Most of the time this blog focuses on individual aspects of 2.0 thinking or applications. But every once in a while, it's nice to go back to the big picture. James Yasko is writing an article for an upcoming issue of Museum News on museums and Web 2.0. He got in touch with me last week to discuss some ideas for the article and asked me to respond to a few questions. One of these was a general question that I thought might be of interest to you.
Here's the question:
What advice do you have, as one who keeps up with technology as it relates to museums, to a group looking to incorporate Web 2.0 into their repertoire?
And my response...
1. Set your high-concept goals and find a Web 2.0 technique/application that will fit those goals. Are you trying to establish yourself as an up-to-the-minute news source on topics related to your museum’s content? Blog. Do you want to offer audio or video programming to an international audience for free? Pod or Vodcast. Do you want to become a community nexus? Start working the social network sites. Do you want visitors to contribute to the classification and presentation of your artifacts? Start thinking about tagging and folksonomies.
It’s not acceptable to say “we want to do it all.” If you had one youth educator, would you expect them to develop and run overnights AND scout programs AND teen programs AND toddler programs AND outreach AND… of course not. You would set a strategy that best serves the mission of the institution.
2. Start conservative and build from there. There’s a term in podcasting, “podfading,” that describes podcasts that are launched with vigor but fade into non-existence as its producers become overwhelmed or lose interest. Blogfading is rampant as well; casual clicking on museumblogs.org reveals more than a few blogs that have dropped off the face of the internet (and according to Technorati, there are over 1 million blogs that exist only long enough to sustain a single post). While this trend might be acceptable (though annoying) when the blogs are personal, it's unprofessional--and unacceptable--when the blogs are institutional. Museums need to develop sustainable models for projects that require frequent content updates.
How can you avoid getting burned in this way? Some museums start with internal projects (blogs, wikis, tagging experiments) that are then released to the public once the kinks have been worked out and the quality level is adequate. Others set the bar low by being clear from the start about the frequency of content. At the Spy Museum, for example, we launched podcasting in the fall and committed to monthly half-hour episodes. The production value is high, the content is enjoyed by thousands of listeners, and the work required to produce each episode is manageable. You can always be a hero by increasing the frequency of your content later; it doesn’t work so smoothly the other way around.
3. Get all the departments on-board. Executive, marketing, content, and IT/web folks all have a stake in these projects. While the driving force (and the bulk of the work) may fall on one team, everyone’s concerns and needs have to be addressed. Who will be impacted resource-wise? How will the endeavor reflect on the museum’s brand image?
Web 2.0 projects can also be a great way to connect staff across the institution and empower people in non-creative positions to contribute content. At my museum, our COO often talks about how different museum projects fill three “buckets”—staff, visitors, and financials. While there’s a lot of focus in most museums on financial and visitor success, I think there’s room for improvement in terms of educating and supporting staff. You don’t have to be a curator or a marketing person to be involved in your museum’s blog or social network. And the more people get involved, the more diverse voices are reflected and the more staff feel connected to and empowered by the institution.
4. Keep statistics. Once you are rolling with a project, set metrics for success and keep everyone apprised of the impact the project is having on the institution in general. Has your tagging system increased overall google hits for the museum? Do your MySpace friends come to museum programs? Keep the overall museum mission in mind and report on the ways your Web 2.0 activities support that mission.
5. Be flexible and open to irreverence. Web 2.0 encourages non-authorities to participate in content creation and interpretation. For museums, this means we cannot continue to be stingy with the stories in our galleries, to hold interpretation of objects and history in a clenched fist. A good way to test your personal comfort with this openness is to start by encouraging irreverence in yourselves. How does your institution react to forum-style programming, risqué marketing tactics, or opening exhibits in prototype? How tightly held is messaging about the museum and its content?
6. Don’t wuss out. Many museums are using Web 2.0 in a very cursory way as another distribution pipeline for the same messages and content presented throughout the institution. While you may get some buzz just for using the technology platforms, the real power comes when you use Web 2.0 to offer programs and opportunities that are new to the museum. This can mean presenting new content rapidly, without going through the long exhibit or program development and implementation cycles. It can mean supporting staff and visitor opinions about the museum. It can mean encouraging social participation with other museum supporters. It can mean using visitor content and comments to adapt and grow the core museum content.
We’ve known for a long time that visitors define their own museum experiences. There’s a lot of fear around that reality. Web 2.0 sites take the radical stance that it is DESIRABLE to have users define not just their own experience but everyone’s experience. Can you grin and bear it?
What am I missing here? What advice would you give? What kind of advice are you looking for?