Museum blogging Social networking Web 2.0 Web metrics

Applying a new social media framework from Forrester to the cultural sector

Josh Bernoff at Forrester has put together another good chart of how corporations might use social media to support five key functions – research, marketing, sales, support and development. He neatly ties together function, objective, the appropriate choice of social media application, and then a success metric for each.

Whilst the cultural sector may not have the same ‘sales’ and ‘support’ needs, there are clear parallels if we begin to look at the objectives column.

(source: Groundswell at Forrester)

Let’s break it down.


Audience evaluation practices in light of visitor generated social media are clearly undergoing change and there are enormous new opportunities for insights. As Josh indicates, good metrics of success for ‘listening’ are the value and depth of insights, and the comparable cost of focus groups and surveys. In light of Lynda Kelly’s work in this area I’d say that social media offers many exciting new ways to not only undertake audience research but also to present it. Her work with ‘visitor stories’ is particularly exciting.


Most museum marketing teams, sometimes assisted by the web team, are now ‘talking’ to audiences in new ways and starting conversations. Officially sanctioned museum blogs are now far more common and many museums both small and large are talking to audiences on Flickr and YouTube as well as Facebook and MySpace. Where the cultural sector lags is in having well developed measures of ‘buzz’ and awareness – and few are tracking through the door visits that are a result of these activities. Offering downloadable tracked discount passes through these media are an easy way of starting to track ‘conversions’ and ‘sales’.


Museum membership departments are starting to look at social media as a way of creating and strengthening the member community but these are still early days. The real ‘energising’ in the sector lies in the deep engagement in social media of niche communities of visitors – Flickr pools, YouTube groups, MySpace friends. Probably the best examples of ‘energising’ in the cultural sector lie around the well developed MySpace presence of MOCA and the Flickr pools and groups run by the Brooklyn Museum. Here there are some very ‘engaged’ visitors who act as brand ambassadors for the organisation.


This is perhaps the most difficult objective for museums to engage with. It relies on building a strong community around your content – most probably your collection – and then letting go. In workshops and presentations the inevitable question comes up here around ‘authority’ and ‘reputation’. What if the community knows ‘more’ about part of your collection than your museum does? In the corporate/commercial world some of the most significant successes from social media have been in reducing customer support – and having the customers answer each other. Look at any support forum for any product and you will see, if it is working well, that most of the responses and suggestions are from other users. Now, could a museum provide a platform for community members to answer the questions of others about objects in the collection?

Here at the Powerhouse we are struggling with the increased volume of public enquiries since we launched our social media-infused collection database. Requests for information have tripled and now the sort of questions we are asked are more detailed and require significantly more curatorial research time than previously. At the same time we are receiving valuable new information and corrections to our collection documentation at a rate of nearly 2 a day.

Would it be possible to provide a platform for, say, the numismatics experts to answer the questions of other collectors directly, through our site, and reduce the ‘support calls’ needing to be answered by curatorial research staff?


Already many are starting to harness the insights they are gaining from their visitors. At the Brooklyn they are going as far as having a ‘crowd-curated’ exhibition soon called Click!. and back here at the Powerhouse we have been using a lot of the insights of the users of the collection database to inform our classification and documentation practices. I also know that over at the Australia Museum Lynda Kelly’s innovative collaborative evaluation work with visitors, especially teens, is transforming the content of future exhibitions.