National Museums Scotland on Instagram

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Instagram is one of the newest channels for National Museums Scotland and as I have a love for images, it is definitely a favourite of mine. It’s just filled with creativity, alongside many other things!

A place for discovery and a place to delight your eyes and your mind with a window into some other worlds. I think this is why it fits so well with museums. That’s what I think museums often strive to do – open your eyes to wonders of the world, both local and global.

Since joining the Digital Media Team at National Museums Scotland last year, managing the social media schedule for the organisation has been one of my many tasks. It’s a challenge and a daily delight to keep on track of what’s happening both in the museum and outside of it.

As Instagram is constantly being tweaked, we also constantly change and tweak our methods of using it – both for internal planning and external publishing. National Museums Scotland joined Instagram in April 2015, when I joined the museum last May it had a healthy start with 144 followers. In May this year, this had grown to 7353 followers and we’ve just recently gone over 10k followers. Hooray! 

So we aren’t quite reaching the mighty heights of the British Museum, with 514k followers, or the The Met museum with 1.5m followers, and Taylor Swift with her 88.6m followers is a long way off. However, it has been an enjoyable year for us on Instagram. We have started to develop our voice on the channel, to get to know our local Instagram community, and to delve into the wider world of museums on Instagram.

Content experiments

Our Instagram content is varied and it currently consists mostly of the following:

  1. Permanent collection object focus.
  2. Live photos and videos from events.
  3. Planned updates highlighting elements from exhibitions.
  4. Photos relating to recent blog posts.
  5. Special campaigns e.g. #BigDiscoveries, #MuseumFaces, #Experience150.
  6. #EmptyNMS Instameet photos and reposts.

There are over twelve million objects in the National Museums Scotland collection, spanning World Cultures, Natural Sciences, Art, Design and Fashion, Science and Technology and Scottish History and Archaeology. Therefore, our feed is always going to include an eclectic mix. We try our best to share objects at relevant and timely moments, plus continue to experiment with formats and styles.

Today is the #summersolstice, the longest day of the year, and the sun rose at 04:26 in #Edinburgh this morning! Although people often consider June 21 as the date of the June Solstice, it can happen anytime between June 20 and June 22. Sundials were used before mechanical clocks were invented or affordable, and were later used to set clocks. Compared to a sundial, a clock runs slightly fast and slow at others. This is because the Earth’s orbit is not a perfect circle and its axis of daily rotation is tilted. This novelty 1845 sundial, made by Richard Melville in Glasgow, showed the local time in #Glasgow with dials for #NewYork, #Alexandria, #Malabar and #NewZealand. Messages to these places still took days or weeks to arrive at this time. You can see it in our Earth in Space gallery on Level 1 at the #NationalMuseumofScotland. #museumdetails #museums #Sun #sundial #Time #Solstice #Summer #Scotland

A photo posted by National Museums Scotland (@nationalmuseumsscotland) on

There are also four museums and hundreds of events taking place throughout the year. We often try to capture live elements of events to share on this feed, and this has increasingly included more and more short snippets of video.

In addition to events, there are a number of special exhibitions of varying size. We try to highlight content from these in a number of ways on social media. Last year we did a #Movember focus on moustaches in our Victorian Photography exhibition.

We often try to reuse content when possible. So if we have commissioned or developed a blog post which features stunning images, we will highlight these on Instagram also. This post below, featuring a frozen tree in perspex, was selected for use on Instagram after our Senior Curator of Modern Science and Computing wrote this lovely blog post for us.

A Frozen Tree in Perspex! National Museums Scotland has millions of objects in its collection, which is always going to make it difficult to choose a favourite. However, our Senior Curator of Modern Science and Computing reveals why she has a fondness for this beautiful frozen tree in perspex from 1956 over on our blog ‪#‎MuseumFavourite‬ They are known by many different names including electron trees, frozen lightening and Lichtenberg figures. This branching, treelike pattern is formed by an electrical discharge. They are sometimes produced naturally when lightning strikes the ground or they can also be made artificially with a static electricity machine or particle accelerator. #lightening #science #NationalMuseumsScotland #Edinburgh #Scotland

A photo posted by National Museums Scotland (@nationalmuseumsscotland) on

I’ve also slowly started to introduce a few #MuseumFaces, most recently with some features I completed with our Volunteer guides. We were celebrating Volunteer Week at the museum, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to meet some of our volunteer guides – so I tracked some down for a quick hello, and a photograph. The impressive group of 11 volunteer guides I met have a combined experience at the museum that spans over 100 years.

Some of our Visitor Experience team have started sharing highlights from the floor with us recently and you can follow these on our feed with the #Experience150 tags. These posts have introduced a slightly different tone and voice to our feed.

