Del museo social
al museo social
From the Social
Museum to the
Digital Social
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Más, J.M. y Monfort, A. (2021)
From the Social Museum to the Digital Social Museum
Revista Internacional de Investigación en Comunicación
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Primer semestre, enero-junio 2021 · Págs. 8 a 25
José M. Más, Phd
Marketing Management Department
ESIC Business & Marketing School
Abel Monfort, Phd
Business Management Department
ESIC Business & Marketing School
Main topic / subject: The goal of the article is to organize the conceptual evolution between
the social museum and the digital social museum, a fundamental conceptual change that will
imply a dierent form of management and that considers the latest technologies applied to
the museum experience.
Logical development of the subject: For the development of this conceptual proposal, the
paper starts from a series of fundamental texts that describe the current situation of experience
management in museums; it carries out a critical review of the concepts of the traditional
museum and the social museum and with data and examples the paper proposes the use of
the concept of the digital social museum.
Author’s point of view and contributions: The article contributes to the denition of the
digital social museum. It expands the concept of the social museum and gives a fundamental
value to the impact of new technologies and social networks as an integral part of the museum
experience and management.
Implications and conclusions: Museum institutions should work in a much more inclusive and
participatory manner, thus giving way to an evolution that begins in the early twentieth century
and is called the social museum. New technologies oer great potential for the achievement of
these goals of participation and dialogue, leading to a new concept of the digital social museum.
Through this paper we reect on how new technologies contribute to understand museum
management under the principles of the digital social museum.
Clasicación JEL:
Palabras clave:
Museo social,
museo social digital,
JEL Classication:
Key words:
Social museum,
digital social museum,
Nº 24 Vol 24 · Primer semestre, enero-junio 2021  págs. 8 a 25
Tema principal: El objetivo del artículo es organizar la evolución conceptual entre el museo
social y el museo social digital como un cambio fundamental que implica diferentes formas de
gestión y considera las últimas tecnologías aplicadas a la experiencia museística.
Desarrollo lógico del tema: Para el desarrollo de la propuesta conceptual, el artículo empieza
con una serie de textos seminales que describen la situación de la gestion experiencial en
museos. Desarrolla una revision crítica de los conceptos vinculados al museo tradicional y el
museo social y, con datos y ejemplos, se propone el uso del concepto museo social digital.
Punto de vista y aportaciones del autor: El artículo contribuye a la denición de museo so-
cial digital. Expande el concepto de museo social y aporta un valor fundamental al impacto de
las nuevas tecnologías y las redes sociales como una parte integral de la experiencia y gestion
Repercusiones y conclusiones: Los museos son instituciones que deberían trabajar de una
manera más inclusiva y participativa para dar paso a una evolución que comienza a principios
del siglo veinte y es acuñada como museo social. Las nuevas tecnologías ofrecen un gran po-
tencial para lograr estos objetivos vinculados a la participación y el diálogo, dando lugar a lo
que se propone como museo social digital. Este artículo reeja cómo las nuevas tecnologías
contribuyen a entender la gestion museística bajo los principios del museo social digital.
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1. Introduction
Cultural institutions offer a service that includes
education, accessibility and communication
(Belenioti & Vassiliadis, 2017). To achieve this,
museums have been undergoing a process of
change in management models that has been
progressive, moving from a traditional vision, to
a social museum model and, as this critical review
suggests, to a digital social model.
Museums are institutions that offer their vis-
itors (customers) memorable experiences (Antón
et al., 2018). As users seek novelty and variety in
their leisure activities, so museums are forced to
create engaging experiences (Minkiewicz et al.,
2014) as do other institutions in the cultural
sector. However, cultural institutions face a con-
stant challenge based on budgetary constraints
and rising visitor expectations, which has forced
their directors to pay great attention to user
needs (Komarac et al., 2017) and to understand
that museums have to communicate and contin-
uously provide an enjoyable experience (Sundar
et al., 2015).
During the 20th century there was a change
in the concept of the museum as compared to
the vision of the museum in the previous centu-
ry. Following Viñarás (Viñarás-Abad, 2005, p.
48), this new concept of the museum not only
gathers and presents its collections, but also de-
mands an advance in the exploitation of the mu-
seum institution, and also conceptual, didactic
and technological updating. But there is also a
decisive and inuential factor: tourism. The
countries of Mediterranean Europe created new
typologies of museums according to the rise of
this public, while the northern countries were
guided by more didactic and pedagogical rules.
