My proposal for a talk at Museums & The Web 2013 – published here:

Many museums have already embraced social media such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. as a means of interacting with their audiences. However, for many institutions the main goal of using social media is still only branding, marketing and redirecting traffic to main websites. Although these are perfectly legitimate goals of any institution, the strength of social media goes beyond that.

On Twitter museums may have a number of organizational accounts that are used to distribute announcements about events, exhibitions, etc. and often these accounts end up as one-way distribution channels. And although larger institutions with numerous followers can benefit from this as a great marketing opportunity, smaller museums might have challenges building a large enough following to reach critical mass. But all museums have one resource that is greater that the institution: its staff.

A lot of technology-savvy museum professionals have already realized the potential of using Twitter in their daily work as well as their personal life. At conferences such as Museums and the Web even more use Twitter to access the backchannel and behind-the-scenes discussion. These are often the people who work in the departments where already social media reside. But what about the people in other departments?

A museum’s staff encompasses a variety of different roles. There are curators, docents, researchers, conservators, collection managers, etc. All of whom contribute to the workings of the museum. Some of these do not necessarily have a public face, as their work mainly goes on behind the scenes. For these Twitter provides an excellent channel for sharing, discussing, and engaging audiences that might not be reached otherwise.

At the Medical Museion 15 out of 22 staff members are on Twitter. These include curators, conservators, collection managers, researchers and even the director. Staff are encouraged to use Twitter to document their work and thus share and discuss with colleagues, professional contacts outside the museum, and others who might be interested. An example is in-house conservator, Nanna Gerdes, who has embraced Twitter in her daily work. During the conservation of an early 20th century collection of bottles of peptides, amino acids and their derivatives from the Carlsberg Laboratory, she documented the work by tweeting her thoughts and considerations during the entire process. These tweets were often accompanied by photos. Finally, the entire series of tweets was compiled into a coherent blog post.

This talk will present examples of individual museum staffers tweeting. It will explore ways of bringing our colleagues throughout the organization to social media by providing the right tools as well as examples that highlight how they can benefit from using social media while sharing and talking about the work they love. Finally, it will reflect on providing proper guidelines thus minimizing possible concerns about allowing individual staff members to tweet “on behalf” of the organization.

Please feel free to comment if you have ideas or don’t agree 🙂

(image by Steve Morgan / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0sign of the White Stag in Portland, Oregon – where the conference takes place)

Update 21 Jan 2013: The proposal was accepted and I will be presenting it as a demonstration! 🙂


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  • suse cairns

    Woo Daniel! I cannot wait to see you at MW2013! So excited that you are presenting too.

    Here’s my Q for you. Do you think having many staff voices on Twitter and blogs etc has impacted institutional voice within the physical museum? If so, how?

    • Suse, me too! Let’s start looking for Korean karaoke restaurants right away! 🙂

      As to your question: Well, for our museum the institutional voice has always been of very informal and personal nature. So the presence of multiple voices on Twitter and other media just adds to this spirit.

      I believe that other museums that lack this quality can definitely benefit from moving their staff up front so to speak and allowing them to speak on behalf of the institution. This gives the institution a much more personal touch which I believe is key not only to success on social media but also in general.

    • Hey Suse. Just wanted to thank you for your comment. It actually made me reflect on some aspects of my proposal that I hadn’t fully considered. I definitely will now! I look forward to discussing this and so many other others things with you in Portland!

      Also, we need to talk music!

  • How do you feel about humorous takes on tweeting by Museums, e.g. @glassjarofmoles (mascot of @grantmuseum)? Or non-affiliated, but hilarious, feeds like @Henry_Welcome? Can these play an important role in making a name for a museum, or are they just a bit of fun with little to contribute?

    • Personally, I think they’re great, and I’m a big fan of both accounts 🙂

      I think that having fictional or non-living people or even inanimate objects tweet can be a great way of framing the message in a historical or cultural perspective – which ultimately is one of the things I want to achieve. Having Henry Wellcome tweet about contemporary biomedicine is a brilliant of example of just that.

      It does also allow a certain degree of freedom that you might not have when tweeting from an institutional account. Fun and imagination are important factors, because obviously none of these characters would be able to tweet in reality. But that’s not to say that they couldn’t have an opinion! 😉

      (I only wish I had the idea for the perfect character that could play that role for us…)