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portrait of Wendy Byrne

Wendy Byrne

Former Editorial Officer a.i. , Europeana Foundation

portrait of Marianna Marcucci

Marianna Marcucci

Communication (Digital) Strategist, Marketing & Innovation for Travel and Culture industries , Invasioni Digitali

Meet Invasioni Digitali’s Marianna Marcucci, guest speaker for Europeana Communicators’ Solve-It Session

On Friday 13 September at 10:00 CEST, Europeana Communicators, a specialist community of the Europeana Network Association, presents a ‘Solve-It Session’ on digital storytelling. This hour-long webinar helps participants promote digital cultural heritage by sharing knowledge, tools and best practices. Today, we meet the second of our session’s two speakers - Marianna Marcucci, digital strategist and co-founder of Invasioni Digitali.

Can you tell me a bit about Invasioni Digitali - what is it and where did the idea come from?

Fabrizio Todisco and I co-founded Invasioni Digitali in 2012. We work in the field of digital strategy with the tourism and culture industries, to create strategies that promote and valorise travel destinations as well as museums and galleries. When we started the initiative, we were working primarily for the travel industry, to create something more participatory for travel destinations - it was during the rise of the blogger, especially travel bloggers. So the idea was, why don’t we apply the same concept to museums and cultural heritage? 

We realised that a lot of people weren’t going to museums because they thought they were boring - people felt disconnected. Today tons of museums are using social media, but back in 2012, nobody was. People preferred to shop or go to the mall. When we first came up with that insight, the museum professionals said, ‘No! People don’t choose to go to a mall instead of going to a museum.' And we said, ‘Yes... they do.' 

Italian museums at that moment had no Wi-Fi, no interaction, just a slip of paper with the name of the painting and ‘oil on canvas, 1882’. It was just not engaging at all. We had to change the way that museums were communicating about themselves. Obviously we wanted to bring in digital resources, but we also asked people, ‘What do you want to do in museums? How can we help people have fun and be more engaged in museums?’ After lots of brainstorming, it hit us: ‘We need to invade museums like Attila and destroy everything!’ So we became Invasioni Digitali - which literally means digital invasion. Obviously we didn’t want to really destroy museums! We wanted to destroy the old approach of how they were communicating. 

We thought of it as a digital accelerator for museums - we wanted to make the museum experience more participatory and more fun. We looked at the experiences made by the Getty for example, who share high-res images of pieces from the museum and invite people to play with the artworks - to change them, to give them a new life. 

At first we called our network of friends, followers and bloggers to come with us, and we created an event. The first one was held in April 2013 - it lasted one week. We asked people during that week to choose any kind of cultural site - and invade it, and tell the story of that place in a more personal way. The very first year, we had 225 invasions in one week! Probably we were just in the right place at the right time - people really wanted to discover the cultural heritage of the country. They were just waiting for something… Since then we’ve run six campaigns - so one every year.

What’s the power of a digital invasion for a cultural heritage institution? 

The digital invasion is going into the museum and sharing a storytelling experience - taking pictures and videos that create a story and sharing our individual emotions and feelings about the museum. For example, if that’s a museum in my city that I know very well - I can’t tell the whole history of the museum, but I can tell people my story with the museum. The whole story gets told via social media - Instagram Stories, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat - everything. Before and after the invasion, we post information on blogs to prepare people and spread the word about the initiative. We want to create the highest level of participation across different groups: young people, teenagers, adults and seniors.

The first year many museums were like, ‘No, no… I don’t like the word “invasion”, I don’t want you to invade us… to destroy anything!’  And a lot of museums thought that people were just going to go to the museums to take selfies... Others thought, ‘We’ve worked like this for ages, why do we have to change now?’ But after a little while, even very big museums invited us to organise digital invasions. They understood they should do something different to engage more people. For example we’ve collaborated with Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, the Reggia di Caserta and the Venaria Reale in Turin just to name a few. After the first year, we also went outside the Italian borders - we’ve had invasions in Germany, France, Australia, America and Brazil. 

There’s always a ‘Chief Invader’ or supervisor who coordinates and leads the invasion. Sometimes it’s the museum that organises the digital invasion, or sometimes it’s someone from outside - in that case we contact the museum and ask them if they agree to be ‘invaded’. Then together with us, the Chief Invader creates a theme for the invasion. For example, the Madre Museum in Naples created the ‘Yellow Invasion’: the theme was to spot all the masterpieces in the museum related to the colour yellow. 

What would be your top tip(s) for anyone thinking of using this kind of digital storytelling approach?

First of all, they have to understand that we are moving towards a model in which knowledge is no longer transmitted in one direction - it’s co-created. As Jim Richardson said…. we’re not talking about an audience, we’re talking about participants. This is the starting point. So to create a digital invasion, cultural sites have to keep in mind that they have to do something for people, with them. Not just promote their location. The main goal is to engage people, so they have to create something that’s different from the things that they do every day. A particular tour that has a story, like a fil rouge that people can interact with and feel a part of. So not just ‘this is the statue of blah, blah, blah…’ it’s not that kind of tour. And it’s different for every museum. 

For example at the Museum of Cinema in Turin, we had a nighttime invasion - an invasion taking place at night with the staff dressed up as characters from the movies, sharing information about the museum as if they were that character. The most successful ones are when the museums are completely involved. Invasions can be anything - museums just have to think about things that they don’t do every day.

Since people are posting on all different platforms, how does all the output of an invasion connect since it doesn’t ‘live’ in one central place?

We ask people to have or activate at least one social profile to be able to post all the pictures and videos. We use our general hashtag - #InvasioniDigitali - and then we ask the Chief Invader to choose a particular hashtag for the invasion, for example the one I mentioned - the #YellowInvasion. Every time the invaders post, the stream grows with all the pictures and videos, and you can follow the invasion by following the hashtag. The museum also uses its social profiles to share and amplify the content that people post online in real time, and also later after the invasion. The most important thing is that the invasion isn’t just an event that happens at a certain date and time and then stops. It should be the starting point of something different. 

You've done hundreds of these digital invasions now - can you give us your highlights? 

All of them were highlights - we have done more than 2,000 invasions now - there were a lot of really, really good ones. I don’t have favourites, but there’s a story that I like a lot - there’s a guy in Liguria, a very small village in the northwest of Italy. He runs an association for a small church there. He organised an invasion during the first year and he sent me an email thanking Invasioni Digitali because the invasion was one of the most participated events in the history of the church  - about 70 people. The village is very small and it was the first time that all the parking places in town were completely full! He told me that they’re going to repeat it every summer because they saw that people really enjoyed it, and the association learnt how they needed to work differently.

We’ve also had children’s invasions - but since obviously children don’t usually have smartphones, we gave them disposable cameras and they went through the museum telling the story of the museum from a child’s point of view. So we have all the pictures from ‘baby height’, all the feet of the statues… It was really fun. And the last one from an invasion at the Forte San Giovanni - like a military tower base in Liguria - there were a lot of children and they invaded the fort as soldiers with (obviously) fake swords.

Is there anything else that you want us to know about Invasioni Digitali?

It’s a project that has changed me in some ways, because it’s obliged me to think about new ways to engage people, promote things and be creative. I read a lot - books, blog posts, social media, everything. I’ve been a very curious person since I was really young, but it keeps me curious. 

We're delighted to have you present at the Europeana Communicators Solve-It-Session - what can we expect to hear from you then?  

I’ll share my experience, the way we started and what we have done to engage participants in the past years. And hopefully I’ll inspire others to create engaging ways to involve people in cultural heritage!

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