Monday, September 22, 2008

How Your Museum Can Be an Online First Responder

Imagine that your museum is ready to start creating content on a small-scale in Web 2.0. You're ready to make a few videos to post on YouTube. You're ready to write commentary about content related to your institutional goals. Where should you start? How should you focus your efforts to get the most viewership for your time spent?

Comment. Rather than starting your own blog or YouTube channel, find the sources out there that relate to your topics of interest and respond to them. Conceptually, commenting on other sites signals your institution's willingness to engage with others on their own terms. And pragmatically, it's a great way to drive traffic. By posting intelligent, insightful, value-adding comments and responses on pre-existing high-traffic sites, you can drive more visitors back to your own site and nascent Web 2.0 efforts than you can if you focus on creating your own little world of content. You can join the conversation that is already happening about your content where the most eyes and ears are engaged.

Let me give you an example. Imagine you are the Boston Museum of Science, and you are ready to make some videos to post on YouTube. Where should you start? When I search for "Boston Museum of Science" on YouTube, I find 83 videos. Sorting them by View Count, I see that two videos--one about wearable technology and the other about C3PO, have generated about 8,000 views apiece, compared to 2,000 or fewer for the rest of the videos on the list. If you scroll down on either of these videos, you'll see that they have generated a few text comments, but no video responses. The Boston Museum of Science could start their own YouTube channel and post videos about whatever they want. But why not link that effort to the videos that are already out there, and focus initial energy towards creating responses to the videos in which others have already expressed interest?

Posting a video response means that people who see the first video, those who were interested in that topic, have a direct and compelling opportunity to view your response video as well without having to click to another page. Unlike the "related videos" list, which is aggregated automatically by YouTube, video responses are self-assigned by their creator. While videos with millions of views often have tens of video responses, there are many in the thousands and hundreds of thousands without video responses.

You don't have to only use this technique to look for instances of your own brand or institution. You can also use it to find sources related to niche content at your museum or breaking news on which you can shed some expert insight. The key is to make your contribution relevant, distinctive, and enticing enough to encourage visitors to "click through" your name to your website.

Your goal with commenting should be to be "one of the few" rather than one of many. If you select sources that are too huge, like blogs that frequently garner hundreds of comments per post, your comment will often be lost in the swarm. But if you can find communities with a tight content fit to yours, a robust audience, and a low number of "first responders," you can make a major impact commenting in those arenas.

How can you find the right places to respond?

First, find yourself. Use a service like HowSociable to search for your brand across many social media sites, or use a more targeted blog search service like Technorati or Google Blog Search to find out what people are saying about you in the blogosphere. Others set up Google Alerts to get a message anytime a particular brand, program, or exhibit is mentioned on the Web. These services will link you directly to real-time conversations happening about your institution, whether via photos uploaded on Flickr or links on Delicious. I use Technorati to watch for anytime someone mentions this blog so I can read what they are saying and comment if it will add to the conversation.

Then, find others. You can use many of these same services to search for terms of interest, like "large hadron collider" or "new mexico arts." If you use Technorati, you can see the authority of each related source, which gives you some idea of how embedded that source is in the larger web community (authority is based on how many other sites link to you). By finding authoritative sites in your niche areas of interest, you can start scoping out the web communities around your content and find the ones that are best fits for your input.

Then, find the match. Just because someone has attracted millions of views by rapping in your museum doesn't mean you have to respond to that content. There is lots of content out there related to your institution, and you should find the conversations that make you most comfortable. Imagine that you are at a cocktail party, flitting between groups. Do you want to swap jokes with the gals in the corner? Sit down for an intense policy discussion? You may even want to engage many staff members--with different comfort zones--to be part of a team of first responders to the range conversations that relate to your institution.

Once you've found the places you want to comment, how should you go about it?

Your comment or video response should do two things: add positive value to the overall conversation, and link back to your own site. Think of this as a game with the goal of intriguing viewers enough to want more of your content. It's like trying to become the hit of someone else's party. You are not commenting just to say, "hey, we have an exhibit/program about this at our museum!" You should be commenting to say, "the most surprising perspective I've heard on this topic came from someone we interviewed while designing this exhibit. We learned that ..." Many comments are neither insightful nor enticing. You can put yourself ahead of the pack by doing both.

And make sure that you are linking back to your own site/blog/YouTube channel. There is a culture on Web 2.0 of "clicking through" to see where a commenter hangs his or her virtual hat. When someone writes a thoughtful comment on this blog, I always click on her/his name to see where it takes me. I often end up exploring a blog or website I hadn't heard of before. When you post a comment anonymously, you miss the opportunity to attract this kind of click-through exploration. Your comment is a dead-end, no matter how intriguing.

One last thought on clicking through: learn how to embed a link in a comment. It's quite easy. If the blog on which you are commenting allows HTML (and most do), here's the syntax you need to put a link in your comment:

If the comment is "check out this exhibit" and you want to link the word "exhibit" to the URL, you type:
check out this <a href="">exhibit</a>

Try it out, and preview your comment before you hit publish. You'll breathe easier knowing you closed your quotation marks and carats properly.

Of course, once you join a conversation, you'll want to keep up with it. Some blogs allow you to subscribe to the comment thread (so you can receive updates when people respond to your comments), but on others, you will just have to manually check back.

What conversation is your museum ready to join?

3 comments, add yours!:

Dimitry van den Berg said...

Nice post. I agree that a the best way to use Youtube in your advantage is to start "a dialog". But with limited resources I still prefer my Notube strategy. In short this strategy means not to produce clips solely for the web. But see if you can can get traditional media in. What my museum does is make agreements with media who want to shoot at our premises that we can use their movies for our purposes. Or the other way around if you plan to make a documentary/news item/interview try to find a traditional broadcaster who wants to produce and broadcast it for you via television and social media.

Nina Simon said...

Dimitry, great point. It makes sense for museums to take another look at waivers and agreements with speakers and outside media to ensure that recordings can be used in social media environments. If the outside media company keeps their recordings to themselves, both the museum and potential online audiences lose.

Mijn Mening said...

A great piece of feedback on how to increase exposure, not only for museums but for all web initiatives.

Thanks very much for it.
A web search site for searching simultaneously on various web 2.0 services like youtube, flickr, but also making use of more traditional search services like Live and Yahoo.