Why is it beneficial for a museum to have twitter or facebook?

Twitter has rapidly become one of the most widely used sources of infromation in the world. Just today I saw on the news that a company called Peek is going to start selling a device that looks like an iphone, just for twittering… its insane! In the corporate world maybe twitter is a good idea to get out ideas rapidly. For a person to tweet that they just tried a pair of jeans and noticed that she’s not the same size anymore… not so much. But we are here to talk about museums and twitter/facebook. Facebook is a global social networking website that is operated and privately owned by Facebook, Inc. Here is a list of the museums on Facebook.  An article in The Art Newspaper proclaims that “Facebook is more than a fad- and museums need to learn from it” and museums should embrace the idea that “everyone is a curator”. I am attaching a portion below.  Jim Richardson,  is the managing director of Newscatle-based Sumo, a design consultancy specializing in arts and culture. Richardson published on the 202 issue of May 2009 after it was published online on April of the same year.

“Social networks and blogs are the fastest growing online activities, according to a report published in March by research firm Nielsen Online. Almost 10% of all time spent on the internet is spent on these types of sites, which Nielsen describes as “member communities”, and they are visited by more than two-thirds of the world’s online users.

This has not gone unnoticed by museums and galleries, with many creating some kind of presence on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. But because this has primarily been done as a marketing tool, institutions are missing a far greater opportunity. By treading gently into the second generation of web development and design, known as Web 2.0, museums risk achieving little, and are effectively paying mere lip service to online social engagement. If they were to make a proper commitment to the enterprise, they could transform their relationship with audiences, change people’s perceptions of them and vastly expand the reach of their collections.

The Nielsen research shows that a major factor in the success of social networks is that they allow people to select and share content. This has become a hobby, even considered by some to be a serious creative outlet, with web users spending time “curating” their online space. Museums are well placed to appeal to this new generation of “curators” because they offer rich and interesting content that can be virtually “cut-up” and stuck back together online in numerous different ways to reflect the individual tastes of each user. If remixing, reinterpreting and sharing interesting content is, as Nielsen suggests, the kind of engaging interaction that draws people to social networks, then museums should embrace the idea that “everyone is a curator”, both online and offline.

Most of the institutions that are adapting their own websites with those facets of the social networks that so many people find attractive are in the US. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York relaunched its website in March. It now includes links to the museum’s online users on various social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Users can also create personal online accounts, which allow them to bookmark upcoming events, create online exhibitions and “collect” works of art via their mobile phone as they walk around the gallery and view them later on the website.

Victor Samra, digital media marketing manager at MoMA, says: “It’s not enough just to broadcast information now. Sharing and participating in discussions are becoming normal activities on the web, so I think people are coming to expect it. People want to engage with content they are really passionate about, and museums have a great opportunity to provide this for them. This helps to change the perception of the museum as a building with four closed walls to an organisation with personality and a human face.”

One potential obstacle to museums sharing content online is the issue of copyright and how to protect images if they are put on the internet. Legal implications aside, from a practical point of view this approach is becoming outdated. For example, the Art Museum of Estonia has gone against convention by actively encouraging visitors to photograph its collection; the MoMA website helps users to co-create content and share these creations with friends.

All museums want to create a dialogue with their audiences, and most museum staff are well aware that the internet can be a useful tool for doing this. But museums such as MoMA that have wholeheartedly embraced the new digital environment are becoming part of the conversation, rather then just pushing content or questions at visitors and then sitting back. Online activity such as MoMA’s requires investment, both in terms of web development costs and staff time, but if this is where people are and how they are communicating, then, one can argue, museums should be there too.

Curators pride themselves on using their collections to analyse issues, provoke reactions and ask difficult questions. But these questions are no longer just being debated over a coffee or in the galleries themselves; they are also being discussed online, whether it is on social network sites such as Facebook, online discussion forums or the many blogs, and the content prompting these responses is no longer restricted to the four walls it actually inhabits. This means museums and galleries need to expand the sites where they introduce, narrate and edit their programmes.”

I believe this is truly a great article. But I would still like to throw out there the idea that keeps floating around my head… Can this all just become a big blur? Can all of this access, and participation actually make the museum disappear? There is a lot going on right now with museums and the web, in fact there is an international conference for culture and heritage on-line: Museums and the Web 2010, which is an annual conference exploring the social, cultural, design, technological, economic, and organizational issues of culture, science and heritage on-line. So the future of the museum and its relation to these social networking technologies is still very unclear, especially with all the speed of change that is occurring in the world.

