Wed, 20 Apr, 2011
I was fortunate enough to score a seat in the discussion at a workshop at the University of Delaware in Newark, DE this weekend. The focus was "Social Media, Online Collections Tools and Small Museums," and it was put on as part of the Sustaining Things series by Hillary Mohaupt and Kate Duffy, both of whom work and study in the Museum Studies Department at UD.
The topics covered applied not just to museums, but also to libraries, archives, and higher ed institutions. Rather than trying to cram in mention of every single social media tool that could conceivably be useful to any of these entities, I was very happy to note that only those key tools that have proven useful were addressed in the sessions.
The most interesting information I gathered about each is as follows:
Hillary covered material on this, encouraging attendees to create Pages for their institutions, to "like" them, and to socialize their work at the institutions this way. I was particularly interested in the notion of creating pages just for one popular feature of your institution, like "Sue the T-Rex" at the Field Museum. It's worthwhile if your institution has an interesting collection or learning tool, to create a Page just for that. Users who may fear the commitment of "liking" your whole institution will probably have no problem liking the awesome coffee bar you have downstairs, or the Pirate Archives collection you have on display.
Also, it's good to remember to use your Facebook page. Post notes, create events and invite your fans to them. Don't pepper people will mundane messages, but don't just create the Page and expect the fans to come rolling in.
So, Twitter is something that many of us already know how to use, a lot. Ms. Mohaupt provided a good, comprehensive overview of the tool to the attendees, encouraging good practice for creating a quality Twitter account. One thing that I would additionally suggest is adding the SelectiveTweets app on your account on Facebook, so you can cross-post between Facebook and Twitter by just including #fb in your tweets.
Miss Mohaupt also talked about good social media strategy, and I found this to be the most valuable part of the first half of the morning's presentations. She stressed a few important facts. First, socialize the fact that you're going Social. Put the little Facebook button on your site, go ahead. Look at David and Goliath or WeLoveColors as examples of businesses that use a semi-intrusive approach to getting social media followers that is successful. How can you resist clicking on the dancing peas???
An aggressively friendly approach is also important, but don't be soulless and terrifying. Interact with your fans and followers; don't just act like a Marketing talking head. "Be real," were Hillary's exact words in this regard. "No one in the social online world wants to interact with a computer or machine; they're interested in the people behind [the social media profiles]."
I can't agree enough with this sentiment. According to Facebook statistics, the average user is connected to 80 pages, groups, and events at any given time. Many of these pages are stagnant or dormant. Others post too often and come off as incredibly annoying. For whatever reason, I became a fan of "Coffee" on Facebook a week ago, and after roughly 20 posts per day--no exaggeration--of inane things like "Don't you just love coffee!" and a slew of Starbucks mentions that certainly felt like spam, I couldn't undo my fan status fast enough. I'm still a fan of coffee in real life, though. They just don't know about it on Facebook.
Hillary mentioned some good approaches for real interaction on Facebook and Twitter. Have cool features like giveaways or online polls and petitions that are only available for your Facebook fans. Ask for suggestions for new programs or changes to existing initiatives. Asking questions in general is a great way to get people engaged. Hillary shared the example of Longwood Gardens' "Longwood Lens" weekly photo competition, in which a photo is taken somewhere on the property, and the first Facebook fan who guesses where the image was taken gets "mentioned" in the winning status update. So, you know, fame and fortune.
Kate Duffy spoke on four tools for social media in nonprofits, starting with LibraryThing. She stressed that it's free for the first 200 books, then after that, YOU MUST PAY. It's only $25 for a lifetime of books though, so it's completely manageable.
The most interesting things that she covered about this tool were the Legacy Libraries, a feature in which famous and notable book collections have been cataloged on the site, and users can search them. These include personal libraries of historic figures (example here of Thomas Jefferson's library), and can be used by LibraryThing users to construct online special collections. An interesting example provided was Providence Athenaeum's Legacy Library, a collection of the books in their original collection, which survived a fire in the library in 1758.
It's a tie between this and Issuu for my favorite tools of the day. eHive is a terrific, free online platform for publishing and classifying small museum collections online. This is good for low-budget situations, and can also be used for remote locations. The example given was that of the South Georgia Museum in Grytviken, South Georgia. The museum uses eHive to publish content, and so, despite their far-away location, they are able to share their materials with many virtual visitors in addition to those who come in-person. You can get started learning about eHive here.
There's also the eHive toolkit, which works well with Wordpress to allow users to create their own website for their museums while using the eHive features to publish content. One of their most famous examples of this is Rugby Moments.
eHive has a nice interface and classifies objects well, leaving plenty of room for defining appropriate taxonomies. It would be nice if the toolkit was more of an API, but it's a relatively new tool and is already allowing lots of interaction without constraints of a set interface, so that's cool.
Issuu is an online publishing platform targeted specifically at magazine and document publication. High-quality scans of documents can be uploaded to an Issuu account, in many formats. You can set up an account here.
Handouts from conferences, high-quality print ads, and updated newsletters can also be uploaded to this interface and then cross-published pretty much anywhere. The Museum Studies Department at UD even uses it to publish and archive their newsletter, Museum Studies in Motion.
Another great local example is the Museum of the Macabre, a Philly-based group of paranormal history experts and enthusiasts, who have exhibits, tours, even a museum gift shop, but no physical location as yet. Their ability to circulate material is thanks almost exclusively to Issuu. See the Museum of the Macabre's Issuu account here.
Users treat publications on Issuu like a print publication…they can read fullscreen, zoom in and out, subscribe to certain publications, and even get a slick little "page turning" effect when they go through the pages.
Sadly, Issuu attempted to launch an iPad app last year and for reasons undisclosed by Apple, they were rejected three times. Finally, they gave up. There is talk of an HTML5 optimized version that may go online eventually, but at the moment, there's no slick app to go with the awesome full browser interface.
This was probably the least useful tool, in my opinion. This isn't a criticism of the presentation at all; Flickr is basically a photo uploading tool. When it came about, it blew bogus nearly-free image hosting sites like Photobucket and Snapfish out of the water (yes I know they both still exist, but come on). It is still a tool that is integral to the Internet. I don't even want to think about the levels of near-apocalyptic panic that we would reach if Flickr suddenly announced they were going the way of the dinosaurs and Google Video. However, after seeing what targeted applications like eHive and Issuu can do for nonprofits and their image collections, Flickr seems almost like a backup. It's definitely a service worth using (I use it personally, and have a Pro account) but in terms of socializing content, I think this workshop covered some far more useful tools.
Overall, this was a very interesting experience. both the presentations and the ensuing group discussions. I went in not sure if we'd get anything but a crash course in how to fill out your LinkedIn profile and make friends on Facebook, but came away with some knowledge of new tools and unique uses of social media, a rare thing these days as people are inundated with bids for social media attention, as well as tips for how best to use it. This was one social media instructional experience that I got a lot out of. Thanks to Ms. Mohaupt and Ms. Duffy for organizing such a great event.