Addressing social media challenges and choices of top European museums during COVID-19: realities and trends

Georgios Papaioannou, Ionian University, Greece, Greece, Eleni Sfyridou, Ionian University, Greece


This paper addresses the social media presence of the "top" museums in twenty-seven European countries (as per TripAdvisor 2018) during the COVID-19 pandemic. It continues and builds upon the work presented at the MW20 conference. We aim to address the change in the approaches and practices, as well as to identify new social media channels, policies, and strategies employed by museums towards supporting museums as online-only entities during the pandemic, expanding audiences, seeking new sources of income, re-approaching sustainability, maintaining and/or developing educational roles, and supporting local communities. Our comparative approach aims to offer an insight into the role of social media in museums' new normalcy.

Keywords: social media, museums, content analysis, Covid-19, TripAdvisor

Addressing social media challenges and choices of top European museums during COVID-19: realities and trends

by Dr. Georgios Papaioannou (Ionian University, Greece) & Ms. Eleni Sfyridou (Museology Lab, Ionian University, Greece)


  1. Introduction

This paper addresses the social media presence of the “top” museums in twenty-seven European countries (as per TripAdvisor 2018) during the COVID­-19 pandemic in 2020. We aim to (1) detect the main social media channels that the top European museums used during and in response to the pandemic, (2) identify new social media communication channels that museums employed, (3) understand whether museums have developed and/or adopted new social media policies, strategies, and goals, including supporting museums as online-only entities during the pandemic, expanding audiences, seeking new sources of income, re-approaching sustainability, maintaining and/or developing educational roles, and supporting local communities, (4) address evaluation schemes via museum social media (Big) data use and exploitation, (5) compare with social media presence of those museums before the pandemic and draw conclusions based upon the changes in approaches and practices, and (6) offer an insight into the role of social media in the museums’ new normalcy.

This paper continues and builds upon the work presented and published as a paper at the MW20 conference on “Addressing social media choices of top European museums: framework, realities, and trends” (Papaioannou & Sfyridou, 2020). It is part of ongoing research on the list of the top ten museums in 27 European countries (270 museums in total) as compiled by the TripAdvisor travel website company as part of the “Annual Travelers Choice Awards” for 2018. These top ten museums per country were identified based upon users’ reviews. We have used content analysis to study and evaluate the museums’ online presence on their chosen social media. We also aim to initiate further research on social networking tools in European museums.

  1. The framework: social media and museums during COVID-19: overview and thoughts

2.1 Social media and museums

For more than fifty years, museums and cultural organizations have used different technologies to record and organize their collections and to communicate events, starting with documentation systems and databases, and moving to onsite exhibition applications and the use of the Internet via websites and portals (López, et al., 2010; Ambrose & Paine, 2006). In the last decade, the development of social media and the new generation of Web-based tools known as Web 2.0 have brought a revolution in cultural organizations by providing new major communication channels for interaction with the audience. (Dawson, 200; Hung et al., 2013; Laursen et al. 2017; Gerrard et al. 2017).

Charlesworth (2009, p.1) defined social media as a collective term for various social networks and websites of various communities including online applications such as blogs, podcasts, and wikis: “any web presence where users can add their own content but do not have control over the site in the same way as they would their own website”. Kaplan and Haenlein (2010, p.61) linked social media to digital technology, describing social media as “a set of Web applications built on the ideological and technological principles of Web 2.0 that allow the creation and sharing of content produced by user”. Social media, a hybrid form of marketing, according to Mangold and Faulds (2009), combine the characteristics of traditional marketing tools, where information is shaped by the organization and directed to the client, with an enlarged version of virality, where managers cannot control the content and frequency of information exchanged among users. Social media themselves can also be considered as a hybrid, in the sense that (1) they exploit mixed technologies and tools allowing instant communication in real-time, and (2) they use multiple media and many platforms with global competencies (e.g Facebook, YouTube, and blogs).

