In conversation with Sree, Chief Digital Officer of the Met Museum

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Conxa Rodà
With Sree at the Jewish Museum, Berlin, We Are Museums 2015

With Sree at the Jewish Museum, Berlin, We Are Museums 2015

Berlin has been the place where I’ve finally met Sree Sreenivasan, the Met’s Chief Digital Officer. I had been following him on twitter for a while, as well as reading his many presentations and some interviews. A year and a half after being appointed by the Met, his work is well known among tech museum professionals all over the world. Our museum director, Pepe Serra, who took part in the Global Museum Leaders held a few weeks ago at the Met, also told me about his meeting with Sree and his digital team and their amazing work there.

So, We are Museums in Berlin was the occasion I took full advantage of Sree’s excellent readiness to share his ideas and expertise.

“On Social Media there are no rules, there are guidelines”

First, he offered a Social Media workshop, sparkling, lively and full of precious pearls of advice. He also provided a view of how they address social media at the Met.

Among some practical recommendations, Sree advises:

  • update the bio often and link to any current relevant project you or your museum is working on.
  • edit Instagram captions.
  • use the “Manage” option on Instagram filters to select and reorder those we use more frequently.
  • optimize each social platform.
  • be a good listener more than a broadcaster, track new ideas.
  • make constant use of images and social video (”when writing a tweet, ask yourself why there is not a picture on it”).
  • it’s no longer enough to do great work, you need to tell people about it.

Fotos: Conxa Rodà

Sree in action. Photos: Conxa Rodà

Some tools Sree recommends to be more efficient on social media: Canva.com or Fotor.com to better manage images; Twiangulate.com, to know the outreach of your followers’ followers; Analytics.twitter.com to measure our performance.

Full details of the social media workshop are available on #sreeberlin twitter thread.

Social Media at the Met

Social Media at the Met

Seeing this deployment one might think there is an army working on the Met’s social media performance. Nope. During the first 7 years there was only one person. Nowadays there are just two (two!) people managing all the Met’s social media presence. These two people are the only ones who post on the Met’s official profiles. Many of the staff also active on social networks are encouraged to participate from their personal profiles. They are listed on the Met’s website.

Next day it was Sree’s opening keynote “Running the museum like a startup – the example of the Metropolitan Museum of Art”

The Met’s Digital Dimension

Some figures of the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

  • 6,2 M visitors onsite and 40 M online
  • 400,000 high-res images released for non-commercial use
  • 2,200 employees
  • 100 curators
  • 70 staff of the Digital Media Department
  • 15 full time photographers

This slide shows an impressive overview of the Metropolitan digital life:

met

The message to take away, said Sree, “is not how many things the Met is doing but how many things is trying”, meaning the need to constantly explore and experiment ways to connect with audiences and enhance users experiences.

Among their recent digital initiatives these were commented: the Met audioguide now on the audio online platform SoundCloud; the Instagram tours when the museum is closed – EmptyMet tours-; the art tutorials run together with the Khan Academy.

Useful / simple / delightful are the criteria for digital projects at the Met. Having storytelling in mind. Thinking of museum audiences, one of the Sree’s key messages for me was the idea of the virtuous circle: “Have you so impressed by our digital offerings that you want to visit us in person. Then, have such a wonderful time in person that you want to stay in touch with us via social, mobile, digital and more”.

Forthcoming Met Digital Projects

Among many projects, the Met Digital team is working right now on:

– the renovation of the metmuseum website, which will be relaunched in March 2016

– looking at expanding open access to the images of the collection, possibly for commercial use: “We took a first step of allowing free non-commercial use of the images and the next step is commercial use. We are very excited about that process. Internally, it really helped to have buy-in from the very top of the museum about the value of it. People want to use your collection and you want people to use the collection either digitally or in person. The way to engage them is by having it out there for people to see and to use”. Interesting to note that after the museum first released the images for free, their income didn’t go down but up, because “people are looking at our art in more places and are more likely to buy it”.

Audio

 

Regarding the support and funding needed to develop the Met digital projects, Sree praised community and philanthropy: “No museum is able to function on its own. We are all building on each others’ digital advances, experiments, successes and failures. I am so grateful for being part of this super-helpful community. I also want to note the importance of the continued support of funders who make all our digital projects possible. In the case of the Met, the generosity of Bloomberg Philanthropies make it possible for us and so many other museums around the world to try new things. I encourage companies not involved in the arts to get involved and support the future of culture”.

Digital Challenges

When asked about the biggest challenges for the Met on digital, Sree answered that one of them “is how we find, retain and recruit technology talent in a city like New York where we are competing with Wall Street, Google, Facebook and start-ups when we offer lower salaries and no bonus”.

Another challenge addressed by Sree is the need for breaking silos. “Every day is an opportunity for us to do great things and we work very hard together to collaborate across silos. We have many silos. There are 500 people who have been working at the Met for 25 years. That’s’ a good thing for institutional knowledge, expertise matters. But the challenge is how we make sure we’re using the best of the expertise and to make change”.

Audio

 

The most important challenge is “how do we make sure every project we do is connected directly to the museum’s mission. My biggest dreams for the Met are that if we say everybody in the world has a piece of their art, of their history at the Met, then we need to tell them that and they need to come and see it. I think my job is telling one million+ stories about our one million+ pieces of art to one billion+ people. That’s our goal”.

Audio

 

One might wonder why one of the most visited museums in the world, both physically and digitally, strives to offer better and new user experiences, to deploy an active presence on social media, to develop new ways of engaging visitors. In short: because at the Met they are convinced that connecting works and knowledge to the audiences truly conforms their mission.

Thank you, Sree, for all the expertise you shared during a couple of days at We Are Museums and for this interview for our museum blog. We will be keen to see the full open license for images and the new metmuseum website!

Update June 2016: After 3 years leading the digital transformation at the Met, Sree leaves the museum. We wish Sree the best and hope we’ll meet again anywhere, in any digital or offline forum.

If you are a museum visitor, what would you like to see more on Digital? If you are a museum professional, what would you say are the main digital challenges facing us?

Recommended links

The Met goes Digital

The Future of All Business Is About Storytelling,Huffington Post

Most Creative People: A Q&A With The Met’s Chief Digital Officer, Sree Sreenivasan

Sree’s Social Media Guide

We Are Museums – Berlin Highlights #wam15, Mar Dixon

Conxa Rodà
Estratègia i Transformació Digital

2 Comments

  • 22 de June de 2015 - 10:45 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this blog post. We are always grateful for the interest globally in the work of the Met. We are, as I say, above, building on the work of others. We are all in this together. Looking forward to staying in touch. All good wishes. – @sree

    • 23 de June de 2015 - 12:39 pm | Permalink

      Thanks to you, Sree. It was an inspiring conversation as well as an energizing shot to continue our digital journey 😉
      @innova2

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