The ability to ask questions to curators at 622 museums via social media (during initiatives such as Ask a Curator Day) has relevance and importance – but probably not for the reasons that most museums that participated might think.
Over 622 museums in 37 countries participated in the third ever Ask a Curator Day on September 18th by taking questions and actively conversing with online audiences via social media platforms using the hashtag #AskACurator. While Ask a Curator Day has taken place annually since 2010 (with a break in 2011), some other social trends have taken/are taking place that necessitate the evolution of the meaning of this day to us museum folks – and the meaning of this day to the museums that we work in or support.
Museums’ most critical stakeholders aren’t one another – it’s the market that actually matters. Let’s look at Ask a Curator Day from the perspective of our potential visitors and donors. Here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Museums do not get points for making their experts accessible because high propensity visitors already expect museums to be accessible (way, way more than once a year).
Real-time access to experts in institutions is not particularly special anymore. In fact, it’s now expected at all times by the members of the market that display the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that suggest a likelihood of visiting a museum (read: your potential visitors and donors). (As many know, here on KYOB I call these people “high propensity visitors” – or HPVs – and we gather quite a bit of data on them at IMPACTS.)
Museum high propensity visitors are generally “super-connected” with access to broadband at home, work, or on mobile. They profile as the kind of folks who are connected to one another – and they expect the museums that they visit to be connected, too. 42% of individuals using social media expect answers to the questions that they ask online within one hour – whether or not it is Ask a Curator Day.
Social CRM (“social care”) is a big deal for visitor-serving organizations – and this aggressive (and growing) expectation to be accessible and responsive 24/7 may be one of the most difficult adjustments for nonprofits and companies alike on social media.
2. But museums do get mucho points for having topic experts and Ask A Curator Day reminds folks that we have a lot of these superlative people (and that museums themselves are superlative).
Reputation is an important driver of visitation for both high propensity visitors and the overall market. Expertise – which contributes to a “superlative” connotation – elevates reputation and also increases visitor satisfaction through the mitigation of Point of Reference Sensitivity. In other words, “expertise” helps people differentiate your museum experience as one of a kind.
To many of those working in the museum industry, the fact that their museums possess topic experts is no surprise. To the general market (who isn’t likely thinking about your museum every single day), something like Ask a Curator day is a nice – and important – reminder of museums’ social value.
3. Ask a Curator Day symbolically benefits the industry by reminding the public that museums are accessible, open to participation, and attune to audience expectations.
Because the market already expects your museum to be responsive via social media channels, audience benefit may be less about the “unique” opportunity to ask a curator anything about a museum’s collection and more about taking part in a community initiative to celebrate museums and the experts that work in them.
I hope for our audiences’ sake that, moving forward, Ask a Curator Day continues to represent a celebration of open, evolving, forward-thinking museum culture – and that we never mistake the initiative as an excuse to stay stuck in the past, relegating audience engagement to one day of the year and making access the thing that is rare and “special.”
In many ways, September 18th was a symbolic day for the museum community – and the visitor-serving organizations that made a coordinated effort to “show” their willingness to be receptive to audiences in real-time may deserve some kudos. They’ve symbolically played a role in elevating the industry.
Though not every day gets the same hype and publicity as Ask a Curator day, I know many museum social media managers who woke up the 19th – just as every day before – with the same energy and enthusiasm for connectivity that existed on the 18th.
Really, every day is increasingly Ask a Curator Day…without the attention of a trending topic on Twitter.
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