Social media have undoubtedly become a global phenomenon. Social network sites have attracted the attention of academics who study social media’s impact on the economic, social, and personal behaviors and thinking (Boyd & Ellison, 2008). The impact of social media on traditional practices is enormous as they have changed communications from one-way to interactive, promoting the active participation of all parties and therefore giving more control to the public (Fletcher & Lee, 2012; Langa, 2014). By replacing traditional one-way communication models with more interactive ones, social media encourage participatory communication among museums and their audiences (Russo et al. 2008).

The 2015 UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Protection and Promotion of Museums and Collections, their Diversity and their Role in Society, whose first implementation report was drafted in 2019, has put particular emphasis on the social role of museums: “Museums are vital public spaces that should address all of society and can therefore play an important role in the development of social ties and cohesion, building citizenship, and reflecting on collective identities “. Towards effective social media policies in museums, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) has recently introduced some guidelines known as the “three Rs,” i.e., respectful, relevant, responsible (ICOM, 2019).


2.2 The impact of Covid-19 pandemic on European Museums

In the year 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a catalytic effect on the global economy. Museums have been particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, as nearly 90% of them worldwide closed their doors during the crisis (UNESCO, 2020).  The impact of these closures has been both economic and social, as museums play a vital social and economic role today. Museums are a key pillar for sustainable economic development for many countries and places at the local, national, and international levels, and they can play an important role in overcoming the crisis.

During the first lockdown (March 2020 to June 2020) most European museums were closed (92%), with some exemptions in Sweden, Albania, and Austria (Nemo – Findings and Recommendations, 2019). The same picture was observed during the second lockdown, October – December 2020. Worldwide, 94,7% of the museums were closed between 7 April and 7 May 2020, according to ICOMs report (ICOM, 2020). Note that the vast majority of the institutions locked their physical doors to the public around mid-March 2020, and many of them never reopened (ICOM, 2020).

The closure of the vast majority of the world’s museums has had considerable economic consequences. Museums around the world have had to reduce their activities as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly one-third of museums are expected to downsize, and more than one in ten museums may be forced to close permanently, according to the International Council of Museums (ICOM, 2020). Most museums reported a loss of income resulting from loss of revenue from tickets, shops, cafés, and other services. According to NEMO’s (Network of European Museum Organisations, 2019) survey, big museums, such as the Rijksmuseum and The Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, lost between 100,000 Euro and 600,000 Euro per week. Private museums also lost a lot, as they typically draw the biggest part of their revenue from sales, and many of the most impacted museums fear that they will eventually have to close permanently. Museums in touristic regions estimated 75-80% loss of income.

The museum sector reacted very quickly to the COVID-19 crisis, developing its presence on the Internet in order to maintain and/or establish links with the public (see, as well as Zuanni 2020). UNESCO’s report has identified more than 800 actions in response to the COVID-19 crisis worldwide, with a large part of the actions promoting virtual museums building on investments made before the pandemic. Museums were forced to carry out all the activities they had planned (including exhibitions, conferences, and other activities) digitally, in order to engage with their audience and reach a wider new audience (Giannini and Bowen, 2019, UNESCO, 2020).

The forced temporary closure of museums during recent lockdowns suddenly brought digital communication with the public to the fore. During the lockdown, many museums enhanced their digital activities in an effort to provide alternative or complementary services through digital platforms, with minimal resources. Many of the museums used existing social media or created new ones to engage with their audience online.

During this period, the digital cultural heritage has contributed to the entertainment and creativity of the people. Nowadays, more than ever, the digital museum is not a distant promise. Cultural organizations are trying to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus condition and to offer alternative digital forms of learning and entertainment by bringing people together.


  1. Research methodology: a few words on comparative content analysis

In terms of methodology, our study is based upon the list of the top museums as compiled by the TripAdvisor travel website company as part of the “Annual Travelers Choice Awards” for 2018. The survey is scheduled to cover the period from March 2020, when museums closed to the public until December 2020, when most were expected to gradually return to normal activity. We have used comparative content analysis to study and evaluate the museums’ online presence on their chosen social media platforms during the Covid-19 pandemic (March-December 2020), compared to the previous survey we conducted in the period January – December 2019 (Papaioannou & Sfyridou, 2020).

