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.

Imaging Museum blogging

Powerhouse Photo of the Day – a new museum blog

I’m excited to announce a new Powerhouse Museum blog – our Photo of the Day blog.

This blog is aimed at exposing some of the amazing photographic work that occurs at the Museum. Our Image Services team doesn’t just do object photography, scanning and image sales – they have a fantastically talented group of professional photographers who shoot way more than gets seen in exhibitions and publications. Each day they will be posting a new photo – a mix of older work and right up to the minute shots. There’s behind the scenes photography, location shots, detail shots, and every so often we’ll be putting up a photographic essay complete with tips, techniques, and specialist insider information.

The other notable feature of Photo of the Day is that we are using our Flickr account to store the images. Each image is uploaded to Flickr, extensively tagged and where possible, also geotagged. Here’s one taken in China during some location work for our recent Great Wall of China exhibition. Clicking an image in the blog will take you directly to the same image in Flickr.

Already we’re connecting with other professional photographers on Flickr (and we’ve only just launched!). This is a good example of how a museum can utilise an existing content community (Flickr) to generate extra exposure for and conversations around its media assets.

Feel free to leave comments in the posts, or, if you prefer, in Flickr!

Museum blogging Social networking Web metrics

Better museum blog metrics – is your blog really working for you and your organisation?

Musuem blogs, even when they are one-directional (and have comments turned off), need to be measured differently. Jim Spadaccini and I wrote about this earlier in the year, but now with many many more museums blogging it is time for an update.

At the Powerhouse we’ve seen phenomenal growth in our blogs. This very blog, Fresh & New is one of the most popular parts of the Museum’s website (and it isn’t even linked from anywhere else on the site!), and the Sydney Observatory’s blog continues to grow well beyond the traffic figures of the pre-blog Sydney Observatory. (Our other blogs rise and fall much in line with the frequency of postings.)

But raw traffic growth is not a good measure. (And that’s not just because traffic figures are pretty rubbery these days).

In our paper Jim and I avoided site traffic and instead proposed that two better measures of success for museum blogs were citations/linkbacks and user comments. These captured the ‘interactivity’, the multidirectional communication, that most museums set up blogs to encourage and explore.

Web analytics guru, Avinash Kaushik has proposed 6 ways of measuring a blog’s success. He breaks it down to –

1) Raw Author Contribution – number of posts, length of posts, consistency of posts
2) Holistic Audience Growth – site traffic trends and RSS/feed trends
3) Conversation Rate – trend of comments per post
4) “Citations” / “Ripple Index” – linkbacks, how others discuss your content
5) Cost – total cost of running and posting to your blog
6) Benefit / ROI – including unmeasurable benefits

Kaushilk’s model fits the museum world particularly well because unlike many other business-style blogs, we are primarily about rich, detailed content – and we are using blogs to better, more widely, and more accessibly disseminate such content. To this end, his measure of Raw Author Contributions works well – and provides a metric to encourage continuity and consistency – something everyone struggles with.

Likewise, “citations” are easily explained to curatorial and research staff who operate in the academic world. Jim and I covered Conversion Rate and Citations in detail in our paper but if you already run a museum blog you may not have realised that Technorati has started expiring citations after 6 months. This can rapidly change your ‘authority’ rating if an old post has received a lot of linkbacks but your more recent work has been less widely discussed. As Kaushik writes, “I like this aggressiveness. Its a incentive to stay on your toes”. This again encourages consistency.

We are also, through our public programme and education areas, generally good at encouraging visitor interactions. Whilst this may not always transfer through to our websites, there are plenty of existing skills in our organisations in other sections and departments.

We are about to launch a new public facing blog for our Image Services unit which handles image sales and licensing as well as operating our amazing Photography Department who produce some fabulous, but rarely seen, images. In coming up with some measures of success for this new blog we have an added challenge – the primary content for the blog, images, will be stored on Flickr. Like the John Collier images at the Maxwell Museum, a large number of ‘visitors’ will only ever view the museum’s content on Flickr, not visiting the blog. In that sense, we are also going to be measuring image views by looking at the Flickr statistics as well.

