Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Do they “get it” now? The value of #musesocial and #musetech in the era of COVID-19

Lori is one of those people you'll never forget meeting. If I needed someone to help me take over a small country or plan a giant party, I'd like her on my side. Or rather, I'd be glad to be on her side. She's a force, full of energy, and excitement. But, like the best of high-energy people, she's also intensely supportive and collaborative. In a field where we often work on our own, in isolation, people who are proactive about connecting constructively with others can feel rare. I'm thrilled that this co-conspirator is someone I know--and someone who is willing to share her ideas here.

By Lori Byrd-McDevitt
After a decade spearheading the social media presence at the world’s largest children’s museum, Lori now co-owns her agency 1909 DIGITAL where she helps others with their digital strategy. She founded the Museum Social Media Managers Facebook Group as well as the MCN Social Media SIG, and she currently is behind MCN’s social channels. She is an adjunct in JHU’s museum studies faculty.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the value of the digital museum sector over the past month. From the second that museum doors started closing to the public, it was an ah-ha moment—“We were made for this. It’s our time to shine. Let’s do this.” But something that’s so obvious to me isn’t necessarily so obvious to those decision-makers in the C-suite. Or it’s taken for granted when you make it look so effortless. Consider too that it’s not easy to articulate this value for those who are in it...you just do it, because you’re awesome at it. 

It’s been keeping me up at night, the issue of finding a way to concisely illustrate how you’re impacting—even saving—your museums during this actual crisis scenario. Okay fine, if I’m being honest, I’ve had to be consoled after being found crying over the matter on more than one occasion. “What’s really wrong?” I was asked. “I just want to save my friends’ jobs. Things are moving too fast. I’m not doing enough.” Sounds dramatic, I know. But it’s honestly how I feel.

I had to let the “fix this now! *stomp* stomp*” idea go, or I’d drive myself insane. Boards and CEOs that are going to make quick decisions about layoffs and furloughs wouldn’t change their minds because of a blog post or a whitepaper I wrote tomorrow. Organizations who are unfortunately so fiscally fragile that they permanently layoff staff a week after closing, or who have poor leadership who wouldn’t even think to cut C-suite salaries before getting rid of jobs,—these are not my audience. Sharing the immensity of the value of #musesocial and #musetech is a long game, and it’s one meant for the smart leaders who will listen as they’re making tough decisions in the months ahead.

Let’s unpack all of this, shall we?

Fact #1: You stepped up, epically. 
When museum doors closed, those behind the museum websites and social channels stood up and said, “We got this.” Who made that happen? You guys did. In whatever way made sense for your organization, whether it was big or small. Whether you had a lot of power, or if you had only a little bit of power and had to push through a lot of internal politics to do a tiny thing...you did it.

A helpful thing to do:
Don’t forget that. Don’t forget that you and your team were the superheroes when your supervisors and CEOs take credit. Don’t forget it when others forget it, either.

Fact #2: It matters to people. 
Yesterday feels like a month ago and last week feels like a year ago. The popular quarantine “thing” changes by the millisecond. Don’t worry about that. Know that the thing you made, and the things you continue to make, matter to your audiences. Whether it’s local interest or a specific niche. Also, think about the big picture. Museums have made waves. Check out any of the national and international press about museum technology and social media. You’re all contributing to that. Whether or not virtual museum tours are as “cool” as baking bread at home this week. What you’re doing matters.

A helpful thing to do: Don’t forget to take a breath and capture your metrics. Look at the full context of your social media engagement and what is different about now and typical content.

Fact #3: You share the love.
Beyond freely sharing your organization’s beauty, humor, and history with the world, you’ve also shared your learnings with one another. You’ve taken the time out of your head-spinning busy days to respond in a Basecamp, Twitter, or Facebook thread about a timely technical topic. You’ve contributed to a webinar, whether as a guest or a chat participant. Perhaps you’ve been interviewed about a campaign to share behind-the-scenes tips, or you’ve blogged about it on your own. This information-sharing is invaluable at a time when reinventing the wheel would truly be a detriment to our field. 

A helpful thing to do: If you’re participating in these community discussions, make sure your superiors know that you’re showing initiative and value in this way. Whether it’s sharing information or seeking it.

Fact #4: We must document it. 
Look around you. This time is historic. You know this in the sense that many of you are asking your communities to virtually contribute content (side note: another way you’re providing value!) It’s also a watershed moment for our sector. You have become the epicenter of content flow; our platforms are the necessity for colleagues to stay relevant. For years you’ve fought to be taken seriously alongside other departments, and you’ve now risen to the occasion and knocked it out of the park. We can’t let this moment pass without thoroughly documenting your efforts. It’s essential that we take the time to write case studies, gather metrics, capture screenshots. 

