Upgrade Now or Become Obsolete!

I try to keep abreast of developments in social media as it relates to museums – the tag cloud on this blog reflects that interest.  There are several blogs and e-newsletters that offer insights on how we do social media at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa. These resources include Nonprofit Tech 2.0,  Marketing Profs Today, and Tech Soup.  One of the most relevant social media blogs for museums is Coleen Dilenschneider’s Know Your Own Bone.

“Upgrade Now or Become Obsolete” is a heading from Heather Mansfield’s newly published Social Media for Social Good: A How To Guide for Nonprofits.   The heading seems a dire warning.  With budget cuts and reduced staffs, how can the medium to small-sized museums be expected to take on the additional social media upgrade?  I don’t think there is an easy answer to this question.  However, Mansfield’s book provides a firm basis to assess a museum or other nonprofit institutions social media presence.  She notes in the Introduction that the book can form the basis of a social media strategic plan.  I agree.

For museums who are beginning to think about mobile apps (Web 3.0), but are still grappling with their social media (Web 2.0), and wondering if the upgrade means they are going to abandon their websites (Web 1.0), Mansfield’s book is ideal.  Mansfield divides the book into three parts based on the noted types of online communication methods.  She clearly demonstrates the interrelationship of the three types.  She argues that one is not better than the other, but serve different purposes.  For example after discussing the Web 1.0 static web page and e-newsletter, the subsequent Web 2.0 discussion of Social Media is viewed as a tool that also drives traffic back to the web page.  At the same time, the web page promotes and is tied to the Social Media.

Each discussion in the book concludes with a list of 5 Must Have and 11 Best Practices for topics such as Website Design, E-newsletters, and Donate Now campaigns.  In discussing Social Media projects Mansfield starts with 11 organizational points to consider before even setting up a Facebook page.  A pleasant addition to the book is that Mansfield provides time estimates that different tasks, such as blogging, Facebook posts, YouTube videos, will take for staff to complete each week.  Although only estimates, I found the numbers a bit on the high side and geared more toward larger institutions than the average museum with only a handful of employees.

Another asset to the book is that each section ends with a list of sites that are Examples of Excellence for the points discussed in the chapter.  “Google This” listings for further investigations are also included throughout the book.  The volume concludes with an appendix checklist to guide the reader through the entire social media process.  Mansfield writes that “To utilize every tool and best practice on this checklist could take 12 to 24 months.  Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by this.  As long as you have the will, you have the time” (p.xiv).  My takeaway is that if one expects to “do” social media in the next month and check it off their task list, they will be disappointed.  As well, Mansfield notes that one should not expect huge returns, whether in visitation or donations, after publishing the first few e-newsletters or fund-raising appeals.  Social media is a process not an event.

Mansfield’s book will be useful to the novice just launching an online social media presence and for those who have worked at it for a few years but need to review, fine-tune, revise, and update their process.  I suspect that the only folks who will find the book too simplistic are those on the caliber of Mansfield’s Examples of Excellence.  For the rest of us, Social Media for Social Good is an excellent resource.  For myself, I have a shopping list of tasks to get busy on.

What are the key resources that guide your social media process?

Advocacy & Museums: Not Just for Administrators Anymore

With shrinking support dollars, advocacy is more than ever a pressing and essential survival skill for public institutions.  The American Association of Museums‘ (AAM) 2011 book Speak Up For Museums: The AAM Guide to Advocacy by Gail Ravnitzky Siberglied is an excellent starting point for the discussion.  As AAM President Ford Bell notes in the volume’s Preface “We advocate for the value of our museums every time we open an exhibit, welcome a school group, send out a press release, meet with funders or hold a special event in the community.  Advocacy can be as simple and personal as chatting with a visitor” (p. xi).  Advocacy work with elected officials and policy makers is the focus of the volume.

Like many AAM publications, the scope of Speak Up For Museums is basic but comprehensive.  The volume covers the limitations in advocacy work for nonprofits, involvement of museum boards, advice from public officials and museum advocates, and a basic civics lesson on government structures and operations related to advocacy.

Two chapters stood out as particularly helpful to me.  First, Chapter 3, An Advocacy Inventory, contains step-by-step templates/guides for compiling institutional data (e.g., visitation demographics, elected and other public officials, and economic data) critical for successful advocacy.

