How to Update Your Digital Strategy, Courtesy of The Met

Author: David McMillin       

On the surface, a professional association might not seem to have much in common with The Metropolitan Museum of Art. How is an organization that helps several thousand members learn and network have any similarities to an art museum that attracts millions of visitors each year? The answer is time. The Met opened its doors in 1870, and plenty of professional associations have also been in business for more than a century. David Rogers, a professor at Columbia Business School and author of The Digital Transformation Playbook, connected the dots between the two on May 7 at digitalNow conference at the new Fairmont in Austin, Texas.

The Met, he said, is a “classic legacy institution,” and like every legacy institution that was built before the Internet arrived, The Met has been forced to confront the new frontier of a constantly connected audience. However, Rogers said, The Met “isn’t closing any galleries or abandoning face-to-face.” Instead, they’re thinking about how they used to do business and identifying opportunities to reach prospective visitors in new ways.

“The Met used to buy a painting or a sculpture, and it would be six months before anyone would see it,” Rogers said. “The staff would do loads of research and keep it hidden while they determined how to unveil it. Now, they’ve started blogs and short-form videos to tell the story of this whole process. They’re helping people understand the story behind the art, the preservation efforts, and more. And people are watching.”

For example, consider a video with The Met’s paper conservator, Marjorie Shelley, that offers a look at the complex process of restoring a Michelangelo drawing or a time-lapse video of rebuilding an organ in the museum’s musical instrument gallery. The Met, however, hasn’t limited itself to looking through a lens of the past. Instead, members of the museum’s Media Lab team launched The Hip Hop Project, which combines rap lyrics with keyword searches from The Met’s digital archives of more than 200,000 works of art. Think Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, and Drake have nothing to do with paintings from thousands of years ago? Think again.

A Cast of New Competitors

The Met’s approach to engagement reflects the realities of a new era of competition. “Our competition is not other museums,” Sree Sreenivasan, the museum’s former chief digital officer, said. “It’s Netflix. It’s Candy Crush. We are fighting for attention.”

Rogers reminded digitalNow’s audience of association CEOs and executives that they are in the midst of the same battle. “The Met is fighting for relevance,” Rogers said. “Every organization is fighting for relevance.”

Winning that battle doesn’t require more money or more time. Instead, Rogers believes that it requires a more optimistic approach. “It’s about shifting our mindset when looking at upheaval and disruption from worrying about how it impacts our business,” Rogers said. “We should look at every change and say, ‘How can this allow me to deliver value that wasn’t possible before?’”

Stay tuned to for more insights and creative inspiration from the programming at digitalNow.

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