Diya Vij and David Strauss, Queens Museum of Art

We had an interview with David Strauss, Director of External Affairs and Diya Vij, Designer and New Media Specialist of the Queens Museum of Art (QMA). The following includes a few key points that I found particularly helpful in regard to using social media for marketing and fundraising.

Serving a diverse audience

Queens, New York as “the most ethnically diverse locale in the country” has great impact on QMA’s mission, philosophy, exhibitions and educational offerings. The museum tries to be as inclusive as possible and fosters cross pollination of cultures, experiences and ideas that spring out from such ethnic diversity. In David’s words, “by becoming hyper-local, the museum is actually becoming more international.” QMA started to increase community engagement using social media about 3 years ago and Diya is currently the mastermind behind all that. While most of QMA’s physical audience are local (93% from NYC), the museum has a much wider online audience geographically speaking.

Digital media for marketing and fundraising

In the marketing perspective, their online efforts mainly aim to

  1. draw attendance to the museum by building exposure around exhibitions and programs
  2. create context for its offerings by bringing more people into the conversation

For fundraising, however, digital media has not been so successful except for a couple of special events. They found that audiences are still looking for more personal interaction with the museum and traditional channels such as community word of mouth are still more effective. On another level, their online efforts do help strengthen the relationship with major or corporate donors as additional outreach means.

Budget and ROI

Marketing accounts for 4% of QMA’s operating budget and 25% of that is dedicated to social media. In regard to ROI, the team finds it difficult to have a generic set of quantifiable metrics for their social media efforts. It’s because social media is fundamentally for building relationships and also each tool they use for each initiative they do has different goals and therefore different measurements.

Cohesive online-offline marketing

When QMA has a new offering, a unified plan will be developed to include both online and traditional marketing efforts and to ensure that these efforts coincide as close to perfect as possible. Diya shared an interesting experience that sometimes using social media to communicate with digital personnel of traditional media can be more efficient (skipping through traditional editorial processes to be published online directly) and also more effective (benefiting from the media’s reliability and fan base).

Cohesive online-onsite experience 

For QMA, the key to ensure a cohesive online and onsite experience for visitors is to be honest. The team does not oversell or overhype anything that is on offer at the museum online; what they do mainly is to offer context and create a dialogue that engages people in the virtual space.


From the interview I found that social media has become an important component not only in the overall marketing picture for museum but also in the overall experience for the audience. Although it can be difficult to measure quantitatively, the goodness in social media for the museum to disseminate information, raise awareness, create context and build conversations for its offerings is tremendous. That said, we really need to constantly learn from and evolve with our experience along the way in order to make the most out of using these tools.

Listen to the interview


  1. Amber Glen says:

    I was initially shocked when I heard only 4% of the budget is earmarked for marketing! But I’m glad the physical and virtual marketing strategies dovetail (to use David’s word) so nicely. I’m not a Twitter user, so it was interesting to hear David’s explanation about how users seem to trust Twitter/social media more than TV or magazines because it’s more personal and interactive.

    Using Facebook’s event and RSVP tools is something that I’ve always struggled with using as a museum professional – if you plan for the 1200 Facebook fans that RSVPed and they don’t show up, how badly does that impact the museum’s budget? At the same time though, David and Dya’s story about the 2009 online fundraiser seemed to work and used multiple social media tools, so it can’t be all bad. So, perhaps if 1200 people RSVPed on Facebook for an event at the physical museum, I would be a little more cautious than an online event.

    1. Angela Au-Yeung says:

      Amber, I haven’t really done any event marketing through FB but with your struggle, I’m thinking if finding an average show-up rate (# of actual participants / # of RSVPed’s on FB) would help a little. This should only work if you can find out if those actual and virtual participants are essentially the same group of people though. But even if they aren’t, maybe that number could happen to mean something? I’m not sure, but from my experience sometimes numbers can turn up to be meaningful or helpful too even if they appear to be unrelated…

  2. Cherie Whipple says:

    What captured me the most was Diya’s and David’s description of their online, non-gala gala done on the website in 2009 during the tough economy. Using the power of the internet, their virtual gala included performance artists, lots of activities, Twitter, YouTube interviews with awardees, sponsors, etc. And, they ended up netting just as much as their regular gala. Having worked on many, many gala fundraisers over the years, I just can’t imagine this going over in some museum and community cultures, but what a fascinating idea.

    By disseminating information through Twitter, Facebook, and using web blasts for events such as the upcoming Halloween-themed family activity, the QMA has been able to get mainstream media coverage, which in turn helps move traffic to the website. All of these methods are about outreach and word of mouth to create excitement.