Chapter 6, Start Advocating Today! A Week-by-Week Plan provides a list of 57 advocacy tasks.  The examples range from simple to complex and include adding all relevant elected (city, state, county, federal) officials to your mailing list and social media sites (and vice versa), updating a museum’s virtual presence on websites, Wikipedia and social media pages, and  joining with other area museums in advocacy efforts.

The AAM hosts a Speak Up For Museum webpage with many links and information on advocacy work.

The 125 page volume was a quick read and a ready reference for framing further advocacy work.  My takeaway points directly and indirectly from the book include:

  • Museums continue to move from being collections driven to centering on the visitor experience in the same way that archaeology now includes a public accountability component unheard of 50 years ago.  In this regard, all practitioners take on advocacy roles.  Advocacy is now embraced by the field archaeologist, the curator, and the research scientist, not just the administrators, educators and marketing departments.  Particularly with the advent of social media institutions no longer have the luxury of controlling the means and pace of their advocacy efforts.  Speak Up For Museums focuses on advocacy with public officials.   Although not explicitly stated, the public realm of advocacy also requires a full team effort.  Despite centralized press releases and lobbying efforts, all staff need to create their 3-minute elevator speech advocating for the institution.
  • I have a new appreciation that advocacy is a long-term process that starts with building a relationship today.  I often smile smugly at the Facebook entries from the institution that only posts for self-promotion or Kickstarter/Pepsi Challenge type fundraising efforts.  I suspect the public official feels the same way if they only hear from me when I need something but am not engaged as part of the broader solution.
  • Advocacy is not rocket science.  Advocacy can be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other and doing the next right thing.  Adding the email addresses of all relevant public officials to an e-newsletter list is pretty straightforward and can probably be achieved with a half-hour of Google search time.  In fact, Chapter 3 “An Advocacy Inventory” suggests that the template/guide tasks “can also be done as a case study for a graduate class in museum studies” (p. 16).  Hmm . . . sounds like Project 1 for my Museum Practices graduate seminar in the Museum Studies Certificate Program at the University of Memphis this fall semester – pick an area museum and develop an advocacy guide for them.

Speak Up For Museums is a great resource to start or further develop an institution’s advocacy work.  Although geared specifically toward museums, the application is adaptable to a range of nonprofit agencies.

What are your tools for advocacy?

FaceBook & Radical Trust

Mississippi River source, Lake Itasca, Minnesota

How do you respond to challenging posts on your Facebook (FB) page?  I had a couple of interesting discussions about this in the past week.  First, here is an exchange from our C.H. Nash Museum FB page on the current flooding of the Mississippi River in Memphis Tennessee where we are located:

FB Post:  Is Chucalissa going to flood?

Us: We certainly hope not! We are all keeping a very close eye on the surrounding areas and taking necessary precautions, just in case!

FB Post: what happened in 1937?

One day goes by and we do not respond . . .

FB Post: This too tough of a question?

Us:  We are still researching that question.

I get an email from the staff somewhat frantic feeling they must definitely respond to the question about the 1937 Flood. Instead, we post the following response:

Us:  We routinely receive flash flood warnings during heavy rains primarily from the areas leading up to the bluff on which Chucalissa is located. Don’t know about 1937 and a cursory Google search does not suggest a direct impact on this bluff top. Sounds like an interesting research question though. Have at it!

FB Post:  Oh well shows what I know – I thought Chuckalissa was in the flood plain as like a seasonal fishing camp – and that the other 2 villages located east of their were more permanent.

Here is my takeaway on this experience.  FB pages are meant as social media and that requires an engagement.  FB does not require us to have encyclopedic knowledge, but does require a dialogue.  “Fans” of our page who might have the required knowledge to answer the question.  Could that spark a bit of a research project on their part?  Turns out the person who posted the initial inquiry was in error about our actual location.  But my experience with FB is that the dialogue is key.

I had an interesting experience on the essential interactive nature of FB when we started our FB page a couple of years ago.  I once removed an individual’s post that I considered as somewhat inflammatory and controversial.  The individual then emailed me rather incensed about my action.  We had a brief backchannel discussion where we worked out the issue.  I regretted deleting the post, realizing I could have addressed the issue on-line.  Six months later the same person made a similar type of post.  We immediately responded online in a proactive and engaged way.  The individual has ceased such practices.  Ultimately, our experience shows that if there is accountability on both sides of the equation, the FB dialogue works.

