THE BLOG
12/10/2014 10:47 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Future of All Business Is About Storytelling

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) is one of the world's largest and finest art museums. As the the world's largest encyclopedic museum representing 5,000 years of human creativity from every corner of the world, the Met is also the most influential museum on Twitter. Could this be any coincidence with the fact that the Met hired Sree Sreenivasan as their first Chief Digital Officer a little over a year ago? Sreenivasan came to the Met from Columbia University where he became their first Chief Digital Officer in 2012. His long history at Columbia includes being a professor of digital journalism at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism since 1993 and having served as Dean of Student Affairs from 2008 through 2012.

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Sree Sreenivasan (Twitter: @sree), Chief Digital Officer - @MetMuseum

As CDO at the Met, Sreenivasan leads a team of 70 people in exploring new digital opportunities for the Museum and leads its Digital Media Department, which is responsible for managing and producing digital content--especially documentation and interpretive materials on the Museum's collection--and for delivering it to a variety of audiences, both online and in the galleries.

The Met, which will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2020, is the largest tourist attraction in New York with 6.2 million in-person visitors and 40 million online - a number that Sreenivasan wants to take to one billion. I'm betting that Sreenivasan, with his impressive digital journalism background and having been named as a social media maven by a number of publications, is just the guy to hit this lofty goal.
Sreenivasan gives us a deeper look into the role of the CDO and offers his advice for any organization that is trying to digitally transform.

6 Ways to Effectively Lead a Digital Transformation

1. Digital transformation is a team sport - The Met is no longer the old Met, it is a living and breathing museum, that collects and acquires new art and is a place where art is being made today. With hundreds of free classes, including iPad sketching, the digital role of CDO was created to explore the many digital opportunities for the Met. Sreenivasan sees the office of the CDO as being responsible for all content that touches the public audience, such as email marketing, social media, the website, media lab, interactive gallery, audio guide, mobile development, video and online publications.

Sreenivasan and his team of 70 digital media professionals at the Met work very closely with the CTO and other line-of-business leaders. Sreenivasan believes that "true partnerships" is key to driving digital business transformation. He and his team work closely with the CIO, CMO and the other 'CDO', the Chief Design Officer. "Everything is done in conjunction with the CTO/CIO team who build and maintain the infrastructure," says Sreenivasan.

"We can have great ideas, but it's all about execution." - @sree

2. The future of all business is about storytelling - As Sreenivasan journeys the path from journalism to CDO his love of storytelling is at the heart of his digital efforts. He believes that storytelling is where the future of all businesses lie - connecting the physical and the digital, the in-person and the online. Committed to the use of storytelling at the Met, Sreenivasan's goal is to tell one million plus stories about their one million plus works of art to one billion plus people.

"The future of all business is about storytelling." - @sree

Faced with the delicious paradox of having a contemporary digital view while working in a place where some of the world's oldest art and artifacts are stored, the question becomes, "How can we use contemporary technologies to tell better stories of things from long ago?"

"We are all in a battle for attention now. S we need to tell our internal stories and harness the excitement of our audience, our 2,200 employees and 100+ curators to make the Met shine online, so people want to come and see it in person," says Sreenivasan.

3. The role of the CDO is also the Chief Listening Officer - The role of CDO is attributed with the technology that is used to connect an organization with its customers. The Met uses the latest technology, like iBeacon, Oculus Rift and Google Glass, to connect visitors with the museum and with each other, and in order to be on the lookout for new technology that could make the museum better, Sreenivasan views the responsibility of listening for new ideas to be part of his role. He stresses that the role of the CDO is also to be the Chief Listening Officer: "We need someone in the museum who is listening for new ideas and asking if it's worth it and does it make sense for us. I take as many pitches as possible because you never know if it's going to be something that may change your business for the better."

"The role of the chief digital office is to also be the chief listening officer." - @sree

One pet peeve though, is being pitched by social listening tools that obviously don't listen to themselves. His advice to these vendors: "Listen to your own tools, listen before you reach out. For the first time vendors have this huge advantage - people have public profiles with public information. You need to bother to look and read before you come. The new world we live in makes it easy to sell now because you can understand the person you are selling to - you don't have to sell blind, so don't."

4. Educate and inspire others towards a common purpose - When embarking on any new technology, you need to bring people along; you need people who want to do things and then the others will come along. Sreenivasan, who has the experience of bringing people along from his days of Columbia where he had to do it with email, the web, blogging and now social media, says you have to show them. "If we can bring them along in universities, we can bring them along in a museum where technology has been part of museums forever; it's just now a different technology."

"Vendors have an enormous advantage in this social world - public access to company executive via social sphere." - @sree

5. Extend the in-person experience digitally - Sreenivasan says you want to build a virtuous circle where visitors have such a fabulous experience online that they want to come to the museum, and then while they are at the museum, they have such a fantastic time that they want to stay in touch online. To help visitors stay in touch online, the Met offers a bunch of tools - such as following them on social media and downloading the Met app, which just launched this year and was named by Apple as a best new app in the App Store. A lot of thought went into developing their mobile app which incorporates the three principles of being: simple, useful and delightful. The app includes highlights, daily events, staff picks, a members section, upcoming events and the latest tweets. A promotion of our CXOTalk episode featuring Sree Sreenivasan even made it onto the app, which was the first time a talk was promoted that was not at the Met and not on art. Thank you Sree, we are humbled!

"Mobile apps should be simple, useful and delightful." - @sree

6. Lead with passion, purpose and desire to improve the user experience - If you are wondering how this CDO makes the sale to developers to get them to come to work for him at the Met, his technique might surprise you. As a father of twin girls, he tells them that he gave up free full year tuition at Columbia and half tuition anywhere in the world for his two daughters in order to have the privilege of coming to work for the Met - a long-held childhood dream.

"If you are good in real life, you can be great on Twitter." - @sree

After spending a lifetime at Columbia, where he had planned to spend another lifetime, Sreenivasan left at the age of 43 to work for the Met. He says he would not have left Columbia for any other job. "Until now, I've had a one-way, three-decade-long love affair with the Met," said Sreenivasan, "so I am absolutely delighted to have this opportunity to contribute as part of the staff and as the leader of the digital media team there." Sreenivasan urges anyone he can to become a member of any museum and to become patrons of the art. "Technology is key to museums, we need your support. It's time for the next generation to step up and support the arts."

I highly recommend you to follow Sree Sreenivasan on Twitter (@sree) and Facebook - incredible digital business thought leadership.

You can watch the full interview with Sree Sreenivasan here. Please join me and Michael Krigsman every Friday at 3PM as we host CXOTalk - connecting with thought leaders and innovative executives who are pushing the boundaries within their companies and their fields.