According to The Audience Agency’s Digital Audience Survey, 64% of respondents say that they are viewing more arts and cultural content online during this period. And this is not just existing audiences: 40% of high frequency website visitors to museums have never physically attended the organisations.

While COVID-19 is prevalent, it is likely that families will continue to rely on digital content to access culture for a long time. Some families are still shielding and the majority of schools, according to Bridge England Network’s National School Survey, don’t predict being able to make visits or receive visitors until Spring 2021.

With that in mind, we wanted to explore what makes great online content for children, young people and families. During the summer, we asked families to nominate their favourite online activities from museums for our Family Friendly Museum Award From Home.

We gathered learnings from the museums shortlisted for our award about how they created some of most popular online content and activities for families to enjoy together.

1. Planning

Ask families what they want

At the start of lockdown, Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft consulted families on what they would find useful, deciding on tailoring their craft content for Instagram.

What platforms are families and young people using? Meet them in a digital space they understand and use regularly. National Museum Wales responded to feedback from parents that their children were only interested in Minecraft, but they wished they were doing something more constructive. They used the platform as the basis of their lockdown activity.

Family feedback gathered by the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands showed families were looking for playful inspiration for their time together at home. The museum noted that many virtual museum tours were designed for adults. Their Key Challenge added interest for children by giving them a goal and purpose to search the gallery, examine artwork and collect keys.

Decide on your audience

What age group is your content designed for? Can children do it on their own or is it designed for the family to do together?

When the Novium Museum brought its Virtual Roman Week 2020 online, they decided to create a range of activities to cater to all age groups, from storytelling to blacksmithing. Family members could pick their own activity but still enjoy the festival together.

Meanwhile the Cooper Gallery created a series of videos for under 5s and included prompts to help parents feel confident doing the activities together and leading storytelling at home.

How can you create content that relates to your collections?

What objects or stories from your collection can you make relevant and exciting to young people or families? For example, National Galleries Scotland created a ‘kitchen disco’ with characters based on one of its artworks, linking their collection with a popular trend during lockdown.

Don’t be put off by limited resources or experience

There is a lot you can do without extra budget and equipment.

Florence Nightingale Museum volunteers produced the Meet Miss Nightingale video with a mobile phone over the space of a week with no extra budget. The Digital Culture Network has a great guide on producing video content on a smartphone (download).

Can you build on an existing initiative?

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Historic Dockyard Chatham created a series of challenges for families to complete Arts Award Discover. Or you could think about holding a Digital Takeover Day and let young people take over your social media channels.

Can you involve a donor or partner?

Glazer Children’s Museum found that its online offer, GCM@Home, was a strong addition to what they could offer its partners and donors, who were able to create content for the online platform.

2. Implementation

Consult children or families on your activity’s design

National Gallery Singapore brought its #SmallBigDreamersAtHome Festival online via a new microsite steered by children. A children’s panel guided the choice of artwork featured on the site. The site navigation also catered for children by giving them a variety of ways to engage with content; they can zoom into the artworks to see the details, watch videos, download craft guides and listen to audio.

Our family judges mentioned the name of the activity was important in helping them to ‘sell’ the activity to their children.

Present your activity in an engaging way

You need to capture your audience’s attention and clearly explain what families should do. If you are using a web page, is it clearly laid out, concise and easy to understand? Does it use images or bright colours?

As a more technical activity, the National Videogame Museum’s Create Your Own Pixel Art Character includes a ‘Guidance for Grown Ups’ sheet, which was really appreciated by carers.

If you are using film, is your activity presented in an engaging and friendly way? The Digital Culture Network has a useful guide on Producing Video Content. Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft credited its success on Instagram to its warm, cheery presenter and simple activities, which provided a reassuring familiarity for visitors. From having no IGTV, the museum racked up over ten thousand views in a few months.

Make it accessible

This relates to both whether your activity can be done by people of varying abilities and if the digital content itself is accessible. Does your activity require access to special craft materials or a printer, or can it be done with materials from around the house? Does your activity require people to look or listen to things, or move around? If so, you may need to make this clear in the instructions as this may make it more difficult for some families to participate.

Ensure any videos include subtitles, images include alt text and any web pages include a clear font and layout. There is a useful checklist on the Digital Culture Network’s How to Make Your Online Content Accessible guide.

Florence Nightingale Museum designed its Meet Miss Nightingale video is designed to be low stimulus; settings are natural and there are limited sound and lighting effects to cater to a wider range of learners.

