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Sector Case Study: York Museums Trust’s social media lockdown project #CuratorBattle

#CuratorBattle (CB) was a York Museums Trust project run between March and July 2020. This project was essentially a social media campaign on Twitter to share our collections with audiences and to invite other museums to do the same, while museums and galleries were closed because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

About the organisation

York Museums Trust (YMT) is a charity which runs York Castle Museum, the Yorkshire Museum and Gardens, York Art Gallery and York St Mary’s. Collectively the museums and gallery are visited by more than 450,000 people in an average year with more than 1.2 million visiting York Museum Gardens.

While the majority of YMT staff were furloughed, a small number remained. This included a content creation team which brought members of the Public Engagement, Curatorial, Digital and Communications teams together to work on new ways to engage with audiences while our doors were closed.

What did you want to achieve?

The Content Team challenged themselves to find different ways of looking at collections that were fun and engaging and responded directly to audience interests as well as supporting wellbeing.

CB was our most successful example of this. It grew from the simple idea of using Twitter to share our objects under a given theme and then challenging other museums to do the same, creating an interactive collection of objects for audiences to engage with and enjoy.

The tone aimed to be entertaining and playful and allowed us to share a diverse range of objects, some of which have never been on public display.

How did you do it?

The content team met virtually every Tuesday and decided on themes for the “battles” and which objects would represent YMT museums. A long list of themes was drawn up in the first few weeks for the curators to see which objects may fit and just as importantly if we had good photographs of them.

Communications and Digital team then created the actual content, with the Digital Communications Officer leading on this.

The Yorkshire Museum Twitter feed launched the battles every Friday, throwing down the gauntlet to other museums to post their objects relevant to a particular theme.

Themes were varied and designed to be accessible to a wide range of museums – they included #Creepiestobject, #BestHat and even #BestMuseumBum.

The campaign ran for 19 weeks and attracted posts from international institutions such as the American Museum of National History and the State Hermitage Museum in Russia.

What happened?

More than 1.5 million people engaged with CB and YMT’s objects were seen by more than 5.4 million people on Twitter alone.

In a survey of over 200 people, 50% of the CB audiences were engaging with YMT collections for the first time.

83% strongly agreed that CB helped them feel connected with others during lockdown, with the most popular reason to engage being ‘to be entertained’ and ‘to lift my mood’.

In a time when audiences could not visit cultural venues physically, 86% of people surveyed stated that CB met their need for cultural activity during lockdown.

Nearly a fifth of people surveyed also stated that they had never engaged with cultural works digitally before CB.

96% said they would seek out similar experiences even after lockdown, showing the effectiveness of the campaign.

The battles were covered by international media, including CNN, Guardian UK, China Global Television Network and BBC One’s Have I Got News For You.

CB positively benefited many other museums involved:

For example: Fairfax House, York, saw Twitter followers increase from 18 in March (before CB began) to 265 in April (after CB began) with Tweet impressions rising by 814%.


The key to CB’s success was cross-departmental working, with many different people with different skill sets contributing to the ideas, content creation and delivery.

YMT aim to take the lessons learned from the successes of social media campaigns during lockdown and plan content and strategy into the heart of future programming, instead of it being an “added extra”.

There was no financial budget for CB. It relied on organic growth and positive engagement from many other museums and followers to succeed. Of those surveyed, 65% said they actively shared the battles on their own social media.

YMT’s communication team worked to promote the battles through key traditional media contacts who helped share the battles through their networks, creating more free publicity for the museums involved and the objects in their care.

What next?

The Digital Culture Network is here to support you and your organisation. Our Tech Champions can provide free 1-2-1 support to all arts and cultural organisations who are in receipt of, or eligible for, Arts Council England funding. If you need help or would like to chat with us about any of the advice we have covered above, please get in touch. Sign up to our newsletter below and follow us on Twitter @ace_dcn for the latest updates.

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