The sudden closure of all physical public spaces due to the COVID19 outbreak of 2020 has led to an explosion of online content. Although museums and other public engagement professionals have been putting content online for years now, the context suddenly became very different. Available online content multiplied overnight, fuelled by the appetite of a ‘locked down’ public confined to their homes, and the needs of the Nation’s parents who suddenly found themselves as full-time educators. Goodness only knows what would have happened had this crisis come before the advent of super-fast broadband!
However, many people report either feelings of overwhelm by the choice or disinterest in the content on offer. The issue is not, clearly, a lack of available content. It’s also not a judgement on the quality of the content. The problem lies, I believe, in the lack of curation of the online content.
Lessons in curating digital content
Museums are expert at curation. But maybe not in the digital space. So where should the museum and engagement communities look for great examples of the curation of digital content? I believe one of the very best examples can be found in the internet-phenomenon that is ‘Yoga With Adriene’. For anybody still unaware of the YouTube queen of yoga; Adriene Mishler is a teacher of at home yoga via recorded YouTube videos. She and business partner Chris Sharp currently have over seven and a half million subscribers on YouTube. She also has a LOT of content; I counted 554 separate yoga videos on her channel.
So how do audiences ever know where to start? Well, many of her videos come up in search engines with very user-friendly and search-friendly titles such as ‘Yoga for Back Pain’ or ‘Yoga for Stress’. All their content, right from the start of their channel in 2012, was created based on search engine questions. This is how they know the yoga videos they make are the yoga videos that people want. How many museums or public engagement organisations could say the same thing? Is what we put online definitely what audiences are looking for? I think we can learn a lot from this true lesson in audience-led content.
Sustainable content creation
In 2015 Adriene and Chris produced and released their first January daily playlist “30 days of Yoga”. This playlist of 30 brand new videos came with a community feel, sign-up list and daily email. The January ‘intensive’ content release has been repeated regularly and is a key way they bring in new subscribers.
But these month-long courses are obviously resource-intensive and this can’t be sustained all year round. But audiences are not left adrift at the end of their January journey. For the rest of the year, there is a monthly calendar, released by email, with a playlist on YouTube. But this time it is not a month of new videos, it’s a curated playlist of existing content with only a few key ‘new release’ pieces of content peppered throughout. This way you get a themed and selected month of content, designed to be viewed in order, paced as a single journey, but it is mostly re-used content. Can we in museums create similar ‘exhibitions’ in this way?
Free content and premium content
So far everything we’ve talked about is free. The Yoga With Adriene brand is based on bringing yoga to those who would not or could not pay for a studio-based class. The accessibility of the yoga is important to the brand values. Just like it is for museums and public engagement projects. But this is a business not a charity. Although the content is mostly free, and it’s the popularity of the brand that brings other income-generation possibilities, they do make paid-for content. You can see on the calendar above that Tuesdays have two different options. The second is the ‘paid for’ content on the membership for those who are signed up to their membership platform. Again, something to consider?
Museums may consider themselves experts in the curatorial field but they could do a lot worse than look at Yoga With Adriene for lessons in content curation in the online space.