A helpful thing to do: Submit proposals to virtual conferences (like MCN!), even in the midst of uncertainty. Formally documenting your projects is so important. Don’t underestimate your contributions. It’s a tough time to submit proposals when museums have restricted budgets, but know that professional organizations are doing all they can to ensure the community can participate. 

And so, there’s not one answer here. Just as we’ve naturally been collaborating from day one, we’ll continue to collaborate day after day. Priorities will shift as inevitable furloughs and layoffs continue, but we’ll maintain our resourcefulness, humor, and creativity in spite of it all. When those museums suffering through staff reductions bounce back, we should be ready with resources to make it an easy decision to rehire, or newly hire, a digital team. Brilliant case studies can show them just what they’re missing out on. For those organizations thrifty and smart enough to maintain their #musesocial and #musetech staff during the crisis, I know this surely isn’t our only “time to shine.” It’s just the beginning of our blindingly sparkly reign as digital-first museums. 

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Covid-19 and Museum

As we are all making adjustments to living through a global pandemic I've tried to reach out more. As a Historic Interpreter for Telfair Museums, I would lead visitors through the Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters on a 45 minute guided tour of antebellum Savannah history discussing politics and urban slavery.  When the Museum closed I was expecting the next few weeks to be different.  
When my institution first closed I decided to reach out to twitter for interaction. Normally I use twitter to follow to network and learn about how others are making changes in the field, expanding audiences, and the history we interpret.  Twitter is how I first learned about the #museumsarenotneutral and #museumsrespondtofurgusion (from Aleia Brown and Adrianne Russell) and ongoing conversations about transparency in hiring practices.  I knew that I would miss the social aspects of my job. As an interpreter, research and tours dominate my professional time, in this time of transition I’m eager to learn from this moment and what better way than by talking with people.
In my initial calls, I was interested in learning how others were coping. I was hoping to chat, discuss our emotions during this moment, vent if need be but mostly, be there for each other.  I felt like these connections would help us grow in this moment and if people were doing good work we wanted to share.  I felt like one on one of these conversations could be honest, supportive, and genuine in our feelings.  These created communities allows many of us to process this moment with each other.  
I set up digital lunches. I hoped, at this moment of many museum professionals working at home, that I could have some digital lunches.  I had these digital meetings with historians and museum professionals at various levels, specialties, and locations. Previously I had become interested in public history in Baltimore, a graduate student in North Carolina, and a professional in Savannah but my conversations expanded to NY, New Jersey, South Carolina, California and Tennessee.  We discussed our passion for history, art, and education. We mourned each other’s furloughs (mine arrived halfway into April), our different state’s response to this moment, and missing our favorite coworkers. We traded working at-home methods, streaming recommendations, and self-care tactics. When I talked to Sierra deGroot of the Poster House in NY, we did a full deep dive into cartoons from the 90s and early 2000s and where they are currently streaming.  We gave each other the minor assignments to watch a movie from our childhood (me Space Jam and her A Goofy Movie) to relax.  I saw and still see this ongoing need to connect as an opportunity to create a community to grieve with during this moment but to also help each other chill.  
Twitter, like all social media, allows me to curate my view of the outside world. I’ve been interested in how other institutions are handling this. Working in museums is a constant learning opportunity thus it is important to see who is being inventive at this moment. Who is taking risks in finding new and inventive ways to serve audiences? Who is serving the community’s needs? Who is explaining the complicated museum finances of what museums can and cannot do at this moment? The twitter account and collective art + museum transparency has been tracking in twitter thread and spreadsheet.  Seeing what museums are furloughing pro-union professionals, what museums are determined to keep going, and who is not planning on reopening.   These conversations have been bubbling up for a few years but this moment we’re looking at priorities of institutions.  Many of us find joy in the social media account of the National Cowboy Museum but isn’t also an example of bringing new voices to the table.  This moment leaves us open to connect through our love of this field and less serious things like cartoons This moment can be learning opportunity for many of us learning how good work can occur, how staff can be protected, and how history and art both soothes and protects us during national tragedies. But maybe more important we can learn is how to connect with each other.  With that connection, we can focus on each other.  So for other professionals working in museums, historic sites, national parks, and other places for public humanities I urge you to reach out to each other to strengthen the communities you are a part of.