Thursday, March 17, 2011

Quick Hit: Museums and Social Media in the New York Times

It's a good day for museum technologists. The New York Times special museum section focuses on "the spirit of sharing" and how museums are using social media to connect with visitors in new ways. The section features rock stars like Shelley Bernstein (Brooklyn Museum), Mike Edson (Smithsonian), and Rob Stein (Indianapolis Museum of Art) and covers projects from Tweetups to Arduino hacks to Google Art. It's a rare section about museums and social media that is neither overly gaga about technology nor full of hand-wringing about how these endeavors erode museums' value. While the articles could be more nuanced and reflective of the broad diversity of types and sizes of museums, it's still a great section.

I'm quoted in an article about how museums are using Twitter to bring visitors behind the scenes and engage in conversation around exhibits. I'm particularly glad that reporter Jennifer Preston featured Beck Tench from the Museum of Life and Science, who is doing incredible work bridging online and onsite adult engagement in thoughtful ways. I'm also thrilled that Shelley Bernstein, a long-time friend and fount of inspiration, is getting the credit she is due.

Reading this section--especially in a paper that has not always been friendly to innovations that open up and democratize institutions--gives me hope and energy about the future. The paper legitimizes social media in the mainstream, mostly reporting on projects, practices, and mindsets that have been in the works for years. This challenges those of us working in the field to push further. If you were going to write a special section on museums and social media, what would you include? What do you see as the truly innovative work on the ground, the hard questions to tackle?

For me, these articles bring up two questions I've been struggling with:
  1. What happens when personal relationships with staff, once closely guarded as a perk for high-level donors, become available to anyone who wants to get involved? How does a museum manage "relationship" resources, and how does that impact development?
  2. When a museum chooses a particular online community with which to engage--whether Wikipedians or Flickr users or Twitterers--is that choice largely determined by PR and marketing goals or by some sense of what communities are a good fit for the mission and sensibility of the institution? How do we use social media to expand and align with our access goals instead of just getting "whoever's out there?"
What would be in your section?
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