The Smithsonian has unveiled an ambitious digital-first strategy to massively grow its online presence, aiming to reach one billion people a year.

The initiative is a key component of its new action plan to unify the various museums and connect with a much wider audience.

A target of one billion in the next five years will be a major challenge. But, the institution understands the urgency of creating a distinct and wide-reaching digital presence.

According to Effie Kapsalis, chief of content and communications strategy at the Smithsonian Institution Archives, the Smithsonian’s online audience should actually be viewed as a user base that needs to be listened to.

“We have a lot of two-way interactions online,” she says. “We spend a lot of time learning what people are doing online.”

Sharing the Smithsonian ‘spirit of wonder’ 

What’s being proposed is that the Smithsonian interacts more openly with these responses and uses what it learns to grow its online presence.

Around 30 million visitors are understood to have accessed the Smithsonian’s museums in 2017. But, this is being described as just the tip of the iceberg.

Many at the institutution are eagerly anticipating a time when the ‘deep knowledge’ within the museums can be richly shared online with a global audience.

According to Natural History Museum director, Kirk Johnson, what’s really important is to preserve the spirit of wonder at the Smithsonian for future generations.

“When you work here a long time,” says Johnson, “you forget the fact that people gasp when you say the word ‘Smithsonian.’ We could make people gasp globally.”

Image courtesy Smithsonian

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