Social Media in Museums

Image credit: Rutgers University, Online Mini-MBA: Social Media for the Arts

The ubiquity of social media in most people’s lives is evident. No matter what your level of engagement with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any of the other myriad platforms for you to connect with others in the digital realm, you can see the impact this type of communication has had on our everyday lives. People are checking their phones, using their tablets, and silently communicating with one another constantly. It may seem passive, a way to pass the time or casually glimpse into the lives of others, but the truth is that social media is a huge part of most people’s day-to-day life. While it may seem like a novel space for everyone and their mother to share the events in their life (interesting and banal), it can be used to engage with people and share what is going on inside and behind-the-scenes at the museum. It may even attract new visitors! Museums have always been—or at least thought of themselves as such—places for contemplative thought and meaningful learning, but they can also engage visitors this new way. The reach of social media extends far beyond the museum’s walls, so it must be worthwhile, right?

Mark Schlemmer came to our class and spoke with us about his role as the creator of @ITweetMuseums on Twitter. As the Associate Registrar for Collections at the New York Historical Society, Mark works in a cultural heritage institution. As an advocate for engaging with like-minded people on Twitter, he is an enthusiast of museums. After creating the Twitter handle and sharing his experiences from museums, Mark and @ITweetMuseums gained a significant following. He can reach thousands of people on a global scale and share positive and interesting content relating directly to museums. And he isn’t even getting paid! This type of advocacy is just what museums need when they are competing for their visitors’ and potential visitors’ attention.

On the blog, Museum 2.0, Nina Simon has provided some basic guidelines for developing a social media plan for museum professionals. She encourages museums at large and individual museum professionals to take stock in what the institutional goals are, determine the available resources, and develop ideas that can be implemented museum-wide. It is important to have distinct voices and contributors, but there needs to be a plan that everyone can work within. Similarly, Kristina Fong, the former Marketing and Audience Research Coordinator turned Digital Marketing Associate at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, outlines her five tips for being a social media manager at a museum.

  1. Know your institution
  2. Be a good writer with a genuine voice
  3. Likes and Followers do matter
  4. Engage and connect with users/visitors while being a catalyst for critical thinking
  5. Be honest and genuine while varying your posts and Follow people/places you like

As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t just an American phenomenon: social media has the power to connect people from around the world. Given that many museums—especially the big ones—draw visitors from every walk of life from all over the globe. The Metropolitan Museum of Art sees an enormous amount of people every day, many of whom may have only ever seen what the museum has to offer via social media. Tourists are especially looking to share their experiences with friends and families back home. A presence on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram can help those who are seeing what their friends are doing find the official Metropolitan Museum pages.

The notion that social media is just for kids, teens, and young people is no longer true. It is a place for professional development as well. LinkedIn profiles can help you connect with other museum professionals at institutions you are interested in working. It also allows you to stay in-the-loop with what other institutions and their staff are up to. In 2011, the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) published the Museum Assessment Program (MAP) Social Media Handbook. It was their recommendation that institutions wanting to engage visitors on social media to participate in this self-study share the following:

  • short stories about why your institution decided to participate in MAP
  • goals your museum hopes to achieve through MAP
  • experiences working on the self-study
  • results of a self-study activity
  • ideas from the assessment team
  • highlights of the MAP peer review visit
  • feedback from the MAP peer review visit
  • recommendations from the report
  • photographs and/or videos about your institution

All in all, whether you are a social media king/queen in the communications department or a happy recluse hiding in the museum archives, social media is a big part of the world. The potential benefits are great, but being smart and approaching the wild world of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. can be daunting. Develop a plan, share interesting and intriguing content,  connect with people on these platforms, and encourage them to come visit!

Reading list for 11/16/2016
American Alliance of Museums (AAM), Museum Assessment Program (MAP) Social Media Handbook, 2011.
Lyra Kilston, Museums Are for Lovers (of Social Media), Hyperallergic, 20 Jan 2016.
Paul Schmelzer, Secrets of a Museum Social Media Manager, Walker Art Center blog, 5 April 2013.
Nina Simon, How to Develop a (Small-Scale) Social Media Plan, Museum 2.0 blog, 9 June 2009.
Jonas Heide Smith, The Me/Us/Them model: Prioritizing museum social-media efforts for maximum reach, Museums and the Web, 2015.

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