Content analysis has been used to analyze large amounts of museums’ data on social media platforms and provide aggregate accounts of inferences, thus revealing trends, patterns, and differences no longer evident to the untrained individual (Krippendorff, 1989). We collected data from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube accounts between March 2020 and December 2020 by visiting the social media accounts of these museums and by observing the flow of posts and open content. The data related to the frequency of posts, the type of messages (image, text, video), the aims of posting (engagement with the audience, fundraising, educational reasons), and the impact of museums’ communication strategy through online audience feedback (comments, shares, likes, hashtags). We then compared the data gathered with the data of the previous research we conducted in the period January – December 2019.

Content analysis is a research tool used to determine the presence of certain words, themes, or concepts within some given qualitative data (i.e. text). Using content analysis, researchers can quantify and analyze the presence, meanings, and relationships of words, themes, or concepts. Content analysis can be defined as “any technique for making inferences by systematically and objectively identifying special characteristics of messages” (Holsti, 1968). Content Analysis is used to identify the intentions and communication trends of an individual or group to describe attitudinal and behavioral responses to communications, to determine the psychological or emotional state of persons or groups, and to reveal patterns in communication content and international differences in communication content (Berelson, 1952).


  1. Results

This study continues and builds upon the work presented at the MW20 conference. We used the list of the top museums in 27 European countries as defined and compiled by the TripAdvisor travel website company as part of the “Annual Travelers Choice Awards” for 2018. The top ten museums for each country were identified based upon users’ reviews. This was a total of 270 museums. The list was created by TripAdvisor after analyzing thousands of online reviews and focused on locations that consistently delivered great results to travelers.

The research was conducted throughout 2020 by visiting the social media accounts of these museums and by observing the flow of posts and open content. We present here our results supported by specific tables and figures.


4.1 Social media presence in top museums in the 270 museums of this research: an overview

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered, as part of the measures designed to contain the spread of the virus, a lockdown process affecting all institutions in society, including museums. In order to continue their work, most museums have used digital technologies to communicate with the public. During the lockdown, many museums enhanced their digital activities. Although most of the 270 museums analyzed in this research had already had a presence on social media (i.e. 250 out of 270 museums, 92.6% had already run a Facebook account), new channels were also observed.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube prevail. Facebook is the most common (95.2%, 257 out of 270 museums), followed by Instagram (70.7%), Twitter (52.6%), and YouTube (51.9%). Tripadvisor holds a 27% presence, Pinterest 25%, while LinkedIn (6%), Flickr (4%), TikTok (3%) and vk (3%) have a less frequent and less intense presence, similar to blogs and RSS feeds, respectively. Note that, as opposed to 2019 (Papaioannou & Sfyridou 2020), in 2020 we have recorded advanced presence of museums on new social media, such as Tripadvisor and TikTok (see fFgure 1). It is also worth noting that vk is a popular social media platform in Russia but is not used by any other European museum, while TikTok is a rising and very popular network, especially among young people. TikTok has been used by certain major museums, such as the Rijksmuseum, Prado, Gallerie Uffizi,  and Thyssen-Bornemisza.

Social media in the 270 museums of this research (%).
Figure 1: Social media in the 270 museums of this research (%).


During the lockdown, there was an increase in the presence of museums in the four most popular social media (see Table 1). This increase was minor in Facebook, where 250 of the 270 museums had already had Facebook accounts, while the greatest increase was observed in Instagram (6.7%) and in YouTube (5.22%). This increase relates to the power of Instagram images and YouTube videos (as opposed to the text-oriented Facebook) in the digital presentations of museum objects in the museum collections. In addition, Instagram and YouTube provide a better environment to offer videos from past and new activities, such as webinars, exhibitions and create educational material for children.


