Museums on Twitter: Four Ways to Understand Where We Fit In

At this point, social media has been around and a big part our lives for long enough that we’ve stopped writing articles with titles like “What’s this Twitter Your Friends are All Using.” But, anytime we get so used to a phenomenon or technology that we stop asking “What actually is this thing,” we risk superficial understanding and operating without a strategy.

[Cover photo: Via the Field Museum. Image by John Weinstein.]

This week, as I finish preparing for my upcoming AASLH webinar on Twitter for Museums and Historic Sites, I’ve been thinking a lot about what Twitter is today, how it fits into the way we communicate and interact with each other and organizations, and what role museums or historic sites can and should have in the “Twitterverse.” I did some research and some super deep pondering and came up with four analogies that really helped me to have a more strategic starting place for my #musesocial work on this platform.

How I blogged in the olden days (but actually a photo of yours truly having the time of my life in an exhibit on medieval Icelandic manuscripts in Reykjavík back in 2013.

1. Twitter is a Microblog

In case you didn’t know, Twitter is a micro-blog. Each 140 character entry is a tiny blog-post. What does that mean for museums? It means all the skills staff have developed tell compelling, meaningful stories–stories that can be adapted to whoever is on the tour today, stories that can be carefully told in small text panels across the entire exhibit–are skill that directly translate into effective writing for Twitter.

Don’t fall prey to the idea that Twitter is silly or just a bunch of disconnected promotional listings. It’s only that way if you make it so. Some of the most famous writers of our age have been inspired by the medium to create short stories and entire novels on Twitter.

The V&A Twitter environment, as mapped by Alex Espinós in this Museums and the Web conference paper.

2. Twitter is a Public Social Network

Twitter is more than just an online phone book listing. It’s a public directory of networks…networks formed around common interests, professions, causes, and locations.

It may be the case that your museum just sits on the edge of town, and you spend the day waiting for people to make the trip out or stumble upon it. But if you go into your communities to talk about your organization’s work and form meaningful connection outside the museum walls to sustain and invigorate the work going on inside the walls…then there’s no reason your Twitter network should be the equivalent of the static institution.

Advertisement advising party line subscribers to be courteous about their shared telephone line in the Bremen Enquirer newspaper, Bremen, IN (1948).

3. Twitter is a Party Line

My historian friends will appreciate this analogy. In the early days of telephone, several households could share a phone-line. That meant that anyone who had access to the line could, in theory, pick up the phone and join in the conversation going on. (I picked this analogy up from a post by Andy Crestodina).

That’s how Twitter is today! The best of example of this is the trending topics feature. But it can also happen on a smaller scale. For example, at the NCPH conference in Indianapolis this year, attendees used a hashtag for both the entire conference (#NCPH2017) and and then short unique ones for each session (like #S21 and so on). That meant that people live-tweeting from inside a session could also be dialoguing with people outside the session. It made it possible to absorb more sessions even when they were concurrent and for people who didn’t attend the conference to contribute their insights on subjects.

4. Twitter is a Living Brand

Both for organization brands and personal brands. That’s why Twitter is the new LinkedIn. There are endless possibilities on Twitter for presenting an authentic but curated persona. For example, my Twitter presence is focused very strongly on my specific occupational interests within the museum field. Your organization’s Twitter should be the same way. Think about the image and “persona” your Twitter presence is sharing with the world. Now be more strategic about it!

For More on Twitter at Museums and Historic Sites

If you want to know more about how to create an effective and engaging Twitter presence for your museum or historic site on Twitter, join my AASLH webinar on July 11. You can get 25% off the cost of registration when you use the code MARKETINGSERIES.

Need a primer on social media for your museum or historic site before you dive into Twitter? You can purchase recordings of my earlier AASLH webinars on Social Media 101 for Museums and Historic Sites, Planning for Marketing at Museums and Historic Sites, and Facebook for Museums and Historic Sites. All proceeds from the recordings go to supporting AASLH’s working in the public history field.

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