Museum blogging Web 2.0

Blogs as a ‘community strategy’

New Matilda has an short but interesting piece by Kevin Anderson, blogs editor at The Guardian. In the article he stresses that blogging is about generating and engaging the community, not just a new means of publishing. Rather than see blogging as a threat to traditional publishing, it should be viewed as a new strategy for engaging audiences and readers.

This has strong resonances with experiences of museum blogging. Blogs aren’t replacing traditional forms of official communication, but they are engaging audiences in new and effective ways.

Neil McIntosh and Jack Schofield launched The Guardian’s first blog in 2001, realising it was better to be part of the conversation than listen to it from a lofty perch. The Guardian now has blogs covering everything from currents affairs — on ‘Comment is Free’ — to sport, arts and culture, and most recently food and gardening.

But blogging is not a publishing strategy, it’s a community strategy. Being one of the world’s bloggiest newspapers has led to bloggers linking to our stories, helping us grow a grass-roots following in the United States, so that The Guardian now has more online visitors outside of the UK than inside.

One of The Guardian’s stated goals is to become the world’s leading liberal voice. And our website’s ‘Head of Communities and User Experience,’ Meg Pickard, has said that we also need to enable the world’s liberal voices.

The art of blogging is about building a community and coaxing people out from behind their keyboards.

Conceptual Interactive Media Museum blogging Web metrics

Authority in social media – Why We Twitter: Understanding Microblogging Usage and Communities

From Akshay Java, Xiaodan Song, Tim Finin, and Belle Tseng comes an interesting academic paper titled Why We Twitter: Understanding Microblogging Usage and Communities.

Following my recent post looking at diffused brand identity in social media, this paper is a useful examination of the emergent ‘authority’ and ‘connectedness’ of users amongst a dataset of 75,000 users and 1.3 million ‘posts’.

Twitter is something that I’ve seen limited potential for in most museum applications so far, but increasingly Twitter-style communciation is replacing email – see the frequent updates that your friends do on Facebook’s ‘what I am doing/feeling now’ mood monitor for example.


Microblogging is a new form of communication in which users can describe their current status in short posts distributed by instant messages, mobile phones, email or the Web. Twitter, a popular microblogging tool has seen a lot of growth since it launched in October, 2006. In this paper, we present our observations of the microblogging phenomena by studying the topological and geographical properties of Twitter’s social network. We find that people use microblogging to talk about their daily activities and to seek or share information. Finally, we analyze the user intentions associated at a community level and show how users with similar intentions connect with each other.

Museum blogging Web 2.0

Ideum’s RSS Mixer and Widget-maker

The seemingly unstoppable Ideum has come up with another cool utility. Hot on the heels of their website snapshot tool comes RSS Mixer.

As the name suggests, RSS Mixer takes a bunch of feeds (10 max) and combines them into a single feed which can be displayed as HTML and, best of all for us Mac users, as a prebuilt OS X Widget. Whilst there are a lot of other feed combining tools out there, the Widget-maker is currently unique.

Here’s a mix of all the current, operational Powerhouse Museum feeds . You can go an download an OS X widget of them for your shiny laptop, get a mix formatted for your iPhone, or get them in more beige-box friendly formats too.

Ideum is behind the Museum Blogs aggregator which already aggregates and combines multiple RSS feeds from many museum bloggers so it makes perfect sense to be releasing this tool.

Museum blogging Powerhouse Museum websites

Great Wall museum bloggers reach their goal!

One of our most successful, and earliest public facing blog experiments, Walking The Wall is almost over.

Even though the Great Wall of China exhibition moved on from PHM a while ago, our intrepid Great Wall walkers continued their trek, blogging as they went.

146 post and 630 comments later, they have finally finished their walk which is still being documented at Walking The Wall.

Brendan and Emma have walked thousands of kilometres and taken gigabytes of photos along the way. As you may remember, they were injured and had to return to Sydney to recover before continuing their journey. It is important to remember that Brendan and Emma approached the Museum as volunteer walkers and have done the whole trip at their own expense!