Related, I was speaking to a friend from a large professional organization who lamented that all of their social media posts needed the Director’s approval.  Based solely on my experience at a small museum with a limited staff, to meaningfully take advantage of social media, I needed to give up the control.  Since doing so two years ago, I have cringed a couple of times at our staff posts, provided some corrective yet supportive and encouraging feedback to staff, but we continue to move forward in a good direction.  Importantly, I have learned a great deal about social media from my predominately 20-something staff.

There are many online resources that discuss these issues.  The Museums Social Media wiki has links to lots of social media policies, plans, and resources including those from the Smithsonian, Getty Museum, and National Public Radio.  From the Radical Trust website is a very cool article The Social Media Stage by Collin Douma that “is a practical guide for brand marketers who are just getting their feet wet in social media. With a focus on the community management realm, this paper is loaded with tools, best practices, response protocols, content filters, job descriptions, effort assessments, etc.”

Social media is messy.  Social media is not linear.  Social media is not a monologue.  But, social media is phenomenal tool for engagement, and outreach to a wide diversity of audiences.  And as our demographics below show, FB has certainly moved well beyond the original concept where you needed a college student ID to get in!

What is your experience with radical trust and FB?

Demographic of C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa FB page, May 2011

Social Media, Gaming & Engagement

A few weeks ago I attended the Society for Applied Anthropology meetings in Seattle.  I particularly enjoyed the session titled Exploring the Boundaries of Social Media.   One of the more interesting papers in the session was by Kelley Downey, Catherine Chmidling, Patricia Webster and Karol Ezell titled Applied Reciprocal Exchange in Farmville and ‘Ville Games: The Economics of “Good” Friends and Neighbors.  Karol Ezell presented the paper and discussed the Facebook (FB) applications in a way that I had never appreciated before.  Currently there are some 46 million registered monthly users of FarmVille.  I confess that I ‘hide’ FB friends who deal in FarmVille and are always looking for pink cows or whatever.  Karol put this game into a different perspective for me.  She explained how FarmVille can be used to teach anthropological concepts of balanced, negative, and moral reciprocity ala Malinowski’s discussion of the Trobriand Kula Ring.  That is how FarmVille operates.

Can the interactive model of FarmVille be used to explore trade and exchange in prehistory or other aspects of the archaeological material record?  There seems tremendous potential in this area.

The Alternative Reality Gaming Network provides a host of examples of how this direction could be taken in Archaeology and Museums.  Find the Future is an Alternative Reality Game of sorts that will be played at the New York Public Library later this month.  In an overnight session 500 individuals will conduct research and write a book on the subject using the resources available at the library, presumably via digital access.  The project was created by Jane McGonigal an evangelist for gaming as a tool for education and real world problem solving.  You can hang out at her website, read her new book, and spend a good bit of time getting enmeshed in the gaming for good info.

Here are the takeaways I get with from this discussion:

  • Whether FarmVille or Find the Future, an engaged and participatory experience is required for the game to work.  The process brings people together and in community.
  • The actual implementation of such games can be technologically straight forward.  I am not a computer programmer and although the technology of FarmVille is way over my head, I can conceptualize how to actually implement something like Find the Future.
  • This all comes down to a critical point – as Shirky notes in his book Cognitive Surplus, technology does not create the behavior, rather technology enables a better implementation of an existing behavior.  Therefore, as a starting point, can we conceptualize a FarmVille or Find the Future scenario within the tangible resources now in our museums?
  • I suspect that a critical point in so doing is to commit to a radical trust.  I tremendously value the experience I had some 15 years ago with the 5th grade school girl who was allowed to interpret the Poverty Point headless figurines on her own terms.  (I wonder if she remembers that experience as much as I do?).   If we don’t promote and validate engagement at this level, then all of the digital technology in the world will only produce the same old same old.

Oh and here is a bonus from the SfAA session – Karol Ezell reported the revealing comment of one of her students “I am not going to die alone.  I am going to be plugged in.”

How can our museums be truly plugged in?

Is This Facebook Stuff Still Really Worth It?

