The Participatory Museum on Social Media

I’m finally reading Nina Simon’s 2010 The Participatory Museumand of course it’s great. I’ve been picking up a lot of ideas on how to use social media to dialogue and engage our members at AASLH–to communicate with them instead of just communicating to them. By the time I’d read the introduction before I realized that the entire book could be applied to social media in museums and at historic sites. I’ve actually found this to be the case with most books on museum engagement and visitor experience, which is good since there really isn’t much good advice out there specifically about social media and museums (hence this blog).

In the introduction, Nina Simon gives a  definition of a “participatory cultural organization,” which I think can be applied to social media presence perfectly. She writes:

“I define a participatory cultural institution as a place where visitors can create, share, and connect with each other around content. Create means that visitors contribute their own ideas, objects, and creative expression to the institution and to each other. Share means that people discuss, take home, remix, and redistribute both what they see and what they make during their visit. Connect means that visitors socialize with other people—staff and visitors—who share their particular interests. Around content means that visitors’ conversations and creations focus on the evidence, objects, and ideas most important to the institution in question.”

If we change out a few words, this becomes a great starting place for developing a social media presence that is engaging, welcoming, and effective in expanding awareness and emotional investment in the museum:

“I define a participatory [social media account] as a place where [users] can create, share, and connect with each other around content. Create means that [users] contribute their own ideas, [images], and creative expression to the [institution’s social media profile] and to each other. Share means that people discuss, [save], remix, and redistribute both what they see and what they make during their visit [to the page]. Connect means that [users] socialize with other people—staff and [users] —who share their particular interests. Around content means that [users’] conversations and creations focus on the evidence, objects, and ideas most important to the institution in question.”

Edward Hopper's Sunlight in a Cafeteria (1958) by Nastya Ptichek (2014). Learn more about this artwork here.
Edward Hopper’s Sunlight in a Cafeteria (1958) by Nastya Ptichek (2014). Learn more about this artwork here.

You can see that not much changes. This is the great thing about social media. As museum and public history professionals, you already have the tools and mind-sets you need to creatively use social media. The key is to start viewing social media as an integrated part of your operations, not just as a marketing or advertising tool.

There’s a reason the museum books I read help me improve my use of social media for the museum/public history field; social media is a new technology that requires the same innovation, creativity, visitor-focus, and storytelling capacity that good museum professionals are already putting to work for programs and exhibits.

Related…

Check out my post on the AASLH blog, “Same Skills, New Tech: Social Media Lessons from a 1967 AASLH Technical Leaflet.”

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