The Tweeting Museum

Daniel Noesgaard, Denmark

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 demonstration 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.