The Psychology of Social Media and PR

Most PR professionals swear by their Smartphone, Tablet, and PC, all so they can continuously access their social media network. A network, which, in most cases, includes a considerable amount of contacts. And there is no doubt in my mind, that the social media networks exploited by PR practitioners, are of the upmost importance in today’s society. One needs to be constantly available, everywhere, anytime, and always up-to-speed with current events.

Today, with social media, we not only learn about events when they are happening, we also live them, as we share images, video’s and feelings in real-time. A fact which is used as an advantage in many PR campaigns, but is also the a living nightmare for a PR professional during a crisis, as it is incredibly hard to control or even guide these social media outputs, especially considering the amount of sources there are out there. But it’s not only PR professionals who have to deal with the perk AND the pitfalls of social media and the internet.

Your everyday consumer, client, costumer, public, has problems coping with the speed and the amount of information they get poured over them daily. And sometimes, ever so often, a twinge of nostalgia sprouts from your average Joe. Of course, there are those who consider social media, and sometimes PR, as the devil’s fiery pit, where, once you get trapped here by its lure, you’ll stay to be burned crisply for eternity.

And, I have to admit, social media and PR are quite enticing. Once you start using it, it’s hard to stop, if not impossible.

Now, what happens then, when you, the public, are sitting in your corner, on a rainy day, wanting some peace and quiet, and PING, your Smartphone shows you yet another Tweet, or Facebook Message, you just HAVE to look at? You. Start. Longing. For. The. Good. Old. Days. The days, where you had time to get your information from your morning newspaper. The days, where you didn’t feel like a total moron if you hadn’t seen the latest sensation on YouTube.

But please, don’t hate the medium. It’s not the medium which posts too much, sometimes useless, information on the web. It’s not the medium which threatens to diminish the quality of creations out there. It’s not the medium which decides to direct all of its time to absorbing as much information about as many subject there are. It’s you. And your neighbour. And your friends. Your many, many, Twitter friends. So why do we do it?

Because we want to feel CONNECTED. We want to belong. Nothing more, nothing less. And we have to admit, social media is the ideal method to do this (next to going to a pub and having a chat of course, which you just CAN’T do all day long). For example, on foursquare, you can become a part of groups of people who visit the same places you do, like a cinema or pub. On Spotify, you can learn which people have the same taste in Music as you do. And so on.

In a nutshell, social media expands borders, broadens horizons, and allows us the option of choice. We can choose who to BEFRIEND, choose who to SHARE our lives with, and because we can choose, from a global pool of people and identities, we feel CONNECTED. Even better, we are connected with people JUST. LIKE. US. People who have the same interests, the same preferences, and make the same choices. So we like ’em, and we trust ’em. Subsequently, we trust the recommendations they make, which again, is to the benefit of all, not in the least the PR professional. That is why it is so essential in PR to build sustainable relationships with your publics.

So let’s be honest, if you don’t want to experience social media overload and possible meltdown, just use what you want, when you want, and don’t let a beautiful medium control you. YOU CONTROL THE MEDIUM.

Of course, for the PR professionals out there, it’s just as important for you to not get controlled by social media. There are some tools out there, which can help you select the essential information you need and want, such as: 48ers, a REALTIME social search engine that acquires its results from Twitter, Facebook, Google Buzz, Digg and Delicious. With you can create your own online newspaper (updated daily) from Twitter and Facebook updates based on any topic or user group.

And the beauty of it all is, you can help your public, by helping them decide what it is THEY want. Target the right public, in the right way, and they’ll love you all the more for it. Honestly, nobody likes it if you bomb them with crap that doesn’t concern them. Remember, it’s hard for the public too, to decipher quality and essential information from the oozing pool of uselessness out there.

And perhaps, as a PR professional, you might consider using your public’s nostalgic twinge in your benefit. Coca cola has, as always it seems, been on the ball with their reinvention of the Break Man advert. The new and improved Coca-Cola Light man from the 90’s can be admired here. But, don’ t forget, before you can use nostalgia to your own benefit as a PR professional, first you need to have created a bond with your public, and have a history you can fall back on.

To conclude, one of my all time favourite, nostalgic, Belgian, advertisements: T-man, my sweet hero from Tienen.


About curation

Present day, thanks to technological advances, organisations are increasing their online exposure more and more, which makes the need for effective communications through social media even more important.  Even though relationship management with the public is still an essential part of a PR practitioner’s job, the context in which this management is performed, has fundamentally changed.