All these changes mean that cultural institutions
and museums are called upon to adopt new me-
dia technologies to stimulate and maintain en-
gagement with the visitor, whether at the level of
the exhibition space or with the collection itself
(Drotner, 2014). These trends call for a change
in the management model, from the social mu-
seum to the digital social museum.
According to Rivière (1993, p. 53) there are
two strong factors driving the changes from the
traditional model of the museum during the
20th century: on the one hand, the creation of a
series of international organizations that sup-
port the development of museums, establishing
a supporting infrastructure and developing a
group of professionals around historical herit-
age and museums; on the other hand, the deep
cultural changes (social, political and econom-
ic) taking place worldwide. The 1st Internation-
al Workshop on Ecomuseums and New Muse-
ology, held in Quebec City on October 13,
1984, set the basis for the concept of the social
museum. Against the dogma of conservation, it
proclaims the priority of participation. Thus the
so-called Declaration of Quebec advocated cul-
tural democracy, social dynamism, openness
and interactivity in the face of the authoritarian
institution, closed and not very prone to change.
In this way, it sought an enriching dialogue and
recognized the social body as an active protago-
nist, moving away from the categorization of
the public as a passive subject (Díaz-Balerdi,
2002, p. 504).
The new role of the museum was to focus on
the public that visited them, on their expecta-
tions, preferences and needs (Vergo, 1989). This
new vision of the museum was taken by the mu-
seum institutions as an opportunity to redene
their mission in society. The new concept of the
social role of the museum, where the experience
of the visitor takes prominence, also increases the
importance of the analysis of its visitors, in favor
of a more integrative museum (Cordón, 2013).
From the Social Museum to the Digital Social Museum · págs. 8 a 25
In fact, the literature on museum management
includes the need for formative evaluation dur-
ing the development of the project, understand-
ing visitor motivations and expectations through
segmentation studies, and even analyzing visitor
feedback to understand their experience and
subsequent programming (Chaney et al., 2018;
vom Lehn & Heath, 2016).
Recent studies have shown that museums
have emerged as laboratories of future culture,
including all sorts of high-tech experiments with
the aim of providing unparalleled entertain-
ment and educational experiences that com-
pete with platforms such as Netix (Recue-
ro-Virto & Blasco-López, 2019). New technolo-
gies (ICTs) have revolutionized the way users
visit and enjoy and share their experiences (Yoo
& Gretzel, 2016). Other studies have shown
that achieving engagement with potential vis-
itors requires a content-based strategy as well as
dialogue between the museum and its audience
(Camarero et al., 2018). In other words, the
museum has to maintain a dialogical approach
both inside and outside the building. In this
context, the use of social networks can favor
two-way communication and the marketing de-
partment should regularly check the feedback
from users on social networks with the aim of
detecting new topics and possible problems
(Waller & Waller, 2019).
Digital media and devices have the opportu-
nity to change socio-cultural practices that are
linked to collective memories and oral tradi-
tions. That is, to our cultural heritage (Giaccardi,
2012). Consequently, the possibilities of social
media are capable of changing this perception
and even go one step beyond what are known as
social museums. These tools facilitate more ac-
tive experiences, which encourage visitors to
continue participating in the relationship with
museums even after the visit, seeking informa-
tion and revisiting the museum through the con-
tents of social networks and pages where opin-
ions are expressed (Antón et al., 2018). In the
process of dialogue and work with visitors, a re-
lationship of co-creation of experiences between
museum and users is produced (Antón et al.,
2018) and it should be managed. In addition,
museums are faced with the challenge of how to
integrate new technologies such as Robots, Arti-
cial Intelligence, Service Automation to pro-
voke memorable experiences (Recuero-Virto &
Blasco-López, 2019).
Therefore, this critical review poses a brief re-
view of the evolution of museum management
to dene what we propose as a digital social mu-
seum. Research on the concept of the digital so-
cial museum has also been the subject of previ-
ous studies. In fact, the concept has been dened
as a way of management that takes advantage of
the opportunities offered by digital technologies,
achieves a truly close, open and social approach
to the visitors, enriching their experience by per-
sonalizing the interaction, favouring accessibility
and expanding the target audience of the exhibi-
tion (Mas, 2018, 2020). However, there has not
been an article that justies the natural progress
between the traditional, social and, at present,
the digital social museum. On the other hand,
the concept of dialogue with stakeholders has
been addressed from multiple perspectives (e.g.
