Shelly Bernstein, Manager of Information Systems at the Brooklyn Museum shared some of her insights and approaches to the social network world with me recently. (Thank you to Elena Park at the Met for pointing me here!!)
Some of the key ideas that surfaced are:
- Web communities are about communities (not necessarily marketing opportunities)
- Be creative and flexible and …
- Find the right activity for the right community
- Street ‘credibility’ - walking the talk
- Work and develop your social web presence organically
- Finish what you start – (or don’t start)
- Align your activities with your mission
Here’s how they’ve been doing this.
Web Communities are Communities
In 2006 the museum began to look around the web trying to understand what ‘community’ meant in that medium. Because the Museum’s institutional mission is centered around ‘the visitor experience and community,’ this was a key issue. They found that these communities on the web were ‘real’ communities like MySpace , Friendster, and Flickr. Says Bernstein,
“We thought that just like how we extend ourselves in our own backyard, we should do that online as well. We started to participate in the communities and the first thing that became clear is that these are real communities, and not necessarily marketing opportunities. For example, when we’re on Flickr, we answer questions, make sure comments get to the right people, and try to upload interesting content that people care about and really want to see.”
Be creative and flexible and … Just Do It
Since there was a freeze on the current site spending at the time, they looked at what could be done elsewhere that would be dynamic and interesting. They looked at each community and tried to understand what that community was about and what would be the right thing to do for that community.
FLICKR - Find the right activity for the right community
In summer of 2006 the Brooklyn Museum did a show on Graffiti.
“We had a canvas show of graffiti canvasses from our collection.” Continues Bernstein, “When it was installed, a blank wall was put up in the middle of the gallery where people could tag the wall. The changing nature of it was the very nature of graffiti - it would get covered over and covered over because there was so much traffic. Weekly we took pictures of this ever-changing wall and posted it to Flickr.
At the same time, we did an ‘interactive’ where people could take photos of graffiti in Brooklyn and post them on our Flickr profile. People were seeing the real theme that was happening in the street, and at the same time seeing the theme that was happening in the gallery, in addition to the works of art that were in the show.”
Another neat tool was an online drawing application to make virtual graffiti.
That is such a great example of what web 2.0 really means: participatory culture!
Later when they did a Ron Mueck exhibit this last fall, they took behind the scenes photos of Mueck loading in the art. It was hughly popular on Flickr. It goes back to the concept of posting content that people find interesting and engaging, rather then strict marketing.
“Similarly when we started our blog,” says Shelley, “the initial blogs were just a way to put up our postcards. When we really started to blog we turned around and said that wasn’t really interesting. We began to open up the internal process of the museum and provide content that people care about.”
Electronic Comment Book in the Gallery - Street ‘credibility’ - walking the talk
The idea of community has its roots in their gallery. For a long time they have had “Community Voice Labels.” They would get quotes from visitors from the community, and these would be put on the wall, next to the official label. It has a physical presence. Now they have an electronic comment book both in the gallery and online at the same time.
“‘Street cred’ … it’s not marketing, it’s community. It’s making that commitment, and if you make that commitment your audience, I hope will see it. And then you get credibility and they care. We see it in our testimonials.”
Statistics for sites like Flikr and YouTube show that fewer then 1% actually participates in adding content. The rest are just looking. The participation is building. Bernstein says that, “We’re half way into the show and already have 300 comments. We’re building an audience. If you look at some of our older shows, we had fewer comments. This looks good to us.”
Finish what you start – (or don’t start)
“It’s a sizable commitment. If people are going to do this it’s a real commitment, and once you’ve jumped in, you have to keep on going. You have to have the time and commitment to do this right, otherwise, don’t do it at all.”
Bernstein notes, “Someone contacts us and says ‘We want to do a Myspace page just for this show.’ I ask them ‘Why? You spend this effort to build an audience and then just leave them.’ It makes no sense.”
It’s a community effort within the museum to build and maintain their social and web activities. Much of the Flickr content is provided by the education department, interns, and other staff, though all is updated by the IT department. The blog is different because there are many authors and its a direct publish - it doesn’t go through the Editorial, or Public Information Departments, but trust that the authors will follow the policies that have been set up. For projects that are directly related to exhibitions, the curators, the interpretive materials manager, and education are all involved.
ArtShare on FaceBook -Work and develop your social web presence organically
The Brooklyn Museum just developed a new application for FaceBook called ArtShare. This seemed like the right thing to do to engage with their community on this social site. ArtShare allows people to take the art they like and put it on their profile. The application is open and other Museums are using it to add art from their collections. In fact artists are encouraged to upload their own work too.
“The ideas often come up organically, we look at the exhibition schedule and talk about what might be appropriate. We have a conversation (internally), and then maybe come back to it a week or two later. The FaceBook idea came up really quickly, and we decided to do it. Almost all these things happen pretty fast and pretty organically. And I hope that that also comes across because it’s something that we try to do really hard here.”
VIDEO COMPETITON on YouTube - Align your activities with your mission
“…Dedicated to the primacy of the visitor experience…”
As with the other social networking sites, the team asked “What was the right kind of thing for YouTube?” “You have to define what the community is interested in and do that as opposed to constantly pushing your own stuff,” says Shelley. While they do have their own content there, they feel it’s really also about what other people produce. “Its funny,” says Shelley, “when you look at the videos that were part of the competition, they have way more hits than anything we put on YouTube.”
Bernstein is doing a great job on the transparency side too. Here are some pointers on the lessons learned from their video competition.
And let me know if you are doing something interesting and I'll write about it here!