I've sat through some painfully long panel discussions in conferences, universities and any other kind of event you can think of and it all comes back to this; how can museums & galleries do better in social media?
First of all, there are some fundamental problems with that question - one can only wonder what you mean by "better" which is specific and unique to every organisation and if you're talking about owning a trending hashtag or drawing millions of traffic to your website that's just short bursts of success at best. I am not interested in such short bursts, I'm in it for the long run, I'm interested in establishing an insurmountable presence that doesn't need constant work. To put it simply, I don't want the social media teams of museums & galleries to constantly be on edge, worrying over their standing within social media.
How do we achieve that?
Get rid of the social media staff. All of them.
I say this as someone who is deeply engrossed within social media for cultural organisations and it saddens me immensely, but it's true, the only way to get social media right is to not have a dedicated department working on it.
Social media is not a broadcasting agency, but one that thrives on two-way communication. You're probably thinking, yes we just hired someone to sit and respond to tweets all day! But if your entire role is to engage on social media (no offense) you're never going to have anything interesting to tell me that's happening outside of social media.
In an ever-increasingly saturated world where we're living through an attention economy, the public doesn't care about your latest exhibition or an amazing new talk happening in your gallery. What we really want to hear and see is what's happening behind the scenes of the exhibition, unspoken dialogues of a symposium or even just how a gallerist feels coming to work on a Sunday!
So who's going to replace your social media staff?
People's bulls**t radar goes off as they read:
"Come see our latest exhibition....."
"You don't want to miss this evening's......"
"First-ever UK exhibition of...."
Not because what you're saying isn't important but because we're tired of hearing how everything is amazing, a must-see and the most interesting thing yet.
On the other hand, let's say I follow a curator as he/she goes about the day, it's a chance for me to learn about the research the museum/gallery is involved in, what's coming up next and find out about the collections and works without feeling overwhelmed. You don't even need to tell me to come see your exhibition when it's up, I'll have it penned in my diary weeks in advance! And that's not just for curators, archivists, librarians, programme managers - this applies to anyone and everyone.
If you're searching for that next level advantage in social media, this is it. There is really no better in the digital world anymore, there's just different and you cannot get any more different and unique than allowing the creative talent within your museum or gallery shine on their own merit. No marketing tactics needed. Full stop.
A mere 18 hours after posting this
Some observations in the past 18 hours, the Facebook peeps' unanimous response was positive to this post, but it also makes sense to be aware that all of them are art professionals. In contrast, my Twitter has gone bonkers with marketing professionals (of which I consider myself as one too) finding themselves in disagreement with the fundamentals of this post. That to me in itself is rather telling, there is a massive gap between the ones who do marketing and social media and the ones immersed in cultural activities within an arts institution.
We are moving into a space where everyone wears several different hats and in such a world, it feels archaic to long for a dedicated social media team who aren't also the decision makers within the cultural space. There's nothing more I'd like right now than to be proven wrong if the social media staff within museums & galleries could up their game and indeed create meaningful relationships with their audiences, I don't need to share any examples anyone is more than welcome to scroll through any of the big museums' & gallery's feed or ask a real visitor if they feel like they are considered as individuals when visiting the space, rather how many would want broadcasting tweets/FB messages/newsletters if they were given a choice between that and actually engaging with the museum professionals in their everyday life.
Of course we can continue doing things the way we are and broadcast away, not sharing the everyday amazing work that art professionals do - if we want to become the next Red Bull or Oreo who do brilliant work as brands, even engage with their consumers, but I like to believe as art
For those interested in the academia and data behind my claims can start with Fletcher & Lee's Museum Management and Curatorship and Lopez's comparative study on museums in England, France, Spain, Italy & the USA.