Add an interactive element

Can you create a space for meaningful interaction with your audience?
The Museum of Zoology focused on making its Zoology Live! Festival as interactive as possible using free platforms. Every day at 4pm during the week, or throughout the day on Saturday, there were live YouTube broadcasts of short wildlife films. Families were then offered the chance to interact with experts and ask questions. They were also given challenges to try at home, then encouraged to share their results, sparking more interaction and conversation.

For young people, the National Videogame Museum ran weekly livestreams on YouTube to guide them through their activities and offer a social space. Similarly, the Royal Academy offered weekly Zoom chats to give young people a sense of structure and something to look forward to during lockdown.

3. Promotion

Think about where your content will sit on your website and how easily visitors can access it

Is it easy to find to anyone browsing, or do they need a specific link? The Andy Warhol Museum gave its family lockdown content pride of place on its website homepage. Alternatively, the Museum of Zoology used a blog as the hub for all the information and resources relating to the Festival.

Think about how you can use your social media content to maximise its reach

The National Football Museum chose to premiere its video content on Facebook to gain a larger audience. The London Fire Brigade Museum found it most effective to do this during ‘school hours’ and avoid lunch and evening when families might be busy. They also promoted the film across strategically selected Facebook Groups for parents.

The Digital Culture Network’s guide to Engaging Audiences with Social Media may be useful if understanding how to use each platform to its advantage.

Send out a newsletter

Don’t forget to circulate it to your own staff – the London Fire Brigade’s staff newsletter reached up to 5,000 firefighters and their families.

Send out a press release

National Museums Liverpool issued a press release and arranged interviews with their Director to successfully push their My Home My Museum competition to local TV, radio, print and online, as well as consumer magazines.

Many of our shortlist listed their activities on parenting blogs and listings sites, such as Fantastic for Families.

Share other families’ or young people’s work

The Royal Academy shared all the artistic responses to its attRAct challenges on the attRAct Instagram account, as well as the Royal Academy page. This helped give confidence to the young people in seeing their work shared and appreciated, as well inspiring others to take part.

Use and build on existing relationships with local organisations to increase your reach

If you have relationships with local schools, community organisations and other established partnerships, can you use them to share your content to local families and students? For example, National Museums Liverpool worked with partners, including Liverpool City Council, Hope University and local chambers of commerce.

Promote your work internationally

Remember your reach online is international. The Museum of Childhood Ireland worked with schools and museums in Italy to promote its Project 2020 Together. They received close to 200 entries from across the world, including Kathmandu, Mauritius, Nepal, the US, and New Zealand.
The Glucksman even linked with Irish Embassies in other countries to promote its #CreativityAtHome initiative.

4. Evaluation

Measure your website, social media and newsletter activity

Make sure you track how your website users, subscribers and followers are engaging with your content to understand what works. For more advice on this, look at the Digital Culture Network’s guidance on Making the Most Out of Your Data.

What are the key KPIs you need to illustrate? For the Mary Rose, their activity was one of the key drivers of website traffic over the last few months. Showing the power of digital content in increasing reach and reaching new audiences can help to pave the way for future investment into similar resources.

National Galleries Scotland noted that its social referrals for online activities were higher than for the rest of its website, demonstrating the effectiveness of sharing the activities on social media.

Ask for feedback from families

Think about what questions you need to ask to illustrate the effectiveness of your activity. The Mary Rose issued a survey mid-way through its campaign to gain feedback. 52.4 % stated they had either “learnt a lot” or “learnt some new things” as a direct result of participating in the activities – which demonstrated one of their key learning outcomes.

You can use free survey software such as SurveyMonkey.

Share your learnings

National Museums Liverpool shared its My Home My Museum project with a small volunteer-run museum in Somerset, which has been able to use the templates and assets to launch a similar project that it wouldn’t have been able to produce alone.

Keep in touch

Use the opportunity to invite new families to sign up to your newsletter, follow you on social media and have longer term engagement with the museum.

Have you reached a new audience? For example the London Fire Brigade noticed the top audience for their video was women, which was unusual for them.

The National Football Museum were able to show community partners the effectiveness of its work to encourage literacy in young football fans. Working with popular author, Matt Oldfield, the museum developed an online audience different to the family audience who typically visit the museum.

Add to your collection

Could an outcome of your online activity be to add to your collection? As well as an online exhibition, the Museum of Childhood Ireland aims eventually to display physical exhibitions using the competition entries. Similarly, the Museum of Cardiff My Museum project wanted to record children’s voices to add their experiences to the collection and help foster a sense of community.