One of my favorite ways to get inspiration is to visit (and support) other museums and cultural institutions. Not only is it a great way to see first hand how other institutions are engaging with the public, but it also allows you to take the perspective of a visitor and see how effective the engagement is.
This past Friday, our museum team took a field trip out to Corning, New York to visit the Rockwell Museum, a small American art museum, and the Corning Museum of Glass, a larger institution that covers the art, science and history of glass. Big shout out to Willa Vogel and Amanda Sterling, my digital counterparts at Rockwell and Corning, respectively.
Despite being just minutes away from each other, these two institutions couldn’t be more different. Rockwell is a small institution focused primarily on art from the American West, that is doing creative things with the small spaces and staff that they have. Corning is a massive museum that covers everything glass, from contemporary art, the science of glass and glassmaking, to the historical development of the medium for consumer and artistic use. I would highly suggest making the trip out to see these museums and exploring the adorable little town associated with them.
From a digital engagement perspective, there were a few things I was looking for during my visit:
- How easy is it to find their hashtags and usernames? And how many different hashtags do they have?
- Do they actively promote sharing and engagement online? What is their call to action?
- What types of digital engagement are they promoting?
- Is their content ‘shareable’?
The Rockwell Museum had limited advertisement of their hashtags and social media accounts in the physical space, but they could be located at the back of their paper handouts. They had a few hashtags that they were promoting: the general (#RockwellMuseum), the anniversary and associated exhibition (#Rockwell40), and then a holiday specific one, which was that only one clearly visible on a wall (#RockwellHolidays).
A fun surprise of their promotion of their National Parks exhibition was that they also shared more general museum hashtags, including #ITweetMuseums and #MuseumSelfie. This is a great way to promote more general participation in online museum conversations, although it does require you to make choices on Twitter about whether you’ll use their hashtag or the general hashtag given the limited characters.
The Rockwell Museum was active for their National Parks exhibition and in their general flyer promoting engagement online and sharing through social media. Both of these printed materials had a clear call to action: “Share your Rockwell experience with the world using #Rockwell40! Connect with us on social media @RockwellMuseum on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!”
Digital engagement appears to be primarily focused on sharing content in the space, and isn’t necessarily aimed at generating discussion or prolonged exploration of online materials.
Corning Museum of Glass
The Corning Museum of Glass is a little more obvious in their promotion of online engagement. They have displays throughout the museum that show the usernames, platforms, and hashtag, although these are on rotating screens so if you missed it you had a wait a while to see it again (which is why I don’t have an image of it). While their paper materials did say which social media accounts they had, it didn’t tell you the usernames.
CMOG’s hashtag isn’t their name; it is #GlassApp, a reference to their new mobile website application. This isn’t the most intuitive hashtag, so you would have to seek it out to get it correct. However, they do a great job putting sharing it and making a call to action for visitors to share their experience using it- within the new exhibition space they have a live feed showing tweets and Instagram posts that use the tag. I don’t know about you, but when I see a live feed I always want to participate.
There are two bonuses to CMOG digital engagement: when you log into their free wifi it prompts you to go to their mobile web application, which is really easy to use and clearly shares all their social media (glassapp.cmog.org). This also makes it really easy to credit the artistic works that you are sharing on social media- you take a photo, find the object on the Glass App, and easily share it with the proper attribution.
They also have charging stations throughout the museum so that you can keep tweeting and sharing even if your battery runs low.
This is the first non-Rochester museum I’ve visited since getting my museum job, and it has really changed my perspective when visiting. It was interesting to look at these different special from a digital engagement viewpoint, and both gave me some new ideas for what to add to me own social media engagement and promotion. They also brought up some questions that I want to discuss more in the future and ideas to play with:
- Is it better to have hashtags specific to different exhibitions or only one general hashtag?
- Should that hashtag be something obvious (like museum name) or something else?
- Should we use space on printed materials to share the specific usernames, or will social media savvy visitors figure it out as long as we share which we are on?
- Do we provide wifi and charging stations freely, or do we ask for emails?
- Do the benefits of having a live feed outweigh the time and necessity to consistently check it for appropriate content?