Case Study: Philadelphia Museum Uses Foursquare to Increase Awareness

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Spreading the word about summertime events can be difficult for a museum located in the middle of a university district. That’s one reason Philadelphia’s Penn Museum got creative when it came to advertising its music series this year. The museum’s community manager, Josh Lawrence, has started using tools like Foursquare and LivingSocial to promote events that take place when school is out.

What do you do as the community manager for the Penn Museum?
I take all the content that’s being provided by the digital media center and basically aggregate it to all the different channels. Right now, we’re on Facebook, Twitter, we have a LinkedIn, YouTube, and Tumblr. I also [post] on social news websites like Reddit and Digg, and I handle all the Foursquare stuff. We just started using Google+ recently, so I basically get our content on all the different social channels.

I noticed that the Penn Museum is running a Flash Special, where the first 10 people who check-in on Foursquare on certain days get free drinks. How did that come about?
Well, we had been using Foursquare for a little bit and we really didn’t know how to best utilize it. We have some different things coming up, but most importantly we have a music series that goes on through the summer on Wednesdays called Penn Museum Summer Nights. We basically have different bands from the local area performing world music in our center court. We decided to run the promotion so it would draw people in with an added incentive. So, if people are in the area and they want to know something that’s going on, it pops up on their [mobile] screen and we let them know that the Penn Museum is running a special. Since we’re located in University City, right of the heart of Philly, it was just a good idea to raise our profile on the Foursquare app in general.

Do you have any way of measuring how well it’s working so far?
We have been seeing who’s checking in. It’s been kind of a test run. It’s our first [foray] into it, but we’ve been going into the manager dashboard and basically seeing where the people are from, if they are unlocking [the special], what times they are unlocking it, and that kind of thing.

Since you use so many social media platforms, do you have any sense of what draws the most people in?
At this point, it’s probably our Facebook page. Facebook is where we have most of our conversations at this point. We get a lot of interaction on Twitter, and a lot of hits to the website, but most of the website traffic comes from Facebook and, surprisingly, Reddit—I think primarily because there’s an archeology channel, anthropology channel, and a Philadelphia channel on Reddit, which is very specific to what we’re doing. So, it’s a good way to target people who would be interested in what we’re doing at the museum.

How do you decide what types of content you’re going to post on the various social networks?
Well, most of it is in-house. We post videos on YouTube, and once that archival film is on YouTube it goes to all the different channels. We also videotape all of our different lectures, and a lot of events at the museum are taped and aggregated. [We use] Flickr to post photos of objects that we have. I mean, we have over one million objects in the museum, so it provides a lot of content right there without having to look too hard. We also use some user generated content as well—people who do videos about the museum or things that are relevant to our area of expertise. We bring that all in and spread the word about the field in general.

I saw a deal for the Penn Museum on LivingSocial recently. What made you interested in running a daily deal?
It’s funny that you ask that; I’m the person who set that up. I met the guy from LivingSocial and I just talked to them and they said it [would be] pretty successful. They gave me the stats, which I don’t want to divulge. Basically, [we] had been talking to Groupon, and I think [the museum] was planning on running a Groupon deal. But I had been following LivingSocial for a while, so I met up with the guy who runs LivingSocial and had a talk with him, and it worked out better for us. That’s mostly because LivingSocial is more targeted towards lifestyle choices, instead of Groupon being specifically like, “You can go to Kmart and buy socks for $5.” Groupon has very specific-need deals, where LivingSocial has a lot of lifestyle [deals]. They even have Escapes now, where they have trips.

Your LivingSocial deal offered discounts on museum entry only on certain days, which is somewhat rare. How did you decide on the deal?
We have a lot of exhibits coming up in the fall and in early 2012. Right now, with summer and because we’re in the middle of University City, all the students are gone. [Students are] a huge base for spreading the word about a lot of things. However, during the summer we have this Summer Nights program where we do music [events]. So, the point was to really get as many people to this Summer Nights series as possible. That was really all of what we were doing this summer—just bringing people into that. When they see [the deal], they get tickets to the museum and they get to see all these exhibits. So, it was really just a tool to keep building awareness during the summer.

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.