Percolations: Museums and Social Networking Sites, Part II

Note: This is part II of a series. Be sure to check out part I as well.


Museums appear to be colonizing MySpace at a much faster pace than they are participating in Facebook. It’s not surprising that MySpace is so popular with museum marketers, as it’s not only among the most-trafficked social networking sites, but also may be number six on the list of the world’s most popular English-language websites. MySpace also attracts the participation of a young audience that most museums would love to capture as lifelong patrons.

Museums have approached MySpace in a variety of ways. See, for example, the Henry Art Gallery on MySpace (598 friends) and the MOCA (LA) MySpace profile (9016 friends). The MOCA profile looks much more polished and approximates a more traditional website. The Henry profile embraces the cluttered, haphazard aesthetic of the typical MySpace page. The Brooklyn Museum (9181 friends) combines elements of both approaches.

Other institutions on MySpace (by no means a definitive list): Tate Gallery, the Tate Modern Shop, Ohio Historical Society”, American Museum of Natural History”, Walker Art Center, Andy Warhol Museum, Hammer Museum, Cincinnati Museum Center, The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Children’s Museum in Easton, MA, the Exploratorim, The New Jersey Historical Society, The Milwaukee Public Museum, American Folk Art Museum, Claifornia Historical Society, Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Autry National Center/Institute for the Study of the American West, LACMA, Orange County Museum of Art, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. You can find even more museums in the friends page of lamusediffuse.

There’s also a small MySpace page called “I like museums,”, which seeks to make museum-going in the northeast UK more appealing to teens through cross-marketing efforts by a number of museums. Thus far it has fewer than 40 friends, but the comments section could prove to be an interesting place for fans to rave about their favorite museum and exhibits–as seems to already be happening, albeit in a very small way.

As a field, we need more research on how museums define and measure a successful MySpace presence.

MySpace vs. Facebook

Danah Boyd recently shared some reflections on the class differences between the typical Facebook and MySpace users. Her observations include these:

The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other “good” kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college. They are part of what we’d call hegemonic society. They are primarily white, but not exclusively. They are in honors classes, looking forward to the prom, and live in a world dictated by after school activities.MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, “burnouts,” “alternative kids,” “art fags,” punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn’t play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm. These are kids whose parents didn’t go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school. These are the teens who plan to go into the military immediately after schools. Teens who are really into music or in a band are also on MySpace. MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracized at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers.

If Boyd is correct in her observations–and as you can see from the comments on this blog post a lot of people think she’s on to something–institutions need to be thinking about which venue is a more appropriate place to connect with constituents. Are you looking to connect with Facebook’s more conventionally/traditionally cultured/educated “hegemonic” users or MySpace’s “subaltern” participants? (I’m borrowing Boyd’s terminology here.)

As Boyd’s commenters discuss, Facebook allows for more controlled, tighter-knit connections. Users can specify how and when they met each of their Facebook friends, and it appears (from my observations anyway) that Facebook replicates offline patterns of friendship and acquaintance. MySpace, on the other hand, provides a less tightly networked approach, with hundreds, if not thousands, of complete strangers befriending the same user.

Why not use both Facebook and MySpace?

Don’t be fooled into thinking social networking sites take the guesswork out of outreach.

Jim Spadaccini of Ideum offers some answers:

There are some serious challenges for those institutions brave enough enter these spaces. First of all there are serious identity issues, ads (some of which might be considered inappropriate), and the issue of resources in maintaining multiple web identities. The fact that many of these sites may be short-lived is also a concern. In looking beyond the more established spaces, how much time would you want to invest in start-up social networking site?There are copyright issues: who owns the content that is posted on these sites? Finally, there is the persistent issue of measuring success. I think the museum field does a fairly lousy job of measuring the impact of our various websites and online exhibits. How do we measure the success of a presence in Flickr, YouTube, or MySpace?

Bingo. . . As I said above, we don’t as a field have clear metrics as to whether the investment of staff time into maintaining such virtual profiles pays off in visits, contributions, gift store purchases, and whatever else it is institutions desire.

Onto part III. . . Flickr.

(Vintage coffee maker ad courtesy of Gabe Angel, and used under a Creative Commons license.)


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