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Community Engagement

41 Ways Museums Are Merging Social and Tech to Engage Audiences

In preparation for the IMLS webinar series- Connecting to Collections– I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite ways that museums are merging social and tech to engage audiences. Part of the series, Using Social Media to Tell Your Collection’s Stories,  will take place from 2:00pm to 3:30 pm EDT on Thursday, October 28th, 2010. I’m pleased to be serving as commentator, and working with presenter Nancie Ravenel (@NancieRavenel) of the Shelburne Museum. This series is free and you can register here to learn more about how museums are utilizing social and technological elements of communication to engage audiences and stay ahead of the curve.

Technology is a powerful tool for cultivating community, and the merging of social and tech in museums is occurring more and more frequently. Here are my 41 favorite examples of museums building social capital through social media and technological endeavours.

Let’s start with some museums that are making the most of social media and online community engagement’s most powerful and basic building blocks:

1. Twitter. Are you following The Women’s Museum on Twitter yet (@TheWomensMuseum)? This is just one museum. There are over 871 museums on twitter.

2. Facebook. The California Science Center gets visitors involved by featuring a Fan Photo Of the Week on their Facebook page. Simple, yet effective.

3. YouTube. The Renaissance Society has its own YouTube Channel that allows folks to access gallery talks and events after they’ve happened. In fact, a lot of museums have YouTube channels.

4. Flickr. Which museums are using Flickr as a valuable photo sharing resource and a way to communicate with visitors? Here’s a taste.

5. Website. Have you noticed how many of the nation’s most visited museums feature social media information above the fold on their homepage?

6. Social Media Pages. The Art Institute of Chicago has a whole page devoted to social media and interactivity. So do many other museums, like the Smithsonian (well, they have many pages….)

7. Blogging. A crew of professional sailors teamed up with Pacific Science Center educators to sail Around the Americas. Good thing they’re so social; they used a blog to take us along for the ride.

8. Mobile Applications. The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis hosts Art on Call, which allows you to listen to tours on your cell phone. A lot of other museums offer this feature. MoMA was ahead of the curve when they created a mobile app for audio tours in 2008. They’ve recently revamped the app.

9. Foursquare. Become the Foursquare Mayor of the Vancouver Police Museum, and you and a guest receive free admission AND a 25% discount in the gift shop.

10. Virtual Conferences. The American Association for State and Local History made their annual conference accessible to folks who could not get to Oklahoma City this September by putting some of their best (in my humble opinion) conferences online in an interactive format.

Museums are taking interaction even further and building upon Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, mobile applications and web-based platforms. Check out these initiatives, competitions, and downright cool ideas (in no particular order):

11. Looking for a short-cut to becoming a museum-displayed photographer? The Denver Art Museum gives community members prime gallery realty by featuring a Flickr Cascade Installation that displays photos of the museum taken by Flickr users. Even cooler? They give proper attribution to each photographer.

12. Mixing social and tech isn’t just for older folks. The Walters Art Museum gets families talking by highlighting an interactive game featuring their lovable mascot: Waltee’s Quest: The Case of the Lost Art.

13. Please just visit the Adobe Museum of Digital Media. No need to take off your PJs or put your shoes on.

14. This list would be silly if it didn’t include the Museum of Science and Industry’s Month at the Museum. Out of 1,500 applicants, Kate has been chosen by project judges and the public to spend a full month living in the museum.

15. Now this is super sneaky. Three cheers to the International Spy Museum for creating themed geocaching adventures with a fun twist.

16. The Contemporary Jewish Museum melds art, technology, and Judaism through their new LINK initiative which bringing in monthly speakers to explore the intersection of Judaism and new technologies. I love this post about Jaron Lanier’s talk.

17. I could go on forever about how the rock stars at the Brooklyn Museum engage audiences through social media. But I’ll just give you this example. Oh! And 1stFans must be included. Okay. Done.

18. Combining Twitter and Flickr to engage visitors in science education? It’s no problem for the Museum of Life and Science in North Carolina. They created NameThatZoom- an interactive game moderated by the museum in which folks are shown flickr photos and challenged to identify those photo via twitter using the #namethatzoom hashtag.

19. Remember playing capture the flag as a kid? Try playing it as an alternate reality game at… (are you ready?)… The Smithsonian American Art Museum.

20. Meet SCREENtxt, a real-time live text messaging and photo streaming location-based social network created by The Mattress Factory and updated/created by museum visitors. Get confused there? Their blog helps explain. Oh, and I cannot forget The Mattress Factory’s iConfess!

21. Did you know that on September 1, 2010 over 340 museums took part in Ask a Curator Day on twitter and #askacurator became a trending topic?

22. If you’re a tech tinkerer, you can’t really beat tinkering at the Maker Faire in Detroit at The Henry Ford– the birthplace and showplace of one of the world’s most famous tinkerers.

23. Like to babble about art (or rather, babble about cool videos about art)? A lot of us do. And we do that on ArtBabble, thanks to these museums.

24. The planned hijack of LACMA’s twitter account by The Office star, Rainn Wilson, could easily have been called “Operation: Who’s stuffy? Not This Art Museum.”

