(This most recent guest post is from my senior undergraduate student curatorial assistant and Museum Research Apprenticeship Program student, Kate Tallman. Kate compiled this information for a poster, which she recently presented at the 2018 Western Museums Association (WMA) annual meeting in Tacoma, Washington. Social media, like this blog, is quickly becoming one of the most important ways that museum professionals relate to museum lovers around the world. Her research shows how essential it is for us to personally share what we do, how we do it, and why we love it, in order to enhance our connections with that community of followers. Enjoy this post and provide your feedback about ways you’ve connected with museum people across the globe! –AJL)
Social media is founded on the principles of community, dialog, and maintaining connections. In the past decade, organizations have made great strides in manipulating this platform to their advantage. In this day and age, it would be shocking and ill-advised for a cultural landmark, tourist attraction, or business to be without a social media presence across multiple platforms. While organizational accounts serve a purpose and can provide important information and offer insights into the brand, or the team behind the brand, they often come across as one-dimensional and sterile. There are limitations as to what an organizational account can achieve. Depending on the museum and its mission, an organizational account posting niche content, humorous dialog, and memes can come across as inappropriate, insensitive, or alienating. Few museums have harnessed social media in such a way so as to increase approachability while staying true to their mission. Perhaps most successful was the 2017 “twitter war” between London’s Natural History Museum and the Science Museum, two of the UK’s most venerated institutions.
Current social and political climates worldwide have forced conversations about institutional history, colonization, representation, and the validity of the status quo. Moving forward, how do institutions foster a sense of inclusivity with groups who may not traditionally feel they are a part of the target audience? How do you continue to democratize the museum field without sacrificing academic purpose or reverence for the artifacts for which you are charged with caring? The answer may lie in the hands of the museum worker as an individual.
While Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has met its detractors, it seems that social media communication tends to prove its merit. Unlike online workplace communication which is primarily driven by task completion, interpersonal communication is driven by participants’ desires and social psychological needs. The development of the internet has drastically changed the way people interact and communicate socially. Online communities have become one of the most important parts of people’s everyday lives.
Bonding through online interaction has rules. Most importantly, the perceptions one has of online counterparts are determined by certain factors. Impressions are often based on screen name, perceived tone, and characteristics we associate with similar people in real life. This is crucial. If my associations with black women, or gay men, or Indigenous peoples are overall positive, and they are likely to be if I am a part of that demographic myself, then I will inherently form a positive perception of strangers who fit that demographic. Online trust can be developed purely through interface cues. Effusive positivity, shared interests, good punctuation, timeliness of replies, and an active presence all contribute to a more positive and familiar feeling.
Viewing content and interacting with those we consider friends online increases social capital, whereas other interactions, specific to Facebook, do not. For instance, say I see two posts relating to the same exhibit in a museum. The first is posted by a friend posting about their work on the exhibit. They are excited and passionate, and they may even share behind-the-scenes information. Their post will inherently be more engaging. The second post is made by the organizational account of the Museum. They will share the historical, cultural, or scientific information regarding the exhibit. There will be information about the duration and hours you can see the artifacts featured. Depending on the content of the exhibit, they may be able to make a joke, or use a light hearted tone. In terms of social capital, the post from a friend will feel more fulfilling to read and engage with. Therefore, we are more likely to do so. Reading, scrolling, and “liking” organizational posts does not fulfill our need for engagement and belonging. This illustrates how the individual museum worker is most suited to affect change regarding a sense of inclusivity. An active social media presence, which highlights associations with historically underserved communities, and also frequently mentions their workplace in a positive light can both engender a sense of trust in the institution and foster a feeling of belonging to that institution.
How can we turn this information into a benefit to the community and the museum? Unfortunately, this is not a single action mechanism of change. More so, we must acknowledge the role that social media plays in our psychological fulfillment. Noting this, and the increasing roles online platforms play in society, the museum field must move toward more fully incorporating this information into our interactions and role in the community.
The overwhelming majority of people surveyed stated the reason they post things is to convey who they are and what they care about. The majority of social media usage is rooted in sense of self, and this is why personalized endorsements from individuals mean more to others than an endorsement from an organization. By celebrating the diversity among museum staff, and encouraging an active presence online, the organization can become an arbiter of communal change through the individual employee.
Cole, Jeffrey, Michael Suman, Phoebe Schramm, and Liuning Zhou. Surveying the Digital Future.Report no. 15. Center for the Digital Future, University of Souther California. http://www.digitalcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/2017-Digital-Future-Report.pdf.
Guan, Zhiwei. “The Effect of Need to Belong on Online Social Behaviors and Cognitive Interactions.” PhD diss., University of Washington, 2016. Abstract. https://digital.lib.washington.edu/researchworks/handle/1773/38038.
Smith, Sandra Susan. “Race and Trust.” Annual Review of Sociology, April 20, 2010, 1-26. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.012809.102526.
Tallman, Kate. Belonging: Psychology, Social Media, and the Modern Museum Survey. August 18, 2018. Raw data. https://goo.gl/forms/k70QDmsUussmdDuw1.