes. The first place to start is understanding the ecosystem of users and what their needs, pain points, and goals are. Often times, we think of “users” as the end user or customers. But we need to take a much broader view to include users as both customers and internal staff and stakeholders. Digital strategy within an organization needs to be considered from an internal and external perspective. Lastly, as ideas and solutions start to take shape, it’s important to take a “design with” approach to prototype, test, and refine ideas with users to ensure that their needs and pain points are addressed, and value is being delivered.”

Traci Thomas, Platinion Lead Strategic Designer (BCG Group)

You don’t have to start with an answer

And finally, a tip from me, which echoes the ideas above. There’s a fine line between prescribing something you want for your audiences and only creating experiences that are built up based purely on what they say then want. It’s alright to start out with an educated guess based on your visitor interactions and then TEST TEST TEST to chart a course to the final project. Set up a testing protocol, using paper prototypes if you need to. Have some type of spreadsheet or database to put testing results into and then use that to inform how the product develops. Make sure your development vendor is on board with this process, and committed to interpreting and iterating the results.

Hope these tips help move your strategy forward. I’ll continue adding to this post. In the meantime, if you have any tips of your own, please share them in the comments.

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