25. When art museum directors at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the New Orleans Museum of Art talk trash regarding the Superbowl, everybody wins.

26. The Skirball Cultural Center’s lovely Build a Better World Project encourages you to share how you are making the world a better place via Facebook, and hopes you’ll pass the message along using small decorated tokens as powerful community symbols.

27. The Smithsonian National Museum of American History tapped into talent by conducting a YouTube competition (O Say Can You Sing) featuring folks signing the National Anthem.  The winner (out of over 800 entries) got to sing the anthem at the museum and at the Baltimore Orioles vs. Atlanta Braves game on Flag Day. Check out the winners contest entry below:

28. Want to see something cool? Try making The Getty’s Augsburg Display Cabinet and experience augmented reality at it’s best. As it is, this project may be high on the tech and low on the social aspect. But trust me, you’ll want to show a friend.

29. If it weren’t for twitter and YouTube, so many folks wouldn’t know about “Those About to Die, We Salute You,” the downright awesome staged battle featuring warriors represented by The Queens Museum of Art (the hosts), Brooklyn Museum, The Bronx Museum, and El Museo del Barrio.

An image from the battle. Click for more photos and video.

30. This is the public wiki for the Smithsonian’s Web and New Media strategy process. Prepare to learn.

31. Folks at The Autry created Trading Post, a site to facilitate conversation between the museum and its visitors regarding current events.

32. One of the most powerful and important jobs of museums is storytelling. Please check out Culture Shock, a site full of digital stories by people in the North East of England.

AMNH's new application allows you to share museum findings on social media.

33. The Australian Center for the Moving Image has created Generator, a “creative studio space for teachers and students to explore exemplary work by their peers and industry professionals. Comment, tag, and share creative work and education resources.”

34. The Auckland Museum’s Hybridiser is an interactive kiosk where visitors can create their own orchards and then share them with folks in their social networks.

35. The American Museum of Natural History’s new mobile application, Explorer, has many highlights. My favorite? It allows you to easily share finds in the museum with your own networks on Facebook or Twitter.

36. Open Museum is like “Facebook meets Blogger and Flickr for the visual arts.”

37. Could you inspire America in six words or less? The National Constitution Center asked folks to aid Barack Obama in their project, Address America.

38. We’ve covered that there are over 871 museums on twitter… but I don’t think I mentioned that museum artifacts are hitting the social media space, too– and making folks laugh in the process.

39. Follow treasure maps, decipher codes, uncover hidden objects- The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s multimedia scavenger hunt, Ghosts of a Chance, is downright cool.

40. The Guggenheim says YouTube videos may be art. In fact, they took the time to go through 23,000 video submissions to create a short list of videos to be featured in the museum.

41. The Virtual Museum of Canada allows visitors to create their own museum and point members of their online networks to the collection.

Do you know of a cool way that a museum is merging social and tech that you think belongs on this list? Please feel free to comment with additions below. Please feel free to provide links!

* Photo credits: Top image from www.ieplexus.com/blog/

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 13 Comments

Museums May Need a Social Media Mentality Makeover to Keep up With For-Profits

Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to sit in on two separate events pertaining to the role of social media in the world of location-based environments. One conference focused on social media in museums and historic sites. The other focused on social media in the for-profit world of location-based experiences. Here’s what happened: The museum folks discussed the fear of radical trust and user-generated content, while the for-profit folks only spoke with excitement about the opportunities user-generated content provides that sector.

Nonprofits started with the edge in social media over for-profit companies. If our attitude doesn’t evolve (like our business practices regarding social media did), then many nervous museums may fall behind quickly while our for-profit counterparts take the lead on social media innovation.

 

The Museum Attitude:

“We live in a golden age of the flowering of amateur experts” – Lee Raine, Pew Internet & American Life Project, as quoted during conference AASLH.

I was delighted to listen in and take part in the American Association for State and Local History’s (AASLH) online conference session on Thursday, “What’s Radical about Radical Trust?” It focused on the confidence museums have (or don’t have) in empowering/ collaborating with online communities. The session was exciting! The panelists attempted to make opportunities related to social media understandable to nonprofit professionals on the conference. Panelists shared success stories their institutions had experienced through crowdsourcing and the utilization of social media. However, all the while panelists asked questions like, “Do you have a policy on user-generated content?” and “Do you think user-generated content is a threat?” There was great concern about the sharing of opinion verses knowledge on museum blogs and interactive sites. This is why radical trust is considered “radical.” What does user-generated content mean for the authoritative voice of the museum?