PR practitioners and (cultural) organisations need to be aware that the more people they reach online, the more likely it is that they will lose control over their messages. Because everything on the web is so readily available, anybody can (in theory) adapt information and messages posted online. This means that anybody can become a (re) creator of content.

And if we take into account that all this content is visible by anybody, anywhere, anytime, it becomes clear that managing our online footprint is utterly important for PR practitioners and (cultural) organisations alike.

Since anybody can become a content creator, everybody can also become an influencer. This might not seem as a big deal to cultural organisations, but when unhappy museum visitors turn to social media to vent their frustrations, it can have a snowball effect which leads to much bigger issues, for example if the onsite experience is not felt to be equal to the online one. It would be just as bad if a message send out by a (cultural) organisation would be changed or distorted, and then spread on the web, while reaching an audience that’s unaware of the incorrect content of this message. Clearly, because there are so many influencers and content adapters/creators, and because there is such an abundance of data information available online, it has become hard for publics to find the correct and valid informational content that they require. This is where curators come in.

Curators are individuals who find, group, share and archive digital information with the aim of categorising content. They provide quick and easily accessible information for today’s time precious audience, while using a broader context to define ideas. This means that curators take already amplified ideas and either validate them, question the assumptions, challenge the ideas, research the references or start a new conversation or debate around these ideas.

The information used by curators becomes a reusable artefact. A reusable artefact is a source of information which is used to give users access to information and to educate, inform and guide an audience about a particular topic. Even though curators may slightly edit this information, they are also contributing to the preservation of online content and contributing to the quality and control of collected online information.

In a sense, online web curators are not so different from museum or digital curators. Museum curators are responsible for the supervision of the different phases of the preservation process for different types of carriers.  By researching, conserving and restoring these carriers of information and the content on them, their message is preserved for present and future generations.

Digital curation on the other hand, involves a stewardship that provides for the reproducibility and re-use of authentic digital data. It also involves: the selection and appraisal by creators and archivists of the information; providing trustworthy and durable digital storage repositories and resources for long-term data preservation; the promotion of information and managing and providing intellectual access to the information. In summary, it’s about maintaining and adding value to a trusted body of digital information for current and future use, by transparently and within a certain context editing the original message, which always has to happen with respect for the unicity and authenticity of the original data.

Of course, in a way, transparency in the editing process is sometimes more of an enforced religion then a conscious choice, sort of speak. Since everyone can become a curator and influencer, this has truly become the age of vox populi. The public demands transparency and openness, and if their wishes are not heard, or the rules of online preservation platforms are not respected, then retribution and exposure is sure to follow. In a way this makes curators and commentators the guardians of the new transparency. They check (also each other’s) content, and make sure that their demands for two-way communication, transparency, trust and accountability are heard and followed.

It’s in this same context that PR practitioners are slowly becoming a sort of curators themselves. As curators, they search the web, looking for anything that might indicate that their messages or their organisation’s messages have been distorted, misread or misused. They research how conversations are shaped, and try to be transparent in steering these conversations towards positive reflections of the companies they work for. They might also try to influence behaviours by creating content of their own, again as transparently as possible and in a way that would benefit the messages they send out. On the other hand, PR practitioners can search through data and information from different sources and select the most interesting and relevant ones. By strategically monitoring their online footprint, PR practitioners and (cultural) organisations can have a better view of what publics want and need, which provides them with a competitive advantage. Furthermore, by actively engaging with the public, a whole new level of transparency and openness can be achieved between (cultural) organisations and visitors or between PR practitioners and the public.

Personally I think that cultural organisations should put a greater emphasis on making content/information, generated by and around their organisation, accessible and open, while also ensuring that this information is presented and ordered in a structured way at a central ‘hub’ or ‘community/network’ online. By then providing ways for users and visitors to have two-way conversations with the organisation, the cultural industry is giving users clear opportunities for participation, which creates a coherent experience for these visitors. Furthermore, because all the content is transparently curated by the ‘original source’, the cultural organisations’ messages will be trusted (if they remain credible, consistent and if possible, objective). After all, crowd sourcing and curation is important, but the primary source still remains the most trusted one and surely adds value, as it still is the source with ‘expert’ knowledge of a subject, though it might not always be totally impartial.

Cultural organisations can, by orderly governancing content contributions, improve their reputation and subsequently create relationships based on trust and credibility, which can result in further resonance and influence, which builds social capital.

This, in turn, articulates the ways in which strategic content management as well as relationship management is fundamental to not only effective Public Relations but also to cultural organisation.

