London Museums Group presented the event “Museums and Social Media” on 24 May at the Tate Britain. Speakers discussed social media from a variety of perspectives, including its uses for networking, marketing, engagement, and evaluation. A storify of the event is here
LMG Chair Judy Lindsay kicked off proceedings with a brief AGM. A number of new board members were introduced, and Lindsay outlined the activities of LMG over the past year, including work on Share Academy. Membership of LMG stood just short of 1000, and continues to climb.
Nancy Groves, Editor of the Guardian Cultural Professionals Network, emphasised the similarities between media and museum sectors, and discussed the future of open content. Groves argued that the “open journalism” approach to content has economic, democratic, and creative advantages that can apply to how museums engage with content and social media. The Guardian Cultural Professionals Network exists as a networking organisation for people working in arts and heritage, and endeavours to foster conversations around the sector. Groves’ tips for effective use of social media included not being afraid let the feed go silent from time to time, and personalising profiles.
Julie Reynolds, Commissioning Editor and Blogger for LMG and museum consultant, then discussed the question, “To blog, or not to blog?” The short answer was “yes”, so she focused on ways she has made the LMG blog a success. The blog concentrates on skills-sharing for professionals and sector commentary, with many posts authored by guest bloggers lending specialist expertise and experiences. Tips included recognising the time that blogging takes; ensuring that each guest blogger’s voice is heard from within the necessary LMG framework; and that not all commissioning conversations will pan out, so be sure to have back up plans.
Alex Smith, Outreach Officer for Islington Heritage, was on hand to discuss the marketing possibilities of social networking for small museums. Local authority museums often face branding obstacles and tend not to be allowed organisational websites outside of the council’s, so social media can help reach new audiences and allow museums to express their own identity on the web. Islington has worked extensively with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and other networks to raise enthusiasm for and provide access to collections, exhibitions, and events. The range of networks can be managed simultaneously through programmes like HootSuite. Social media is lower cost than other forms of advertising, and is very handy for publicising events on short notice. Smith also touched on ways that social media programmes such as Flickr and HistoryPin can be used as engagement tools, and this topic was explored in greater depth by the next speaker.
Mia Ridge, Chair of Museums Computer Group and PhD researcher, spoke about social media as an effective tool for crowdsourcing information around collections. Crowdsourcing is a way of engaging users to help amass information. A wide range of heritage organisations have had success in enhancing their cataloguing and collections knowledge through help from the public. Ridge openly acknowledges that digital mechanisms are not always the right solution, but social media does have the advantage of widening access to people who may not otherwise be able to view the collections. The top tip for crowdsouring activities is to plan “microtasks” that are quick, easy, and satisfying to encourage people to return for more. Ridge compares the desired effect to Pringles’ tagline: once you pop, you can’t stop!
The final speaker, Elena Villaespesa, Web Analyst and Producer at the Tate, discussed ways that social media can be used as an audience research and evaluation tool. The Tate relied heavily on Twiter for promoting The Tanks, the new performance art and installation space at the Tate Modern in 2012, and Villaespesa was part of the team evaluating the success of the campaign. Word of mouth can be a powerful marketing tool, and Tate saw that retweets by influential people meant that their reach extended into the millions. In addition to monitoring tweets by hashtag and keywords, Tate integrated feedback mechanisms into the gallery space including both traditional pencil-and-paper as well as projections of tweets on to the gallery wall. Villaespesa was able to analyse the comments made; ultimately, 80% of tweets were favourable towards The Tanks, and valuable insight was made into why people did or did not enjoy their experience.
LMG wishes to thank all speakers who gave their time and insight to make the event a success. Both Ridge and Villaespesa have authored blog posts based on their talks for LMG. If your museum would like advice using social media, or would like to help other organisations, LMG Share London is a good place to start.
By Susan van Schalkwyk, LMG Blogger in Residence and LMG Committee Member