Monfort et al., 2019; Villagra et al., 2015) and
deserves our attention to link it to communica-
tion and marketing management by museum
The article is structured as follows. The fol-
lowing section presents the current situation, in
which the transition from the traditional muse-
um to the social museum is highlighted. Then, a
section is dedicated to the new technologies that
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have been incorporated in the museums in their
relationships with visitors. Finally, a develop-
ment of the concept of the social museum to the
digital social museum is proposed and it con-
cludes with a denition of this critical proposal.
2. From the traditional museum to
the social museum
Since the late 1980s, museums have included
marketing departments in their management
structure with the aim of inuencing their pro-
gramming and exhibition development strategy
(Gilmore & Rentschler, 2002). Along with this
professionalization of the user experience, the
development of international organizations that
support the management of museums and the
cultural changes (social, political and economic)
that have taken place worldwide promoted a
change in the way of understanding and living
the museum experience (Rivière, 1993). In this
context, several studies have proposed the
change between the traditional museum and the
social museum. Llerena (2015) conducts an in-
teresting comparison between the traditional
museum and the new social museum, which is
summarized in the following table:
Table 1. Comparison between the traditional museum and the social museum
Traditional Museum Social Museum
Museums are places for: Experts. They are exclusive
Everyone. A space where visitors contribute to the
institution with ideas and suggestions, and where
dialogue and socialization are encouraged. They are
given the opportunity to create and connect with
people who share the same interests.
The exhibition
is based on:
The expertise of curators and
scientists on an exclusive basis
A collaborative process with visitors through studies
of the public.
The focus of the
exhibition is on:
The display of the objects.
The welcome is barely taken
into account
The commitment and experience of the public, which
is fundamental.
The focus of the activity
is on this:
Exhibition and research Visitors.
The perception of
communication is:
Communicative. The objects
transmit information that the
visitor must acquire.
Cultural. There is a constant interaction between
object and subject.
Knowledge is:
Single and closed. The museum
re-elaborates and presents it
without the possibility of inter-
Multiple, open and presented in a way that allows for
many interpretations.
is acquired from:
From outside the individual.
The individual, who interacts in an active and
participative way.
The public
is conceived as:
Recipient of a knowledge previ-
ously elaborated by
the museum.
Developer of learning, experiences, knowledge and
The teacher
is seen as:
A simple conveyor and repro-
ducer of the knowledge that
the museum possesses.
A facilitator and mediator who participates in
the construction of the knowledge presented
by the museum.
From the Social Museum to the Digital Social Museum · págs. 8 a 25
Table 1. Comparison between the traditional museum and the social museum (cont.)
Traditional Museum Social Museum
The learning
approach is:
Positivist and behaviorist.
Learning is accumulated and
absorbed through the sum of
information transmitted by an
external agent. The public is
just a passive consumer.
Constructivist. Learning is active, it implies a
restructuring of the mental schemes of those who
learn. The learning is participative and dialogical.
The public is an active part of a space of social
encounter and exchange of knowledge.
The evaluation
is done through:
There is no such space for
It identies and develops potential audiences,
communicates with communities and learns
how audiences experience the museum and their
perception of it. It focuses on participants’ behavior
and the impact of actions, i.e., what they do and
what happens as a result of that experience.
conversation is:
Provide one-way information
for the mere dissemination and
self-promotion of your work.
Two-way: understanding these spaces as places
of interaction.
Communication and
museum interpretation
Restricted to the inside of the
museum space.
It can be found everywhere.
Source: Llerena (2015)
As shown in the table above, this new concept
of the social museum enhances the “new museol-
ogy” as a new way of conceiving museums as
spaces at the service of citizens, whose aim has to
be dialogue, promoting communication and in-
venting new exhibition techniques (Montañes,
2001, p. 2). Thus, the social museum completely
changes the idea of the traditional museum by
focusing on establishing a dialogue of peers with
its public, understanding that it needs to work
not only for its visitors, but also with its visitors
(Gómez-Vilchez, 2012).
