Social Media Primer | major social media channels used by museums

Social Media is taking the museum world by storm! Most major museums have Facebook pages and are actively tweeting at a minimum. So you’ve heard the term Social Media but what does it actually mean? According to Lynda Kelly, Manager of Online, Editing and Audience Research at the Australian Museum,

Social media has been defined as the “term for the tools and platforms people use to publish, converse and share content online. The tools include blogs, wikis, podcasts, and sites to share photos and bookmarks”. An important component of social media is the idea of social networking, which refers to “online places where users can create a profile for themselves, and then socialise with others using a range of social media tools including blogs, video, images, tagging, lists of friends, forums and messaging”.

Okay so what’s the difference between the different types of social media? Don’t they just all do the same thing – create a narcissistic youth obsessed with updating the world with the minute details of their lives? What I find helpful in understanding the difference between social media platforms is an image from Three Ships Media


The types of Social Media I describe below are the major players; they are the most popular types that are relevant to museums. I’ll start with the biggest and move to the more obscure. Not only do they each do something a little different but they also have slightly different audiences. When you are thinking about using one of these platforms make sure to consider what the platform can do and who it reaches.


This is by far the most common form of Social Media today – there are 845 millionactive users. Facebook profiles are pretty detailed with information such as a persons’ work, hometown, education, marriage status and friends. Facebook is fairly private for social media. A user must be friends with someone (which means that person has accepted their request to be friends) in order to see their profile and write on their wall (a place on their profile page where comments can be written). Privacy settings allow people to block content so that the general public cannot see it. Facebook is often used as a way to stay in touch with friends, organize events, share pictures and post life updates. Facebook started with a very young audience but recently has seen great growth in the older demographics. People 45 and older make up 46% of users.

Museums often have pages that Facebook users can “like.” Liking something adds it to a list on a users profile and keeps them updated on the activity of that organization. Museums can post updates about events and exhibitions but because Facebook is more private and personal, promotional activity is not always very welcome. Posts about topics related to the museum that invite interaction are more popular.


Twitter is quite a bit smaller than Facebook but is still a big boy in the Social Media world at 127 millionactive users. Twitter is like a Facebook status update that must be kept to 140 characters. These updates are called tweets and can include images and links. Twitter is basically a more limited and public version of Facebook. User’s profiles can be private but it’s much more common to have a public profile. Once you have registered with twitter you can start writing your own tweets which show up in the news feeds of people who follow you. Followers are people who have selected your profile to follow. Often it is reciprocal with people following each other. This is a younger audience than Facebook and is much faster moving requiring constant content. Twitter terms like MT, RT #FF can make it intimidating to start tweeting so the team at Twitter have created a Twitter Glossary to demystify the terms.

Museums who are on twitter use it for things like promoting museum events and exhibitions (which is more acceptable here than on Facebook because it is more public and often used for business purposes), sharing articles, discussing topics related to the museum and interacting with visitors who are on twitter.


Blogs are basically free web publishing services. The three major players in the blog world are Tumblr, WordPress and Blogger.

Tumblr is a microblog site which means users can post multimedia (video/audio/images) and short-form text. There are 58.1 million blogs on Tumblr. It is used mostly for sharing multimedia with minimal commentary. A unique feature of Tumblr is that you can re-blog other peoples’ blog posts (kind-of like how you can re-tweet other peoples’ tweets on twitter). The people on Tumblr are typically younger with half of those on Tumblr being under the age of 25.

WordPress by contrast is a long-form blog – it’s a more editorial style of blog with lengthier posts. There are about 74 million blogs on WordPress currently. WordPress has an older audience than Tumblr with 69% being over the age of 25.

Blogger is like WordPress – a long-form editorial type blog; however, it is run by Google. Google has not posted how many people are on blogger but have indicated that it is in the millions. It also skews to an older crowd with 77% of users over the age of 25 (30% over the age of 45).

Some museums have a general blog for the entire museum with different types of stories on it. Other times museums use blogs for particular audiences, or as the voice of a particular department, or to explore topics and elicit feedback for exhibitions.


Pinterest is quite small with 21 million unique visitors (note this is not active users as that information is not available) but has just started to really take off. This is a niche market with most users interested in crafting, design and fashion. Pinterest allows users to create boards that they categorize and then pin images to. Users can follow each others boards to get inspiration. Text and links can be added to the images to give a greater depth of content.

A few museums have Pinterest accounts and have created boards while others have staff members with accounts creating museum-related boards. This is in the experimental stage at the moment with lots of room to grow and establish creative uses.

Examples of Successful Use of Social Media by Museums

Keep watching edgital to see an upcoming post that describes museums who are using each of the Social Media platforms successfully. If you would like to nominate a museum please comment.

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