Written by Erin Branham.
Museum blogging is a hot topic of conversation this last week or so, largely due to a sharp panel of bloggers at the Museum Computer Network 2012 Annual Conference in Seattle. I wasn’t able to attend (18-month-old at home = no travel), but twitter let me eavesdrop on the conversation. As a newly minted blogger, I was very interested to hear the ideas being presented by some of the museum world’s top bloggers: Mike Murawski, the organizer of ArtMuseumTeaching, Suse Cairns, museumgeek, Ed Rodley, author of one of my favorite blogs, Thinking About Museums, and Eric Siegel, Director and Chief Content Officer of the New York Hall of Science, The Works at Nysci. The panel was moderated by Koven Smith, himself author of a fascinating blog and organizer of a newer reblog aggregate site titled The Kinetic Museum.
1.) Who reads this stuff?
2.) Do blogs really have the power to create communities?
3.) How well do we play with others?
It’s #3 that most interests me – and not just when it comes to the blog here at edgital, or museum thinkers and their personal/professional blogs (as the panel explored, blogs bridge both worlds). I’m wondering how often institutions consider this question when dealing with their official blogs.
When we started edgital, I began reading about social media strategy. I had never thought of blogs as social media, which perhaps was ignorant of me (honestly this whole foray into museum education and digital media has been one long exercise in getting in touch with my own ignorance!). Social media to me meant Facebook, twitter, pinterest – that is, social networking sites. But every book and article I’ve read so far about creating a presence on social media, whether it be in regards to for-profit business, general public relations or non-profit organizations, starts with a blog and works out from there. The second thing all these sources discuss is how you increase the social capital of your blog – which involves making sure that they really are as social as they can be.
OK, I thought – if this is what you’re supposed to do, then I shall do it. But I quickly discovered how much time it takes: to read all the other blogs and comment thoughtfully, which usually means tracking each conversation across at least a day and often across a few days so that you can continue to contribute (my having time to do this lasted approximately 2 weeks). Then you have to consider and write posts in response to other blogs and comments to your own blog – which means giving up a measure of control. This sequence of events is tricky enough for an individual. For a museum where institutional identity is tied up in the blog’s voice, and running a blog is probably one of several duties for the organizer, the whole thing can become constrained and time prohibitive.
But there the question sits – how well do we play with others? Or, put another way, how social are our blogs, which ought to be the centerpiece of our social media strategies? Hundreds of museums are running blogs, and we are running them for many of the same reasons that businesses run theirs – to communicate with and build community, to be open and responsive to our audience, to provide the best service in what we do to the people who care about us and what we produce. But how many of us are actively looking for ways to make the museum blogosphere a community of conversation? How often do we look for and amplify the voices of other people, rather than just the voice of our museum?
At my institution, blog posts are written from across the organization and sent to an editor. This is the general pattern for all of our social media. How responsive and part of larger conversations our blog, or Facebook, or twitter posts are is pretty much up to each individual author. That puts the onus on us to incorporate links to other people’s thoughts into our social media contributions. But we’re not used to that. At least not at the pace at which the web works. Museums are more in the habit of being content-producers, book and ephemera publishers. We put it up on exhibition, write it and print it, audiences come look at it and read it. I fear we as a field may be handling our social media in much the same way, and that’s sort of missing the whole point of social media.
Museum educators, of course, spend much time facilitating face-to-face conversations around the content our institutions produce. It is our primary job responsibility, carried out in Q&As at the end of lectures, during school tours and workshops for the general public and teachers. But are we applying that expertise to the social media realm? A quote tweeted by Sarah Hromack from the MCN panel remarked “We are terrified of being wrong in public.” Does the public nature of blogs affect our willingness to amplify other voices? Do we fear associating with the “wrong crowd” (and who would that be anyway)?
Do you read blogs? Write one? Which blogs really get you thinking? Have you ever read a post that sparked the kind of great conversation we strive for on the gallery floor? What was it?
I turned up some great papers on blogs while researching this post, and thought I would share for anyone interested…
Dulwich onView: A Museum Blog run by the Community for the Community
Presented at Museums and the Web 2010
Alison H.Y. Liu, National Taiwan Normal University, Taiwan; Sarah McDaid, London South Bank University; Jonathan P. Bowen, University of Westminster; and Ingrid Beazley, Dulwich Picture Gallery, United Kingdom
Interaction with Art Museums on the Web
In Proceedings of the IADIS Int’l Conference WWW/Internet, Rome, Italy, 2009, pp 117-125.
Max Arends, Doron Goldfarb, Dieter Merkl, Martin Weingartner
How Blogs and Social Media are Changing Public Relations and the Way it is Practiced
Public Relations Journal Vol. 2, No. 2, Spring 2008, Public Relations Society of America