When you think of New York City’s world-famous Metropolitan Museum of Art, social media probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
But Sree Sreenivasan, chief digital officer at the Met, is out to change that.
“Everyone has their own impression of what a museum is like, what art is like, but there is so much going on here that people may not know about,” Sreenivasan told Business Insider.
Sreenivasan is leading the museum’s effort to reach new audiences through digital means, whether it be through social media, online galleries, or through mobile apps like the one the museum launched this week.
“It’s not a zero-sum game,” he said. “We’re all trying different things to get a broader base of people who want to come, from the people who come once as a bucket-list item and never come back, to the people who never come at all.”
The Met’s beautifully designed flagship app, which was released this week, does a variety of things. A list of highlights — complete with pictures of each work — would help first-time visitors get their bearings in the sometimes overwhelmingly large collection. Tapping on each photo brings up a description of the piece, as well as where you can find it in the museum.
Museum visitors can browse listings of the day’s events and buy tickets for those that are coming up in the future. The app has a quirky side, too, with a guided tour of the museum’s best mustaches and its best hidden gems.
To celebrate the launch of the app, the museum threw a party that would seem rather out of character to many.
Indie rock band Interpol played a concert in the museum’s iconic Temple of Dendur, an enormous sandstone structure that was a gift from Egypt to the U.S. in the 1960s.
“I’m sure the people who gave it as a gift didn’t imagine it being a site of a rock concert,” Sreenivasan laughed. “It’s part of the idea of the Met doing new things that are surprising.”
The temple made for a dramatic setting for the night’s event — certainly a step up from your typical field trip to the museum.
The Met’s flagship app is just the first in a series of apps currently in development at the museum.
The team is beefing up their social media presence, too. They were named one of the most influential museums on Twitter, and their Facebook page has more than 1.2 million likes. Since both of those platforms are banned in China, the museum created a Weibo account to reach art fans there, many of whom may never get the chance to visit New York. According to Sreenivasan, the team’s approximately 60 Weibo posts have been viewed close to 3 million times.
“We’ve doubled our social media team — to two people — who are posting around the clock and trying to increase the museum’s reach around the world,” Sreenivasan said.
The Met’s Instagram account, which features photos of exhibits on display as well as more behind-the-scenes shots, won a Webby Award in the Social: Arts & Culture category in April. They have since grown their audience to more than 218,000 followers. That’s not bad for an art museum that has historically had nothing to do with technology.
The museum’s new digital gallery “One Met. Many Worlds.” is the last piece of the outreach puzzle. Information on each piece in the Met’s collection has been cataloged in multiple languages, and users have the ability to take the content and build upon it.
“It’s sort of like the museum itself,” Sreenivasan said. “It’s broad, encyclopedic, and every culture in the world is represented. We’re employing different strategies for displaying that, both in the museum and online.”
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