3,2,1… we are LIVE from the museum!
When you click the little live video button on Facebook you have a three second countdown, before the broadcast begins. We all took a deep breath the first time we clicked into our first live broadcast with Martin Goldberg, our Senior Curator of Scottish History and Archaeology, as he welcomed people into our Celts exhibition on 23 June 2016.
Despite a trial, practice and test prior to clicking the red button… we got off to a slightly shaky start with that first broadcast, with some issues with light and sound. However, we’ve now clicked the ‘go live’ button 19 times and have learnt a number of things doing so. We thought we would share some elements of our live video experiments at the National Museum of Scotland, which have consisted of:
- 19 Facebook live broadcasts from June to September 2016
- 15 speakers from across the museum
- 58,020 total video views
- 5611 total reactions
- 10,669 total post clicks
- 735,072 total reach
The initial focus was to share additional information from and about the Celts exhibition. We then planned further ‘lives’ from our new Art, Design & Fashion and Science & Technology galleries, which opened in July. We also captured some elements of events happening at the museum.
Why live video?
Technology has moved on massively since the early photography days of the daguerreotypes, calotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes and stereocards that we had on display in the Victorian Photography exhibition last year. If an updated version of this 19th century ‘daguerreotypomania’ lithograph were to be created, it may reflect some form of ‘selfiemania’ or perhaps even a growing ‘livevideomania’ spreading throughout the early 21st century. In 1981 Sony revealed the Sony Mavica, the first digital electronic still camera and now 35 years later, many people carry a camera in their pocket in the form of their mobile phone.
Smartphones and clever apps allow not only for stunning photos and videos to be taken and uploaded instantly, but one of the more recent developments from the likes of Facebook, Periscope, Meerkat and YouTube has been the ability to live stream video directly from mobile. Although video has been increasingly on the agenda for digital and social media content for a number of years, we also wanted to make sure we are keeping up with these live video developments in the museum. So trying to make these captures more regular for us, was also about keeping our skills current and exploring ways to make ‘live’ work for us whilst it is still fairly fresh.
Why Facebook Live?
After dabbling on Periscope in August 2015, in June 2016 we decided to make a concentrated effort to plan a series of live broadcasts from the National Museum of Scotland and we chose to do this on Facebook Live. We chose Facebook Live for four main reasons: Audience, Engagement, Analytics and Algorithm.
Facebook has 1.71 billion monthly active users, plus National Museums Scotland has its biggest audience on Facebook – with over 68k followers.
We hoped that live broadcasts might help increase engagement on this channel, but it also provides a good platform for discussion: as the video stays as a post, questions could be responded to later.
Facebook provides a good set of analytics about posts and this helps to measure our experiments.
Facebook’s news feed algorithm works in mysterious ways. Whilst Facebook live was relatively new, it was actively searching for an audience and gave preference to live video, as opposed to non-live video. So it made sense to strike whilst the iron was hot.
Who was involved?
Producing and filming
These broadcasts have been a real Digital Media team effort, with various members of the digital team taking time to organise, produce, film, clean display cases, sshhh people, hold lights and much more. We’ve each taken a turn at filming and assisting, so that we all get comfortable with the format and can cover for each other when necessary. We’ve learned who controls the lights and the keys at the museum, plus had assistance from Exhibitions team to check loan agreements of objects in Celts that may have featured in the filming. So far we’ve decided that for an organised set-up with a speaker in a new space, it is best to have two people, with one filming and directing the speaker, plus one looking after everything else (keys, lights, sounds). When capturing elements of events live, then one person is enough.
There was a really good input from all of the speakers, who came from a range of departments at the museum: Scottish History and Archaeology, Art, Design and Fashion, Science and Technology, Learning and Programmes and Exhibitions and Design. We’ve featured 10 curators, plus included one guest curator, Julia Farley, who was up visiting from the British Museum.
What came out in these 19 broadcasts was a wide range of styles, people and lovely objects. The different speakers brought different passions and styles to their talks, as they selected the objects that they wanted to highlight. They commented that it was nice to talk about in-gallery elements and share some extra elements that were not on the labels.
What equipment did we use?