 

The For-Profit Attitude:

“People are awesome!” – Scott Trowbridge (Disney Imagineer) & Dave Cobb (Thinkwell)

Later that day, I headed to Thinkwell in Burbank for Social Media Week- Los Angeles to attend a session called “The Online/Offline Future of Social Media: Multidimensional Engagement Across Digital and Physical Environments.” Panelists included Disney Imagineers, Thinkwell staff, representatives from 42 Entertainment and Village Voice Media. This session seemed to pick up where the AASLH conference left off– but from a different perspective. It started with the idea of authorship and authority, and spun into an exciting, high-energy panelist discussion about the bright future of engaging audiences through storytelling. These mindsets fill in the gaps and outshine some of the hesitancy surrounding museums’ social media mentality. Here’s how for-profit folks are thinking about social media and the merging of online/offline environments:

  • Sharing authorship does not mean giving it up. People still want expertise, Susan Bonds of 42 Entertainment insisted at the session. Without expertise, it’s hard to follow the story. And creating and engaging visitors in a story is a shared goal in both location-based entertainment companies and nonprofit museums. Giving up complete authorship doesn’t have to threaten the authority of the institution. It’s not “losing” control, but changing up the system of control. If museums are turning into cultural centers and increasingly becoming places for dialogue, learning, and conversation, then social interactions (real or virtual) with other visitors/users can be thought of as an extension of successful community engagement, rather than a threat to museum authority.
  • Accept that visitors will be using new media and ask, “How can I integrate this?” I think museums are doing this, but reinforcing the “How can I integrate this?” question helps create insertion points for visitors to discover to connect with the institution, and helps to create a more multidimensional experience. Quite simply, your visitors will be texting, tweeting, and checking in on foursquare at your museum. This isn’t a nuisance, it’s an opportunity to remain relevant and to reinforce your mission.
  • Add layers of experience. Some of the negatives of using social media- as brainstormed by AASLH conference participants- included that it was intangible (what if you create social experience on-site?), there was a risk of appearing less professional (perhaps this makes your museum more accessible and builds community relationships), and a large amount of staff time is spent vetting responses (how much do you/should you really vet responses?). For-profit location-based counterparts, however, have turned these negatives into positives or found ways to use them to their advantage. This is innovation. And to stay on top of social media, we need to go one step further than just listing pros and cons; we need to change the cons into pros and utilize them to add positive layers of experience to museum visits.
  • Social media and online worlds mean physical places need to be more magical. There’s probably less incentive to visit the museum when you can stay at home and get the same information on your computer. At first I scuffed at the word “magical” as it was being used by Disney Imagineers on the panel. Museums don’t have magic; we have science. But science, I think, can function a lot like magic in that it creates a spark of interest. Thinkwell is creating and exhibit for the Fernbank Natural History Museum that is an interactive recreation of Georgia’s ecological and environmental zones. These kind of  themed exhibits aren’t new at all– but consider that this exhibit is driven almost solely by experience? The exhibit, he said, doesn’t even have signs or touchscreens. It has guides for parents so they can lead the way. This helps build community and social capital. This, I would argue, has the potential to be pretty magical. And it’s not something you could experience on a computer screen.
  • The best (not worst) insight and information-share comes from users. The AASLH session made it clear that social media was a valuable tool, but panelists and participants spoke a lot about vetting and monitoring user responses, deciding what does/does not get shared publicly, and the issue of authority. The tone seemed to be that social media is good, but museums need to supervise and be careful. The Social Media Week session, on the other hand, praised social media and told nonstop stories about this-and-that cool thing that companies were doing to create a fusion between online and offline worlds. The tone at this event was that visitors/guests come up with the best ideas. While there are certainly issues to be discussed regarding museums and the possible evolution of their authoritative voice in the merging of online and offline worlds, there could be value in simply switching the way we think about user-generated content. There’s likely more value and innovation to be had if we think of our visitors as willing and eager contributors, and not threats.
Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Trends 4 Comments

5 Ways That Social Media May Replace NYC as the Center of Creative Development

Elizabeth Currid's book, The Warhol Economy, discusses the elements that produce NYC's one-of-a-kind creative industry. But what if these elements don't belong only to NYC anymore?

I let out a laugh when I saw last week’s Onion article, 8.4 Million New Yorkers Suddenly Realize New York City A Horrible Place to Live. It seemed especially silly to me, as I’d just finished Elizabeth Currid’s, The Warhol Economy– a book that identifies the unique characteristics that have made NYC an international mecca of creative production. Despite the fact that the book raves about the benefits of NYC’s unique environment for artists and the career development of creatives, the Onion article got me questioning the future of this city.

Some of the key social and economic qualities that have made New York City so successful as a place for creative and cultural career development have been (and, I would guess, will continue to be) replaced by online social networks. “Every generation has its own neighborhood,” Zac Posen said of NYC to Currid during an interview mentioned in the book. I predict that for Generation Y, and perhaps increasingly for the generations following us, that neighborhood will not be Chelsea or the West Village. It will be online.

Here’s how social media and online networks match up to the key elements that secured NYC’s reputation as an international center for creative development:

 

1. Low economic barriers to entry in the community

Utilizing social media is catching on quick, and is a relatively cheap endeavour. The rise of New York City as an international hub of creativity also arose from low barriers to entry. Namely, the recession of the 1970s created cheap rents that allowed artists to focus more time and energy on their artwork instead of taking up second jobs to make ends meet. Artists bought up low-rent spaces in many of the same neighborhoods, resulting in communities of creatives with a little more time on their hands and getting a little more bang for their buck. All you needed then was a little bit of money (to afford rent), something to say, and the ability to relocate to New York. In order to enter an online community today, the barriers for entry are even lower. You don’t need to move to New York. You just need a little bit of money (to afford a computer) and that same something to say.