Ella shares the story behind her favourite object: “The difference between these unfinished and finished versions of a stone age axe head is hundreds of hours of workmanship. Functionally, they are very similar- it’s the aesthetics that differ. Someone, thousands of years ago, took the time, care and devotion to create the finished product. These objects represent a fleeting glimpse into the life of the people on this land before any notion of Scotland was conceived and I think they are as much a part of our history as our more recent past.” #Experience150 posts are brought to you by our Visitor Experience team at the National Museum of Scotland. #museumdetails #museumobjects #Museumviews

A photo posted by National Museums Scotland (@nationalmuseumsscotland) on

We recently opened ten new galleries at the National Museum of Scotland and our marketing team worked with Frame agency to deliver the overall campaign for this. A part of this campaign was developing a digital element and the results have been a brilliant series of slightly surreal images that you may have seen popping up on our feed recently.  We worked with the marketing team to help deliver on this, as we enlisted the help of a number of brilliant Instagrammers who attended our first Instagram meet. This recent post, featuring an image from @micagius, has gained the highest engagement of all of our native Instagram posts to date. We also tagged local locations as the place, as opposed to the museum and tried to time posts appropriately.


In October 2015 we met some of the Edinburgh Instagram community, when we invited them to join our first ever #EmptyNMS meet at the museum. When Michael Macleod @Snapmike approached us with the idea to organise the event, it fitted perfectly with our recent venture onto the channel. He was part of an existing network of Instagrammers in Scotland and tickets were snapped up almost overnight.

The fantastic group of 50 Instagrammers got up early on Saturday 3 October 2015 to get a chance to enjoy the empty museum before the doors officially opened to the public. They were able to indulge in a rare quiet moment in the Grand Gallery just before the museum opened and then later were taken up to the roof terrace to enjoy the views out over Edinburgh. You can see some of the images taken and shared on this day in our #EmptyNMS Storify.

Last month we held our second Instameet – this time to celebrate our ten new galleries opening. There have now been over 300 photos posted with the #EmptyNMS tag by this group. It was really a delight to welcome this friendly group into the museum and to briefly meet some of the faces behind the photographs.

Crowd sourcing

As the year has passed, it has quickly became apparent that we are not the only ones posting images about the National Museum of Scotland on Instagram. The thousands of visitors that we welcome through our doors each year are sharing more and more photographs of their museum visit on this channel. In an attempt to gather and enjoy these images a little more, last August I started to complete a monthly search on Storify of both Twitter and Instagram posts, searching for images that tag the National Museum of Scotland, either as a hashtag or a location. We share our round-ups monthly on Facebook and Twitter, with a mighty thanks to all those who visited and shared their visit with us.

It’s not an exhaustive search. However, we do try to like or comment on these lovely elements of visitors experience at the museum when we can. Often, these images can bring a real smile to my face. They manage to capture the different energy in the museum each month, as live events take hold, or different objects capture people’s eyes and imagination. In December 2015, I brought these together with a selection of 65 Amazing Views of the Museum. However, choosing just 65 was tough. If you take a look at our most recent story, which only captures half of August 2016 so far, you’ll understand why.

Learning from other museums and galleries

I’ve also started following a number of other museums and galleries on Instagram, which means our feed is filled with daily delights. This impressive list of Museums on Instagram details over 450 institutions worldwide that are posting insights into their organisation and collections on Instagram daily.

It’s definitely worth taking a look at the beautiful photos from The Met, British Museum, Rijksmuseum, Wellcome Collection, MOMAMusée du LouvreVictoria and Albert Museum and the Natural History Museum. Most of these accounts share a strong focus on their collections, events, exhibitions or behind the scenes action.

If the list of 450 is too much for you, I’ve highlighted just a couple of my favourites below and a few specific things I’ve seen them doing recently that I like.

San Francisco Moma, 179k followers, 1477 posts

  • Maintained presence whilst closed with #Playartfully challenges.
  • Reminds people to geo tag and share photos with their hashtag when posting about the museum.
  • Selected artists to post from their feed as part of #SFmomatakeover.
  • Asks the audience what they’d like to see more of in their feed.
  • Shares quotes from artists, designers and thinkers.

Smithsonian, 316k followers, 526 posts

  • Asks questions!
  • Shares collection in timely way – their current focus is on the Olympics.
  • Regularly uses #ThrowbackThursday to share early museum photos
  • Recently took part in a #Museumtakeover
  • Maintains a nice focus on different museums, with ‘takeovers’ from various staff members.

Tate, 985k followers, 909 posts

  • Beautiful new series of #TateShots and Art Changes videos on artists.
  • Shares nice crops of larger pieces of work and challenges people to #Guesstheartist.
  • Predicts #TateWeather with paintings.
  • Shares images and text about gallery employees #MeetTate.

Looking to the future

Moving forward, we have a number of ideas and a long list of things we’d like to do more of:

  • Try to follow Scottish museums and galleries on Instagram. We have just started a Google Document to record accounts here, so if you would like to be added to the list please complete this short form.
  • Take part in a #museuminstaswap, which we’ve seen taking place in London and New York. In New York, 18 museums switched up their accounts for 24 hours, each institution posting images taken at a partner museum, to draw parallels between the two institutions’ themes and exhibitions.  So if you work at another museum and would be interested in swapping for a day – let us know. A fresh pair of inquisitive eyes is always welcome.
  • Expect to be experimenting with more video on Instagram.
  • Harnessing some regular and consistent style elements in our posts.
  • Measuring more! We have started to include some basic Instagram analytics in our monthly round-up, but would like to do more.

Do you follow any #museums on Instagram? Do you follow National Museums Scotland on Instagram? Let us know which are your favourite museum accounts and do head on over to give us a like or follow.

Further reading

If you are a museum or curator starting out on Instagram, I’d recommend reading these articles.

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