So we did have a Digital Media Team tripod and camera, but we didn’t have a Digital Media Team smart phone when starting out with our plans for these Facebook Live elements earlier this year. So planning this series was a good impetus for us to request some additional equipment for the team, which has been used for this, as well as a number of other projects throughout the year.
Lighting has been one of our biggest learning curves, as we have moved around the museum and been in a different spot for almost every film. The galleries are often quite dark, with specific spot lights often shining onto objects or displays, but not necessarily where we would like people to stand. We started by borrowing big lights that our Exhibitions team use when installing; these gave quite big pools of light, but they were quite harsh. We tried some cheap DIY options (see greasproof paper!) and although small, they made a real difference when focussed on the speakers. Finally, we made a decision to invest in some proper lights, which have been used on the most recent lives and have made a big difference.
Current kit (hover over image for details)
What was most popular?
The most popular video to date has been our least planned one, capturing the opening day celebrations with Boghall and Bathgate Pipe Band. This video gained 10,398 video views, 1,961 reactions and 4,386 clicks. It was a shaky capture, but it highlights a nice moment for the museum.
What have we learned?
That the act of clicking to go live is not so difficult and once all the planning has been done, the filming is relatively quick. Although filming something we are happy with as an organisation is definitely 90% in the preparation. We liked trying to pitch a slightly more informal tone and think this format gave the chance for the personality of the speakers to shine through.
These lives have been a really nice way for us as a team to work with different and new people across the museum. Inviting people to speak about their chosen object is a great way to get a more personal insight into the collections and galleries.
These lives brought in 76,300 engagements, made up of 58,020 total video views, 5611 reactions and 10,669 total post clicks. This was a really good level of engagement for us and each of the posts also received a healthy number of comments. Although not as many questions as we expected, so we need to look at how we encourage more questions.
Lights, sound, signal
Dark galleries and noisy spaces have been the biggest challenges for us. Changing spaces every week, each location has given us something new to consider and the museum does come alive in many ways at night (as caterers set up for events or engineers come in to fix AVs). However, the important thing has been to quickly figure out how to deal with the issue as best as possible. In the future, we may look at how we can control these elements more, perhaps by considering different times and spaces.
Content-wise, one of my favourites was the final broadcast from Alison Taubman, our Principal Curator of Science and Technology. However, the sound in this video was a challenge, as there were a lot of external sounds from audio-visual screens that we couldn’t turn off. Alison was also planning to walk between cases, so we couldn’t use the Lavalier microphone. So turn up the volume, but do take a listen, as it is a really enjoyable discussion of the development of communication methods.
Trial and test
For the lives with speakers, we tend to do a quick trial run in the morning. It’s at this point that we make final agreements on the space and object, checking positions for the camera and lights, plus discussing the theme of the talk a little more with the speaker.
There is a lot of advice online that recommends promoting the live in advance to encourage people to tune in. We did this at first, but later found that we didn’t want to be as specific with timing in case there were unknown factors to consider before clicking live on the night. So laterly, we have tended to simply go live and then promote after. Once we become more confident about going live at an exact time, we’ll do more promotion in advance.
We’ll continue doing more lives, and begin to make them more of a part of our social media output within the museum – planning them to work with exhibitions, talks and some behind the scenes features – so stay tuned. However, we don’t want all video we produce to be live! So lives will be balanced out amongst more developed films with longer production times and bigger budgets.
As this is a fairly new format for us, we took a look round to see what other museums and galleries were doing. One of the best examples I found was the Getty Periscope series called Literally anything at the Getty.
During their broadcasts they gained over 4,948 followers on Periscope. Their first video brought in 100,000 views and their average was about 1k to 3k views. This was a nice consistent series and was hosted with a relaxed personality and casual style. The presenter had a really good ability to connect with audience and react to any issues, such as bad wifi or connections.
We presented insights from our recent ‘Live experiments’ at a local Digital Meet in September and the response was very positive; there seemed to be a definite interest from the sector in how this could be used.
We hope this post encourages some more museums to click live and share some insights into their collection. If you are doing any similar broadcasts, do share your tips, comments and videos with us. We’d love to hear how it is working for you and whether you would encourage us to try anything different.