 

2. Production with no real regard for economic growth

There are more than 900,000 blog posts put up on the Internet every 24 hours. Why do we blog? The answers may be shockingly similar to those of “why do we make art?” Some people blog for emotional release or to create a connectedness with the world. Some people blog to make money, but a lot more people (including myself), blog to create symbolic capital. In other words, to gain or maintain regard as a professional in the field you’re writing about. (I utilize my human capital to discuss social capital on this blog to build my symbolic capital! Yes, these are the things your brain comes up with when you are in grad school…) In fact, according to Pew Internet and American Life Project, to make money is the least common reason why people blog. The main reason? Creative expression. Social media and online expression share the same emotional (and similar economic) fuel that drives NYC’s creative community.

 

3. Utilizing and building weak ties

In her book on NYC’s creative economy, Currid cites the work of Dr. Mark Granovetter who has published significant studies on the importance of “weak ties.” He found that the ties that were farther away  from us (versus our close-knit friends) were most influential in creating success. People with the most weak ties are in the greatest position to “diffuse innovation.” While having social exchanges with random folks on the street in New York City does create weak ties, it’s much less hard to imagine how social media promotes these kinds of relationships. Also, social media makes it easier to track weak ties. One needs only to check their @replies on Twitter to get a good sense of the weak ties they’ve created. Social media is a large network of these weak ties. And more than that, they are more easily tracked and weak ties can more easily grow stronger through social networks than meeting someone on the street in NYC- a method that has worked for generations before.

 

4. The ease of peer review and access to gatekeepers

Listen to the story of any great artist in NYC and they will tell you the stain of people that they met that helped them get to the top. In NYC, there are places where ‘the cool kids’ hang out. There are places to see and be seen. It’s not a stretch to say that there are a hierarchy of sites upon which bloggers and social medialites aim to be mentioned or linked. My boyfriend’s startup sees a greater rise in visitors when it’s mentioned on Mashable than when it’s mentioned on a random blog. The higher the site is on the totem pole, the more likely your work is to be seen by gatekeepers- key people in your industry with the power to aid you in achieving success. This is the same way it works in posh nightclubs, bars, and museum events in NYC. The reason online interactions may have the upper-hand? They are remote.

 

5. More creative people leads to economic productivity

You don’t need to be in New York anymore to have access to the most influential gatekeepers, or to get attention for your cause or story. The game is changing. In New York City, the above factors created ideal conditions for the spread, sharing, and development of creatives. Similarly, on web, the above factors create ideal conditions for the spread and development of creatives– but also for non-creatives. In a sense, New York just got bigger. Now it’s the entire world. Or rather, anyone with a computer or access to the library.

Social media networks have other advantages that NYC (or any physical location) lacks. This may change our idea of location as ideas are spread freely with no regard to physical region. For instance, time plays a different role. You don’t have one chance to hand over your business card- as you might when running into an ideal client on the street that you may never see again. You can send a message (or respond to that message) at your leisure. This may lead to more strategic communications. Also, places with more people see more economic activity, and for that very fact, it is a good idea to know what’s happening online.

*These five points are based upon select points in Currid’s The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City. Check out the book to learn more about how they relate to NYC’s economy and social structure.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Trends 2 Comments

Curating: Everyone’s Doing It

Curating is not just for museums anymore

At the initial rise of social media, everyone was a self-proclaimed guru. Then last summer, everyone hopped on the entrepreneur bandwagon. The newest buzzword making the rounds? Curator.

The popularization of curating is a great thing for museums. It’s also a great thing for nonprofits grappling to describe what they are doing in this people-driven economy.

As Lucy Bernholz describes in her latest blog post, lots of folks are curating nowadays. Or, using curating as the new way to express actions of coordinating, producing, and organizing for public consumption. For example,  Pop!Tech, TED, and TEDx did not produce or organize their talks, Lucy found. Rather, they claimed to have curated them.

A curator is commonly known as a keeper of  cultural heritage, and as a content specialist responsible for an institution’s collections. They are trained specialists with a keen eye toward making content accessible to the public. With this in mind, the desire to curate– or be associated with curating– makes sense. Creating culture, making connections, and getting people to feel connected is a big aim for nonprofit and for-profiteers.

No doubt the word has grown out of the museum flowerpot and taken root in the new way businesses and organizations develop strategic plans. I cannot help but think that this a big step forward for museums, libraries, and archives. The word curator, once solely used in these institutions, created an intellectual barrier between the well-educated staffers, and presumably less-educated museum visitors. As the word becomes popularized, the ivory tower of over-educated museum inaccessibility breaks down. It also puts museums at the front-end of the trend, as they employed curators for decades if not centuries before a for-profit company hired a formal event curator.

Curating has come to mean not just producing, but something of producing for the public. Thus, curating is an effective verb for nonprofits to use that embeds the task of interaction, storytelling, and public understanding.

