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To Tweet or Not to Tweet: Social Media and Museums

Thursday, 7 July 2011 – The Courtauld Institute of Art

Speakers: * Katy Beale (Creative Producer at Culture Hack Day and freelance digital consultant) * Emma McLean (Digital Marketing Officer, National Maritime Museum, London) * Jesse Ringham (Digital Communications Manager, Tate, London)

Overview With the growing ubiquity and relevance of social media, this Exhibiting Research takes as its focus the relationship between museums and social media. Museum audiences increasingly rely on social media. Facebook, Twitter and blogs have become communication tools, allowing people to share events, to learn about forthcoming exhibitions, to access visitors’ information, and to leave comments.

Yet how does a museum handle these new technologies? What are a museum’s main aims in using social media tools? Where does the museum’s voice reside? Are social media tools useful for marketing, education or interpretation? What are the impacts of using social media?


SOCIAL MEDIA ARE EASY TO BE INTEGRATED What is usually very difficult to achieve is to drive traffic from FB, Twitter, Youtube etc towards the website. In this sense the interesting thing are the plugins, the API etc offered by these platform, especially Facebook. Museums website are essentially a repository of heavy blocks of content, very clunky, where the main need is to present the collections and all is very formal in a curatorial language. Technically speaking museums websites are based on platforms hard to be modified, changed, enhanced – especially if one wants to build up community features – that’s why social media represent a key aspect of the museum communication, because they are easy to integrate into any clunky website and they are ready to be used to engage the audience.

AUDIENCE The other interesting aspect of social media is that it’s easy to identify different groups of audience and it’s easy to shift the communication from one group to another and experiment with them. The Tate fan page has an audience of which is more UK-based than international – this is because they want to get local people involved into their activity/events. The NMM has an international audience – but they find FB very useful when they need to push en event organized at the Museum…in that case the local audience interacts more.

CURATORS The new challenge now is to make curators interact with the audience directly on facebook. People want to communicate with them, because they are the masters of the subject and that’s the moment when people get engaged more and start to participate easily. Tate will start this experiment next month after the success they had with the exhibition “Gauguin”. In that occasion they tried an integrated communication between the curatorial blog and facebook/twitter posts. The participation, the engagement of the audience was so high that they sold out all the tickets for the exhibition. According to Jesse over the 80% of people would visit an exhibition if a friend recommend it. This means that once you are able to establish a relationship with your audience on facebook you can reach the goal of your marketing targets. But how to build this relationship? According to Jesse from Tate, the main element is “listening”. If they have been able to reach such a huge amount of fans is first of all because they listen, they ask people what they like, what they think, what they are into, what they expect from Tate. Their community is full of artists, based on this fact and on the answers they get from the posts Tate launches SM initiatives/activities…

MARKETING Remember that Social Media Marketing is different from standard marketing. Standard marketing is about selling, whilst SMM is about people engagement and interaction. When starting a marketing campaign to drive traffic towards a facebook page or towards the website is important to integrate every aspect. The campaign must include a bit of everything. If you have to launch an event don’t expect social media marketing do all the job for you! You have to use any online and offline marketing tools/methods if you want to spread the news and reach your goal. Keep a constant eye on the analytics. This will help you to understand how to identify audiences, how to calibrate your marketing campaign and, in general, which social media you should use and how. It’s all about building a relationship with the audience. Hence, a “like” on the page, a “comment” on YouTube, all has a value if it’s a contribution towards this relationship.

COMMUNICATION VOICE The best way to communicate is the personal one. If you talk under an impersonal name it will be difficult to establish a relationship with the audience. So the best way is to talk under your own name declaring somewhere that you work for a certain institution/museum. Everybody knows how difficult for a museum is to allocate time and money for paying someone in the staff who should specifically work on social media, so what happens is that usually the task is divided among different people of the staff. In this case you can openly write all the names of the people who are posting. Another extremely important element is moderation. Even though you will have different moderators, they should coordinate among them to make sure the tone of voice is consistent, personal, informal, warm and the audience is really feeling at ease. Whether you receive negative or positive comments, people want an answer, they absolutely expect that.

If we want to make a list of the main aspect of the social media communication we have to remember the following:

Be passionate. it’s the passion in your subject matter that will engage “It’s hard to convey passion in 140 characters on Twitter,” Hayzlett says, “but if you are consistent, people begin to see that you are deep, not shallow. That’s what small businesses have to do as well.”

Be authentic. If you want to build a relationship with your audience be authentic, transparent, personal and informal.

Don’t sell. Remember that art marketing is about storytelling. If you want to sell tickets and you say hey, I sell tickets! nobody will buy them. You have to talk about the content of what you are selling. Listen to those looking for advice about a specific subject and help them out. Your knowledge and honesty is what will give you an audience.

Always be marketing. As with any tool, social media needs to be studied, evaluated and put to use as part of a broader business plan. But remember: the time for doing it is now!

Don’t make false promises Don’t announce an event or something if you are not 100% sure. If you create a disillusion people won’t trust you.

Finally, a nice example of a Social Media application for museum: When Should I Visit suggests you the least busy days to visit famous museums. The web application was made by Dan W. Williams at Culture Hackday 2011 with support from Pervasive Media Studio using data from Foursquare.




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