Social media has changed the way we communicate with one another. Museums have to tap into this world of user created content to engage and expand its audience. Today’s techno savvy museum audiences are no longer satisfied being passive consumers of content, they expect to be part of the creative process. Social networking sites, such as facebook and twitter, bring together like-minded individuals and provides them with an outlet to share their likes, dislikes, opinions, thoughts, feelings, and outbursts with the rest of the internet. Museums in the 21st century can use these technological tools to gather its audience on a global level and create a community around its collections and educational mission.
Facebook, with its more than 500 million members, is now the unquestioned ruler of social networking sites on the planet. Most people log on to their facebook page to stay connected with their family, friends, colleagues, and online groups. Numerous museums have their own facebook page as a way to pass along information to those in its network. Museum like MoMA in New York (604,000 followers), The Met in New York (360, 000 followers), the Philadelphia Museum of Art (115,000 followers), and the Smithsonian Institution (74,000 followers) have large facebook followings. Yet, those numbers appear miniscule when you compare it to that of some of today’s household names, such as Lady Gaga (22 million followers), Barack Obama (15 million followers), and the Jonas Brothers (5.6 million followers).
Twitter is another social networking site museums utilize to send out news on the information superhighway. The micro-blogging site allows ones’ followers to receive, read, respond to and forward these 140 characters or fewer blurbs. While 140 characters may not appear to be enough to covey a meaningful message, it is amazing just how much it can get across. Like facebook, twitter is a powerful tool to inform followers about exhibitions, programs, event, and general news. However, these blasts of information are limited to those who chose to subscribe to your feed. Some museums have done well in cultivating an online presence via twitter. The MoMA has some 360,000 subscribers to its feed, the Met has 150,000 subscribers, the Smithsonian has 219,000, and 22,000 people subscribe to the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s twitter feed.
The inherent benefit of using such social media tools and website is it invites the museum visitor to join the conversation. With each facebook post and tweet, followers have a place to comment on what is being said by the museum. Now the museum’s constituents are able to have new and substantive conversations and learning experiences with the museum without having to be within the museum’s walls. Asking a question, posting a picture, or a adding a video are popular ways to use these tools, since they are great ways to engage the audience, spark a discussion, bring attention to the museum’s collection, spotlight the day in history, feature an emerging artists and much more.
And isn’t creating this conversation what museums aim to do?