This concept of the social museum as an insti-
tution that dialogues with society, that strives to
generate complete, enriching experiences through
the active participation of the visitor is the start-
ing point for this article. In the following pages
we will analyze the relationship between the so-
cial museum and technology to understand how
digital technological advances can help the mu-
seum to deepen its social character.
3. The social museum and new
3.1. Background and motivations
Following Castilla (2012), new technologies help
museums both to disseminate their activity and to
interact with the user: “new technologies applied
to museology allow to improve and expand the
possibilities of public dissemination of knowl-
edge and artistic and historical resources, while
they can signicantly improve the relationship
between the museum and the user”. Thus, the de-
velopment of the Internet and, specically, that
experienced in the last ten years, has allowed mu-
seums to establish a very benecial relationship
with Information and Communication Technolo-
gies (ICT), which in turn has served them to con-
sider new ways to develop their programs as new
modes of exhibition, sales and communication
with the public (Fontán, 2013, p. 153).
While the renewed museology emerged as a
new way of understanding museums, of break-
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ing with that tradition of the nineteenth-century
temple that was so far apart from society, and of
bringing it closer to everyone who felt interested
in visiting it (Cordón & González, 2016, p.
149), ICTs offer new opportunities to establish
different environments in which to relate to the
visitor: “ICTs become a true bridge between the
public and the art collections [...] they are a
common cultural element between those collec-
tions and the generations of the present, they are
the vehicle for storing, exhibiting and transmit-
ting contemporary art and, nally, they are a
means used for communication and education”
(Fontán, 2013, p. 5).
Castilla (2012) considers that museums
should not only benet from new technologies
to improve the way they show their exhibitions
to the new user, but if they do not take advan-
tage of them, they run the risk of becoming ob-
solete and not connecting with new audiences.
This connection must be made in a modern,
accessible way that invites interaction and par-
ticipation, attracting both the current audience
and especially the new younger audiences, thus
ensuring the future of museums in a connected
world. In fact, research has concluded that mu-
seums are an exceptional space to be used as
laboratories of future culture, since they allow
experiments with high technology that offer ex-
periences at the level of large entertainment plat-
forms (Recuero-Virto & Blasco-López, 2019).
Saldaña and Celaya (2012) carried out a sur-
vey in which 136 museums from all over Europe
participated. The study, entitled “Museums in the
Digital Age”, was published in Museum Next the
same year and sought to deepen the main moti-
vations and objectives of museums when incor-
porating technology. Some of the conclusions
reached were: a) 65.6 % of museums seek to at-
tract new audiences and to enrich the experience
of the visit, b) 62.5 % are interested in improving
their online communication and positioning
strategy, c) 56.3 % use digital technologies to
make it easier for people with different types of
disabilities to access the entity, d) 40.6 % seek to
improve the processes of conservation of works
of art, collection management as well as its dis-
semination and digitization, and e) 34.4 % seek
to personalize the attention to the public in the
physical space and to promote its interactivity.
Along with these conclusions, other studies
have shown that digital media and devices are
called upon to change the way we understand
our cultural heritage (Giaccardi, 2012). They are
also likely to provide experiences that encourage
visitors to continue participating in the relation-
ship with museums even after the visit (Antón et
al., 2018), favoring co-creation (Antón et al.,
2018) and integrating the latest technologies
(e.g. Robots or Articial Intelligence) to provoke
impactful experiences (Recuero-Virto & Blas-
co-López, 2019). New technologies (ICTs) have
also transformed the way users visit, enjoy and
share their experiences (Yoo & Gretzel, 2016).
To achieve these results, studies have shown
that engaging with potential visitors requires a
content-based strategy as well as dialogue be-
tween the museum and its audience (Camarero
et al., 2018). The use of social networks can fa-
vor this two-way communication and the mar-
keting and communication department should
regularly check user feedback on these platforms
in order to detect new issues and possible prob-
lems (Waller & Waller, 2019).
3.2. Advantages of using technology in the
In addition to these data, there are many authors
who agree in highlighting the advantages and
benets that new technologies offer to museums.