Maybe we are even changing the word. Maybe, in the future, the word “curating” will be more associated with community engagement than with item arrangement, more connected to social media than to location-based planning, and more overtly focused on the present than the past.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Trends 4 Comments

Nonprofit Management Ideology: Are You Liberal or Conservative?

When discussing the future evolution of the nonprofit sector with colleagues and classmates, I often explain myself and then say, “but that’s coming from a Nonprofit Lefty…”

Everyone wants nonprofit progress, but there are different trains of thought in the nonprofit world about which practices and mentalities will get us there.

Nonprofit right: On one hand there are folks that are set on keeping the sector ideologically separate from the others. They advocate the more conservative and traditional practices that got us to where we are today– such as championing low administration costs, hiring predominately folks who work only for nonprofit organizations or are experts in the field, and drawing out the moral differentiation between the civic sector and private sector. When I think of a nonprofit thought-leader focused on reform and progress from a more “conservative” standpoint, I think of Rosetta Thurman.

Nonprofit left: On the other end of this nonprofit political spectrum, there are organization leaders that favor a more inclusive definition of the nonprofit sector which merges practices with other sectors and approaches each social mission as its own unique battle. This point of view advocates an entirely fresh way of thinking and allows for a complete evolution to something new (if that’s what’s best). For better or worse, this often means taking a lot more risks. Dan Pallotta is a  prime example of a nonprofit thought leader on the left side of the spectrum.

Definitions of the word liberal include broad-mindedness; having political or social views favoring reform and progress, and being not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or tradition.  Though I’m a self-described nonprofit liberal, I don’t always agree with folks like Dan Pallotta.  Ideology reform, however, is at the core of many of my nonprofit beliefs. I believe that:

  • Calculated risks that challenge sector constraints are absolutely necessary and breed progress
  • Publicizing individual nonprofit failures is critical and the benefit to the sector of sharing failures far outweighs individual organization’s potential donor loss for making the mistake
  • High administration costs may be necessary in the future and a sign of competitive, forward-thinking organizations
  • Social change-makers are not just nonprofit workers. Donors and connectors are change-makers as well
  • Business leaders may bring the most innovative ideas to organizations in the future and nonprofit leaders’ skill sets may bring the most innovative ideas to the business world
  • Nonprofits are businesses
  • Social change belongs to all sectors, and intersectoral partnerships– when they aren’t effective market solutions– will be powerful tools for learning and evolution for all sectors
  • Because nonprofits have different missions, they cannot always be grouped together or taught to abide by specific nonprofit management rules
  • We must lower the education barrier for nonprofit management positions
  • Nonprofits must try very hard to attract talent, and that talent will pay off in the end.

More conservative nonprofiteers have their own educated guesses grounded in nonprofit tradition and sector differentiation. And in fact, the conservative ideology has gotten us far. After all, there are over 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States- most of which develop and adhere to a more conservative approach because a) it’s tried and true, or b) out of sheer necessity. For one, it’s easier to get foundation funding with low administration costs- and hey, if the system ain’t broken, don’t fix it.

And maybe the system’s not broken… but it can certainly be improved to make organizations more effective and sustainable. This is something both “liberal” and “conservative” nonprofiteers seem to agree upon.

Where do you stand on the nonprofit management ideology spectrum? Do you value the merit of popular nonprofit practices and tradition, or do you believe that the future of nonprofit leadership lies in a more open-minded approach?

*image from ttoes.wordpress.com

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Trends 1 Comment

Museums and Cultural Nonprofits: Social Media Doesn’t Belong to the Marketing Department

Social Media Marketing has become a common practice in the business world, and of course, nonprofits have picked up on the benefits of this kind of marketing, too. More than that, nonprofits are rocking the social media marketing scene.

But in our nonprofit world– which emphasizes the importance of building relationships to secure donors– pairing social media solely with marketing can cause big problems and overlook the benefits available to organizations through this media. Museums, in particular, have a lot to lose when educators, program creators, fundraisers, and even board members or power players say, “Social media? Why, that’s a marketing thing!”

Development Department: social media helps create connections. Social media is mastered by nonprofit organizations because it’s a low-resource way to connect with individuals. While it’s true that word of mouth marketing is the most powerful kind of marketing, and folks on social media share views on organizations through this media, the connections created have the potential to serve as catalysts for donations in the future. Viewing social media as purely a marketing department endeavor means that your museum may leave many connections to go flat because these connections must be built upon (like any relationship) and a marketing department trying to reach a wide audience may not have the capacity to cultivate these individual relationships. Moreover, this relationship cultivation is often thought to be the job of development folks! This is not to say that development must be running social media, but social media (and communications with the marketing department regarding social media) should be important in the development department. One way to get the development department more constructively involved might be for Marketing to hand over a list of folks who have been engaging with the museum through social media, and for Development to follow-up and be sure to cultivate those relationships. There may be opportunities for future funding in these relationships.