About one year ago I posted on relevancy of Facebook (FB) to Outreach work.  I discussed the utility of FB
and some of the analytic tools for assessing the demographics of page “likes” or hits.  In the past year the number of FB pages by archaeologists and museums jumped dramatically with a diversity of applications.  For example, archaeologist Rebecca Bria uses the FB group function as a primary means for organizing her student field crews heading to Peru this summer.  As well, her regular FB page for Hualcayan has more than doubled the number of “likes” in the past month alone.  Organization such as the Small Museum Association continue to use their FB page as a venue for dialogue among members.  The Society for American Archaeology routinely uses their FB page to provide information principally about government policy and organizational concerns.  Archaeological sites such as Cahokia use their FB page as a promotional tool for scheduled events.  At Chucalissa, we are attempting to use our Facebook page as a means of engagement not just by promoting events but through posting information about current projects at the Museum and the Midouth region that might be of interest to those who “like” our page.  For example, we routinely cross-promote with the Parkin Archaeological site located just 45 minutes away in Arkansas.

In the past year, a plethora of new publications addressed the general issue of how to get the most bang for the buck on Facebook.  Given the rapidly evolving technology, most of these “how to” type books are outdated after they are on the bookshelves for a few months.  However, several free online downloads are worth review to fine tune a Facebook strategy.  For example, the Virtue marketing group offers a downloadable The Anatomy of a Facebook Post that considers time of day, keywords and other technical aspects of posting.  Network for Good links to a large number of free downloads such as Is Your Nonprofit Facebook Page Worth It? that explores various forms of FB analytics

I remain a big fan of Beth Kanter and Alison Fine’s The Networked Nonprofit and Clay Shirky’s Here Come’s Everybody and his recently published Cognitive Surplus, less for their up-to-date technical information but more for their discussion of how to conceptualize and use social media such as FB.  A recent article in the New York Times hits the proverbial nail on the head for this point.  The article discusses how the use of social media in museums is not about the technology but about engaging with visitors, both virtual and in real-time.  As Shirky (2010:98) notes in Cognitive Surplus “Interpretations that focus on technology miss the point: technology enables those behaviors, but it doesn’t cause them . . . no one want e-mail for itself, any more than anyone wants electricity for itself; rather, we want the things electricity enables.”

So, all of this comes back to the question – Is this Facebook stuff still really worth it?

In considering this question, at the C.H. Nash Museum, we were somewhat surprised by our recent visitor survey that showed 2/3 of the respondents wanted more content from our museum available via the internet.  As 75% of the total survey respondents were recent visitors to the museum, we conclude that these are individuals who wish to have a mixed real-time and virtual experience of Chucalissa.  Seemingly in contradiction, we receive only a handful of likes and comments to our FB posts.  At the same time, I am consistently surprised by folks who will drop us an email or comment when they visit the museum how much they enjoy our Facebook page and our monthly e-newsletter.  Clearly, relying exclusively on the number of comments and likes for individual posts is not a valid measure of worth?

For both FB and our e-newsletter we never campaigned to increase our circulation.  However, we are certain that visitors we meet online and in real-time are made aware of these media tools to stay in touch and be in dialogue with us.  As a result, all of our subscribers to FB and the e-newsletter are true buy-ins.  As a result we see a consistent increase in likes/subscribers with very few unlikes/unsubscribes.  This trend seems to indicate that we are building a strong communication base.

This leads me back to another post from last summer on how we measure success.  From this perspective, if we take a long-term sustainable approach to our work, then the relative growth and indirect feedback we receive for our FB page is comparable to our steady increase in other measures such as museum visitors and volunteers – both indicators of value.

At the oral defense for my M.A. Thesis a bunch of years ago, one of my committee members, Barry Isaac asked “Why is reading your M.A. Thesis more important than eating a plate of worms?”  I ask myself the same question today relative to the time and energy spent on FB.  The FB stuff still seems worth it, even compared to eating a plate of worms.

How about your experience?

Should Museums be Fun?

Is this fun?

I have to admit a certain bias on this question of museums and fun.  Off the top, I cannot recollect reading a museum mission statement that includes the word fun   However, a recent blog post by Reach Advisors takes up this issue.  They note that fun as a desirable attribute of a museum visit is often a generational issue – disfavored by those over 50, but favored by younger visitors.  The Reach survey also notes that parents consider the fun their children have in museums as a means for learning.  The Reach blog post assesses views on both the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for fun in museums.