Clarisa Llaneza

4 responses to “Why is it beneficial for a museum to have twitter or facebook?

  1. I think the presence of museums as identities on Facebook is superfluous to what museums are trying to do–create relationships with current and potential customers. Firstly, Facebook is changing our notion of “friend.” What does a “friend” mean if MoMa is one? Unless it is going to be used to refer to a benefactor, I think this highlights Facebook’s role in flattening out and diminishing people’s perceptions of interaction and connectedness. Put someone’s name on a wall at MoMa, and he/she will come and see his/her name; become MoMA’s friend on Facebook and the artificial nature of cyberspace takes over a name and a relationship. I’m not saying that the internet cannot be an instrumental tool for museums–look at Obama’s campaign and its ability to raise millions through online donors–I think the way museums use them must be well-thoughout, and as this post suggests, able to somehow not get lost in the blur of artificiality the internet perpetuates.

  2. I think there are many benefits and flaws of the use of interactive portals by museums.
    I agree with you when you say that museums are helping fuel the flame of artificial relationships within these portals. I also agree that these portals, when utilized properly, can be great tools for sharing information and receiving feedback from a larger audience.
    With new technologies being introduced at excellerating rates, its greatly possible that in the near future museums will have their own web portal for people to become members of that begins to act as a facebook, twitter, museum 2.0 combination that will allow museum audiences to upload information, share data, ask questions, view online exhibits, in an environment with other audience members. For instance, this website that we are blogging on is already igniting this conversation. This idea is not far off. Museums already have online followings and discussions. The idea I keep having is that these networks will continue to expand and branch out, similar to a library, to other networks, creating a larger audience circle.
    Am I worried that the physical museum will eventually be blurred out by web-based and interactive technologies? Yes. With online exhibits, archives, films, and discussion boards, the physical (educational) demands for museums are diminishing. At the same time the social need for museums is increasing. It’s going to be interesting to see where the museum heads in the near future.

  3. I think that, like any tool, there’s a way to employ social media that can be beneficial or ineffective (maybe even detrimental, if you’re not careful). I worked for an arts council that held meeting after meeting to discuss how they would communicate their online identity before its debut. Unsurprisingly, many of the council’s older employees were very wary of the idea of an online, in some ways less-controllable, identity for the council, which already had to deal with its share of controversy. Ultimately, they agreed that it was necessary to keep up with the community the council was serving, and artists tend to be early embracers of technology. Facebook and Twitter proved to be a really interesting source of direct and indirect feedback from the council’s constituents. Besides being an easy and free way to promote the council’s programs, grants and events online, artists and arts administrators could pose questions and otherwise “interact” with the council’s representatives. One of the more surprising and beneficial results was the use of social media as a barometer. Our communications department could monitor what was being written about the council, and in a way receive more honest feedback (especially since people feel they have to be concerned about biting the hand that feeds them). We could also quickly respond to misinformation, and see what kinds of issues were becoming more important to the community. The council really was doing its best to represent the community, so I think that in some ways it definitely helped to make itself a part of the online arts community.
    Museums may find social media helpful, or they may not, depending on whether they want to be a part of the community, or are just interested in trying to lead it.

  4. I think that museum can use Facebook and social networks to their advantage, but at the same time I think there needs to be human interaction, beyond the ability of online social networks. The article stated “People want to engage with content they are really passionate about, and museums have a great opportunity to provide this for them. This helps to change the perception of the museums as a building with four closed walls to an organization with personality and a human face.” I agree that people want to connect with content and that museums have a great prospect to do this, but do online social networks really create a human face and personality? Facebook and other online social networks are a great way to connect people and spread information, but do they really need to do anything beyond that? When does it become too much?

    In addition, the idea of “everyone is a curator” does worry me. Why then do we have specialist and why am I going to graduate school if there will be no need for the curator or specialist in the future museums? The idea that some of my friends, who have only a general knowledge about a subject, could curate is comical and frightening at the same time. Museums are about learning and how does having a less then qualified person curate effect the learning aspect? Part of me feels that museums will have to keep the notion of the curator, mostly because they contain the most information about the subject. Yet, in many museums these ideas are fading. I do wondering what will become of the museum if this trend continues.

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