Feb 22, 2022|Research|3 minutes

The Post-Pandemic Content Paradox

Creating content for contemporary audiences

When it comes to visitor expectations of multimedia interpretation at museums, galleries, and other cultural sites, we’re caught in something of a paradox at the moment.

On the one hand, after two long years of Covid shutdowns, restrictions, and hardships, people are delighted to get back to visiting the places they love. They’re also broadly sympathetic to the hugely difficult decisions and cuts that many have had to make across the pandemic, having heard about them in the news and experienced their own versions at work and at home.

On the other hand, people’s general expectations for ‘content’ in the wider sense are arguably at an all-time high, surrounded as we are by a constant cycle of new releases. Podcasts continue their relentless push for world domination, with almost 6 in 10 US citizens over the age of 12 downloading them, and 82% of that audience listening for more than 7 hours a week. Younger generations, meanwhile, are becoming particularly savvy to the appeal of short but meaningful bursts of content engagement thanks to now-ubiquitous platforms like TikTok.

And the thread between these two quick examples? It’s that you don’t need years of experience or sophisticated tech to create something people want to engage with – just a good idea and some relatively affordable kit. So, where does that leave us in the cultural sector?

Who’s Best To Tell This Story?

To my eye, and when we’re starting to talk about a new piece of content creation at Smartify with our partner institutions, there’s an answer to be found within that paradox we’ve just considered. Visitors are sympathetic – they know that the vast majority of galleries and museums don’t have Netflix-level budgets to play with, nor the capacity to be churning out hours and hours of interpretive content each month. So, we just need to think carefully about what form the content we are producing takes – fundamentally, it has to be actively engaging.

I’ve been working in this sector for the best part of a decade now, and I still occasionally find myself falling into the trap of thinking about cultural interpretation in what could be termed its ‘traditional’ sense. That’s to say, straightforward single voice guides telling us dates, facts, and figures related to what we’re looking at. This is absolutely not, I should stress, any kind of creative attack on this kind of interpretation – some of the most meaningful experiences I’ve had over the years have taken this approach as their foundation. Rather, as we think about the kinds of content we can make for visitors today, we should take it as exactly that – a foundation to build upon.

A useful place to start is often the question: ‘Who’s the best person to tell this story?’ What those single voice tours and experiences don’t leave much room for is a more layered, nuanced means of interpretation. Who could we interview for a guide to offer visitors a totally new way of looking at our sites and collections? By scripting something from a purely curatorial perspective, are we side-lining voices and communities who could actually help visitors from a broader range of backgrounds feel welcomed into, and empowered by, our spaces?

Sharing our platforms with voices that are neglected and thus unexpected is, of course, just one way that we can broaden the appeal of the content we’re producing: I could write for hours about different styles of production, varying source materials, more abstract experiences. But it’s a pretty good start when thinking about creating more dynamic interpretation that caters for visitors who are increasingly aware of what makes good content – and the higher expectations that come along with that.

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Smartify user at The Met
written by

Peter Knowles