The session about museums and their use of social media was food for thought. There are now so many different platforms that it can be hard to keep up. By the time a museum grows accustom to one, another more popular one takes its place. Should they try and use every platform available to reach out to more people? Should there be a limit? To that I answer yes; even if their audience (or, indeed, competition) have an account with all the various sites, there should be a focus on quality over quantity. At the end of the day, they still have an institutional reputation to maintain and thus their methods of engagement should reflect this.
On browsing related articles, I came across a blog post on the Tate website which poses the question: should museums be using social media more creatively? Using the Tate’s Twitter account as the primary case study, the blogger Kirstie Beavan looks at how Tate had been using their social media in alternative ways than just ‘broadcasting’ or self-promoting their collections and exhibitions. She raised an interesting point in saying that Tate wanted to inspire creativity in their audience, rather than push creative projects or initiatives that require participation exclusively via social media. Even since this blog was published four years ago, new social media sites have been developed and grown in popularity, raising the potential for museum-public engagement. As we discussed in class, national – even international – online events such as #MuseumWeek have the scope for involvement across, and in partnership with, different platforms.
Scrolling through their past activity on both Twitter and Facebook, I would say that Tate falls comfortably under the Level 4 category of Nina Simon’s Hierarchy of Social Participation pyramid (“Individual, Networked, Social Interaction with content (Me to We with Museums)”). They have created a platform for audience discussion and interaction with the shared content, the experience improving as more people join in. They may even have reached into Level 5 (“Collective Social Interaction with Content (We in Museum)”), particularly given the strong drive and influence of Tate’s Digital Strategy 2013-15. There is direct interaction between users and, occasionally, with Tate itself through the asking of questions, holding contests, and creating thematic hashtags (which, effectively, builds an online community who contribute towards a mutual topic).
Looking at a selection of the posts and tweets from the Tate pages, it would seem that they typically pose a question or prompt a topic and then let the fans/followers start conversations and debates with each other. As far as I could see (though I could be mistaken), the Tate do not get involved with the comments at all. However, in their social media how-to guide, the Association of Independent Museums (AIM) emphasise that responding to participator’s comments is important for strong and successful engagement and communication, showing that you are listening to what they have to say.
In the blog post’s comments, the general consensus seems to point towards wanting a more one-to-one interaction with the Tate through its social media, bringing individual personality to an otherwise impersonal institution. But is this a good idea? On the one hand it would provide a relatable name or personal contact, breaking down the barriers between the institution and the public (which, as discussed in class, is now becoming a priority for many museums today). On the other hand, is it better to maintain a sense of professionalism and have marked separation? Where do you draw that line between professional and personal?
I do have some concerns about having a designated ‘tweeter’ as the face of an institution’s social media. They would, essentially, become a spokesperson – would this put pressure on them? If they only answered some of the queries, would they be accused of only engaging with certain people and ignoring others? There may be a risk of alienation. There’s also the difficulty of communicating through the written word; sometimes things can be misinterpreted if not worded carefully, and it is often tricky to placate debates or arguments without speaking face-to-face.
The Tate blog post was originally written in 2011 and, on looking at the pages today in 2015, there have been changes made. In the Twitter ‘bio’, the names Maria and Bea are mentioned, adding a more human touch. The feed still maintains the same broadcast-y messages as before (after all, they need to promote their exhibitions and opening times!), but there are now more casual tweets such as:
Importantly – whether a message or #XmasQuiz – each contains an image of something from the collection, making it personal, casual, and fun whilst maintaining institutional relevance and education. They also retweet complimentary messages, use emoji icons, and respond to the odd question about booking tickets and visitor complaints.
For comparison, I had a look at a few other major London museums. The V&A follows in a similar vein to the Tate; there are retweets of followers and reviews praising current exhibitions and staff promoting good causes (for example, the Gallery Assistants wearing jumpers for #ChristmasJumperDay), and responses to questions about specific gallery opening times. The same can be said for the Natural History Museum, the Horniman Museum, the Science Museum, the Wellcome Collection, and the Imperial War Museum. Notably, only the Horniman reveals the names of those tweeting on their behalf.
It’s still a relatively new area for museums, so there will inevitably be a lot of change over the coming years as experience and knowledge about the effect and impact of social media grows. As to whether museums should be creative in their published content, I think so long as there is relevance to the institution and a sense of professionalism in what they share, museums should continue to experiment with social media and engage with their audience in different ways. Although you can’t please everyone all of the time, given the variety of things that can be achieved through the digital medium, there is the capacity to be a bit different and do something more creative and fun with the content. It is a way of connecting visitors – past, current, and potential – from all over the world, and allows engagement in ways not easily achieved within the physical gallery spaces themselves. It will be interesting to see what role and impact social media will have going forward into 2016.
Should museum social media pages have designated and identifiable contributors?
Is producing ‘creative’ content more important than ‘broadcasting’ information?
Beaven, Kirstie. 1 September 2011. Should museums be using social media more creatively? [http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/blogs/should-museums-be-using-social-media-more-creatively], accessed 26/12/15.
Simon, Nina. 20 March 2007. Hierarchy of Social Participation [http://museumtwo.blogspot.co.uk/2007/03/hierarchy-of-social-participation.html], accessed 26/12/15.
Stack, J. Spring 2013. ‘Tate Digital Strategy 2013–15: Digital as a Dimension of Everything’, in: Tate Papers, no.19, [http://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/19/tate-digital-strategy-2013-15-digital-as-a-dimension-of-everything], accessed 26/12/15.
Zeuner, Diana., ed. 2014. Association of Independent Museums: Successfully Getting Started with Social Media [http://www.aim-museums.co.uk/downloads/aaee4b8c-f54d-11e3-8be4-001999b209eb.pdf], accessed 26/12/15.
Horniman Museum Twitter: https://twitter.com/HornimanMuseum [accessed 26/12/15].
Imperial War Museum Twitter: https://twitter.com/I_W_M [accessed 26/12/15].
Natural History Museum Twitter: https://twitter.com/NHM_London [accessed 26/12/15].
Science Museum Twitter: https://twitter.com/sciencemuseum [accessed 26/12/15].
Tate Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tategallery [accessed 26/12/15]
Tate Twitter: https://twitter.com/Tate [accessed 26/12/15].
V&A Twitter: https://twitter.com/V_and_A [accessed 26/12/15].
Wellcome Collection Twitter: https://twitter.com/ExploreWellcome [accessed 26/12/15].