Yesterday as part of the Social Media Knowledge Exchange project, UCLDH hosted a workshop on Social Media and the Museum.It was targeted specifically at doctoral students and early career researchers.
The general workshop theme: how Social Media is changing museum practice and visitor experience; and how Social Media can be integrated into museum exhibitions and events.
Its not news to most of us that museums are embracing social media and use it as a means to communicate and promote their activities, and also to interact and engage with their visitors. A large number of museums now have a profile on social media sites to post news, promote their exhibitions & events, or disseminate their content; and also to to interact with visitors by starting conversations, debates and organise participatory projects. This in itself is brilliant. But what is less well understood from an academic and a museum professional perspective is the key questions and challenges that are arising out of the use of social media.
Some of the key (well most obvious at least) questions the workshop tried to address were:
- how do we engage visitors and encourage users of the collections to build an online community?
- how do we start conversations with visitors in such a way that they feel that it is appropriate for non-experts to contribute?
- how do we create a feeling of ownership of museum collections amongst the visitors and users?
- What does this type of social engagement mean for the museum experience?
- How do we evaluate the impact of social media?
These questions came up throughout the day, and naturally more questions came out of that than answers.
There was a range of talks by academic and museum professionals to discuss how Social Media is changing museum practice and visitor experience:
Social Media in the Humanities: Claire Warwick (UCL)
Claire spoke using social media as a different way to engage people with historical content. The focus of Claire’s talk was around the D-Day as it happens initiative led by Channel 4. Utilising Twitter as a different way of presenting oral history. Suggesting that social media offers a sense of engagement which is very different to reading from history books. Providing a sense of immediacy. The personification of history. Claire highlighted how social media allows contemporary voices to be heard, but it can also bring historical figures and events to life. Throughout her talk interesting questions were raised about physicality, immersive theatre and emotional engagement with historical events and how social media can be involved in all three. In essence are historical figures tweeting in the social media space in the same genre as live interpretation in the museum space?
There has been a lot of discussion about what museums can learn from immersive theatre lately. See Seb Chan’s post on Fresh & New(er) of 23 May 2012. “What if we made ‘wonderment’ our Key Performance Indicator?” and Ed Rodley’s post,
and Suse Cairns Rethinking why immersive theatre is compelling. It might not be the immersion after all and I think this is something which will need to be explored further.
Tweeting Moles? Social Media from the Grant Museum: Mark Carnall (Grant Museum)
Mark Carnall, curator from the Grant Museum spoke about their strategic use of social media. Mark explained that Social media in the museum is a continually changing landscape and questioned how do/should/could museums manage this evolution.
The Grant Museum uses social media in 4 key ways:
- Twitter- transitory, irreverent, topical
- Facebook – badges and postcards
- Blogs- long form, publication, cv
- Flickr, YouTube and others – hosting tool.
Mark really hit home the need to think strategically. Museums shouldn’t use social media for social medias sake. There is a need to make time to fit social media into working practice.
Mark also raised some social media issues for museums to think about:
- Is there an institutional format you should adopt?
- Institutional buy in and support
- Get image crediting right.
- What voice will you use?
- Dealing with the digital divide. Who is your audience? Social media doesn’t reach everyone. – in reality the people who aren’t using social media are people the museum most wants to reach
- Sustainability: Social media in museums need to be sustainable and you need to be prepared for infrequently of returns because they aren’t always apparent instantly.
Mark also shared this brilliant infographic from informationisbeautiful.net: Hierarchy of digital distractions.
Social media: worth the time for small museums?: Alex Smith (Islington Museum)
Alex Smith from Islington Museum gave a great example of how small museums can blog, tweet and use social media as a knowledge experience with limited time and budget highlighting the benefits as well as the reasons why small museums show become involved in social media activities. Alex started by highlighting that the Islington Museum is constrained by council ICT strategy/guidelines and how council museums have to think outside the box to deal with this adequately.
Islington Museum use social media tools in the following ways:
- Events management system
- Sharing Photos
- Timeline – Ambitious use of Facebook timeline as a general historic timeline of objects and events relating to Islington Museum
- Community engagement
- Building brand identity
- Discus things that are happening now at the museum
- Hashtags – the example of the Joe Orton Trial Reconstruction
- Time management – hootsuite helps schedule and organise tweets
- Conversations and praise – Alex says the power of anecdotal evidence as well as statistics helps with convincing management. Bite sized chunks from socmedia
- Example of the Sadlers Wells Theatre Archive blog
- Found that visitors do interact
- Important to get time management right
- New for the museum
- Easy for people to use museum images
- Builds a community of interest
- Supports our current activities
Collecting Social Media as a museum object: Laura Lannin & Ellie Miles (Museum of London)
Ellie Miles and Larua Lannin from the Museum of London, gave a really interesting talk about the citizen curators project and what they have discovered about trying to collect social media as a museum object. I attended an event at the Museum of London about collecting social media earlier in the year (My post on the Museum of London social media event: can a museum collect tweets & should it? ) so it was great to continue the conversation.
The Museum of London’s main aim is to be a contemporary collector of objects, events and ideas from and about the city of London, and because of this contemporary collecting policy they began to think about digital capture of events in London quite early on. They now have the experimental role of a digital curator which aims to develop fresh ways of collecting contemporary digital culture.
One of their projects is #citizencurators – a social networking project for London2012. It’s a great project and it has some really interesting research questions which you can see at
Production/consumption – museum social media in use: Daniel Pett (British Museum)
Daniel Pett (Portable Antiquities Scheme) gave a mesmerising talk about production and consumption of social media. Dan’s key message was to ensure that any social media activity in museums needs to be relevant. Important to have a social media museum strategy and to think about issues like:
- Who is ultimately responsible for social media content
- How do museums create interesting social media content? Who decides what is appropriate?
- How seriously does the institution take social media channels – who are the advocates and for what?
- Do you have institutional buy in?
- Impact of social media in museums. can you measure interactions? Is the engagement meaningful? Are stats enough?
- Multi-vocality. Everyone can have a voice. How do you deal with that?
- Does anyone in your organisation already have useful social media skills, can you utilise them?
- Adequate time management
- Who is the target audience?
Dan then went on to discuss consuming social media as code and gave some really useful ways that utilising the right code can make archiving and optimising social media a piece of cake. Check out Dan’s google drive presentation for some great info on how to consume and produce social media using some simple coding.
The rest of the Social Media and the Museum session was a bit more hands on. We went to see Jeremy Bentham and discussed Transcribe Bentham and the The Bentham Pop-up, which waspowered by QRator, and posed a set of Bentham-esq questions to visitors. From there we went to have a look at my Digital Frontiers exhibition and asked question about the challenges and benefits of utilising all digital interpretation and social media inside a museum space. Finally Mark Carnall led a great social media challenge and asked us to work in teams to come up with how we would respond to different social media comments from the public. It really hit home some of the issues you have to think about when dealing with social media responses.
A really great day full of interesting discussions.