After spending some time browsing Facebook posts by different Boston museums, I reaffirmed the fact that most museums do not effectively use social media. Updates typically include reminders about upcoming events and exhibitions and photos of said events and exhibitions. Rarely does one every find a post that is engaging, inquisitive, or a positive experience for the potential visitor, however, one exception in local area museums is the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum (ISGM). Posts by the ISGM invite internet users to be part of the learning process even though they are not in the physical space itself. These posts, even when advertising, ask questions that encourage user to create a dialogue with the museum and each other. Not every post is successful in this, but the attempt the ISGM is making by bringing education to social media platforms is worth taking a look at.
The particular post that I would like to bring attention to is the October 4, 2013 post pertaining to the stolen artworks in relation to the new Sophie Calle exhibition. Of course, this is a sensitive and intriguing topic to begin with. I find that the specific questions asked of the audience allows for interesting and well-thought out responses. The ISGM asks audiences for memories concerning Vermeer’s The Concert. Since the new Calle exhibition centers around memory and loss, this is an ideal posting to get audiences not only excited about the new show but to think about how they choose to remember the stolen paintings. Those who chose to respond wrote out thoughtful answers – both personal and art historical.
Kristina Fong – the former Marketing and Audience Research Coordinator of the Walker Art Center – writes in her tips for museums who want to use social media:
Talk to people. There’s a lot to strive for on social media: engagement numbers, responses, participation, qualitative data. But overall, they’re the exact same goals as our general mission statement and our website/blogs. Engage, ask questions, be a catalyst for critical thinking, connect. Be available. Build intrigue & trust—if those two things are possible simultaneously. I strive to make our audience feel like they can approach us and that in turn builds a positive relationship with us. (Think how much more you like a person you meet if they simply ask you a question, say your name, or turn to say something directly to you.) So that can be through direct conversations, yes, but also just by sharing knowledge (you get the exclusive) and giving people the opportunity to make a comment (you feel knowledgeable).
The ISGM does just this. By asking audiences what they think and prompting them to start a conversation is a good relationship-builder. These days, most people check out a museum’s website or Facebook page before coming to the physical institution. Seeing that the museum welcomes dialogue, questions, and participation creates a positive learning environment even before the visitor steps foot in the museum. The willingness for ISGM to share knowledge makes it an approachable institution, not a daunting tasks that visitors must complete. Visitors are also given the opportunity to share their expertise, whether it is formal or informal.
It is important to note, however, that not every posts accomplishes this. Is the ISGM not asking the right questions? Are they posting at times that people are not normally checking their news feeds? It is hard to say and it is true that not every post will spark dialogue between users. So how do museums get the social media game right? A quick google search does not give many results in terms of social media and creating online communities. There are plenty of how-to’s and whys museums should be using social media but little about substance. Perhaps museums are still in trial mode, but until museums find that sweet spot they will have to keep trying.