Virtual 3D and augmented reality: cure or enticing lure?

Slowly but gradually, it seems that a lot of cultural and not-for profit organisations are starting to use social media. However, some recent technological advancements could provide museums and other institutions with even more innovative ways to attract audiences and increase public participation and interactivity.


Through Web 2.0, it has become possible to extend the material environment and enhance the public’s perception of the real world. One of the developments that allows us to do this, is Augmented Reality. Augmented Reality (AR) is technical voodoo that allows you to view virtual objects in real space. It is all about adding digital and virtual images to the touchable reality. Its goal is, in a way, to search for the seamless interface between man, machine and reality.

Recently, AR has been incorporated by The Gorillaz for their album, “Plastic Beach”. The album is promoted in an edition of NME Magazine, which comes with an A5 booklet filled with Gorillaz information and an Augmented Reality marker. When this marker is held up to a webcam, the user is presented with a 3D “Plastic Beach” which can be navigated around.

Google on the other hand put an already infamous video online where they show their views and applications of Augmented Reality. As can be seen by clicking on this link, Google hopes to be able to use special glasses instead of webcams to achieve its goals.

BBC and National Geographic have also started to implement AR by using a tool called Appshaker.  By wielding this AR technique in shopping malls, audiences are given the opportunity to see polar bears, penguins, and even dinosaurs come to life before their very eyes.

Clearly this kind of immersive technology is great for learning and increasing awareness and participation. Of course, because AR is in its early stages, it is hard to predict if the concept will live up to its expectations. But, there is no harm in examining the possibilities and challenges that this new concept could offer the cultural sector.

James May, best known from the BBC’s Top Gear program, teamed up with publishers ICN supported by Digitcave for 3D capture & rendering and Qualcomm, and produced an exciting new app. This app helps publics engage with exhibits in the “Making of the World” gallery at the Science Museum in London. By clicking on a marker at selected plinths, a 3D walking talking image of James May appears magically on your smartphone screen to talk to you about the objects, their functions and their history.

Recently, the Anne Frank Organisation launched the smartphone app “Annes Amsterdam.” This app allows audiences to view images related to Anne Frank during the Second World War, in present day Amsterdam. At different locations in the city, thirty items can be viewed, which truly submerge the public into the past and present of Amsterdam.


In the Sukiennice Art Museum in Krakow, Poland, paintings have been brought to life thanks to the ‘New Sukiennice’ app.  This app displays characters on your phone next to paintings. These characters are actors portraying the artists or the characters in the painting. These fun video and audio recreations really allows the art to come to life in the palm of your hand.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, in coordination with the Martin Agency, launched a brilliant campaign bringing together QR and AR. The musem has set up areas in multiple cities to act as virtual museums. Places like vacant lots or the streets of SoHo, have been transformed into art galleries using QR codes that launch the AR app that “places” the art “on the wall” of your smartphone. Now people in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. get to enjoy this exhibition as they walk down the streets of their city.



Clearly the mixing of realities could literally open a new world for culture lovers, as AR allows anything from paintings to objects and animals to come to life. Furthermore, by combining the personal experience of AR with social media applications, a public relation practitioner for a museum could engage with every person individually as the displays would only be perceived by a single user, which raises the possibility of creating rich, personal experiences for all occupants of a shared space.  Of course, this might cause some issues concerning privacy of data and so on. Unfortunately, many of the current AR projects are more about creating awareness, than about truly informing, teaching or inspiring the audience in a more in depth way. Most of the AR projects lack strategy, and subsequently fail to create a lasting relationship with publics. After the novelty of the AR project wears off and the public curiosity is sated, it’s uncertain if the new museum visitors will become regular visitors, members or advocates of the museum.

Never the less, personally, I do consider AR as a dream come true for the cultural industry. However, I have to stress that AR is no substitute for close observation of objects or paintings in museums or sites themselves. I still believe that only “touchable”, priceless artefacts can convey the true beauty and power contained in paintings and historical objects. For example: Why do people still flock to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa when they can Google it for free?

I consider AR and virtual art as a viable option for people who cannot experience exhibitions in “real” life, and I do think that AR definitely provides added value and a heightened experience to existing exhibitions, but, it’s just not the same without the real thing in front of me. I like to go see theatre performances, concerts or ballet on screen in the cinema if I’m unable to attend a life performance, but, honestly, nothing can replace the experience of being in the same room as the artists, objects or paintings, and having all your senses being inspired by them. However, AR might be a step towards placing culture back into the centre of society, and might provide a way to reach out to the public in way never seen before. After all, it would be a crime if all that beauty and truth that art, history and culture have to offer us, can only be viewed by a select few in society. Considering that the cultural industry has always been a main component for evolutions in society, being deprived of the experience of being submerged in it, would therefore be, truly, a crying shame.

