As the use of social networking sites (SNS) continues to pervade into more and more people’s lives it is not surprising that businesses, public bodies, charities and the like have migrated online into these spaces. With varying levels of success many of these organisation’s have then tried to communicate with us (good: Blendtec, bad: Nestle, ugly: Habitat UK).

This goes also for the arts and culture sector that has begun to realise the opportunities presented by social networking technologies in reaching their audience. This got me thinking for my MA Social Media thesis to ask the question can these technologies enable arts and culture organisations not only to engage with their current audience but with new ones – and how much of a part can SNS form part of an audience development strategy.

For those unfamiliar with the term audience development is an activity undertaken to meet the needs of existing and potential audiences and to enable arts and culture organisations to develop ongoing relationships with their audiences. It is based on the same principles as marketing, however it is about increasing the diversity of audiences not just increasing numbers. Audience development projects can use aspects of marketing, commissioning, programming, education, customer care and distribution in order to achieve this aim (Arts Council, 2006).

My thesis therefore will aim to look at social media and it’s role within audience development in the museum sector, focused on the UK. In order to do this the project will utilise a mix of methods and will focus on the role of the social networking platforms using Twitter (more on why Twitter specifically another time) as the case study example.

The objectives / aims will be to:

  • Understand why museums are using social networking platforms
  • Understand if (and how) museums are using social networking platforms as part of their audience development strategy
  • Analyse the role of Twitter within audience development in the museums sector
  • Identify how Twitter can be used by museums as part of their audience development activities
  • Apply the lessons learnt through the case study of Twitter back to the broader use of social networking platforms as a tool for audience development

In order to meet its objectives this project will use for the following methods.

Firstly interviews (these may take place either face-to-face, by telephone or via online chat subject to the interviewees availability) will be conducted with a group of museums based in or around Greater Manchester that currently have a presence on Twitter (as well as on other social networking sites – to varying degrees).

Secondly a Twitter data mining tool (twextract) will be utilised to extract tweets from or mentioning the Twitter handle of the museums interviewed. twextract provide five days of data per extract, extracts will be taken weekly over a period of eight weeks. This data will then be analysed to look at the frequency of Twitter useage, frequency of mentions, frequency of retweets and level of engagement / dialogue with other Twitter users. In addition data will be used for each organisation taken and analysed from TweetStats.

Finally an online questionnaire will be designed and distributed to museums in the UK in order to obtain a broader perspective beyond the Manchester context. The online questionnaire will be circulated across various museum and audience development networks.

I will then be using this blog to journal the research process as well as my findings throughout the study – hopefully that shall also spark some interesting debates and discussions… I’m counting on you!

If you are interested in finding out more about this project, have any useful resources to aid this research or simple some words of wisdom please do not hesitate to contact me at


Arts Council (2006). Audience development and marketing (Grants for the arts). Retrieved on 17 June 2010.

Image c/o David Berkowitz licensed under Creative Commons.