Percolations: Museums and Social Networking Sites, Part V

Note: This is part V of a series. Read part I, part II, part III, and part IV.

All right. . . Now that we’ve taken a whirlwind tour of some of the web’s most popular social networking sites, let’s take a moment, sit back, and enjoy a cup of a favorite beverage. (In the 100+ degree heat we’ve been experiencing here lately, I assure you that for me, it’s not coffee.) Let’s pretend I’m a good hostess and for those of you in cooler climes, I’ve put on a pot of coffee to, well, percolate.

As I said in part I of this series, museums’ participation in social networking sites should allow museum content to percolate, to recirculate and gain flavor as that content is passed among Internet users and, we hope, among visitors to museums, who then return to the Web to post their thoughts–and thus museum content persists. Which of the sites I’ve discussed are most successful in allowing for percolation?

1. Flickr: Flickr is a flexible site who usefulness to museums is limited only by museum professionals’ imagination. Best of all, museums’ Flickr projects may be driven by users rather than by museum staff.

2. Twitter: Twitter is labor-intensive in that it requires staff to post frequent “tweets.” But it doesn’t take a lot of staff time, and there’s no learning curve to speak of. And if you did take the time to plan out a marketing campaign, Twitter would allow for a good deal of creativity–and keep your institution in front of Twitter users. Imagine, for example, the tweets of a charismatic and quirky (or, even better, well-recognized) historical figure. Robert E. Lee posts from Gettysburg. Harriet Tubman from the Underground Railroad. (Who wouldn’t add Harriet Tubman as a friend?) The folks at Plimoth Plantation share their daily trials and joys, all in their particular dialect.

3. YouTube: YouTube is fun, and used properly–for contests, to hype exhibits, to add extend exhibit content and concepts–it could be a useful tool. Look around to see what other museums are doing–and then call their marketing departments to gauge their understanding of their YouTube campaigns’ success–before you invest in the hardware and staff training (or expensive video consultants’ fees) necessary to produce quality serialized video.

4. MySpace: Edgier than Facebook, MySpace can give museums an online presence among a younger crowd. But it’s not clear to me how MySpace will keep your institution’s name regularly in front of MySpace users.

5. Facebook: Facebook is a good way to connect with existing communities–for example, to pull together a group of docents–but it’s probably not the place where your museum is going to take off among the younger set.

6. LinkedIn: Little percolation here, but lots of possibility for back-room dealings among donors and muckety-mucks who, used strategically, might raise the profile of your museum. I’d use LinkedIn to open a dialogue with key players in museum- or technology-related fields.

So. . . the salon is open in the comments. What are your thoughts?

Additional Resources

There’s a ton of good writing and thinking out there about museums and the social web, including social teworking sites and mashups. Here are a few that deserve further mention, along with some quotes from each article or post.

There’s an International Museum Professionals group on Facebook. (h/t: fresh + new)

electronic museum’s thoughts on Facebook:

So….should museums be on Facebook? Yes, probably, if that presence does something interesting and motivating for users. Should museums be on Facebook just because it’s there? Obviously not.

Via the above post at electronic museum, we learned about a discussion on Facebook on the Museums and Computer Network listserv. Here’s an excerpt from a posting by Mike Ellis:

Maybe museums would be better off developing some simple Facebook apps –
for example to let users search (and use) their images. See Photobubbles
as one simple idea ( – if you let
users add captions and bubbles to a selection of images from your
collection you’d be immediately capturing a young and viral audience.Just creating a group “Museum of ****” probably wouldn’t cut it, except
with the same old audience you already had, or people you already work

At roots.lab, there’s an excellent post that claims to be “Social Web 101 for Nonprofits, Or, How the ‘Live’ Read/Write Web Can Help Your Organization Achieve Amazing Things.” An excerpt:

The social web is about:expressing identity. The social web allows individuals to share aspects of their lives with friends, family, or anyone at all, via easy-to-use online tools. It allows people, whatever their motives — and the motives of a MySpacer, a business blogger, a “wikipedian” and so forth are surely very different — to reveal a tangible sense of who they are and what they’re interested in.

relationships and trust. The social web makes it easy to find and start talking with others who share your interests, whose ideas you like, who make pictures, videos, writings that you find appealing. Enjoy a few positive interactions with this sympatico person you’ve found, and trust will begin to ensue. People develop authentic bonds with others through the social web.

user-driven websites. The social web makes the little guy important — anyone can post videos to YouTube, engage in back-and-forth with the authors of widely read blogs, or help write and monitor wikipedia. It also makes the online behavior of the little guy important — each click matters, when giving the thumbs-up to an article on Digg, watching YouTube videos, or even using Google, and figures into these sites’ ranking of content. The social web allows users to be active, empowered participants in the production and distribution of media, the word-of-mouth reputation of a business, the grassroots support for a political candidate, and other tides that course through our culture.

From ProjectsETC, information on user-generated content and cultural activity:

Allowing users to generate their own content can also benefit those with different social, cultural and digital experience or expectations. With hard-to-reach groups, learning how to use these resources can be as important as the end result. At a time when museums and galleries are challenged to demonstrate their social relevance and inclusiveness, such content can be particularly helpful.

Ideum posts on Flickr mashups and interestingness and Mashup of the day and other thoughts.

At Past Thinking, news of Historyscape, a heritage mashup.

At 24 Hour Museum, a post by Nick Poole, “Are Museums Doing it Right?” An excerpt:

The first market for museum websites is the direct user community. These are the people who regularly visit both museums and museum websites, and who make use of their online databases to carry out detailed research into the objects in their collections.The second, much larger group, is the indirect community of millions upon millions of people for whom the Internet is both an information resource and a kind of hyper-connected valet, able to cater to their whims, needs and wishes 24 hours a day.

So far, the majority of our services have been targeted at the former. But who are these people? Do they really exist outside a small number of academic research institutions? Ask the majority of people about the information they want from a museum and they are likely to want to know things like where it is, when it’s open, and whether there’s somewhere for them to have a picnic with the kids. So why is it that we have spent so much time and effort delivering complex searchable databases of catalogue records?

As always, feel free to share your own links to resources in the comments.

(Original percolator-lamp photo by Gary A. K., and used under a Creative Commons license)


  1. Ian Wilker says:

    Hi Leslie —

    Thanks for the link; glad you found that post useful. Looks like we’re exploring similar ideas in slightly different contexts; when I can come up for air, lookign forward to reading the whole of your “Percolations” series and will stay tuned. Feel free to contact me at ian at rootslab dot net anytime.

  2. Deanna Dahlsad says:

    Hello Leslie, I linked to this post as well as your BlogHer post (which is where I found ‘you’ at this blog) in my .

    I also wanted to mention that CQ has a community, which is free and offers many of the things you’ve noted you like — so please do check it out.

    I’d love to hear/read your thoughts…

  3. Deanna Dahlsad says:

    Wow, that comment put the links in strange… I hope you can follow them!

  4. Zeinab S.Ulucan says:

    Great series on social networking and museums! I have a question for you. I am interested in gathering or leading my museum studies grad class onto a social networking site to network with other museum students and professionals. You provided some great information here and I’d like to get your view on a site you observed where mainly museum professionals network, not necessarily to an audience but amongst themselves. Your review on LinkedIn sounds pretty close. I have also come across Xing which is ideal for my purpose but little to no U.S. museums there. Your thoughts would be appreciated!

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