That is why the public’s experiences online should be just as exciting as those onsite, and both should encourage participation, openness, innovation, engagement, interaction and two-way communication. This would create better and more trustworthy and sustainable relationships, while increasing the awareness level of a cultural organisation by offering an extra service and enhancing its reputation.

Social(izing) media in the cultural sector: brilliant or affront?

Since the development of the World Wide Web, PR and online communications have become complementary parts of a functional unit. The usage of social media has therefore become a basic skill required of most PR practitioners. Unfortunately, it has of yet not become as intertwined with the cultural sector and its curators.


Even though it is clear that the internet and social media are booming businesses, the cultural sector is still characterised by a digital divide as far as public participation, knowledge sharing and communication integration go.

Selling outAs mentioned in an earlier blog post, the cultural sector still feels a bit uncomfortable using PR and social media, partly because they fear it might diminish a personal level of customer service, cause alienation, or result in a waning of the cultural offer and knowledge, making the cultural industry profit-orientated and therefore selling out the integrity and autonomy of the sector by giving the public to much influence on the displayed art. It is indeed hard to reach a diversified broad audience, while also keeping the public focused on, for example, the identity of a museum. However, social media should be seen as a tool that paints an online picture of a museum, while ensuring that the virtual and the real world both receive cohesive messages that reach the museum’s publics. Therefore, social media is not to be feared, but embraced.

The recent developments in social media, which, if I’m being honest, are quite hard to keep up with, can benefit the cultural sector in a multitude of ways. Social media can personalise a museum, gallery or excavation, if used as part of whole concept, to tell a story and place it in a certain context. Social media can become a personal voice which attracts new audiences and inspires the existing ones. An innovative Twitter campaign that proves this is the recreation of the Titanic’s Journey on Twitter.

The History Press, a publishing company focused on American heritage, commemorated the Titanic’s 100th anniversary by re-enacting its journey on Twitter. They send out real time Tweets that simulated events and the thoughts/facts of officers and crew members. Their goal was to bring historical content to the social media platform and gain continued audience engagement. The publisher also launched an iPad app with photos, biographies, and blueprints of the ship.

Social media can also be used to engage the public and increase a cultural organisation’s digital footprint. The Tweetaconda project, created by the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, certainly proves this. The idea was to feed the Tweetaconda and he would grow. The more tweets with the hashtag #tweetaconda, the longer the snake would grow, hopefully creating the world’s longest snake. The museum succeeded in driving traffic to exhibits and in increasing the Museum’s digital footprint by engaging its social media followers. Clearly Twitter is a useful platform for provide answers or information, and for sharing interesting stories.

Furthermore, social media can also serve as a new way to interact and engage with donors and volunteers. The San Diego Zoo has clearly grasped this concept, as they have proven with their ‘Make a date with your favourite animal’ project, which allowed publics to win backstage passes or adopt their favourite animals. On their Facebook page, the Zoo has been able to share interesting content, create awareness, tell audiences about the work that the Zoo does, as well as engage visitors at the park and online. It is worth mentioning that Facebook has a huge range of groups that are associated with conservation issues; these types of groups specialize in posting interesting news stories. In addition, some of them also posts information such as; job postings, internship postings, conference calls, magazine articles, free downloadable books…

Since the application of social media is still skyrocketing, utilising it creates an extra way of engaging with the public while keeping an eye on what others say about you. In the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology and in the Fenimore Art Museum, each artefact in the exhibition is accompanied by an original blog post, original comments associated with that post, and the QR code that directs users to the post itself. Visitors are encouraged to use the codes to link to the comments section and leave their own thoughts about the artefacts and the exhibition. This allows the museum to monitor the public’s sentiments concerning the museum, and provides the public with answers to their questions in a proactive way.

Social mediaAfter exploring these innovative ways in which museums and not-for profit organisations have adopted social media techniques and used them for their own goals, I believe that the cultural sector is slowly beginning to embrace social media, and starting to wield it in an appropriate manner. Of course, there are much more possibilities that the cultural sector needs to explore. Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, and QR codes are only the tip of the Iceberg (no pun intended). Wiki’s are also a great method of sharing information and comparing or expanding knowledge. Wikipedia hosts numerous projects to develop content, including Wikipedia Saves Public Art, which is an explicitly conservation themed project, providing a workable model for documenting works of art in the public sphere. Other media such as Podcasts, Vimeo, Instagram, YouTube, Pininterest … are also useful tools of which the application possibilities need to be explored by the cultural sector.