From the Social Museum to the Digital Social Museum · págs. 8 a 25
The International Council of Museums (ICOM)
(1999), for example, in its VII Latin American
Conference on Cultural Heritage “Museums and
Cultural Diversity. Old cultures, new worlds”,
reected on the main benets that ICTs bring to
museums and pointed out, among other things,
the possibility of: i) communicating with differ-
ent segments of the public in a differentiated
way, ii) presenting updated information on ac-
tivities, databases of their library, online catalogs,
announcing new books on the central theme of
the museum or temporary exhibitions, iii) gen-
erating didactic materials that can be used both
by schools and users, before and after the visits,
differentiating levels, iv) presenting in advance
what is going to be exhibited in the museum
through the publication of images and news to
inform about what is going to happen, v) pre-
senting evaluation tools, intended for visitors to
the site or visitors to the museum, vi) presenting
updated reading material related to the muse-
um’s theme, differentiating between material for
experts and material for non-experts, vii) gener-
ating conversation in forums or chats, viii) pro-
viding materials that can be accessed by profes-
sionals or researchers interested in the central
theme of the museum, even if they are located in
different parts of the world, ix) demonstrating
that the museum is alive and active.
Castillo (2011) shows that the integration of
technology in the museum allows the visitor to
move to the time and space in which a work
was created in order to understand it and value
it as such. Otherwise, the only thing that is
achieved is “to strengthen their cognitive barri-
ers and exclude them from cultural knowledge”.
Saldaña and Celaya (2012) provide an addition-
al advantage: the possibility of improving access
to the museum for audiences with some kind of
visual or auditory deciency. Thus, all these
technologies should work not as ends in them-
selves, but as additional tools when it comes to
improving the visitor’s experience and support-
ing and reinforcing the museum and education-
al approach of each center in a customized way.
It is therefore necessary to design their integra-
tion with criteria and common sense and after a
deep reection adapted to what should be
shown, with what purpose and how, along with
a selection of appropriate content and quality.
Otherwise, the use of technology would involve
risks (Castilla, 2012).
Thus, the literature insists on the need for
formative evaluation during project development,
understanding visitor motivations and expecta-
tions through segmentation studies, and even ana-
lyzing visitor feedback to understand their experi-
ence and subsequent programming (Chaney et al.,
2018; vom Lehn & Heath, 2016); all this without
forgetting a series of barriers for these institutions:
the lack of budget, and the lack of qualied per-
sonnel (Saldaña & Celaya, 2012).
3.3. Current possibilities oered by the
latest technologies to the social museum
In this context, we now offer a list of different
technologies that can help museums in their in-
novation process, trying to explain the experi-
ences by type of technology; we also show illus-
trative examples that help to understand this
potential. This organization does not pretend to
be taxonomic but merely illustrative. In other
words, the objective is not to describe each and
every technological option in the museum eld
but to show those that can help museums to
fulll their functions in a clearer way. To select
the ve technologies we have followed the pro-
posal developed by Castilla (2012) in their
work ‘Entornos museísticos, nuevas tecnologías
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3.3.1. Mobile devices and smartphones
The potential offered by mobile devices to mu-
seums has been studied since the early 2000s
(Proctor & Tellis, 2003). Today, it remains a
major pillar in technological innovation ap-
plied to museums, which increases the possi-
bilities of enjoyment of the heritage exhibited
in the museum: “One of the clearest options
that mobile technology has offered since the
beginning has been the possibility of expand-
ing the museum spaces, and in that idea, linked
to the broad concept of heritage, to use the en-
tire context where the museum building and
collections are integrated, as a more complete
cultural whole, included under the idea of
spaces for presenting heritage” (Ibañez-Etxe-
barria, 2011, p. 71).
Indeed, one of the great potentials for muse-
ums is to take advantage of the mobile devices
that each visitor brings during the visit. This
trend greatly reduces the investment in hardware
that the museum must make, as it is carried out
by each visitor who brings a technologically ad-
vanced device, his or her smartphone: “Mobile
systems favor the ubiquity and accessibility of
collections, the production of high quality inter-
active content, interaction with and between vis-
itors and the optimization of the institution’s own
resources” (Solano, 2012).
In addition, the proposal to use each visitor’s
mobile phone favors acceptance and user experi-
ence, since the personal mobile is a friendly de-
vice that everyone knows and is familiar with. In
the following example, we can see an interesting
proposal of an x-ray simulator that, once down-
loaded as an application, allows a simulation of
the interior of the artworks to be seen through
the camera:
Figure 1. Example of using a smartphone interactivity through an X-ray simulator