Part of this might be how one conceptualizes fun.  I always thought of the mind bending linguistic midterms of Dr. Joe Fred Foster during my undergraduate days at the University of Cincinnati as fun.  Most of my cohort considered the tests torture.  My granddaughter thinks the grocery store at the Memphis Children’s Museum is a blast and I see it as an early indoctrination into the consumerism of name brand over packaged stuff that ultimately ends up in land fills.

Over the past couple of weeks at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa we have had a new kind of fun.  We recently developed a hands-on program where students grades 5 and up work in pairs and are led through a process where they examine a selection of ten prehistoric stone tools ranging from scrapers to dart points to ground stone.  The project leader asks the students to consider why the flint used is of different colors (trade & exchange), size and shape (function), basal notching or stemmed (style), and always including the caveat that the “experts” don’t have good answers to some of these questions.  The program is tied to curriculum standards of the tri-state public school system.  The program is a fantastic learning experience and goes well beyond hands-on for the sake of hands-on and was designed to maximize the participatory experience.

Natalye helping a visitor mount the dart on the atlatl

But, is this new program fun?  Our focus group and trial tests would suggest that yes, the program is engaging, stimulates curiosity, captures the imagination, and so forth.  If I transported myself back nearly 50 years to a 10-year-old me, I am confident I would call the program fun.

We end the new stone tool program with an opportunity for the participants to go outside and use an atlatl to throw darts.  We make mention of how this was a primary hunting method prior to the introduction of the bow and arrow in the Southeast U.S. around AD 700.  Throwing six-foot long darts with an atlatl is fun.  This past Saturday, volunteers and site visitors stayed outside for two hours throwing the darts, well beyond the planned 20 minute initial demonstration and throwing opportunity.  Natalye Tate, one of our graduate assistants takes the lead in these demonstrations.  She currently holds the distance record at the museum (in the historic era anyway) and provides an excellent role model for young girls in what is typically considered a manly exercise.

Natalye demonstrating throwing form

I have suggested that given a choice between throwing darts with an atlatl or playing on digital touch tables, visitors would most often choose the atlatl.  Is it because this is more fun?  more educational? a unique opportunity? or all the above?

What are your thoughts on having “fun” at museums?

Museum Visitor Survey Says . . .

At the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa we recently sent out a simple 10 question survey to subscribers of our monthly e-newsletter – about 1500 total.  Our immediate goal was to get our visitors thoughts about the general direction of the museum over the past few years.  We also wanted to design a simple survey that could be taken in less than 5 minutes but also gave the opportunity for folks to provide greater detail if they chose to do so.  We wanted a survey that covered the scope of information we needed for the coming period.  That is, we did not want to send out this survey, followed by another in two months, followed by another . . .  and we committed to report the results of the survey and our response back to the subscribers.

We note numerous caveats on interpreting such surveys, but we are assuming the results will represent at least a trend in our visitors thinking about the museum.  So, with that in mind, we composed the survey, submitted the draft to sparked.com for feedback (I have posted before about this fantastic micro-volunteering website.), got some great feedback, and then distributed the survey to our subscriber list.  The results have begun to roll in.   Thus far 50% of our respondents visited the Museum in the last six months and 75% within the past two years.  Therefore, we know that the response was by active visitors to our museum.  Some of the results were very predictable but others are surprising  Here are a couple:

To the statement “I visit the C.H. Nash Museum to experience . . .” we were not at all surprised by those who noted prehistoric Native American cultures and archaeology as the reason for their visit.  We were surprised by the 55% who visit to experience our natural environment.  This result supports the strong response to our bat house installation posting on our Facebook page.   Coincidentally our staff recently discussed the need to pay greater attention to the “natural environment” part of our mission statement.

To the statement “Besides visiting the Museum please note the activities in which you have an interest . . .”  a solid 64% wanted more information made available via the internet.  This result confirms that components of the virtual museum are increasingly desired by even those individuals visiting museums in real-time.  A very surprising 42% of respondents wanted volunteer opportunities they could do from their homes.  Of note an identical 42% of responses wanted more volunteer experiences at the Museum.  Given the comparable requests and our very successful on site volunteer program, we are clearly missing an opportunity to involve more folks from their homes.  The desire to volunteer from home certainly confirms the thrust behind sparked.com and points to a visitor need we are not now meeting at Chucalissa.  Obvious at home volunteer activities might include digital scanning and data entry.