Education Department: social media can teach people things. Many museums do a great job of engaging visitors with educational content through social media so that the visitors’ learning doesn’t end when they exit the institution. In fact, this idea of taking the institution home is powerful in building both connections to the organization and to educational content. What happens when the education folks don’t share educational material through social media? An opportunity to continue sparking interest in a topic or idea is lost. What happens in most institutions is that the marketing folks provide the educational content (or at least link to educational content supplied by the education department). This is not a problem– that is, as long as Education is working alongside Marketing to make sure that facts are correct and that cool information is free-flowing. Education must realize that social media can be an extension of the topics discussed at the museum– and a fun way to learn at home! Obviously, to be most effective, educational resources may need to evolve into new technologies and utilize other forms of new media (mobile apps, for example), but social media should be seen by the department as an educational resource offered by the institution, in a sense.

Power Players: social media keeps your organization relevant. Community engagement and community cultivation are gaining more and more ground in conversations and initiatives involving the future of museums. Social media is a step to help do this. Some of the best museums are already onto this fact enough to devote portions of their websites to social media communications. Being active in social media helps break the mental barrier that museums are slow-moving places that idolize the past and have little to do with the present or the future. The current types of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc) may be trends, but there’s an argument that social media has already changed the way we communicate on the whole. Board members, Vice Presidents, and Presidents may not be doing their organization any favors by letting them fall behind in current communication methods. In fact, social media is generally low resource– why not rise to the top if you can?

Organizations that do not acknowledge the interconnectivity that social media provides among departments may function less efficiently and effectively than organizations that embrace this new way in which much of the world communicates. Social media doesn’t need to leave the Marketing Department (and arguably shouldn’t), but this idea that social media doesn’t play a role in individual departments or the institution as a whole as it relates to the broader community? That, I think, must leave as organizations prepare for the future.

It requires a thought change, or a breaking down of a vertical ladder. In order for social media to work best for museums and cultural nonprofits, then everyone must work together to maximize the resource because it blurs the lines between so many departments. As a whole, businesses are becoming more organic and interconnected. Maybe social media can be the catalyst that brings this kind of organizational change to museums so that we, too, may function more efficiently and reap the benefits of this kind of collaborative culture.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 9 Comments

When Art Museum Directors Talk Trash, Everybody Wins.

Directors at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (Max Anderson) and the New Orleans Museum of Art (John Bullard), after a series of playful trash-talking, have made public bets on who will win the Super Bowl this weekend… and they bet famous works of art.

"Ideal View of Tivoli", 1644, by Claude Lorrain, Which NOMA will loan to the IMA if the Colts win the Super Bowl.

JMW Turner's The Fifth Plague of Egypt, 1800, which the IMA will lend to NOMA if the Saints win the Super Bowl.

The wager: If the Colts win the Super Bowl, the New Orleans Museum of Art will lend Claude Lorrain’s, Ideal View of Tivoli, 1644, to the Indianapolis Museum of Art for three months. If the Saints win, on the other hand, the Indianapolis Museum of Art will lend out Turner’s The Fifth Plague of Egypt, 1800.

 

But it doesn’t matter who wins the Super Bowl this Sunday. Anderson and Bullard are winners in spreading their missions either way– just because they made the wager. Here’s why this bet is a step forward for museums in terms of mission and community engagement (and the reasons are cooler than you think):

 

1) The bet will build community and mix popular cultures.

Makes sense, right? Being a sports fan builds a sense of community; it’s something that a group of fans come together to care about. The art directors’ bet piggy-backs the art museum culture with the sport-watching culture, which is one of passion and identity. And why shouldn’t communities feel the same sense of ownership and connection with their city’s art museum as they feel with their city’s sport teams? Anderson and Bullard are demonstrating pride in their cities by making the wager, and aligning themselves directly with the members of the community- all of whom are also hoping for a win on Sunday. Anderson and Bullard are saying that the museum cares about a win just as much as the rest of Indianapolis and New Orleans do- and they’ll put their money where their mouth is. In turn, the community knows that folks representing the IMA and NOMA will be gasping, cheering, and shouting their lungs out along side them as they are watching the game; it’s a powerful thing. On the first day that the Lorrian is on display at NOMA (or Turner at IMA), a local will stand in front of it and say, “We won the bet!”

 

2) Scientifically speaking, the bet lights up the brains of art-lovers.

… but not in the way that you’re probably thinking. Many museums have missions to educate- and this public wager does just that. Of course, you learn a thing or two about art while looking over the give-and-take that led to the final wager (I certainly didn’t know that the Indianapolis Museum of Art owns a farm). Interestingly, a 2008 study from The University of Chicago finds that spectators’ brains light up when talking about sports, and their language skills are improved. According to the article, “the region of the brain usually associated with planning and controlling actions is activated when players and fans listen to conversations about their sport.” Most obviously, the bet encourages museum-fans to watch their city’s team (if only for hope of gaining a Turner or a Lorrain in their town) and art-lovers are exposed to this benefit. Or at least I will be, as I was neutral about the outcome of the Super Bowl until I realized that I will be in Indiana in the Summertime…

 

3) The bet makes art aficionados biologically happier.

