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 June and looks behind the numbers by giving insight on successful strategies.
Western Museums and Cultural Institutions
Global museums dealing with the uncertainty created by coronavirus may be focused on facilitating local visitation, but some continue to demonstrate a strong willingness to engage Chinese audiences.
One notable example from June was the British Museum’s two-hour live stream held in partnership with Chinese tech giant Alibaba. “It’s important to stay in contact with all potential visitors, wherever they may be in the world,” said the museum’s Commercial Director Roderick Buchanan. The timeline for welcoming back overseas Chinese visitors remains cloudy, even after Europe reopened its borders to China in early July, but institutions such as the British Museum are taking the lull in foot traffic to reevaluate how they connect with China.
Asian Art Museum
Home to the largest collection of Asian art in the U.S. and led by Mandarin-speaking director Jay Xu, the San Francisco institution is adept at capturing the imaginations of Chinese netizens. It recently hosted the first episode of “Explore the World”, a show exploring Chinese cultural roots, created by musician and television personality Gao Xiaosong. Aired on popular video-platform Youku, Xu introduced collection highlights to viewers through casual conversation with Gao before sitting down for a conversation on the history of San Francisco, museum finances, and the perception of Chinese art in the U.S. The museum’s post about “Explore the World” received more than 6,000 reads.
The Art Institute of Chicago (AIC)
When Mandopop icon Jay Chou released the Cuba-centric single “Mojito”, he prompted a flurry of online articles explaining the drink, bar deals, and netizens posting images of their tropical concoctions to social media — as well as crashing Tencent Music’s payment service. Seven thousand miles away, the AIC jumped on the trend with a post exploring six cocktails through its paintings — it includes a simple recipe for each. The title of the post cleverly played off a lyric from Chou’s song “Could I have a Mojito for my lover” and chose a Frida Kahlo self-portrait to represent the fresh summery drink. A simple yet strong example of a museum connecting to a trend from Chinese pop culture.
Chinese Museums and Cultural Institutions
The experiences of Chinese cultural institutions in June offer a cautionary lesson for organizations globally. Just as museums in Beijing were beginning to understand operating in a new environment, a second outbreak hit the capital, shutting doors once again. The point? Notions of a “post-COVID-19” world are wildly optimistic and institutions should prepare for the likelihood of rolling openings and closings.
In this context, digital initiatives are taking on an even greater significance with museums tapping into national celebrations online and e-commerce shopping festivals. As the most commonly used social media platform, institutions use WeChat to guide followers to their efforts on other platforms, such live streaming events on Douyin or shopping opportunities on Tmall. WeChat may be the first digital touch point for many, but it’s increasingly a pathway to other online initiatives.
Since 2006, China has celebrated Cultural and Heritage Day in June. With more than 3,700 (mostly digital) activities held across the country this year, the Palace Museum’s “Our Heritage Day” stands out on account of its breadth and use of live streaming. Its featured WeChat story offered insights on how the digitization of the museum of the Forbidden City, a move accelerated by lockdown, will promote Chinese cultural heritage on a long-term basis. The director of the Palace Museum built off the success of its live streams from April and May by leading a behind the scenes tour, interviewing department heads along the way.
UCCA Center for Contemporary Art
China’s 618 online shopping bonanza is no longer merely the purview of giant brands, the country’s cultural attractions are increasingly adept at using the occasion to generate revenue. Beijing’s UCCA launched a so-called “Night Market”, which it advertised through a post on its WeChat account, offering consumers an array of products from its record-breaking “Picasso – Birth of a Genius” exhibition. Selling gift shop products through e-commerce channels is hardly novel, but UCCA created specialty bundles for 618, one of which included products from Chinese cosmetics brand COGI (高姿).