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Are Museums Missing Out on Social Media?

June 20, 2011

National Museum of the American Indian, Washington D.C., USA

At the American Association of Museum meetings last month, multiple sessions made clear the growing use and importance of social media in museums’ day-to-day functioning and outreach efforts.  Many institutions are investing considerable resources in their social and virtual media presences.  My recent visit to Smithsonian Institution venues in Washington D.C. affirmed this direction.  For example, at the National Museum of American History website, one can spend hours blogging, interacting, and virtually roaming through collections not on exhibit in real-time.  The same is true of the National Museum of the American Indian’s website.

The internationally based New Media Consortium website contains Horizon Project reports on emerging technologies. One report is a 2010 shortlist for Museums that provides a good overview of potential of social media in museums along with case studies.

Museums increasingly rely on social media and other digital resources to deliver on their mission of public outreach and education.  The web abounds with evaluation tools including simple Facebook insights, Google analytics, and many more to assess the demographics and experiences of those who use the social media resources.

But are museums successful in actually reaching their intended audiences with social media tools?  A survey published by Museum Next provides some interesting data on this question.  I was particularly intrigued when looking at the results broken down by user age.  The table below draws on data from the Museum Next website.

Social Media Use Relative to Museum

Here is some of what stands out to me.  The breakdown by age of those individuals who use social media is not surprising, only confirming conventional wisdom: Young folks use social media a lot but older people do to.  The percentage of individuals who are actually fans, subscribe to, or “like” social media pages declines dramatically with increased age.  But here is where things get interesting.  A solid 70% or greater of all age categories report visiting museums or galleries, but only a small percentage of those people are aware of museums that have social media pages and even fewer follow those pages.  If all those individuals who

  • subscribe/like social media in general and also attend museums
  • were aware of museum specific social media pages
  • and subscribed at the same rate to museum social media pages as they do other social media pages
  • then the followers of museum social media pages would instantly increase by 400%.

I am not a statistician (nor do I play one on TV) and I realize that my assertion relies on a couple of assumptions, but the clear sign is that museums do not presently maximize the potential of social media for individuals who both now follow social media and visit museums.

We have a lot of work to do in connecting social media using visitors who come through our museum doors with the social media and virtual presence in which we are currently investing our resources.

How do you promote your social media resources to your visitors?

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