What it means

The word community means different things in different contexts. For our purpose, because museums exist to serve the public, we define community as members of the public who share an identity, affinity, and geography, be it physical, digital, or psychological.

How it’s used

Museums typically invest in engaging with community for the purpose of developing authentic, trusted, long-lasting, and mutually beneficial partnerships. This engagement often happens through co-creation of content such as programs or digital products, as well as the leveraging of user-generated content (UGC). Community represents a shift in marketing, away from a mindset of transaction and broadcasting of messages, toward investing in collaboration and relying on micro-engagements with people who are taking time out of their busy days to talk about the museum, be it through word-of-mouth, likes, comments, or shares. Community members with a wide reach are referred to as influencers.

The museum must be clear about which communities it wants to engage and support. (See also Audience Segmentation.) Before the museum engages with or attempts to define community, it is best practice to talk to community members to understand how they want to be engaged and how they define themselves. A conversation with a museum employee, who is also a member of the identified external community, does not completely fulfill this need. While tapping into employee experiences and perspectives is useful, there is a need for ongoing dialogue with external community members in order to gather and learn from various perspectives and voices.

Why it matters

Fostering community is a strategy for audience growth and engagement. In an increasingly hybrid world, communities form a strong foundation, especially for the digital relationships a museum must foster. If a museum is relevant to a community, word-of-mouth will spread, through their members and thought leaders (i.e., influencers). We have defined community as an audience group but it can also refer to the community that is centered around a museum itself, such as staff, volunteers, and fans.


1 thoughts on “Community

  1. Steven Miller, Executive Director Emeritus, Morris Museum says:

    I enjoyed reading this. In my observation I believe museums have several communities depending on what they are about at a given time or program commitment. I have worked in local history museums so the first community has been geographic. For New York City that was large and about as diverse a number of communities as one can imagine. In Bennington, VT, the geography was smaller. Communities ebb and flow as a museum’s programming ebbs and flows. Consequently communities can involve groups sharing certain interests, races, genders, ethnicities, ages, and so on. Community is a very popular word usage for museums these days but it is rarely defined. Warm and fuzzy is the goal.

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