2019 2020 Percentage increase
Facebook 250/270 257/270 2,80%
Instagram 179/270 191/270 6,70%
Twitter 141/270 142/270 0,71%
YouTube 134/270 141/270 5,22%

Table 1: Comparison of the number of museums per social media between the 2019 and 2020 surveys


A key conclusion that emerged from our previous research and is confirmed by the new data, is that large museums support their overall marketing strategy with social media. This practice enhances the museums’ brand image and builds/maintains an active online community (Belenioti et al. 2019). To this end, large museums maintain and manage accounts in the four most popular social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube) but also in less popular ones. In contrast, smaller cultural organizations tend to maintain Facebook profiles, and they have an active account on one or two more social media, mainly Instagram and/or Twitter. Facebook usually acts as a dynamic substitute for their website, which in many cases is not updated regularly. We observed that many museum websites are static, their content is not updated, and it is not linked to their social media accounts. On many museum websites, the organization’s social media icons do not appear. In certain cases, they direct to a different media than the one pictured, or the link leads to no content. Also, many small museums maintain social media accounts but they do not post at all or they post occasionally.

In the following table (Table 2), we can see the percentages of social media presence in museums of every country in this research, based upon the four most frequently used social media. In certain countries – UK, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Russia (countries in bold), we observe that most museums have all four of the main social media platforms. This indicates an investment in social media towards museums’ aims, objectives, strategy, and day-to-day operations.


Country Facebook 2020 Facebook 2019 Twitter 2020 Twitter 2019 Instagram 2020 Instagram 2019 Youtube 2020 Youtube 2019
AUSTRIA 100 100 30 30 80 80 70 70
BELGIUM 100 100 50 50 60 60 30 40
CROATIA 90 90 50 50 50 50 20 30
CHEZH 100 100 50 50 60 60 50 40
DENMARK 100 100 50 50 90 90 40 40
ESTHONIA 100 100 30 30 50 50 50 40
FINLAND 100 100 50 50 80 80 50 50
FRANCE 100 80 60 60 70 70 50 50
GERMANY 90 90 80 80 80 70 80 70
GREECE 100 90 30 40 30 40 40 30
HUNGARY 100 100 30 30 80 80 60 60
ICELAND 100 90 20 20 40 40 30 30
IRELAND 100 100 100 100 70 70 80 70
ITALY 90 70 70 60 100 90 100 90
LATVIA 100 100 80 80 70 60 50 50
LITHUANIA 80 70 10 10 50 30 20 20
MALTA 90 90 20 20 10 10 30 30
NETHERLANDS 100 100 70 70 90 90 50 50
NORWAY 100 100 80 80 90 90 20 20
POLAND 100 100 50 40 90 80 60 60
PORTUGAL 100 100 20 20 60 30 40 30
RUSSIA 90 90 70 70 90 90 80 80
SPAIN 100 90 90 90 100 90 90 70
SWEDEN 90 100 20 20 80 80 40 40
SWITZERLAND 90 90 60 60 90 90 60 60
TURKEY 70 70 60 60 70 60 30 30
UK 90 90 90 90 70 60 90 90

Table 2: Percentages of social media presence in museums of every country in this research (comparative display 2019-2020)


4.2 Museums presence on the four most popular social media platforms

Museums communicate with their social media audience using mostly text messages and photos, accompanied by hashtags and/or hyperlinks. It is observed that videos are posted more often than before on all social media platforms, not only on video-based YouTube. The majority of the photo-related posts display museum exhibits, followed by posts on online exhibitions, venues, and events.

In the period before the Covid-19 pandemic, the museums’ primary purpose for using social media was within the scheme of one-way communication, i.e. to inform the public about their activities, to promote their exhibits, and to advertise their events. A parallel goal was to use social media as a marketing channel towards building stronger relationships with existing friends and followers, as well as to attract new visitors and building awareness.

During the pandemic, we have observed a different trend after the physical closure of museums, as they had to seek alternatives and opportunities for recovery. Many museum institutions have devised new ways of maintaining contact with their audiences and generating alternative financial resources, using the digital environment through virtual visits and the use of social networks. Many posts led to the museum’s online store in an effort to increase the museum’s revenue from online shopping.

In terms of interaction with friends and followers, this has become bigger, as museums now respond to users’ comments and questions more frequently. They also encourage users to get more involved by asking them questions and/or by motivating them to create and share content. It is worth noting the Louvre Museum’s practice of publishing photographs of museum users themselves, encouraging public engagement. Following the same practice, the British Museum attempted to talk to their friends by asking them “what’s the weather like where you are”. This is a good practice that could also be used by smaller cultural organizations.

