This week, I’ve seen a lot tweets about the relationship between museums and social media. I’ve read through quite a few articles suggested in these tweets and have decided to dedicate this week’s post to my thoughts on the subject. As a 21 year old, I spend a large amount of my time on social media platforms including Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. Until beginning graduate school, I used my accounts as ways to keep in touch with long distance friends and share my thoughts on pop culture. Now, my eyes have been opened to these platforms in a different light, as a professional resource. I’ve followed local museums for awhile, but I started to follow museums that I’ve never visited and professionals that I’ve never met. As a result, I’ve started thinking about ways in which museums can use each platform different, based on the organization of the platform.
Twitter is the social media platform that I use the most. Of course, I check all of my social media accounts on a daily basis, but I find myself scrolling through Twitter most often. Perhaps this is due to the fact that multiple posts a day from one account are more common than on Instagram, where most people only post once a day and not on a daily basis. I understand that there are major differences between a regular person’s posting habits and those of an institution or brand, but most people that I know are annoyed by their Instagram feed being dominated by one account’s posts. In any case, on Twitter, multiple posts are expected and encouraged by the way the platform lends itself to easy communication and flowing conversations. In an intellectual sense, one person may post an idea that leads to an open and public debate or conversation, often using hashtags to draw the attention of others interested in the topic. I’ve mentioned before in my posts about #AskACurator and #AskAnArchivist that Twitter can be a place for meet ups, not only for ideas within the sector but also for meet ups between museum professionals and the public. Tweets focus on the text while offering options of including videos, pictures, links, polls, and the option to stream live.
Instagram’s focus on pictures and videos gives museums a chance to post different content to that posted on its Twitter. I’ve seen museums take quite a few really interesting approaches to Instagram lately. A lot of posts showcase collections objects, promote events or campaigns held by the museum, or even let artists take over the museum account. Like Twitter, Instagram allows users to use hashtags in their captions and comments. This has helped museums launch successful campaigns, such as the National Museum of American History’s #KeepThemRuby campaign to raise the money needed to do conservation work first on Dorothy’s slippers and now on the Scarecrow’s costume. Museums have also been taking advantage of Instagram’s recent Snapchat-like feature, the Instagram Story. For Halloween, the Historic Royal Places Instagram account posted a ghost tour of Hampton Court Palace as its story. In the case of the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, Instagram can also be a place for rivalry. In response to the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs making it to the World Series this year, both art museums posted works of art edited so that any subjects in the art were wearing their city’s apparel.
Snapchat is the other big social media platform that museums use to connect with their audience. Snapchat is by definition a place for temporary and quick information. Each individual snap can only be 10 seconds long and stories only last 24 hours before they disappear. There are, of course, ways to save a snap to Memories, where it can later be reposted. Snapchat, to me, is a more lighthearted and fun. One of the famously amazing museum Snapchat accounts belongs to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). A simple Google search of “LACMA Snapchat” yields countless articles giving the account rave reviews from as early as 2014. Ranging from the Huffington Post to Buzzfeed, the articles about LACMA’s Snapchat are available to a wide audience. I think a lot of LACMA’s Snapchat success comes from the abundance of pop culture references. The museum takes pictures of its artwork, often using popular song lyrics or phrases as captions that a wide audience would relate to. Recently, the museum drew costumes of Disney characters onto the pictures they took. The creativity and merging of the new and old that the LACMA uses in its snaps or that Cleveland and Chicago used in their Instagram posts appeals to a lot of people who wouldn’t necessarily be interested in a work of art otherwise.
The differing social media platforms and the type of content that they best support have led me to a variety of questions. How does a museum present a consistent voice throughout the platforms while adjusting for the different types of content? Does a tweet sound more formal than a snap? I’m not sure if it’s necessary. How does a museum balance being educational and promoting fundraisers and events with funny and entertaining posts? Is one platform more funny and entertaining than another or should each platform see this balance? These are questions that I’m working through by visiting the social media accounts of a variety of museums and reading the thoughts of others in the sector.