Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Museums in the Twitterverse

Tweet tweet, twiddle twiddle . . .

Okay, I admit it: Twitter has been a bit of an enigma for me, and so this post is more 'thinking out loud' than it is any given advice about the now 5 year-old microblogging platform. I am slowly becoming a Twitter convert, though, and see it as a valuable tool for museum folk.

Twitter all began for me when I created 
my account on November 15, 2008, and opened with this oh-so-obvious tweet:

Always a little bit of an adventurer, including how to use technology, I was interested in this new form of communication, how it worked, how I could participate and add it to ways to talk to people about museums. And so I poked around for a few days, specifically looking for British Columbia museums. I found none. I did find some 'big name' American museums, and started following them. And so my second tweet?

Ya, clever . . . I needed to do some research. I lurked and only sporadically twittered once or twice a week for my first year on Twitter. I was slowly finding museum people and organizations by using the search bar, and then looking at who they were following, often adding who they followed to my list. It was in January of 2009 when I started following the Vancouver Police Museum as well as the Creston Museum — my first BC museums. I also started to find active museum bloggers — I believe this is where I came across one of my favourites, Nina Simon's Museum 2.0 blog. Specific to what I was doing here, I found Nina's open letter to museums on Twitter particularly insightful. What has stuck with me from this post is a comment from a museum worker that followed Nina's first rule for museums: 1. Don't use Twitter to spam me about visiting. 

The last thing I would want is someone to think that our twitter account was just another marketing vehicle which . . . Twitter is not about. People can sniff out blatant marketing in a second, and will lose interest instantly.

Wise words. 

And I guess I should explain about my name "Owl_". As mentioned, I first joined Twitter to find and follow BC museums. I was hesitant about putting my whole name out there — not sure why, because I am not afraid of doing so on Facebook or LinkedIn — and so I chose to this avatar as a homage to the BC Museum Association's lost owl (see my blog post on that topic
here). I twittered, rather oddly, in the voice of Owl; now I see that might not have been the way to go. When I recently got four comments in one week asking 'just who are you??' I decided I should attach my name to my account, to take ownership of what I was saying. It was the right move — but now, of course, I am having the mental debate if I should change it to something that parallels my name. (Any thoughts on this would be most appreciated!)

Anyway, in 2010 I was over-run with work and abandoned Twitter. Oops. I'm not sure I missed it because I was so busy, but this January I dove back into the stream of information, going deeply into it as if it were my mid-winter master class. I wanted to learn more about it, specifically about the 'so what?' part that I could apply to museum work. And I am so very happy to be back! I still find that Twitter can be overwhelming, but I am continually learning something amazing about how it all works - in fact, I just 'got' the other day from a great post on museum professional development by Susan Spero. Now I have two newspaper-like ways to follow my feeds - one for all I follow, and the other on my list of BC museum tweets. It's one way to help me feel like I don't have to be watching my feed every moment of every day, which is very reassuring as well as sustainable long-term.

But fundamentally what blows me away about Twitter is that people ARE paying attention to what you are doing and saying — I am never sure if we what we say is noticed, but I think on Twitter, when used correctly, it is. Maybe it's the condensed form of 140 characters that makes people more succinct, and therefore gives equal-opportunity discussion time, whether your one loan individual or someone who works for a Smithsonian organization. I really found this out when I started listing the people I follow, putting them into my own personal categories. People commented, were happy to be listed. Cool. And I guess that's why I am always so happy when I am able to engage in a conversation right there and then. We're not alone in what we like to do, and you can find that evident when you go on Twitter. That feels good!

What has hooked me in the past few weeks, though, is going to 'live' events. 
 I have to say, being on Twitter during a chat event can be much like rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time, but it is worth it. I had the most fun having my dream interpreted by artist Man Bartlett. He was sitting by a computer, waiting for the hashtag #24hrclerk to appear via Twitter, and reading the tweets aloud. A person behind him typed out the dream, and he put a monetary value on it and placed a sticker on a scale with all the other interpretations. It was mesmerizing . . . check it out. He did this for a full 24 hours, so one of the points, to me, was to participate and then try. to. look. away. It made my day to be a part of the experience, I have to say. And who could ask for more from social media? 

More directly related to museums, I also attended the Centre for the Future of Museums 'twebevent' with the hashtage #CFMtrends 
and got some great resources on demographics and diversity. CFM blogged about the event here, which helps me to go and review what actually transpired during the hour. And on March 17, I attended part of the #nytmuseums chat, which was put on by the New York Times as part of their special section on museums that appeared the day before. Not only were there fabulous resources in the newspaper and their site, but the event spawned an incredible discussion reviewed by Hyperallergic, a forum about the arts and arts issues, with the hour's 1400 tweets logged by Bill Lefurgy. It was like I found the fountain of museum knowledge. Amazing.

Bottom line is that Twitter can be just a little mind-blowing, with its power to gather people and provide opportunity for rich, rich conversation for a focussed time online. Especially during events, it's like access to an instant, intense networking conference/cocktail party, and a
 fantastic way to share a blitz of a conversation with museum colleagues all over the world. I am going to keep a look out for more Twitter events, for that's where I find much of Twitter's value, and certainly where I can easily interact online with my beloved museum Twibe. It has been well worth the effort of finding out what Twitter is all about — I get it now!

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