Without reviewing all the survey questions here, and though we expect doubling our responses over the next couple of weeks, we can interpret the initial survey results as:

  • the visitors who responded are pleased with the direction we are taking at the museum.
  • we need to balance our program emphasis more, especially to incorporate the natural environment
  • visitors want a greater digital presence and at home volunteer experience.

So, when all is said and done, we expect that this simple ten question survey will confirm that the general path we are going down at the museum is consistent with our mission and is also supported by our visitors.  At the same time, the survey raises several key points that we have missed along the way.  A great return for a limited effort on our part.

What surprises have you found in visitor surveys?

You, the Web & Wikipedia

This week’s blog post by Nina Simon on Museum 2.0 talks about museum’s posting information and content on Wikipedia, most often one of the first hits in any web search.  This brought to mind an important project we conducted at the C.H. Nash Museum in the summer of 2009.  We did a web search on the terms “Chucalissa” and “C.H. Nash Museum.”  Our purpose was to determine if the information on the internet about our institution was accurate.  Besides our own museum website, the top hits were from sites such as Trip Advisor, state travel sites, and other archaeological resource lists.  At the time, we did not have a Wikipedia page.  Over the past 20 years, our institution has radically revised programming and the overall visitor experience.  Our web search showed that for the most part, the internet information about our museum was grossly outdated.  Based in part on this outdated information, some visitors arrived expecting to see an exhibit or program that had not been offered in 15 years.  At the same time, our new exhibits and program offerings were not included in web search listings.

We addressed this problem by creating an electronic information packet with the following:

  • standard 50 and 100 word descriptive blurbs for our museum.
  • an updated information list such as hours, cost, contact information, website address.
  • a few images that most captured the current visitor experience.

Armed with this updated information:

  • We prepared a list of the top 100 site hits for the keywords “Chucalissa” and “C.H. Nash Museum” from our web search.
  • In order, we contacted the webmaster for sites with incorrect information and provided them with the updated electronic information packet.  This process was actually less difficult than we expected.  Several of the major sites took a couple of contacts before the updates were listed, but we were pleasantly surprised at the overall response to our requests.
  • We created a Wikipedia page.

As a result:

  • Upon completion of the project in 2009, the top twenty search engine hits for “Chucalissa” and the “C.H. Nash Museum” contained accurate information.  Only three sites contained accurate information before the project began.
  • The Wikipedia listing that we created is the first hit after our institutional and friends websites (both of which contain “Chucalissa” in the url).
  • We anticipated that because many of the smaller travel and info web sites simply copy content from the larger sites that our updates would eventually trickle down.

Eighteen months after the update project, a web search this morning found that seven of the top forty hits contained inaccurate information.  One is from a major site that never responded to our update request.  The other six are sites were not in our top 100 hits in 2009.  Although the situation is much improved from 2009, this morning’s web search points to the need to repeat the process on occasion.

In this mornings web search I also noted that our videos and images posted directly to YouTube and Flickr are now reflected in search engine hits.  If these videos and images lived only on our webpage they would not receive the additional web search visibility.  (This technique is also important in posting directly to Facebook pages and not just linking an offsite url for videos.  Here is a tutorial on tagging videos in Facebook.)

So, if an interested person does a web search of your institution, would the top hits they find provide the message you want them to receive?

Radical Trust and Visitor Engagement

Flowing from my last post, as museums or archaeologists, how do we stay engaged with our volunteers, visitors, and the community?  I have posted on this before, but the general subject keeps bubbling to the surface in my daily actions.  I keep coming back to a lunch last year where the Outreach Director for a state agency wondered “How do we know if these once a year Archaeology Days are successful and how do we keep those people involved after the event is over?”

In this post I want to talk about an “aha” moment I had on this. To start off, I truly believe that social media is not just a one-way street.  We cannot just use Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube for cheap advertising.  Rather, these tools are excellent and designed for integration and interaction.  A buzzword over the past few years is radical trust.  There are many good discussions on this subject that explore the reciprocity and interaction of online hosts and users.

