WAC Resources

What Makes A Good First Project For Cultural Institutions Exploring Web3?

Primer on Blockchain for Museums
Aside from the technical challenges, one of the hardest parts of a web3 project is talking about it with people who aren't already familiar with it, especially within your own team or institution.

At this point, much of the technology that makes the internet work—TCP/IP, DNS, SSL, etc.—has been abstracted away by a mature ecosystem of business-to-business and business-to-consumer service providers. As far as most people know or care, the internet is some cables connecting their Wi-Fi router to a computer somewhere, and that's more than they need to know to make use of it.

On the other hand, blockchain concepts like consensus mechanisms, public key infrastructure, and the economics of cryptocurrency price and transaction fees are still front-and-center; they're something an end-user has either heard about in the media or has to think about to make use of them.

In several of our case studies, "marketing" in its broadest sense had to be developed in tandem with the technical side. Institutions looking to launch a web3 project either as an experiment or as part of their membership strategy have to think about how their core audience will receive this.

  • Whom is this for? Your core membership? Tourists? A crypto-native niche?
  • How tech savvy are they?
  • What kinds of user journeys are they used to? Are they happy to do things online, or would they rather talk to someone?
  • What form factors are they used to? Would an NFT feel more "familiar" to them if it were pitched as a souvenir or an annual membership?
  • What do they value? What kinds of experiences do they care about?
  • How involved do they want to be in the process?

With web3 still being so new to so many people, institutions have to think about what kind of experience will appeal to their existing audience and what would help them reach out to new ones. At this point, there's still a distinct crypto-native audience of art collectors who would be happy to see a respected institution exploring the space. However, successfully reaching out to this audience involves a rethink of the usual online marketing strategies: rather than a controlled one-to-many broadcast, "web3 social" is more of a participatory two-way conversation with the audience. This takes some adjusting for institutions and requires community management skills they'll have to develop or hire.

And if it's an NFT project, we've seen projects by storied institutions flop without a compelling vision for how the NFTs will be used once the project debuts or how the NFTs will bring any value to its owner. In this handbook, we'll see NFT-based membership benefits and site-specific experiments that transform year after year. By focusing on their core audience and core competencies, museums can explore technology without feeling like fish out of water.

By working closely with the stakeholders they know best, museums also get a close-up view of the UX hurdles their project will face. In our case studies we'll see many institutions working to accept regular credit card payments as well as cryptocurrencies. Tasks like creating a crypto wallet and exchanging cash for crypto are barriers to participation and they're distractions from the point of the project.

In one example—Haus Der Kunst München's ECHOES event—we see a whole NFT "minting journey" designed by the artist Sarah Friend using the institutions CI , including physical passes and crypto wallets pre-created and prepared to make minting the NFT seamless. Not only does this remove barriers to participation, it also creates a unified aesthetic experience across offline- and online touchpoints: the access information was printed on the “festival pass”, designed by the artist. . All this allows the project to take center-stage, not a piece of the underlying technology.

In some cases we saw institutions creating familiar-feeling "digital souvenirs" visitors can buy in the gift shop. In another case study, we see HEK going off the deep end and reinventing their membership plan as a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO). HEK can only do that because their HEK Connect initiative has been exploring these ideas with their audience in online workshops. And as an institution all about cutting-edge media and digital art, their audience was already keeping up with crypto whether they had been participating in it or not.

As well as thinking about what your audience can handle, it's important to think about your own resources and internal stakeholders. What can you realistically do with the time, money, and team that you have? Is there an existing service that can do this out of the box for you? If not, do you have tech development experience in-house or would you need a partner to make it happen?

Web3 tooling can be a new experience even if your institution has the tech skills in-house, so in any case it's a good idea to start with something small. In several of our WAC Factory case studies, we saw projects begin with small teams who had built up deep knowledge across our WAC Weekly and WAC Fellowship programs. Only then could the team scope a project that was both achievable and made sense for the institution and its audience.

And only once the team knew the project scope and some plans for achieving it could they start onboarding internal stakeholders. This allowed them to bring in specialist talent like their marketing and legal teams once they had a clear vision, a good value proposition, and had thought about how to introduce it in a way the team would find accessible and interesting.

Illustration from Unsplash