The blog of their travels has received over 150,000 visits during their trip and has been extremely successful with national radio coverage as well as several broadsheet stories, both locally and internationally. These online visits are in addition to the thousands who stopped by the blog as an interactive in the galleries in Sydney and Melbourne.

You can continue live vicariously through their stories and images and feel free to leave comments – they do read them frequently.

I’d like to thank Brendan and Emma for their generous efforts.

Museum blogging

A new look for Fresh + New

Regular readers will have noticed that I’ve implemented a new look for the blog. I am currently making a few modifications to enhance readability (the font size has been increased and the quote font colour darkened) but if you have any other comments please tell me.

The previous look/skin on the site had been around for nearly 3 years and so it was time for a change. Some have asked me about the image I used for the header of the old skin – I can reveal it was a photo I took of a colleague in a completely machine-operated bar in Berlin. We were in Berlin presenting some museum work at the new media art festival and conference Transmediale 2004. Everything was operated by coin, conveyor belt and computer – no human staff at all – and there were internet terminals, surveillance monitors, and a Euro to Deutschmark change machine (all the slots took Deutschmarks!) . Access was by ‘membership’ card only so as to keep out vandals. Sadly the place has vanished by 2005.

Collection databases Folksonomies Museum blogging Web 2.0 Wikis

A reminder about ‘participation inequality’

I’m busy preparing a couple of new and remixed presentations for delivery in the northern hemisphere in the next few weeks and Tony Walker over at the ABC reminded me about this excellent summary of Participation Inequality by usability evangelist Jakob Nielsen.

How to Overcome Participation Inequality

You can’t.
The first step to dealing with participation inequality is to recognize that it will always be with us. It’s existed in every online community and multi-user service that has ever been studied.

Your only real choice here is in how you shape the inequality curve’s angle. Are you going to have the “usual” 90-9-1 distribution, or the more radical 99-1-0.1 distribution common in some social websites? Can you achieve a more equitable distribution of, say, 80-16-4? (That is, only 80% lurkers, with 16% contributing some and 4% contributing the most.)

Although participation will always be somewhat unequal, there are ways to better equalize it.

In our collection database tagging represents less than 0.01% of activity on the site. But, because we also do some neat search tracking we can combine a very low level of tagging (folksonomy) with our existing rich taxonomies and the ‘read wear‘ trails left by users in browsing the site to enhance the user experience for everybody.

Others ask me – “I have a blog but no-one ever posts comments, why?”. The answer to which is usually, “are you writing your posts in a way that leaves space open for people to respond simply and quickly?”.

The danger in all this quick uptake of social media amongst the cultural sector is that we often over estimate how much our audiences want to particpate. Sure, in our physical spaces we see them interacting with our on-floor interactive experiences but we then make the mistake of thinking that this will transfer over to the online space. Participation is not the same as interaction – interaction is a much more transient activity whereas participation generally requires effort over time. My advice in the online space is to implement solutions that require, as Nielsen writes, “zero effort” to participate – this is why we do so much work around user tracking and making that tracking simultaneously transparent and, paradoxically, invisible.

Try it.

Here’s my well-trotted out example – search for ‘cricket’ in our collection database.

What does it recommend as ‘related searches’? Other sports and some other words as well usually – it changes dynamically over time which reflects the different patterns of usage and association over time.

Why? Because other users like yourself have told it that these words are related to ‘cricket’.

Have they done so explicitly? No. They just browse the site and their behaviour tells our system that certain terms are related. There is ‘zero effort’ on the part of the user.

How? Ahhh, that’d be telling . . . come to one of my future presentations and find out.

Museum blogging

Feedburner does a round up of museum RSS feeds!

A few months ago Feedburner got in touch with me about museum bloggers.

Now they’ve done a nice little write up/round up of museum blogs and podcasters who are using their service for tracking and managing RSS feeds.

We get a mention, as does our Design Hub project!

Looks like all of us will be getting a little bit more traffic in the next few days . . .