Social Network at the Museum

Sometimes it’s hard to remember a pre-Social Media internet. After all, Facebook launched 10 years ago. But prior to the emergence of “Web 2.0” circa 2004, there still was online interaction. The main difference, however, was that back then those interactions–such as message boards, chat rooms and blog comments–were usually done anonymously. Today, major social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ rely on people using their actual names and profile pictures.

As a result of this transparency, people develop substantive online relationships. Deadspin writer Drew Magary recently discussed this phenomena in one of his “funbag” columns. A reader asked “Has the rise of social media fundamentally changed the six degrees of separation (or Kevin Bacon) theory?” Magary’s response: “In the 21st century, you can know people quite intimately without ever meeting them…I don’t think that’s some form of virtual self-delusion either. It’s real friendship! CYBERFRIENDSHIP!”

“Cyberfriendship” created through social media also allows for important community building by museums. For example, museums can host tweet-ups, where social media followers visit the museum to share a common experience. In her blog post “Presidential Hair is a Twitter Winner,” * National Museum of American History specialist Erin Blasco discusses how social media interactions, such as tweet-ups, transform faceless online participants into a real audience.

Perhaps the most powerful impact of interacting in-person with the museum’s social media folks is that these individuals are no longer just followers or acquaintances—they are friends and advocates, ready to share their feedback when we need it, spread our messages generously with their own contacts, and partner with us as we increase understanding of the American experience.

Cultivating a strong social media presence serves as a powerful communication tool. Last week I talked about how open communication is crucial when designing websites. Museums’ community building is also dependent on proper communication. As Dana Allen-Greil and Matthew MacArthur wrote in their 2010 paper on online museum communities “while museums are generally highly valued by their communities, their impact could be heightened through true dialogue and mutual understanding with those whom they claim to serve.” In the 21st century, social media is the best way for museums to establish this transparency. As Allen-Greil and MacArthur argue, “introducing a greater degree of institutional openness” via social media creates a “whole museum” approach that “encourages visitors to relate to the museum in less formal, hierarchical, or transitory ways.” Thus, by social networking with the museum, visitors can become true friends of the site.


*Speaking of Presidential Hair, check out this graphic from the New York Times on Presidential hairstyles throughout history. How many can you immediately recognize (ignoring the fact that they’re in chronological order)?

Franklin Pierce was such a badass.

Presidential hair throughout history. That Franklin Pierce was so dreamy. (Graphic from New York Times)


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About Zach Klitzman

A History Grad student at American University

2 responses to “Social Network at the Museum”

  1. lauren duval says :

    Zach, you raise a great point about the ability of social media to act as a means of transparency. If museums can utilize social media effectively, they have the potential not only to reach a wider audience, but to do so in a way that could serve as an important window into the day-to-day life of the museum. Although, as we discussed in class a few weeks ago, as “museum people” and “history nerds” we tend to think that everyone wants this kind of transparency, which in many cases may not be the case. I think for that reason its important to diversify the social media presence of museums, using them not only as a “glimpse behind the scenes” but also as a way to engage visitors on their terms and to use the medium in a way that will be meaningful to them.

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