Using Social Media to Bring Museum Exhibits to Life | npENGAGE

Using Social Media to Bring Museum Exhibits to Life

By on Apr 11, 2012


There are roughly 2 million paid staff and 1.9 million volunteers making things happen in the arts and cultural space. That’s almost 4 million people!

They serve over 850 million visitors that generate $166.2 billion dollars in business every year.

In order to sustain this type of impact tech savvy art museums, zoos, historical sites, botanical gardens and many other types of arts and cultural nonprofits understand that technology is key to sustaining their growth.

As part of understanding the need for technology, the more than 17 thousand museums in the U.S. are beginning to adopt social media. By using social media museums like the San Diego Zoo are able to help people around the world enjoy their incredible exhibits.

How the San Diego Zoo uses social media to bring their exhibits to life.

Facebook –


According to our recent study 98% of nonprofits survey respondents have a Facebook page. Understandably so, with 845 million monthly active users and 2.7 billion Likes and comments per day, Facebook is a mainstay in our world.

The San Diego Zoo understands that their presence on Facebook matters so they take time to build their fan base, engage their audience and have fun with their community.

Here are 5 things they do well on their Facebook page:

  1. Sharing interesting content
  2. Engaging their visitors both at the park and online
  3. Creating interesting contest
  4. Connect with their loyal fans
  5. Tell people about the awesome work they do

Pro tip: Notice how the San Diego Zoo uses photos and videos in a lot of what they do? Do the same and you’ll benefit from the Facebook gods liking your updates more than those who only post text.

Twitter –


Twitter is becoming more and more of a new/information sharing service that allows nonprofits to quickly share information with their followers.

It’s a simple to use services and there are a lot of people there who use their cell phone to “tweet” (i.e. in rout to museums and/or while they are there). That means you have a prime opportunity to catch people when they are directly interacting with you.

Here are 4 things the San Diego Zoo does well with their Twitter account:

  1. Responding to your followers
  2. Being helpful
  3. Sharing pictures
  4. Keeping people informed

Pro tip: Make sure your monitoring what’s being said about you on Twitter. Not sure how? Learn how to Build a Social Media Listening Dashboard for Your Nonprofit and do it Social Media Monitoring in 30 Minutes or Less.

YouTube –


Video might just be the most effective way of bringing your exhibits to life for those who can’t be there in person.

Every museum should take advantage of this medium, but make sure to leverage the video content you’re creating by publishing it to your other online channels like the San Diego Zoo does. You’ll see their video content on Facebook, Twitter, their Blogs and their main website – The other channels is where your video will be consumed.

Here are 3 things the San Diego Zoo does well on YouTube:

  1. Announce new programs
  2. Help people get to know their new animals
  3. Provide news about amazing things happening at the zoo

Pro Tip: Hire a professional or outsource video production and postproduction for some of the video’s you create – quality matters. Then, use a hand held video recorder to capture more frequent and spontaneous clips. Doing both will ensure you are able to keep up.

Pinterest –


Pintereste is brand new, but it’s already the 3rd best site at referring traffic. Meaning, if you use Pinterest like the San Diego Zoo does you’ve got an excellent opportunity to drive more people to your nonprofits website.

Here are 2 reasons why the San Diego Zoo get’s pinning:

  1. They’ve created boards that align with their mission
  2. They pin pretty, amazing and cute pictures

Pro Tip: Start using quality imagery in everything you do. Simple as that.

Blogs –


Blogging might be the first form of “social media” in that the communication started to be two-way (if people did it the right way and allowed comments) instead of there only being outbound communication from an organization to its listeners.

The San Diego Zoo saw this opportunity and started blogging back in 2003. With nine years of blogging experience under their belt they now (and probably for some time) have a vibrant blog community that, at times, shows up in droves to share their thoughts.

Here is the number one reason why the San Diego Zoo has a useful blog: 

  1. They post quality and interesting content regularly (including pictures and video)

Pro Tip: Write for the blog regularly and use your images / video as much as possible understanding that it will take time to see the results you’re looking for.

Your Turn

How’s your museum or arts and cultural organization using social media to connect with your community? Are you finding any of the above techniques to be successful? Share in the comments below.

Check out our cool new INFOGRAPHIC about Bringing arts and cultural organizations into the information age. It’s not exactly about social media, but it still has relevance here.



Frank Barry, formerly worked at Blackbaud helping nonprofits use the Internet for digital communication, social media, and fundraising. He’s worked with a diverse group of organizations including LIVESTRONG, United Methodist Church, American Heart Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters, ChildFund Int’l, InTouch Ministries, Heifer Int’l, University of Notre Dame and University of Richmond. Along with writing for industry publications like Mashable and Social Media Today, Frank facilitates discussions, presents solo sessions and organizes panels for industry conferences such as NTC, SXSW, BBCon and numerous others. When he’s out and about he enjoys talking to interesting people about how they are changing the world – check out his interviews. Say Hi on Twitter – @franswaa or Google+

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