Another thing that has emerged from the web analytics discussions has been the lack of clarity over how to consider the success or otherwise of museum Facebook fan pages. Not surprisingly there is a lot of superficial focus on the total number of fans, but this doesn’t give the necessary granularity you are going to need to justify the investment in these platforms going forward.
Is a museum with 100,000 fans doing better than one with 10,000 fans? Maybe not if both have 5,000 fans from their home city. Worse, what if a considerable number of your Facebook fans were other museum professionals! But how would you discover this?
One very very simple thing you can do is to use the Facebook Ad Planner tool to interrogate and segment your fans (and those of others as well!).
To do this, go to any Facebook Fan Page you are an administrator for. (You can create a new one if you need). In the right hand column you will see an advertisement encouraging you to ‘Get more connections’. Click it.
Next you will land at a page that looks like this. Just click ‘Continue’.
You now need to select a country (and then you can drill down into a city or region). You can add up to 25 countries if you want and you can also tweak the demographic facets like ‘age’ and ‘gender’ if you want.
Now in ‘Likes and interests’ start typing and choose another organisation or topic. Once selected you will see the ‘Estimated reach’ box in the right hand column update. That’s the information you want.
Here’s some from our profile.
Now it looks like there might be 40 people in the UK or USA who express a ‘like’ for us but haven’t yet become ‘fans’ on the fan page.
And we could definitely reach more people in Sydney who like the Art Gallery of NSW but not yet the Powerhouse! And you can see how that also gives us an insight into the geographic segmentation of our friends over at the Art Gallery of NSW‘s near 10K fans, as well as a better comparative picture of how we are going. Not surprisingly The Art Gallery of NSW are doing a great job – much better than us!
Go on, try it out for yourself. Better to know how the tools you unwittingly contribute data to, work, than not.
Last week was Ask A Curator Day and the Powerhouse was one of a bunch of Australian institutions that took part. Because of where we are in the global timezone, along with New Zealand we were one of the earliest to start Ask A Curator Day. This limited the exposure that Australian and NZ museums got from the event compared to European and American museums that received a boost from the frenzy of activity over the night – when #askacurator became the top trending topic on Twitter.
I spoke to Renae Mason last week about her preparations for the event and now the event is over I asked Renae and her curatorial champion Erika Dicker about how they event went.
F&N: How much response did we get?
Erika: We had 19 direct questions asked via our Facebook page. Many of these questions went on to become conversations as opposed to a brief Q & A..
Renae: The response was also really positive for us considering we didn’t promote our participation in the event through any mainstream media channels – it was all word of mouth and social media. We also picked up some new fans on the day who didn’t already know about our Facebook and Twitter profiles.
F&N: What were the internal outcomes of Ask A Curator Day in terms of the organisation?
E: Internally this was a great opportunity for the curatorial team to work closely with the web team, allowing curators to experience and experiment with social media in a safe environment. For the past few months curators have been participating in Facebook workshops, and developing their own ‘work’ profiles. These profiles allowed them not only to participate on the day, but will allow them to easily engage with our Facebook audience in the future.
Within the Curatorial Department we had 15 curators (out of 24) who actively participated with the project. I think this shows a high level of enthusiasm, and a definite shift in attitude towards using social media actively and productively in our everyday work.
R: This is a great outcome for us, as we work towards the goal of demonstrating the longer term benefits of social media for curatorial work. One of our curators, Min-Jung Kim was really hoping to meet some Korean speakers on the day who would ask about our extensive Asian collection here at the museum. She did end up meeting a local Art History graduate, who is not only a Korean speaker but also keen to gain curatorial experience. She may come on board as a volunteer curatorial assistant as a result of their meeting on Facebook. This experience really demonstrates the way social media can create very useful moments of synchronicity that have a direct impact on the museum research process, in this case, connecting to the right people that can help get the job done.
F&N: How did the public respond?
I was really surprised that the majority of questions we got were subjective ones. “What was your favourite exhibition to work on?”, “What is your dream exhibition?”, “What is the most difficult challenge for a curator?”. I loved that those who asked really did choose to ‘ask a curator’ on a personal level, rather than ask for valuations, identification of objects or opening times!
R: We also didn’t have any problems with spammers or trolls – no bad behaviour at all! I think that’s one thing that many people who aren’t on social media channels fear and it’s a real barrier to entry. You could tell that everyone involved was genuinely pleased with the tone of the conversations as they unfolded.
F&N: Having seen how it went overnight on Twitter, what do you feel worked better or worse on Facebook?