  3. Ryan Dodge says:

    I found the discussion of ROI interesting and I know we have discussed it previously in class but I still like to hear about real world examples. I know many institutions are struggling to come to terms with social media being an area where museums can engage in conversations instead of traditional marketing and communications. There is a tendency to want to ‘sell’ things to people using social media and I was happy to hear that Diya and David use it more for community engagement and building relationships.

  4. Averie Buitron says:

    I found it interesting when David mentioned it was difficult to convince the curatorial dept to sort get on board with their work and ideas despite the fact that they were fairly young. This surprised me because he said a part of their mission was to deliver a more personal interaction with the artist. The idea of capturing the artists’ thoughts about their art in both English and their native language, as well as the behind the scenes video of putting together exhibits are both great ideas to help fulfill their mission. This shows how important it is to have other departments in the museum, curatorial in this case,cohesively work together to make their marketing ideas work as effectively as possible.

  5. Juliana Olsson says:

    Like Ryan, I too was happy to hear that Diya and David hold out for community engagement and relationship-building as good ROI for social media use. It seems though that it’s an uneasy balance between reaching marketing metrics and just being a web presence and part of the local conversation. Perhaps the issue is really that they haven’t clearly defined and communicated their success metrics when it comes to non-financial ROI of social media. It’s fine for those metrics to be more qualitative than quantitative, but they still have to be defined if you want to get other people on board with your activities.
    I also liked the QMA’s view that by having a hyper-local focus, they could have an international audience due to the sheer diversity of cultures living in Queens. I’m sure some museums worry that if they become too locally focused they won’t be able to draw in visitors from afar, but I think the opposite is the case. For one thing, many tourists like to feel like they’re getting the local flavor; for another, you simply never know what someone’s interested in. Perhaps your take on a community event, pastime, history or interest will be right up someone’s alley, or will net you a new group of hobbyist followers. As long as you’re not talking about the same thing all the time, you’ll probably be able to grow your audience.
    All in all, Diya and David piqued my interest in visiting the QMA. Now there’s an ROI!

  6. Jared Chamberlin says:

    I like that David and Diya advocate “feeding the discussion” so the social media presence of the QMA isn’t only about the QMA. This is such a great practice to have, it shows readers that you care about something besides your events, that you are vested in local interests and want the community to grow as well as your institution. I’m also a big fan of increasing personal interactions with the artists. This is something that isn’t done very frequently, and as David mentioned, I feel like it is due in large part to getting all staff on board. I really like the idea of having just a brief video of the artist talking about a particular work or their vision, which can be accessed via a QR code in the gallery. This is a very unobtrusive way to provide more information to visitors, who can choose to participate or not.

  7. Megan Byrnes says:

    First of all, what a great interview, Angie! Both David and Diya had so many interesting things to say, and you helped to keep them both on track with your followup questions.
    One thing that this interview really helped me to see is the larger potential for social media platforms beyond promoting onsite content and programming. As David and Diya mentioned, there are still many in the museum profession who only have this one dimensional promotional point of view, such as the QMA curators who want to keep tight control over museum content and access to the artist but harness social media to draw people to the onsite exhibition. The idea of something like Twitter being used as a more personalized tool to build and maintain a following, make the museum and its mission more accessible, create context for the onsite content, and build a sense of trust in the institution is quite compelling, and one that is still often overlooked in many quarters. I also like the way that David and Diya are working with other colleagues in different departments to bring more internal voices to the fore, as well as their non-competitive approach in promoting other museums’ related content and events. To me, their work has really exemplified the inclusive potential of Web 2.0 technologies to involve, as they say, more people in the “conversation” and erase many of the geographical and other boundaries that would otherwise curtail the museum experience.

  8. Brian Rayca says:

    I liked the comments about how the Museum was using social media not to simply “feed the museum” but rather feed the conversation. One of the things I’ve been doing with the West Point Museum’s Facebook page, is posting other interesting articles and posts from other museums. We get much more of response when we are feeding the conversation that with our own online exhibits.

    By being part of people’s lives and calling attention to interesting things, I think we’ve built more of a rapport with our fans.

  9. Emma says:

    I really enjoyed listening to interview with Diya and David and thought shared a lot interesting information about the use of social media and marketing and how it is implemented within the Queens Museum of Art. Hearing from both Diya and David helped shed light on their roles at the Museum and also how they collaborate and work together on different online initiatives. A few things stood out to me in the interview: Diya’s discussion on social media as a tool to increase dialogue and not just as way to self-promote one’s institution, the online non-gala or virtual gala (especially the idea of competitions via Twitter), and the use of social media and other digital technology to engage visitors in exhibitions (use of QR codes to show visitors behind-the-scenes information). Another part that I found interesting was David’s discussion on return of investment (ROI) and how the Museum doesn’t assess ROI in the traditional sense. Like in other interviews, we have seen the importance of not only the quantitative data but the qualitative feedback as well.

Comments are closed.