Of course, it is of the upmost importance to remember that the services provided in the virtual world need to be of equal quality in the real world. Museums and cultural institutions need to be open, participatory, dynamic, and relevant in all places, not just online. Museums need to use the web to reach new audiences but they also need to try to convert these new audiences into real-life museum visitors, members and if possible, advocates. To accomplish this, visitors’ experiences online need to be exciting online and onsite, otherwise audiences will feel disappointed and deceived, and will not trust the institutions and their offers, therefore remaining one-time visitors. And trust is an essential requirement for building and maintaining a long-term relationship. So what does this mean for cultural institutions?

The technological and digital divide between generations in visitors and between museum technologists, public relations practitioners and curators need to be bridged.  Stereotypes and prejudices need to be conquered and interdisciplinarity and cross-industry interaction is required. I’m not saying that the mission or vision of cultural institutions need to be changed, far from it, only the way the messages and experiences are portrayed and presented needs to change and adapt to current up-to-date technology and customer expectations. I understand that it seems as an impossible problem to make the visceral as relevant, dynamic and interesting as the virtual, while also keeping up-to-date with the latest social media tools. But, it’s definitely not impossible to translate our most innovative virtual activities into onsite experiences.

The next blog post will look at some innovative ideas that could help the cultural sector reach its true potential and will shed some light on some futuristic ideas that might become reality sooner than you might think!

Public archaeology: digging IT and social media?

Public archaeology, sometimes referred to as community archaeology, tries to inform the public (in this case, people outside of the academic and professional field) of discoveries made during archaeological research. The main goal is to create awareness, educate the public and to pass on information through different channels and media such as lectures, displays, exhibitions, documentaries, pamphlets, on-site visits, the internet, books, publications, newspapers, magazines… In recent years public archaeology has indeed tried to attract and inform publics beyond the expert audience, but unfortunately, it still lacks contextualisation, persistence, and, let’s call it a ‘plan of attack’. The following curve illustrates that many archaeologist/IT users (in the UK) expect instant gratification and results when using IT and social media.

However, this is unrealistic, as research has shown that only after 3 years of wielding this technology during approximately 2 hours a day, a 50%-75% chance of impact and result can be achieved. This requires a lot of time and effort, which will exponentially increase when growing success will demand more maintenance of the user.

Often archaeologist are not keen about using IT and social media, as they consider the time spend on Web 2.0 applications as wasted time that could have been used for ‘actual field research’. Sometimes they even feel that time spend on communicating with the public unnecessarily prolongs excavations. Of course, archaeology’s main focus has never been to promote itself. Just as in the art sector, archaeologists excavate for the sake of archaeology itself, meaning they dig because they want to learn and gather knowledge. They feel that by focussing their efforts on the public, they could lose their autonomy and integrity. Some even fear (and I myself used to be in this category) that the profession might become to market orientated or even commercial because of PR and social media.

Of course, these are legitimate fears. Already archaeologists are pressured to present every excavation as a groundbreaking revelation, or they are forced to justify their work and illustrate their profitability. As I have done some fieldwork myself, I can honestly say that even though every excavation is thrilling and exciting in its own way, and each one provides valuable knowledge of the past time and again, the actual material fiends are often not that spectacular in the eyes of the general public. Furthermore, archaeological research has the added disadvantage that it sometimes has to deal with human remains, and related human sensitivities. Subsequently there are often ethical dilemmas that need to be considered before making culturally sensitive data and information public.

Unfortunately, archaeologists are generally not experts in making data public or getting the message across to the public in a meaningful way, nor do they seem to be expecting this to change any time soon, as the following analysis shows.

The only IT technology and media that archaeologists seem to find productive, are GIS, email and other software used to conduct archaeological research. As the following graph shows, archaeologists mainly consider Wikis, photo sharing and internet forums sites as useful in the long run, and consider them to be applications with many opportunities. Facebook, blogging and Twitter are considered as relatively useful, but archaeologists consider them to be limited in their application possibilities. I disagree. I personally think this is caused not by the lack of possibilities of the social media applications, but by the lack of knowledge, guidance, and experience when using these tools.

