Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Weaving a Web of Your Own

"Strike a pose…then share the results. In the entrance to the exhibition #DoubleTake. Multiple frames to choose from… ow.ly/i/1Ptg8" — excerpt from the @Civilization Twitter feed.

Along with many cultural organizations, the Canadian Museum of Civilization is using social media to reach new audiences and engage the community. Social media is less about experts disseminating information to visitors and more about building an online community and having conversations with members.

For most cultural institutions, having a Facebook and a Twitter presence is a priority but social platforms shouldn't be used to push ideas or use academic jargon; posts should be kept simple. They can be about current collections, upcoming exhibitions and interesting facts. But let’s face it, who is going to reply to those posts? Get creative! Twitter and Facebook posts should tell followers how curators develop exhibitions, share behind-the-scenes photos, ask provocative questions, tell jokes, share weird facts, and be entertaining. These kinds of posts will generate a reaction and encourage your community to interact with you online.

Inevitably, larger institutions often benefit from having dedicated personnel and resources that can successfully maintain online profiles. Smaller organizations may only have one person managing their digital technology and this may be an added duty to their normal everyday workload. Of course, the number of people involved in updating social media feeds will dictate how much time can be spent maintaining accounts and how many accounts an organization has. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has 63 people in their digital department which helps them attract more followers than say, Ottawa’s Bytown Museum. The correlation is inescapable.

Image from Tate Modern's Instagram account
But social media doesn't have to take hours and multiple minds. Twitter posts are already limited to 140 characters and they can be planned ahead of time. Twitter posts can then be published on Facebook, although it is best to change it up a bit! And with social media-managing programs like HootSuite, you can schedule tweets to be published any time of day. In reality, maintaining an online presence can take less than half an hour each day!

The most time consuming aspect, and the most valuable, is replying to followers’ mentions and comments. When a visitor tweeted the Canadian Museum of Nature suggesting an interesting film to screen, the Museum replied that they would pass the idea on to the programming staff. Retweets and replies like this are key when followers show their support online.

Twitter and Facebook are just a starting point. Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr, Tumblr, YouTube and blogs are other platforms that can help share the excitement. Here are some inspiring examples of how some museums are using different platforms to their full potential:

More and more, organizations are increasing their online presence in creative ways:
  • Thousands of American historical documents and archives have been digitized and can be found online; 
  • The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Penn Museum) used Foursquare to hold competitions in 2011: the first 10 people to check into the museum after 5 pm received free drinks;
  • Artist Marina Abramovic sat on a chair at New York’s MoMA and visitors were encouraged to sit opposite her. Her performance art, The Artist is Present, compelled someone to create a Twitter account narrated by the chair! The account is humorous and gets people talking about the museum and performance art. 
The Artist is Present at MoMA

The more creative online profiles are, the more reaction they generate from the public. These social media platforms should facilitate an experience without guiding it. If people have pushed the button to follow you, it’s obvious they want to engage with your cultural institution and show their support.

Museums are no exception. Cultural organizations should be innovative when engaging the public. Marketing strategies shouldn't be as old as the ancient artefacts and art on display at your museum. You should use digital technology; it’s becoming the most valuable way of communicating with the public.

Of course, big budgets are required to maintain really interactive accounts but it only takes a few minutes each day to use Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, or to encourage your visitors to check in using Foursquare. It’s not about broadcasting, it’s about socializing. And who doesn't have time to socialize‽

Megan McLean is a third-year journalism student at 
Carleton University in Ottawa who interned with the CMA during spring 2013.

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