In contrast to last year’s survey (Papaioannou & Sfyridou 2020), in the year of the pandemic, many museums have often used emojis and hashtags to accompany their posts of images and videos. Their use can make the message more appealing to the public and encourage more interaction. Many organizations have also created pandemic hashtags (#LouvreChez-Vous, #StayHome) or anniversary hashtags (#HappyValentinesDay, #NationalCakeDay). In the same direction, many posts have included hyperlinks to connect social networking to museums’ websites and Web content.

Another observation relates to the language of posts. In the 2019 survey (Papaioannou & Sfyridou 2020), we observed that most of the museums’ posts were in the native language of each museum’s country, which limits posts’ appeal to native speakers and to those who can read the native language. This practice continued in 2020, especially in the museums of Eastern European countries, but also in certain large museums, such as the Prado Museum in Madrid, which only posts in Spanish. This may indicate a greater shift to support the local community in the pandemic. On the other hand, the Louvre museum posts mostly in English with French translation.

The numbers of likes and friends on Facebook, and the numbers of followers on Instagram and Twitter, are indications of engagement with the museum’s post and social media presence. In our research, we have observed that the numbers of friends and followers tend to be proportional to the museum’s world brand. Museums with recognizable identities worldwide have a comparatively higher number of followers than smaller cultural organizations. In the top ten museums on the main social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), we find the Louvre museum and three museums in London (namely the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and The National Gallery) confirming that the brand of the organization plays a dominant role in their popularity. Also, the number of friends and followers is proportional to the frequency and quality of content posting. The more regular and content-rich the posts are, the higher the number of friends and followers. In some instances, the numbers of likes, friends, and followers reach millions, as in the case of the top five museums in tables 3 (Facebook) and the top seven museums in tables 4 (Instagram) and 5 (Twitter).

In the pandemic, many museum posts on Facebook have the form of an image related to a museum exhibit. This image is usually accompanied by a detailed description. Also, more posts include videos with subtitles usually in English, possibly to engage a wider audience. To the same end, images and videos are mostly accompanied by hashtags. This tactic is followed, for example, by the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, where all posts are accompanied by hashtags in both German and English. Also, several posts are in the form of podcasts and live streaming, and many posts ask for financial support. We have also noted an increase in the daily posts, which reach the number of four posts per day for many museums, e.g. the Polin Museum in Warsaw (Poland) and the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples (Italy).


Museum on Facebook number of friends (12/20) Museum on Facebook number of likes (12/20)
Louvre Museum (France) 2,601,319 Louvre Museum (France) 2,582,095
Van Gogh Museum (Netherlands) 2,591,538 Van Gogh Museum (Netherlands) 2,529,197
The British museum (UK) 1,654,701 The British museum (UK) 1,601,622
Prado National Museum (Spain) 1,134,399 Prado National Museum 1,080,963
National Gallery (UK) 1,061,775 National Gallery (UK) 1,008,620
Musee d’Orsay (France) 892,393 Musee d’Orsay (France) 867,063
Victoria and Albert (UK) 743,576 CERN (Switzerland) 719,882
CERN (Switzerland) 741,956 Victoria and Albert (UK) 701,347
Mercedes-Benz Museum (Germany) 685,940 Mercedes-Benz Museum (Germany) 656,647
Natural History Museum (UK) 590,060 Natural History Museum (UK) 555,291

Table 3: Top ten museums on Facebook by number of friends and by number of likes

Most Instagram posts are accompanied by many hashtags to increase their dissemination and popularity. A good example is the Italian museums, as they have encouraged users to share their own photos using museum-related hashtags (e.g. #GalleriaBorghese, #museoduomofi). We have also observed that several organizations have only posted in March and April 2020, i.e. during the first lockdown (i.e. the Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece, have posted posts accompanied by hashtags in #StayHome). There are also posts on Instagram that refer to the museum’s online store (i.e. Prado, Guggenheim Museum). Moreover, it is worth noting that video posts on most museums’ channels have increased.


