Leicestershire Fashion in Detail: Using social media to engage new audiences with museum collections

This post is another in our series of presentation write-ups from the 2015 NatSCA Conference, Museums Unleashed!


The Animal Kingdom

The Animal Kingdom


Leicestershire Fashion in Detail was part of a larger project called Click; Connect; Curate; Create. Funded by Arts Council England as part of their Renaissance Strategic Support Fund, we wanted to find out how we could use ‘digital’ (whether that be technology or content creation) to increase engagement with our sites and collections. Fashion in detail was one a number of pilot projects including 3D scanning, augmented reality and wearable tech and digital storytelling.

What did we do?

For the purposes of this project we decided to utilise a number of existing images that we had of items from the costume collection. These images are close-up photographs of objects, ranging from menswear to accessories, womenswear to shoes, dating from the late 18th century to the present day. We commissioned dress historian Clare Bowyer to curate these images into a series of themes, and to write narrative for each image and each theme.

Why publish on social media and not an online collection resource?
We were going to use our collections online website but unfortunately this had to be taken down. We did have a picture library that had just been launched but, as its primary purpose was income generation, we didn’t want to distort its purpose by uploading images that we weren’t looking to sell.

As the aim of the project was to encourage engagement with collections we thought, ‘Instead of expecting audiences to come to us, why not go to them?’, and put our content on the platforms they use.

We settled on Tumblr, after considering a number of other image based platforms (including Pinterest and Flickr), as it works well with images and has a large fashion-based following.

Net overdress, c1910. Image of lace detail

Net overdress, c1910. Image of lace detail

What happened?

Since we began posting in October 2014, we have:

  • posted 191 images
  • received 949 ‘notes’ (these are interactions with the content in the form of likes and reblogs)
  • had 782 users interact with our content
  • gained 134 followers (and counting)

This is an average post engagement rate of 495.3%. In comparison to our picture library, our download rate is 0.98% and our average engagement rate on Pinterest is 1.47%.

Union metrics

Union metrics

Where relevant we would also link back to the collection if it was on our picture library, and as a result our social media referrals increased, not just from our own blogs but from other peoples’ too; 20% of social media referrals to our picture library are from Tumblr.

What did we learn?

1. Tag, tag, tag
Fundamentally with all social media, it’s about being discoverable, and for Tumblr it’s about using the right tags so that users can find your content and then hopefully reblog or like your posts. Knowing the right tags to use is down to a process of trial and error, but descriptive tags work best. Do your own research on what you think are popular tags, then look at what other tags have been used for that post and use them for your own.

Top Tags

Top Tags

2. Social media is about engagement, not broadcasting
The purpose of social media is to engage with audiences, not to just broadcast about what’s going on. It was something that was picked up in our development of a social media strategy. The strongest recommendation from that was to move away from broadcasting to engaging with our audiences; telling people about our collections was a perfect way to do this.

3. Experimentation is key
As with tagging, a lot of what makes good content is trial and error. Try something, see if it works, and if it doesn’t, look at why and try it again. If it does work, look at why it did and see if you can replicate it. We saw that images of our corsets were gaining the most engagement, so we have decided to create a Tumblr about our Symington corset collection.

4. Digital vs Physical
Our biggest learning outcome is that a digital visitor isn’t better or worse than a physical visitor; they are just different types of visitor. We have people from all over the world engaging with our collections who might not have found out about them if it wasn’t for Tumblr. They may never visit us in person, but at least they know we exist, and we have made our collections accessible to them and in a way that allows them to truly engage.

Session Geography - Google analytics

Session Geography – Google analytics

5. Naming your files
I didn’t mention this in my presentation, but the importance of a digital asset management strategy is key. Only some of the images used were labelled according to the garment they were from so I had to spend a month in the ‘Frock Box’ trying to identify the item from the image and updating the metadata accordingly. Whilst I relished my time exploring the collection, renaming all of the images was a pain.

What next?

Leicestershire Fashion in Detail has been such a success to us that we want to explore how we can develop it further. In regards to the overarching project CCCC, we are undertaking an evaluation and visioning exercise to see how we might be able to embed the learning from the project into the strategic delivery of the service.


Lucia Masundire
Project Manager – Click; Connect; Curate; Create
Leicestershire County Council

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