To non-sports fans, the bet may seem silly– but sports fans are less prone to depression than those disinterested in sports. Gambling also increases dopamine levels in the brain, making fans– of the museum and the teams–happier. It’s a welcome change of pace, especially since human beings are hardwired to avoid conflict and we usually think of museums as on the same team. This is not to say that art museums should go betting works of art left and right, but it is to say that the friendly competition is an exciting and healthy change for museum lovers. After all, scientists credit social competition for human beings’ increasing brain-size. So thanks for keeping us happy, Anderson and Bullard– and for expanding our brains.

 

4) The bet has sass- and so do museums.

This wager makes Robert Smithson look silly for saying, “Museums are tombs, and it looks like everything is turning into a museum.” Well, at least the first part looks dumb. Case in point: check out these trash-talking (friendly) tweets. Anderson and Bullard challenge the notion that museums are cold, static, outdated, and lifeless places. These museums have attitude, and they are acting in regard  to current real-life situations. As for the last half of Smithson’s quote, it seems that everything is turning into a museum– or more accurately, museums are turning into places for everything… like friendly community-building wagers.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Trends 5 Comments

Social Change is Sector Agnostic- and Gen-Yers Know It

agnostic

photo from http://glenkirk.blogspot.com

Consider this situation: an elderly family member asks for your help in choosing between two nursing homes. Both appear to be equal in quality and service, but one is for-profit and the other is nonprofit. Which nursing home do you pick?

You may draw on a few assumptions based on what you know about corporations and organizations, and weigh them with your priorities. For instance, maybe you’d choose the for-profit home because it may go the extra mile to make residents happy to keep a competitive edge in the market. On the other hand, maybe you’ll consider the nonprofit home, concluding that better care will be provided by front-line individuals choosing to work in the nonprofit sector. But can you really be sure of any of these sector-based assumptions?

Professor James Ferris posed this question during a recent Nonprofit Policy and Management class within the University of Southern California’s School of Policy, Planning, and Development, and our class reached the inevitable conclusion:

Sometimes our choices are sector agnostic; we just want to go with the corporation or organization that can best get the job done.

87% of Americans between the ages of 18-39 believe that one person can help change the world- and these folks (mostly Gen Y-ers) sense the artificial divide between sectors. According to the New Sector Alliance—which was founded in 2002 to create solutions to community challenges through cross-sector partnerships–  the rise of sector agnostic methods places new demands on institutions across sectors to modify their strategies. Why? Because the next generation of leaders themselves are increasingly sector agnostic.

501(c)(3) status is not required in order to instigate social change, and as social enterprises and social entrepreneurship increase, the values and practices of public, private, and nonprofit sectors meld together, strengthening alliances and just plain getting the job done.

The American Dream has been highly connected to the successes in the private sector and so has entrpreneurship, but a 1999 survey shows that where Gen X college seniors dreamed of working for Microsoft and Cisco, Gen Y college seniors prefer work within the State Department, Teach for America, and the Peace Corps. Is this a problem for a country built on the entrepreneurial spirit? Apparently not. Increasing numbers of Gen Yers are going for social change with fresh ideas, proving that a preference toward big government does not mean less entrepreneurship.

This article has some great statistics on Gen Y’s entrepreneurial spirit:

  • Half of all new college graduates now believe that self-employment is more secure than a full-time job.
  • Today, 80% of the colleges and universities in the U.S. now offer courses on entrepreneurship.
  • 60% of Gen Y business owners consider themselves to be serial entrepreneurs, according to Inc. magazine.
  • 18- to 24-year-olds are starting companies at a faster rate than 35- to 44-year-olds.
  • And 70% of today’s high schoolers intend start their own companies, according to a Gallup poll.

These statistics, combined with Gen Y’s perceived altruism and their desire to develop a sense of where they fit within a global context, outline their interest- also- in the public sector.   The combination of Gen Y’s key traits, which connect strongly and equally to both the public and private sector, possibly point toward a growing sector agnosticism.

Gen Yers interested in social change may become leaders who opt for solutions that represent a mix in for-profit and nonprofit practices, such as social entrepreneurship, instigating nonprofit commercial activity, and creating social enterprises. One thing’s for sure: the focus will be on getting the job done- regardless of sector.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments

55 Low-Resource Ways for Museums to Connect with the Community

photo from artolog on flickr

photo from artolog on flickr

“It’s not about the collections anymore… It’s about community.”

This is what a recent article by the Christian Science Monitor says in regard to museums, and it nicely sums up the discussion in the museum blogging community on the transformation from the static object-based museum of the past, to the dynamic community-based institution of the future.

So how does a museum transform into such an environment? I like Megan Blankenship’s notion that this process may perhaps align more closely with a revolution rather than through slow adaptation. This begs the question of what can be done now to summon community interaction. In an effort to aid museums in this transformation without losing sight of their mission, Nina Simon offers eight ways for museums to connect with community. I think one solution lies in museums positioning themselves as cultural centers and integral aspects of the local/regional community.

Here are 55 relatively low-resource ways for museums to connect with the local community. I present a brainstorm of middle-sized items that come in between (the obvious) smiling to welcome visitors and the (time and resource required) launching of a new outreach program or grant-funded initiative. Several museums already utilize a number of these ideas. I hope to compile an easily accessible  and quick list of little ways for museums to create a connection with the community while respecting their brand and promoting the museum.

