By Kiran Riar
Rewind ten years ago to 2002. Were you still in school, at another job, or in another city? It wasn’t that long ago, and yet you were a few vocabulary words short of what your mental dictionary holds today. For example, you probably hadn’t heard of the term “social media”. The word “blog” was only three years old, and we thought “smartphones” only allowed you to play Tetris on the run. More than likely, you also spent less time on the computer. MySpace, LinkedIn, Flickr, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, Twitter, Foursquare, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+ (and many others) had not been invented yet. Sort of makes you feel old, doesn’t it?
You’re probably wondering how all this fits into museums and our life at Chucalissa. The fact is that businesses of all sorts have been trying to reach an Internet audience ever since someone set up that first pixelated GeoCities account. We need to get your attention, and, luckily, the Internet gives us more opportunities than other mediums. This is particularly true for nonprofits; we can’t pay for a Super Bowl ad, but we can utilize a free Facebook page. Social media is a new side of museum management and therefore it requires a sizable amount of time and attention.
Enter positions like mine. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to develop an internship or a part-time job around managing social media at Chucalissa. I thank my lucky stars that timing worked out, and I was able to learn about social media and museums first hand. The first blog Dr. Connolly suggested I look at was Nina Simon’s Museum 2.0. I also signed up for a slew of online newsletters regarding social media management and looked at a few other museums’ Internet presence. One thing I learned? No two sources are going to give you exactly the same advice.
This revelation is simultaneously frustrating and exhilarating. On the one hand, there are no rules to guide you. On the other, there are no rules to guide you! Because social media is so new to the museum front, everyone is trying to feel their way through the same problems. In that regard, it doesn’t matter if you have a museum staff of 10 or 100. However, staff size does greatly dictate how much time you can devote to your particular social media site. I doubt Smithsonian employees have to explain museum etiquette to a group of 2nd graders at the same time they’re trying to keep their Twitter account up-to-date!
Successfully managing social media at a small institution does not happen by accident. At Chucalissa, we have set Facebook schedules and blog schedules, and we share post ideas with coworkers. Our most successful ventures have been some of the most unexpected, from tweeting dog pictures that ended up on the L.A. Times site to asking our supporters what their favorite BBQ place was. These accidents are encouraging because it suggests we offer something appealing to the public in terms of social media. And we need to, or risk being brushed away in favor of cat videos.
We try to keep everything current (our most updated outlet being Facebook), but our resources can become stretched. We’re on Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Foursquare, and Pinterest. And, obviously, this blog. Some of those sites could use a little more attention, and we’d appreciate your feedback on what you’d like to see in the future. In the meantime, feel free to comment on our Wall, tweet us your thoughts, and check-in the next time you’re at the museum!
Kiran Riar works in visitor services at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.