W. Ryan Dodge, Digital Engagement Coordinator, Royal Ontario Museum

Speaking with W. Ryan Dodge was an inspirational experience. His passion for engaging communities through meaning-filled interaction is evident and contagious! In this interview, we focused on some key areas including the importance of user generated content, social media strategy and increasing digital capacity throughout the museum. Mr. Dodge is also the Digital Content and Community Manager for the Museum Computer Network and he briefly touched on the exciting direction this year’s conference is taking. Stewardship and relevance were the core themes in our conversation. We spoke about how to connect people through digital engagement, finding what works in the physical museum space, and translating that to create meaningful experiences. Ryan is committed to developing “long-term relationship(s)” with the community through dialogue and by observation of what impacts their lives in relation to current events, museum programming and exhibits. His projects have encouraged users to contribute and by doing this, it validates their input and demonstrates the museum’s interest in their voices.

We discussed how designing relevant content across platforms that speak to what truly matters requires an understanding of your audience and respect for their time. With so much information on the web, the best practice to approaching a comprehensive strategy to attract and keep people involved is by producing original and thought-provoking digital content. Ryan pioneered the training of experts at ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) to increase their digital involvement by demonstrating the reach that sharing their expertise could have. By using analytics to track user involvement, museum professionals were shown how their unique knowledge base in their respective fields could enhance the educational experience. Revisiting the concept of making museums relevant is fundamentally important in constructing an online presence and increasing user participation. In this constantly evolving space, Ryan stresses that recognition and acknowledgment of the value that people in the community contribute to a museum is paramount to achieving the type of partnership that can lead to greater learning and contemplation. This enlightened approach to digital engagement provides a rich soil that can water the seeds of possibility and nurture the growth of unlimited potential for future generations to come.

Click below to hear the full interview with Ryan and benefit from his engagement expertise:


  1. Zoey Washington says:

    His interview was so interesting and I love that he has such a deep understanding of its voice and perspective given his lengthy tenure at the museum. I also found that stressing visitor analytics is really important and it sounds like he has really seen the full trajectory of how important this is throughout his career there. I also enjoyed how he spoke of the intersection of user engagement with community engagement so that we can better understand what is driving our audience locally and remotely.

  2. jenna nicole says:

    I’m sometimes a bit wary when it comes to relying on UGC as a main content source on a website, but I loved hearing Ryan’s point of view on this. I think it’s used extremely well on the Royal Ontario Museum’s website and the range and quality of images shared is fantastic! I also completely understand the value that this played particularly before the museum had digitized its collections; this is a smart, scalable way to showcase the galleries and collections. Seeing people enjoying the space in the photographs, it made me think of the comment in the interview with Drew Mandinach saying that one way to attract new audiences is to show them genuinely enjoying your museum in images and communications materials.

    Do you think knowing that the museum will likely showcase user images on their site will incentivize more people to share? To be able to use user’s images legally, do participants have to use a certain hashtag and/pr does there need to be a dedicated T&C relating to use of social posts on the site?

    1. The showing vs. telling strategy seems like a good marketing strategy to encourage a target audience to visit, especially when they might not think an institution or event is “for them”.

  3. Mary Mathias says:

    It was great hearing from someone who has been with museum social media as it has grown and evolved over the years, and I think a lot of what he shared reinforced the readings and discussions we’ve had over the course of the semester. I liked his point that museums “can’t keep assuming that we know best” and need to stop lecturing visitors and recognize what they can add. I’ve heard this sort of statement used for other areas of the museum, but Ryan’s connection to user generated content on the website and social media was new to me and it makes a lot of sense! Meeting visitors where they are and allowing them to connect and add to the museum from that platform is a great way to engage the public.

  4. kpolesky says:

    Ryan is so interesting–I heard him give an IGNITE talk at the MCN conference and it was moving (as they all were). There he spoke very passionately about getting equal pay in the museum industry and how important social media was to museums. I’m extremely jealous that he not only did his on-site seminar in London, but also an internship there, too! I was surprised that ROM just recently put their collection online. And I really liked how he pulled other experts from the museum into the social media world and then showed them their analytics on how many people reacted to their posting–making them just as invested in the success of ROM’s social media.

    And kudos to another JHU Museum Studies graduate!
    Check out his MCN talk here (with Slideshare images): https://medium.com/@wrdodger/im-not-a-social-media-guru-8caf30f5e7ec

    1. Jenna Stepp says:

      Thanks for sharing that link, Karen!

  5. Robin Reif says:

    I really love what he mentions about it being a space for creating a conversation vs. a lecture! 15 seconds of eye viewing of a visitor is a jilting number. I can understand why utilizing emotion in content.

  6. Christopher Martinez says:

    I really enjoyed his perspective of the audience participation as fostering a dialog. It’s nice to see that museum aren’t just reaching out to people to come visit, but to actually get to know them and hear what they have to say and take that conversation with them. I liked that he made the point that starting these conversations is what keeps museums relevant and keeps them listening to the people.

  7. Jennifer Hall says:

    How great to get the perspective of someone with experience in the program and its emphasis on digital who has gone on to do so well! I think my favorite thing about this interview are the different ways he respects the visitor. From “not forcing people” into digital experiences to recognizing that museums need to stop lecturing and start listening and acknowledging, his sense of the visitor-museum relationship as a community is really perfect. Understanding that social and marketing are two different things is so important to community development, I’m definitely going to remember that as a key takeaway from these interviews.

  8. His points really reinforce what we’ve been talking about for the majority of the semester – the importance of know your audience, understanding their needs, and responding to them instead of creating a strategy that addresses what the institution thinks user needs are or should be. He makes a convincing case that involving the audience more can help us stay relevant.

  9. Andrea A. says:

    These interviews are proving to be extremely insightful. I really loved Ryan’s statement that as a museum we can’t keep assuming that we know whats best. That we need to recognize the value of users/visitors and the input they can give us through their own knowledge. Working with university students and seeing their eyes light up and their excitement shine through as they feel inspired is something I want all our visitors to experience through not only our digital content, but also in our physical space. Engaging visitors as Ryan states is so key to the success of the museum’s longevity. We can’t just treat the Internet as a billboard. What great advice!

  10. Kelly McKenna says:

    It was so valuable to hear Ryan’s insights about how going from a centralized to a decentralized back-end system has both pros and cons. Opening up access to everyone in the organization means that there’s not a lot of editorial control, but there is opportunity for more voices to contribute.

    For my website redesign wireframe of the Apothecary Museum’s homepage, I actually borrowed ROM’s model of user-generated content at the bottom of their page. I think it’s a great way to incorporate user participation and to showcase photos of people having a great time at the museum. Overall, it seems that Ryan has done a lot to make ROM’s digital presence more participatory and engaging.

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