With more than a billion daily users, WeChat is an essential tool for cultural destinations striving to connect with China. The vast majority of Chinese museums are already well-established on WeChat, but there remains huge potential for western institutions to utilize the platform to engage Chinese audiences. Jing Travel examines how cultural institutions performed on WeChat across May and looks behind the numbers by giving insight on successful strategies.
Western Museums and Cultural Institutions
May marked a turning point in the status of global cultural institutions, one reflecting regional differences in the severity of coronavirus. As some museums in Western Europe began to reopen, the vast majority of their American counterparts remained closed and began to face anew a fundamental question; what’s the role cultural institutions in a period of extreme hardship and social unrest?
Admittedly, organizational responses will focus on domestic engagement — particularly given the gloomy short-term prospects for international travel — but as International Museum Day highlighted “Diversity and Inclusion” crosses borders and cultures. Institutions must remember that WeChat is a vital tool for communicating with local Chinese audiences, not simply overseas visitors.
The majority of WeChat users scrolling through museum accounts are hoping to be entertained and informed. Sounds obvious, but publishing content for Chinese readership can seem like a difficult balancing act of being culturally nuanced while maintaining institutional voice. As MoMA continues to demonstrate through translating articles from its MoMA Magazine, compelling content crosses the language barrier. “What resonates well in the English-speaking world can be universal,” says Jessica Dai, who works on MoMA’s WeChat content in her role at China Luxury Advisors, “MoMA has such rich content and the pieces work for its audiences, though we do try to localize it and add content here and there.”
The coronavirus pandemic is, by definition, a global experience, though how people react and cope with its imposition on everyday life is not without regional distinctions. The V&A’s most read post from May explored the everyday objects that have gained new meaning under lockdown through the eyes of museum curators. It explored the handmade signs adorning London’s windows, the rise of flour and yeast into ‘luxury’ commodities, and the nitrile gloves which have long been a stable for curators and conservators. It concludes with a vote for users to choose their favourite everyday object from coronavirus. The post is a concise and frank look at life under lockdown in Britain, a subject to pique the interest Chinese readers.
Chinese Museums and Cultural Institutions
Chinese cultural institutions entered a second month of resuming operations under new guidelines and celebrated International Museum Day (IMD) on May 18 under the theme of “Diversity and Inclusion”.
IMD was an opportunity for state-run museums to lean further into the engagement technologies embraced under lockdown — live streaming, immersive experiences, and Mini Programs. One highlight was a Taobao Live event that brought nine museum directors and seven million viewers together for a two-hour celebration of institutions and their cultural products.
China’s private museum sphere continues to pioneer dynamic cultural responses to the pandemic. Beijing’s UCCA opened “Meditations in an Emergency” presenting work from 26 artists, HOW Art Museum hosted a live music performance followed by a discussion on how technology shaped our COVID-19 experience, and X Museum finally opened in Beijing with a timely question for its inaugural exhibition “How Do We Begin?”.
Nanjing Museum was designated as the main venue for China’s celebration of IMD and held an exhibition showcasing 200 cultural relics loaned from institutions across the country.
The museum used its WeChat platform to schedule event announcements and accept visitor reservations. The special event “Night at the Nanjing Museum” featured performances by Chinese artists and was accessible exclusively through its Mini Program — a post on the event received 45K reads with the museum’s customer service answering questions on ticketing in the post.
UCCA is using WeChat to promote current exhibitions and cultural collaborations. A recent article on UCCA Dune’s exhibition “Resistance of the Sleepers” may focus on somnolent subject but it’s far from sleep inducing. The post includes gifs of Ana Montiel’s bright installations, short videos, and swipe-able exhibition images. Browsers can purchase tickets directly by clicking through to UCCA’s Mini Program.
Its most read article from May was the announcement of a live performance at UCCA Dune in collaboration with COS, a contemporary fashion brand part of H&M Group. It rewarded readers whose comments received likes with coupons from COS.