What Museums Can Teach Us

I’ve just now stumbled upon the marvelous New York Times article about how art museums around the country are using social media to develop vastly expanded followings.

Gone are the days when Websites were used only to advertise the institutions’ operating hours, admission prices and exhibitions.

As the article stresses, museum outreach boils down to one word: engagement.  Museums are using emerging technology to enlist the public as active participants.

Viewers now have more online opportunities to watch exhibits under construction, such as a 28-foot tepee at the Brooklyn Museum.  Audiences are also provided with more opportunities than ever to offer input about what museums can do to serve them more effectively.

“It’s less about technology and more about what the visitor can bring to the equation,” says Shelley Bernstein, the Brooklyn Museum’s highly passionate and motivated chief technology officer.

As writer Carol Vogel observes,

While museums have long strived to be welcoming places as well as havens of learning, social media is turning them into virtual community centers.  On Facebook or Twitter or almost any museum Web site, everyone has a voice, and a vote. Curators and online visitors can communicate, learning from one another.

As visitors bring their hand-held devices to visits, the potential for interactivity only intensifies.

Indeed, as Bernstein and others are learning, social media afford curators and visitors enormous opportunities for visiting with and learning from each other.

One point raised in the article especially resounded with me: The determination among the most successfully engaged museum to leave no social media stone unturned.

The developers of these technologies say there is no such thing as too much information. When the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art took its famed Matisse painting “Woman With a Hat” off the wall and into a conservation studio, an image of the frame being removed was posted on FaceBook.  “Suddenly people could have a peak behind the scenes,” said Ian Padgham, the museum’s digital engagement associate. “It’s all about off-the-cuff transparency.”

That’s an important point that can’t be overemphasized: Social media offer almost limitless opportunities for experimentation and creativity.

Imagine for a moment the excitement we Extension educators could  generate by employing similar creative engagement strategies.  One example that quickly comes to mind: county Extension Facebook sites featuring pictures of Master Gardeners busily engaged in spring garden planting.  Why not augment this with opportunities for local growers to offer planting suggestions or to submit pictures and videos of their own production efforts?

Row-crop agents could post regulator youtube or Flickr updates of ongoing producer efforts to deal with weed resistance or provide producers with  opportunities to share their stories.

4-H-related sites could provide space to guest science bloggers and opportunities for youngsters to submit pictures and videos of projects.

For that matter, planning for a spring diabetes meeting or next summer’s crops tours could be crowdsourced, providing clients with greatly enhanced opportunities for input.

Engagement could take a virtually infinite variety of forms.

Whatever the case, the important point to bear in mind is that we Extension educators have a lot to learn from others, especially those cash-strapped public entities that are using social media in ways to engage larger, more diverse audiences.

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2 responses to “What Museums Can Teach Us

  1. Another terrific post, Jim!

    Here’s the tough part: On Facebook or Twitter or almost any [interactive]web site, everyone has a voice, and a vote. [Clientele] and online visitors can communicate, learning from one another.

    A quantum shift, the move from seeing oneself and one’s organization as the single/primary source of information to behaving as one (however deeply informed) node in a networked conversation. Not to mention the overt recognition that others in the network may have a lot to teach as well as learn, and that others may challenge your data/information/point of view—even your credibility.

    A painful transformation, not only for many Extension educators, but for many traditional clientele as well.

  2. Pingback: Virtually Present | Mission Extension: The Weblog

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