Museum on Instagram Followers Museum on Instagram Posts (since date joined)
Louvre Museum (France) 4,375,437 The State Hermitage Museum (Russia) 6,235
Mercedes-Benz Museum (Germany) 2,033,610 Mercedes-Benz Museum (Germany) 4,919
The British museum (UK) 1,900,957 Armoury Chamber (Russia) 4,890
Van Gogh Museum (Netherlands) 1,835,191 Tsaritsyno Museum-Reserve (Russia) 3,580
National gallery (UK) 1,741,664 Victoria and Albert (UK) 3,297
Victoria and Albert (UK) 1,489,998 Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (Spain) 3,198
Musee d’Orsay (France) 1,203,454 Troldhaugen Edvard Grieg Museum (Norway) 2,861
Prado National Museum (Spain) 779,918 Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (Spain) 2,814
CERN (Switzerland) 672,456 National Museum – National Gallery  (Norway) 2,669
Natural History Museum (UK) 669,942 Natural History Museum (UK) 2,626

Table 4: Top ten museums on Instagram by number of followers and by number of posts

Regarding Twitter, the text in most organizations’ tweets is accompanied by at least one hashtag and emoji. There is a link to the organization’s website, online store, and/or the organization’s YouTube channel. Many tweets have also an image and/or a video. Also, through Twitter museums have attempted to involve the public by quizzes or asking questions, such as “What dinosaur are you?”, by the Natural History Museum in London. Retweets are related to posts made by other organizations and report on actions and events of the organization itself. Some museums have also created a section for children (i.e. Louvre museum: section: louvrekids). Finally, via Twitter, many museums ask for financial support from their followers (i.e. Museum Auschwitz).

Museum on Twitter Followers 12/2020 Museum on Twitter Tweets 12/2020
CERN (Switzerland) 2,587,638 Prado National Museum (Spain) 54,670
Natural History Museum (UK) 2,342,270 National Museum of Scotland (UK) 45,000
The British Museum (UK) 2,069,441 Natural History Museum (UK) 32,913
Van Gogh Museum (Netherlands) 1,648,151 The Little Museum of Dublin (Ireland) 29,125
Louvre Museum (France) 1,510,705 National Gallery (UK) 28,249
Victoria and Albert (UK) 1,379,924 Louvre Museum (France) 26,923
Prado National Museum (Spain) 1,272,073 Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza (Spain) 26,200
National Gallery (UK) 888,360 Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (Spain) 24,773
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (Spain) 769,997 National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology (Ireland) 23,500
Musee d’Orsay (France) 728,740 Victoria and Albert (UK) 23,151

Table 5: Top ten museums on Twitter by number of followers and by number of tweets

In terms of Pinterest (table 6), we noticed that more museums use it, but only large organizations post regularly.

Museum on Pinterest Followers Following views per month
Victoria and Albert (UK) 113,454 118 >10,000,000
Natural History Museum (UK) 102,097 159 429,300
Louvre Museum (FRANCE) 28,981 89 1,600,000
Rijksmuseum (NETHERLANDS) 25,109 94 6,600,000
Prado National Museum (SPAIN) 16,280 57 2,600,000
The British Museum (UK) 14,960 6 3,300
Van Gogh Museum (NETHERLANDS) 13,796 231 76,300
Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza (SPAIN) 5,213 1100 516,000
National Museum of Scotland (UK) 4,633 281 773,300
The National Museum of Denmark (DENMARK) 4,096 284 385,100

Table 6: Top ten museums on Pinterest by number of followers (with the number of those following and number of views per month)


4.3 Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter: comments on the frequency of posts

The following figure (Figure 2) offers the frequencies of posts per social media presence in the museums of the 27 countries of 2019 research. We observe that, in most museums, Facebook posts tend to appear several times a week (intensive), Instagram posts tend to appear once a week (intermediate), and Twitter tweets every month (low).


Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter: comments on the frequency of posts (2019 survey)
Figure 2: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter: comments on the frequency of posts (2019 survey)


Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter: comments on the frequency of posts (2020 survey)
Figure 3: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter: comments on the frequency of posts (2020 survey)


In Figure 3, we see the frequencies of posts per social media presence in the museums of the 27 countries of 2020 research. Museums now post several times per week on their social media accounts, fewer museums post daily, and the museums not posting at all have increased. This is probably because of staff cuts and shortages.

