Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Institutional Blogs: Different Voices, Different Value

Nik inquired as to how I feel about museum blogs. He asked:
Hey Ms. 2.0, what's your take on museums that keep blogs? Worthwhile? Any good ones out there? Or do they just become boring PR vehicles, due to administrative fears over message control?
And the answer is... it depends. In general, yes, I think that museums maintaining blogs is an effective, cheap way to get changing content out to the public frequently. However, there are many different approaches to take--as there are with blogs in general.

Do I have a personal preference among these approaches? That's not the point. The point is that you have to decide WHY your institution is starting a blog (and no, "all my friends are doing it" is not enough) and then find the approach that works for you.

With a nod to Seventeen magazine, here's a flowquiz to help you figure out what kind of blog might be right for your museum... (and here's a link to a downloadable version of this graphic)

And here's what those results mean...

Approach #1: Institutional Info Blog (star example: Eye Level from SAAM)

These are blogs that distribute news about the museum. At the basic level, these are little more than an alternative mouthpiece for the museum's calendar of events. In Eye Level's case at SAAM, there's a nice blend of museum announcements (exhibit openings, podcast postings, and events) and quirky commentary on museum goings-on (photos of the building's construction, answers to visitors' questions about how certain artifacts are maintained). How to maximize this type? Add a personal touch with accounts of the events and responses to guest inquiries, as SAAM does.

Approach #2: Aggregate Content Blog (star example: Food Museum blog)
These blogs distribute news related to the content of the museum.
This is the 2.0 version of the news clippings tackboard on “Current Events” in hallways of some museums. They can serve as a “living” version of the museum collection, and are usually populated by short posts that link to other content sources for the full story. How to maximize this type? Provide content that no one else does--and lots of it.

Approach #2a: Community Content Blog (star example: Science Buzz at SMM)
These blogs take the content of the museum and try to open it up to community input. I say "try" because while many museums, such as the Science Museum of Minnesota, open up the authorship of blog entries to the public, my casual observations suggest that these blogs are still dominated by museum staff, at least as the posters. How to maximize this type? Actively solicit and cultivate a community of public posters by offering incentives to get involved.

Approach #3: Specialized Content Blog (star examples: Voices of Genocide from USHMM, Free Radicals from the Powerhouse Museum)
These blogs are typically linked to an exhibition or sub-specialty of the museum, presenting news about that content. These blogs occasionally showcase some institutional info, but primarily serve as a highly tuned news source on a particular issue. How to maximize this type? Bring in awesome experts to blog for a limited time period, and treat it like special public programming.

Approach #4: Personal Voice Blog (star example: Director's Blog at the Walters Art Museum)
Though this approach is the gold standard for personal blogs, it's incredibly unusual for institutional blogs. These are blogs in which individuals or a small panel of staff offer personal commentary about their museums. What more dangerous--or appealing--way to represent your institution? How to maximize this type? Hold a contest and select several bloggers from across the institution. This is my dream (and I haven't seen it yet): an aggregate blog of individuals, one from the floor staff, one from the store, one from security, one from marketing...

Maybe you come out of this thinking you can cobble together the best of each of these approaches to create a superblog. Bad idea. The best blogs aren't newspapers; they are more like specialty magazines with a distinctive topic, audience, and voice. If you want multiple approaches, follow the Powerhouse Museum's lead and create multiple blogs.

Want more on this topic? Take an armchair tour on And if you run a museum blog, get in touch with Lynn Bethke, who is doing her master's thesis on museum blogs and needs your help with a survey.

11 comments, add yours!:

Anonymous said...

Wow! Much to think about... however, I'm going on vacation for the next 9 days... talk more when I get back! (Did you make that color chart?!?)

Nina Simon said...

Yes, I made the chart, and if anyone wants a more zoomable version, email me at and I can send you a jpg that's bigger.

And if you know how to post bigger graphics to blogger, please tell me!

Angelina said...

Nina this is excellent! What strikes me is that you've managed to get to the heart of the differences rather than similarities between each blog. We're putting a workshop together for Museums and the Web - its about planning for social media. I hope you don't mind if we make reference to your work?

Nina Simon said...

I've updated the post with a link to a downloadable graphic. Angelina, you are welcome to use it and to reference this material. I'm glad it's helpful to you, and the blog could always use more readers :). I wish I could be at Museums and the Web but I'm knee-deep in an exhibition pre-opening. I look forward to hearing how your talk goes...

Jay Cousins said...


Just saw the words Museum 2.0 and thought you might like to read this.

It's a submission I made to a competition in manchester about how museums could be used



Windy said...

Frameworks like these are so helpful wrapping minds around organizing plans, ideas, and objectives for blogging. Thank you for sharing!

-Windy with WREN

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for this graphic! Two years later but important still...
I'm not into the art business but for starting my blog about building up a publishing house it's very useful, too.
Greetings from Berlin,

Bridget said...

This is really helpful -
I was waiting for the article to "get to the part about Facebook" - it may in some ways be a whole other can of worms, but when looking at web presence options, facebooking seems to be ahead of proper blogs as far as visitor usage. We are looking at ways to use facebook bloggishly, with personal voices of educators posting to liven up the stream of marketing-voice event announcements.