In the past few months, I heard from a couple different resources about this idea of micro-volunteering at a site called Sparked. The general concept is that lots of people have 15-20 minutes here and there where they could volunteer to help someone else online in mini-tasks or “challenges.”  If you visit the Sparked website, you can login as either a nonprofit or a micro-volunteer.  Keep this distinction in mind as you read on below because it’s the essence of the “aha” experience.

I registered at Sparked a few weeks ago.  I did not follow-up for the first few days, then I got a reminder email and decided to give it a shot.  I posted a copy of the last Chucalissa Anoachi e-newsletter and asked for a critique.  I got an absolutely fantastic response back from Tim S. with Charles and Ray Design.  I suspect his total time invested was less than 30 minutes but he gave a phenomenal critique, all of which got incorporated into our December newsletter.

After getting the response back from Tim, I realized I could not just let it go at that.  I made a decision that for every response I received to a “challenge” I posted, I would “micro-volunteer” and respond to another challenge.  In so doing, I would be giving back to the resource I was drawing from.  I have engaged with Sparked for a few weeks now.  I have posed “challenges” to have our Mission Statement translated into five different languages and have micro-volunteered to several challenges in need of copyedit and critique.

Here is where the “aha” moment comes in.  Last night I was logging onto the site and hesitated in whether I should consider myself as a nonprofit or a micro-volunteer.  I was invested on both sides of the equation.  I can now issue “challenges” on everything from fundraising ideas to design critique when I am in need of fresh insights on a Museum project.  In the same way, if I am in a doctor’s office or stuck at the airport waiting for a flight, or just have a few minutes at the end of the day, I can logon and engage.   Sparked is always there, the need is always there, and the opportunity to post a challenge is always there.  But most importantly, I have developed a stake in the community.

So, what does this have to do with staying engaged with our volunteers and visitors?  I have become a stakeholder in Sparked.  How do we engage our visitors and volunteers as true stakeholders in the cultural heritage of their towns, cities, and built environments?   I suspect that a first step is to go beyond Archaeology Days and one-off events and begin talking about radical trust and a consistent engagement.  And that goes back to volunteers and visitors as integral to our Mission.

Your thoughts?

so, is this Facebook stuff worth it?

I asked this question about Social Media in general a few weeks back.    I also noted how at the C.H. Nash Museum we do not want our newsletter, website, and Facebook to be simply different versions of the same thing.  We routinely use Facebook to interact and with our fans.  So how is that going and what are we learning?

The first thing I learned was the need to give up control.  This seems somewhat contradictory to my position as the Museum Director, but all of our staff and graduate assistants are now administrators of the Facebook page.  We routinely discuss the type of content we think will work.  I thoroughly enjoy that the posts I at first might cringe at, are in fact those that engage our fans the most.  Further, this interactivity is driving increased awareness and participation in our on-site events, such as our annual 5k run.

Second, the ability to interact with other Museums, cross promote activities, and simply share and be engaged with other folks experience is tremendous.  The page Museums on Facebook lists some 600 different institutions with fan pages.  I am a fan of a couple dozen different regional, Native American, and archaeological museum pages.  The types of posts from these museums is diverse.  Most museum web pages continue to just push product.  However, an increasing number are becoming more interactive and “social” in their approach.  For example the Newseum Facebook fan page always ends their posts with a question to engage their fans.  On the C.H. Nash Museum page, we find that questions posed are always answered by at least a couple of fans.

A recent post on Beth’s Blog discussed Facebook analytics.    Options range from the complex such as Google Analytics to not so complex analytic options.  For example, the simpler Insights link available to administrators of each individual Facebook fan page actually has a wealth of data.  There are also links with lots of Online data on Facebook fan page analytics.  A good starting point for me was a download that reports on comparative data based on Facebook Insights.  The report contains abundant detail on averages for Fan Pages, on everything from number of fans, average posts, number of comments per post – more stuff than you can shake a stick at.  This downloadable report allows you to see how your Fan Page stacks up against the norm.  For example, on the C.H. Nash Museum page, we are above the norm on the most of the various feedback measures.

However, these data still do not directly answer the question, is this Facebook stuff worth it?  If a page maintains above average rankings on all measures, does that mean it is working and is worth the time expended?  I’ll play with this more in the future.

What are your thoughts on how to measure if your energy expenditure in Facebook is worth it?