The saddest part of this story is that the public is actually quite curious and interested in the past, and even more in archaeological excavations, as it gives the public the opportunity to see their own human history being discovered and revealed before their eyes. It is therefore utterly important that archaeologists are capable of harnessing the public’s curiosity in a capable and up to date fashion. Archaeologists need to be made aware of the possibilities of PR and social media. The following graphs illustrate what would motivate them to make the first step as to using sustainable web 2.0 applications as part of integrated archaeological research, and what is holding them back.

Most archaeologists seem to be unwilling to apply new IT features because of the cost, the lack of understanding and the organisational policy. However, they could be motivated to use new applications if these tools met certain particular needs, saved costs or could engage new audiences.

This is where PR can definitely benefit archaeology in a multitude of ways, no matter the sector’s reservations. PR can provide exposure, engage new audiences and link social media with tangible benefits in cooperation with (public) archaeology. If archaeologists can not find the time or have the knowledge to apply new IT and social media features, then PR practitioners should also be hired to engage with the public, as PR can also help take the pressure off of archaeologists. The power of the media can be harnessed to help with research and to increase support, preservation and awareness of archaeology worldwide. Just as PR has a bit of management, business, marketing and media in its program, so should the cultural sector adopt these influences to communicate adequately with the general public.

However, the most important part of any public archaeology program is its ability to stay focused on the research as well as on the mission of educating and involving the public during a long period of time. Just as sustainable relationships with the public are of the upmost importance in PR, so is longevity of a public archaeology program essential for archaeology. It can create the added benefit of tapping into the tourism industry on a long-term basis, which can not only generate awareness and income through admissions and sales, but can also help legitimise the taxpayers money used for the excavation. Furthermore, a well managed archaeological site and its interpretation can become a sign of pride for a community and can create union amongst its society members and visiting public.

So hopefully, archaeologists or PR practitioners, preferably both, will get involved and work together to create more awareness for archaeological sites. And hopefully they will set aside their differences and prejudice and will get up to speed with the current available technology, IT applications and social media tools. And maybe it might interest the archaeologists out there that an Iphone has a compass feature build in 😉

Discovering Public Relations

Arguing that Public Relations can benefit the cultural sector is, generally speaking, quite easy. Proving it on the other hand, is a bit more challenging. As society and people’s demands evolve, so do PR campaigns evolve, and today, most successful PR campaigns include a social component. This evolution is visible in the PR campaigns for the cultural sector. What follows are some examples of successful and inventive campaigns created by PR firms from Belgium and the United Kingdom. All the cases are some of my personal favourites and all are created especially for the cultural sector.

Every year, the city of Ghent, in Belgium, is under the spell of the ‘Gentse Feesten’, a music, dance and theatre festival that lasts ten days and covers the whole inner city. The festival has become a mass event with approximately 2 million visitors attending every year, giving it international standing and allure. The campaign for the current 2012 edition of the festival has been created by Modulo

This PR firm unveiled the promotion picture of the festival to the public at a press conference. The image consists of a cowgirl (sign of rebellion en enthusiasm) riding a mythical dragon (sign of the city). This picture is used on posters, flyers, stickers, letters and so on. It will also be used on a specially designed clothing line which will promote the festival. However, the campaign also uses social media and online advertising. Updates and news will be posted daily on Twitter and on the Facebook fan page, where the public can also ask questions. The festival has a newsletter on which people can subscribe, and a homepage. This elaborate campaign runs in Belgium, the North of France and South-Holland.

In Ghent, Belgium, a museum called the STAM recently opened its doors. Since then the museum has won quite a few prizes such as ‘Best Museum in Flanders’. An award it has definitely earned. The STAM has, in the short time since its official opening, created a ton of events, stunts, promotions and so on. For example, in the children’s section at the end of the museum tour, children can recreate the city of Ghent with ‘LEGO’ building blocks. The children can draw some inspiration from the 4 most famous towers in Ghent made in LEGO by Dirk Denoyelle, a professional LEGO builder. The museum has also created a videogame in which museum visitors can play the part of the mayor of the city, and take (imaginary) decisions concerning certain city projects. A competition was also organised by the STAM, in which the most popular word in the Flemish Ghent dialect was elected. Furthermore, the museum has also created an app in cooperation with Google street view, which allows the public to compare pictures taken of the city by Edmond Sacré a 100 years ago, with the current view of city. In general, the museum organises events, competitions, activities, stunts, and uses new as well as traditional technology to keep visitors interested and surprised. The museum also uses traditional and new media channels such as Facebook and Twitter. It is clear that the STAM invests a lot of time and effort in building and retaining customer loyalty, for example by celebrating the 50.000 and 100.000th visitor. Because of their continuous efforts to create awareness for the museum and attract visitors, they receive a lot of press and media coverage.