YouTube is a popular social media platform of different characteristics, as it is not suitable for daily communication like other social media platforms and especially Instagram and Twitter. During the pandemic, more museums created YouTube channels (Figure 4) and uploaded videos of past events as well as new educational videos for different audiences, adults, and children (table 7).


Museum on YouTube Subscribers Museum on YouTube Total views Museum on YouTube Total uploads
The British Museum (UK) 397,000 The British Museum (UK) 37,729,302 Prado National Museum (Spain) 1,867
State Tretyakov Gallery (Russia) 157,000 Victoria and Albert (UK) 22,406,970 Copernicus Science Centre (Poland) 1,565
Victoria and Albert (UK) 152,000 Natural History Museum (UK) 20,982,054 Museo Arqueologico Nacional (Spain) 1,398
CERN (Switzerland) 129,000 Prado National Museum (Spain) 13,211,025 Europejskie Centrum SolidarnoSci (Poland) 924
National Gallery (UK) 112,000 National Gallery (UK) 9,665,397 Victoria and Albert (UK) 839
Prado National Museum (Spain) 99,700 Copernicus Science Centre (Poland) 9,575,934 POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews (Poland) 826
Natural History Museum (UK) 93,500 CERN (Switzerland) 8,695,382 The State Hermitage Museum (Russia) 796
Louvre Museum (France) 66,600 Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego (Poland) 8,648,053 Calouste Gulbenkian Museum – Founder’s Collection (Portugal) 791
The State Hermitage Museum (Russia) 61,600 State Tretyakov Gallery (Rusia) 8,591,078 Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (Spain) 729
Van Gogh Museum (Netherlands) 31,700 Louvre Museum (France) 6,791,208 Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego (Poland) 720

Table 7: Top ten museums on YouTube by number of subscribers, number of views, and by number of uploaded videos

Museums on YouTube per year of opening a YouTube account
Figure 4: Museums on YouTube per year of opening a YouTube account



  1. Preliminary conclusions and suggestions

Museums keep and will keep using social media platforms as tools towards achieving their mission, aims, objectives, and strategies. 2020, the year of the pandemic and closed museum physical doors, further enhanced the importance of social media towards engaging with the public. Museums went fully online and developed digital activities, such as online exhibitions, virtual tours, podcasts, webinars, educational activities, games, quizzes, and digital coloring activities. Within this context, museums started or increased social media activities to engage and communicate with their public.

In this paper, we addressed the social media presence and networking of the “top” museums in twenty-seven European countries (as per TripAdvisor) for 2020, and we commented on museums’ social media states, choices, posts, friends, followers, and subscribers. We compared this work with a similar one for 2019 (Papaioannou & Sfyridou, 2020). In both cases, we used content analysis to address the museums’ online presence on their chosen social media. Our results confirmed the European museums’ strong preference for Facebook (it is still the preferred choice), followed by Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube, while new platforms seem to emerge, such as the video-oriented TikTok. We noticed an increase in social media presence, more posts per week, and increased video content. One-way communication still prevails, but more interaction is now sought via posting questions to users and asking users for content and comments. Also, posts include hashtags, as museums aim to reach and engage with a wider audience. Some museums show decreased social media activity, possibly due to financial constraints and staff cuts.

Recommendations are hard to propose. The wish is for the pandemic to be lifted and for museums to open their physical doors again. We need the museum environment to be hybrid again, as for now, it is just digital. The new normalcy, however, is expected to have a special place for social media platforms, and museums need (and will) take this into account in their new policies and strategies. The research is ongoing.


  1. Acknowledgments:

This paper and its presentation at the MuseWeb 2021 Conference were possible thanks to funding by the Ionian University, Greece. We also thank the reviewers for their constructive comments, and we clarify that the authors are fully responsible for all content of this paper, including any remaining errors and omissions.


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Cite as:
Papaioannou, Georgios and Sfyridou, Eleni. "Addressing social media challenges and choices of top European museums during COVID-19: realities and trends." MW21: MW 2021. Published March 5, 2021. Consulted .