Posted by guestblogger on January 24th, 2011
About this Guest Post
Ingrid Beazley is the strategic advisor to the Community Outreach Department and the E-learning project developer in the Education Department of Dulwich Picture Gallery. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Story of a blog – Dulwich OnView
Dulwich Picture Gallery (DPG) is a small, purpose built art museum on the outskirts of London with a fabulous Baroque permanent collection. It’s England’s first public art gallery, founded 200 years ago exactly and is pretty well known. As might be expected the majority of regular visitors are middle aged/old, white, middle class and local. DPG has a large Friends organisation similarly made up. 3 years ago I was chair of the Friends. I also fit neatly into the description of the regular visitor.
Yes, I had made efforts to attract a different demographic to DPG. Through the Friends I had arranged events to attract younger people and families, but basically, as my children explained to me, no person in their 20s and 30s would have any interest in visiting this ‘old fashioned gallery with its stuffy pictures’.
Then I met a dynamic young woman, Yang May Ooi, at a local party who suggested using social media to reach younger people and explode this myth. I agreed and Dulwich OnView was born.
Dulwich OnView is not a museum blog like the ones you might find on museum websites, written by the museum staff. Dulwich OnView is an independent blog run by members of the local community on a voluntary basis. It has a large number of guest contributors who write about/take pictures of/make short films, podcasts about the local community as well as DPG. About 2/3 of the posts are NOT about DPG.
So Dulwich OnView is of interest to people who wish to read about local history/events/people/pubs/parks/festivals etc. They might Google ‘Dulwich walks’ and up would come Dulwich OnView’s numerous articles on these. Then they would notice all the references to DPG and be lured to read those posts and follow the wealth of links to the DPG website. We have stats to prove that this happens.
For Dulwich Picture Gallery, Dulwich OnView complements its official website as, like all blogs, it is informal and interactive. Many of the DPG staff write for it, from the director, the marketing, education and curatorial staff, to the warders and interns. The Friends have the opportunity to put up lots of background information about the events that they run which is not appropriate for the main DPG website, and there are many local people who submit reviews of the special exhibitions or just descriptions of their favourite paintings. DPG links to many of these articles from their website. It is an opportunity for DPG to have conversations with the local community via the Dulwich OnView comment boxes.
In the same way as you are more likely to be persuaded to go to an exhibition by your friend in a conversation at the pub, than you might be by reading the marketing blurb on an official website written by a person paid to write it, so posts recommending DPG written by locals are more convincing than reading the official information on its website.
Being a section of a local community website enables DPG to be seen as part of the local community itself, and to show its human face.
Younger people tend to read blogs, and in the case of Dulwich OnView, to accept the invitation to contribute to it. Our youngest blogger is in primary school and we have teens and university students contributing too. We also have authors in their 80’s as increasingly, older people go online not only for information but interactively too. And they tell their friends about their article – perfect viral marketing.
Dulwich OnView is just 3 years old and now gets about 20,000 hits a month. The referrers come from local organisations/businesses/charities that we have featured and who link to the article from their websites, from forums where we are mentioned and from the DPG website itself. We can tell from the search engine terms that people are not looking for DPG (e.g. ‘east Dulwich cinema’, ‘Ann Shelton’, ‘South London Youth Orchestra’) but that about 2/3rds of onward clicks are to pages on the DPG website.
National and International Recognition
I have talked at numerous national and international conferences from Montreal, Denver Colorado, Iceland (Nodem), Glasgow (Museums Association) and our own London (EVA and many others), and Dulwich OnView won the prestigious ‘Museums and the Web’ award in Denver last year for the ‘best small museum site’.
How is Dulwich OnView organised?
At its inception, the younger members of the committee of the Friends of DPG (and some others not on the committee) were excited about the idea and we formed a team of joint editors. We would take in turns to be editor on duty – to be responsible for having 6 new posts every week, for responding to all emails, for encouraging contributions, for moderating and answering comments etc. I then finished my term as chair and over the next year the committee members involved with Dulwich OnView left, to be replaced by people not interested in online social networking. (We had also set up a Flickr group, a Facebook page and Twitter).
Also at its inception, DPG was very nervous about Dulwich OnView. It had no control over the articles, could impose no regulations. Three years ago it was unusual for organisations to have blogs. It took a while to persuade them to mention DOV in the Friends area of their website and to link to us. They had to take us on trust. And in the end they did. All credit to them, and all credit to us for creating a successful website.
Recently the burden of running Dulwich OnView has been on just a couple of people, making the task of maintaining the volume and quality of the articles extremely onerous. I had continued my involvement after leaving the committee, but at the end of last year I had an opportunity to change direction which I wanted to take. It was crisis time. How much did DPG value Dulwich OnView? Would they allow it to die?
No; over the years DPG had come to realise the importance of Dulwich OnView as a modern marketing tool, in particular for younger people, and were prepared to employ 3 part time people to run it. They have agreed that it maintains its independence, which, after all, it its USP, and does not become just another institutional blog.
The DPG route from original shock-horror to creating a mini community outreach department to run Dulwich OnView has been rutted and long. It is with immense pride that myself, Yang May and all the original founders of Dulwich OnView deliver this unique and popular website into the hands of Dulwich Picture Gallery with the full blessing of its Director and Trustees.