I had to stop at 55 as I noticed that this list really is endless. Please feel free to comment with your own thoughts and suggestions!

  1. Tweet

  2. Keep a list of the dates, and send museum members small a gift on their birthday.

  3. Add an “Interview with a Local Expert” section to your newsletter.

  4. Offer a free program to celebrate an audience

  5. Highlight free coffee for members on Sunday mornings.

  6. Start a blog and use it to instigate discussion.

  7. Add a public forum for thoughts and opinions to your website.

  8. Allow visitors to make video responses at the museum– like these videos shot at the Mattress Factory.

  9. Start a science cafe. (if you haven’t noticed, I love these!)

  10. Highlight local experts on site.

  11. Seek opportunities for curators and museum professionals to serve as guest lecturers at local schools and universities.

  12. Ask staff members to take 10 minutes each day to interact with visitors.

  13. Supply staff members with educational items or “did you know” facts to facilitate interaction.

  14. Participate in local parades.

  15. Host a science fair or an art exhibit with the work of local adults or children.

  16. If you can’t host a fair, go to one and give out an award to a qualified participant on behalf of the institution.

  17. Set up craft projects that make a difference or have meaning in the local, national, or global community.

  18. Hold a book drive.

  19. Provide small, branded lab notebooks or sketch pads (just a few sheets of printed paper is all that they’ll need- no fancy binding necessary) for visitors to fill out and take home.

  20. Create a low resource scavenger hunt, and offer a small gift at the information desk (pencil, sticker, etc) to those who complete the hunt.

  21. Celebrate with the community! Give out candy or subject-appropriate treats on Halloween.

  22. Wear “Ask me about Membership” buttons.

  23. Host a camp-in for kids in the community.

  24. Offer free hours of admission when possible, even if it’s just for a specified demographic such as teens, college students, the elderly, etc.

  25. Put your events on community calendars.

  26. Create a calendar of relevant events for adults in the community and post it on your website.

  27. Use this calendar to help create community partnerships with organizations that have a similar mission.

  28. Complement exhibits with interactive and educational craft projects.

  29. Ask for feedback (on blogs, written or electronic surveys, etc).

  30. Ask visitors to write their favorite museum memory and post it to a memory board. Have the board out for public viewing so that participants know that their positive experiences have contributed to the museum in a physical way.

  31. Thank your donors when an exhibit is a success– but don’t forget to publically thank your broader community as well.

  32. Have recommended reading lists available and have the books available at the bookstore, if possible.

  33. Encourage visitors to share their own stories on your blog.

  34. Know the local school curriculum, and explain to teachers how your museum complements that curriculum.

  35. Have a connection with at least one person at every school in the county (but shoot for 3 or 4 surrounding counties).

  36. Create a network of teachers and send them useful ideas of how to offer extra credit by visiting the informal learning environment of the museum. If you can, give the teacher passes to events so these kids get in for free or reduced rates.

  37. Hold large scale, educational special events or celebrations if budget allows.

  38. Coordinate a debate with local industry leaders to take place at the institution.

  39. Hold a training for local scientists/artists to provide skills for communicating with the public in regard to complicated, academic material. The link is to a grant-funded project, but this could be done on a smaller scale.

  40. Know the talents of staff members, and utilize their talents (as oragami specialists, or watercolor artists, or something else exciting, educational and relevant) to create a low-resource program.

  41. Award “shout outs” in your newsletter to highlight the accomplishments of individuals or institutions in the community that have succeeded in an area related to the museum.

  42. Offer a unique class through a community partnership by giving a handful of passes to instructors, who may later offer them as a benefit to paying clients.

  43. Utilize community resources. Need face painters for an upcoming event? Call the local art school and ask for volunteers.

  44. Wouldn’t it have been cool if you your senior prom was in the museum? Teens are a tough demographic for museums. Market this angle. There’s plenty for them to learn at the museum as well… just be sure to keep dancing away from valuables.

  45. Along these lines, tap into teen volunteers in the community.

  46. Start a Flickr photostream.

  47. Ask for papers that visitors write/ have written on objects in the museum and post them to the website if they are appropriate (and help give them some positive google- recognition).

  48. Have a Facebook page.

  49. Create an iTunes iMix for your institution with fun songs related to the museum and exhibits (ex- Walk like an Egyptian).

  50. Compile an iTunes iMix like above, but use songs that are more directly academic or relevant (ex- cultural songs pertaining to the exhibit).

  51. Make videos of interviews with your curators and put them on YouTube.

  52. Arrange a flash mob. Hey, it’s an idea!

  53. Ask your intern to write a series of posts about his/her adventures within the institution with thoughts about events and exhibits. I simply must write in a shout-out to Web Developer (Stan) and Web/Special Events Intern (Evan) of Pacific Science Center here.

  54. Manage a document that lists staff members and the languages they speak. Sort this list by language.

  55. Add a “Focus: Museum Staff Member of the Week” to your newsletter that allows readers to understand job functions and specialties at the Museum. Include interesting facts and allow this to offer a special behind-the-scenes look at the museum.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Trends 4 Comments
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