In Ghent, Belgium, an exhibition called ‘Sint-Jan’ has opened in the ‘Saint Baafs’ cathedral, showcasing the work of more than 50 Belgian artists. Because the exhibition is free, the PR firm Famous had to work with a limited budget to promote the event. The firm came up with the idea to use Jan Hoet as a human promotional tool and as advertisement for the exhibition. How they did it? By linking Jan Hoet’s name to the event and by collar advertising.

Jan Hoet

Jan Hoet received shirts with subtle advertising on the collars, which he will wear as long as the exhibition runs. An artwork consisting of two mini-coopers was also positioned in front of the cathedral to promote the official opening of ‘Sint-Jan’. This received quite a bit of media coverage, especially since the cars got a ticket for parking in a spot where it was not allowed. Furthermore, the exhibition is supported by the newspaper ‘De Morgen’. Together with the firm Famous, this newspaper will create more stunts and so on to promote the exhibition.

In the city of Antwerp, Belgium, a new museum was recently opened, called the MAS. To promote the launch and official opening of the museum, Prophets PR firm came up with an innovative campaign which created a lot of buzz nationally and internationally. Because the firm had to work with a limited budget, they invested mostly in idea execution, partner bannering and awareness traffic through social cascade effects. Their idea was to work with 5 full time phygital guides who offered real life tour experiences on a web-based hub to online visitors. In the first 3 weeks of the museum’s opening, these guides enabled each online customer to experience the museum in real time during the official opening hours of the museum, while pre-recorded movies for outside opening hours offered a similar experience. Furthermore, each experience was ended with relevant travel deal offers from promo-partners. Some targeted affiliate banners were also pushed via OpenAd and personalised emails were send from travel partners to customers. This resulted in massive online and print media coverage.

In the city of Mechelen, Belgium, a large scale archaeological excavation revealed an ancient cemetery near the Saint Rombouts cathedral. The PR firm d’Artagnan was hired to create awareness and inform the public of the importance and results of the dig. The firm created a teaser trailer about the dig, follow up trailers and an ‘archeo-blog’ on which the archaeologists would blog about their new finds and daily activities. The site also had an official promo image/mascot, a spotted dog ‘digging for bones’, an official website and a newsletter. Guided tours were organised on-site, there were open days, special events, school classes who came to have a look… Posters and information boards were hung up around the site, and a portable museum was created in a small on-site trailer. On most days the archaeologists wore sweaters and t-shirts with the city’s logo or the promo image on it. Furthermore, the public could become an official ‘godfather’ or ‘godmother’ of any skeleton that was discovered. The public had to pay 15 euro’s and would in return receive a shirt and detailed information about their adopted skeleton, such as its age, sex, … Off course this campaign created quite bit of interest and press coverage.

In the city of Liverpool, the PR firm Black and Ginger produced a campaign to promote a Titanic street event called the Sea Odyssey. Several short teaser animations depicted a little girl giant interacting with key city spaces in Liverpool where the event would take place. The regional campaign focused on the fact that one in ten crew members of the Titanic were from, or had links to, Merseyside. For the first time in the city’s event history, a mass participation programme was developed which encouraged every resident, organisation, charity and community group to get involved. Competitions were organised, a back-in time fayre was created, presentations were held for the public, special merchandise was promoted… The Sea Odyssey event itself existed of a Little Girl Giant marionette exploring Liverpool, to commemorate the 1912 Titantic disaster in which she lost her father. Black and Ginger also worked with Apposing to design and develop a free app for the event, which included features such as allowing users to take pictures using themed filters and post them on Facebook or Twitter. The campaign ran alongside an outdoor advertising campaign that promoted a free exhibition ‘Titanic & Liverpool: the untold story’. A commemoration book was also created and screen prints of the events are still available on the official website.

