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Month at the Museum

MSI’s Month at the Museum: Marketing vs. Mission

Did they merge the two?

Do you remember how Tom Hanks’s character walked around in a bathrobe while living in the airport in the movie The Terminal? Or how Natalie Portman got creative while living in Walmart in Where The Heart Is? I thought Kate’s Month at the Museum would be something like that crossed with Mythbusters. I imagined all-nighters spent making Home Alone-worthy physics-filled gadgets to fight off the possibility of living mannequins. I looked forward to hearing the thoughts of a normal person who has excessive time to contemplate every stage of baby chick development. I imagined a cross between entrainment and learning and charming transparency; I was excited to learn along with Kate. Instead, I learned that Kate learned.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that the Month at the Museum was engaging, fun, and a great marketing endeavour that opens the doors for several new opportunities for museums… but why weren’t mission and marketing more united in this innovative-museum-world initiative?

Kate spent her last day in the Museum of Science and Industry on November 18th. The Month at the Museum seemed to be used primarily as a marketing tool for the institution. And I think it worked well in that way. Kate’s glass cube was awesome. The competition was awesome. There’s a sort of magic about having the opportunity to spend the night (let alone several) inside a museum with doll houses, interactive activities, and a darkened 727. However, the Month at the Museum could have transcended the boundaries of a marketing project and more efficiently engaged audiences in the wonders of science while promoting the museum.

Bravo to MSI for taking on a roommate and opening their doors to the world. They have set a great standard. But, should MSI have the opportunity to take on another overnight visitor, I would like to present some changes to make the experience even more time-and-interest worthy for folks at home. The thing that unites all of the following suggestions? Making it more about people and learning, and less about Kate. Don’t get me wrong:  as another female twenty-something Chicago native– I thought Kate was spunky and fun. But I don’t know if all demographics relate to Kate, or even if Kate represents the demographic that the MSI was trying to reach… even though she did frequently make me smile.

1)  Get people involved during the month. The Month at The Museum initiative was arguably the biggest success during the competition stage. Over 1,500 people applied or submitted videos and folks even created a “We Applied for MSI’s Month-at-the-Museum” Facebook group.  The event was publicized in newspapers, blogs, and news broadcasts all over the country. But after the winner was picked, the buzz died down. Why? There’s no reason why Kate’s adventures couldn’t be made to be news-worthy throughout the month by keeping the innovation going. The vision of the MSI is to “inspire and motivate our children to achieve their full potential in the fields of science, technology, engineering and medicine.” That’s an exceptional vision but Kate’s Month at the Museum didn’t help people do that very easily. Getting the community involved in creative ways throughout the event would have painted a more accurate picture of the institution and its values. Here’s a quick brainstorm of things that could have helped:

  • putting out a call for things people wanted to see her do in the museum
  • hosting a daily “Kate Report” in which she interviews visiting kids and families about what they’ve learned
  • posing daily challenges to visitors such as to walk like a T-rex for the rest of the day, do their best impressions of the inner-workings of body parts, or offer a prize to the person who can best explain why a tornado spins (with creative, silly answers also featured).
  • put on a could-be historically accurate skit with visitors in Yesterday’s Main Street exhibit
  • conduct a real-life version of Leno’s Jay Walking and test the science literacy of visitors (with their permission, of course)

2) Make it about learning more than living. Kate shared what she learned with us through a few videos after she learned it. Case in point? SnugSci Episode 3 (or 2 or 1). However, it wasn’t often that we got to learn along with Kate. It would have been fun to see Kate go around in a snuggie and mash-up cool parts of her tour of the Science Storms exhibit with Olivia, the on-site scientist and one of the creators of the exhibit. And while snuggie science aims to teach us something, most of Kate’s videos are more of a video diary in which the audience is removed from the experience. Some ideas that wold have gotten us more actively involved? Here’s a few:

  • make creative mash-ups of tours from on-site scientists
  • engage in a ridiculous but scientifically-correct debate with an exhibit interpreter
  • walk us through Kate’s favorite interactives as she masters each of them and challenges others to a duel
  • spend a full day in the life of a coal miner, having interpreters aid Kate in learning what her day-to-day life would be like working there.
  • spend a day living in the Smart Home without using any energy or making any kind of carbon footprint (or try to do that for the whole month!)

3) But a little more living would have been cool, too. Two of my favorite videos from Kate show an insight into her day-to-day life while living at the museum. I love this one where Kate pretends to go crazy being alone in the museum. I also like this one where she actually shows viewers what she thinks is the scariest exhibit at night. Kate lived at the museum for a full month, so it’s fun to see insights into how she lived. (Though I must give some serious kudos to Kate for showing just how fun it can be to work in a museum). Given the reality of time constraints, I think Kate did a good job in this arena, but here are a few things that would have been fun to see:

  • a morning routine in which Kate starts training for next year’s Chicago Marathon, showing her route around the inside of the museum visiting her favorite exhibits. Kate mentions taking runs in some of her posts. Why not take us along?
  • conduct a museum bathroom inspection and formally propose which bathroom is the very best in the museum
  • solve a mystery (the case of the missing bernoulli ball)
  • discover a secret hideout in the museum for when Kate needs a break from the cube
  • sleep in the Zephyr and create physics-filled booby traps just in case mannequins come to life
  • try to summon spirits within the museum
  • name the chicks in the hatchery

4) Give us some more fun features to inspire audiences in science education. The Museum of Science and Industry is in the business of inspiring people and making learning fun. And learning is fun– even when you’re not a special, publicized guest living in a glass cube on-site.

  • have a short, daily highlight or fun fact and compile them at the end into one video to summarize the weird awesomeness of the month
  • on Kate’s first day, write down a list of science-based “Why” questions and make it a goal to get them answered before the month is up.
  • make a MATM bucket list of things Kate is determined to do before the month’s end
  • create a lip-dub to Weird Science with MSI staff members (this is less about science education, but highlights a sense of community)

Though I am sad that MSI’s Month at the Museum has come to an end, I look forward to seeing how museum’s will build upon the MSI’s idea. I expect to see many more initiatives involving transparency, and I hope that we will build upon these initiatives to merge mission and marketing in order to captivate audiences– with a purpose.

Have ideas for how MSI’s month at the Museum could have better merged mission and marketing? Please leave comments below.

Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Blogging, Branding, Community Engagement, Education, Exhibits, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Change, Social Media, Technology 8 Comments

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

Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Generation Y, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofits, Social Media, Technology, The Future 13 Comments