People’s Collection Wales is a website on the history of Wales and its people, showcasing an online archive, with photographs of World War II evacuees to audio clips of pensioners recounting their memories of the Queen’s last visit. The PR firm Working Word was hired to encourage the people of Wales to become the heart of their own history by submitting their own stories and experiences for future generations to explore. The PR firm carried out media activity with a call to-action to encourage possible contributions. To demonstrate what kind of contributions could be made, the firm researched existing related content in the People’s Collection Wales and used the photos or artefacts already showcased either as inspiration for, or as accompanying imagery in media relations. By engaging with local characters as case studies such as a TV chef who uploaded her grandmother’s old recipes, other local people could identify with their story and were encouraged to contribute. The firm also created a platform for a blog, along with a content calendar tying up with media activity, where themes were explored. A 3 minute video was also created to ensure that people understood the practical process of uploading content created. The video depicted a Cardiff man in his 60s being shown how to upload images of old bottles he collected on the shore at Cardiff Docks by a teenage neighbour. Each blog and video could be shared on social media sites. Twitter and Facebook were also used, for example to inform the public of celebrities such as Cary Grant who had visited the town. Local press and local Welsh language community newsletters were also used. The campaign resulted in a lot of media coverage and contributions.

PR interaction with art and culture part 2: Brain gain?

As previous blogs have shown, the relationship between PR and the cultural sector is quite shaky at times. This is because one of the main concerns of the cultural sector is that PR will diminish the sector’s integrity and autonomy. However, this is not what PR aims to accomplish. The strategies wielded by PR practitioners do not adapt or change a subject, product or message; they only direct the products or messages to specifically targeted audiences through adequate mediums and channels, and this at a reasonable cost. PR is all about the balance of knowing what your audience needs and where to find them, while maintain an organisation’s (for example a museum) image and integrity. The aspects PR does affect are complementary factors or products such as the use of brochures, ticketing, publicity, social media…

In the cultural sector one of PR’s goals will be to increase public interest and attendance by creating a strategized PR campaign, which will include more than just determining an audience or using certain tools. The foundations for these PR campaigns will be trust and trustworthiness.

As PR encourages openness and transparency, PR practitioners are always aiming to inform the public. If publics are informed and aware, they will trust and believe the validity of the messages send out by PR practitioners. This means that PR makes activities more meaningful, sensitive and effective by producing campaigns that create public awareness and a positive and trustworthy image of the cultural sector. And because PR is all about creating lasting, sustainable relationships with (targeted) audiences, PR also puts an emphasis on two way communication. This way the sector provides services and shows that it cares not only about art itself, but also about art’s place in society and the people’s opinions and preferences. So by communicating with the public, the cultural sector (and PR) can reinforce a lasting relationship with its audiences. When this bond is established, publics will automatically be more open minded about being educated and about experiencing something new and surprising, as they will trust that what the cultural sector has to offer, will be worth their time. This way, PR can be the voice of a cultural institution, while increasing cultural diversity and without betraying the autonomy and integrity that are so cherished by the cultural sector. Of course I agree this is not a bulletproof reasoning. Therefore, a little sidetracking is required to prove my point.

In recent years, the internet has become an incredible source of information. Nowadays, it is hard to shift through all this readily available knowledge to find just the right answers which users are looking for. Subsequently, recommendation services and programs have become increasingly popular on the internet. These tools provide users not only with the requested information, but they also generate recommendations for the users. Some cultural websites are using these recommendation tools to provide users with suggestions of cultural activities which they might like to attend, based on their previous choices, user profiles etc. More important however is that a recent study in recommendation tools has proven that the public does indeed want to receive information and recommendations based on their choices etc., but, and this is an essential point, the public also wants to be surprised. In a way, this is logical, as we humans are curious creatures who like structure, but dream of an unexpected thrill once and a while to break our daily routine.

Subsequently, PR has good reason to not ‘sell out’ the original essence of the art and culture industry, as the public still wants to experience something new, unexpected and authentic. Therefore it is in everybody’s best interest to combine the public’s taste with the originality of artists or maybe with the taste of a knowledgeable expert niche public, by incorporating it in a broader context and offer. By doing this, the general public would get what it desires, the art industry would retain its integrity, and the public would be educated and surprised. No publics would get alienated, art would remains accessible to everyone, cultural participation would be heightened, more diversified audiences would be researched, and artists would still get chances to show their work. Theoretically speaking of course.

As the word got out, this approach could attract more and more people if the public became convinced of the added value of the ‘products’ on offer. While the cultural sector would then gain attention, PR could reshape this attention in democratic success by creating widespread coverage and interest. This is of vital importance, considering the fact that if donors dislike depictions of museums in the media, they could withdraw their support. PR could then create more opportunities for museums and cultural organisations to grow and become an integral part of a city or community, hereby automatically legitimising themselves and their costs.

Hopefully this reasoning has convinced some of you that PR can be a positive influence on the cultural sector. In any case, the sector needs adapt to the demands and requirements of the current changeable society, or else it might find itself lost in the shadows and eating the dust of more adaptive organisations. Darwinism is no fairy tale after all.