E: I think the project was a great way to get museums and galleries noticed and let the public know that we are here for them. However whilst I think Twitter is a great platform for curators to get involved with, and used to create professional networks, I don’t think it works very well as a platform that allows curators to engage with an audience. I also think this can’t be done well in 140 characters.
I strongly believe that deep levels of engagement come from personal connections, and to achieve this we have to make curators more accessible, approachable, and personable. I don’t think Twitter does this very well. Most of the answers I saw from other museums on Twitter came from an institutional account, with no acknowledgement of who was doing the answering. I found that quite impersonal.
Using a platform like Facebook allowed our curators to each create their own profile page, including a profile picture of themselves, and details of what areas they specialise in. When our curators answered questions on the PHM main page, our fans could then click on their profiles and see that a real person had answered their question, and begin to make a personal connection with the curator. Facebook also allowed for multiple answers to one question by different curators, and encouraged the discussion to continue past just a simple Q and A format. The results were available for all ‘fans’ to see in a clearly visible way.
R: I definitely agree with Erika on this – the Facebook profiles made it very clear which curator you were talking to at any given time. I also liked the way that more than one curator would jump in to answer a single question – providing a multitude of perspectives and insight that wasn’t limited to 140 characters. Because Facebook presents conversations as a thread, the complete conversation is still accessible to all.
What we lost by being the only institution on Facebook, and therefore being in a bit of a silo in regards to cross-promotion and marketing, we gained in usability and audience engagement outcomes.
(If you are interested in learning more about how the event went down on Twitter from the perspective of someone asking the questions, I recommend you read this post from the Museum Cultures blog.)
Also, it was exciting to see the #askacurator hashtag become a trending topic, until the inevitable happened and it became overrun by spambots. That did put a bit of a dampener on the event.
F&N: How might we do this sort of audience q&a more often? Especially given we don’t have a public Q&A facility on site.
E: I think all museums would agree that everyday is ‘Ask A Curator’ day. However traditional methods of public enquiries take the form of written letter, telephone call, or direct questions emailed through from our online collection database.
Curators spend a lot of their time responding to these sorts of enquiries, however the whole conversation is hidden from public view. Personally I would like to see us get a bit more ‘new school’ in how deal with enquiries, I think they are a hidden gem of content. Until that happens I know our curators really enjoyed using Facebook for ‘Ask a Curator’ Day and we will always be listening, and ready to answer your questions!
[Interestingly the Sydney Observatory Facebook page handles a lot of public enquiries on an ongoing basis – so maybe we will just add a link to the Powerhouse Facebook page on the Contact Us form]
R: Yes, we do already receive some questions for curators via our Facebook fan page and these are forwarded onto them. Their answers are then posted by myself or Erika on the page. Now that we have so many curators set up with Facebook profiles for work, it would be nice to have them personally answer any questions that come through, which would be a better experience for our fans, but would also share the responsibility for our Facebook fan page more evenly.
Erika kept up the conversation with one of the people who asked the curators questions and after the day sent her some questions to answer herself. Here’s her reply which I think more than demonstrates the value of Ask A Curator Day to institutions.
(I’ve kept this anonymous because of identification issues around Facebook)
Erika: Had you visited the Powerhouse Museum before?
A: I have been a regular visitor since I was a child, my visits might be fewer as an adult, but with big film based exhbitions, such as the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings exhibits, I was reminded of the brilliant permanent collection and came back more frequently.
E: Did you know the Museum was on Facebook before the event?
A: I did not, I was informed of the event by a friend who knew someone involved in the organising of the event and I was sent an invite.
E: Were you a ‘fan’ of the Powerhouse Museum on Facebook before the ‘Ask a Curator’ day event?
A: No I wasn’t.
E: Do you read any of the Powerhouse Museum blogs? (Photo of the Day, Object of the Week)
A: Occasionally I will look at the Object of the Week, I don’t often remember to look for it myself, but it is often sent to me if it is interesting.
E: What did you expect to happen when you posted a question?
A: I expected perhaps a single stock-standard response. I didn’t expect the genuine, enthusiastic and original answers of your curators. I received many various and interesting responses from all areas and saw some fantastic objects through their recommendations. I also did not expect the quick turn around on responses that I received.
E: How do you feel about the quality of answers you recieved to your questions?
A: As above, I was astounded by the quality of the answers I received, the answers were perfectly apt, and answered my questions without any kind of misdirection, people responded quickly and their responses were charming, informative and engaging. Not to mention interesting.
E: Are you more likely to visit us in person now, or access any of our other services eg. online collection, research library etc?
A: I am far more interested to come in more often, the online collection – while I am social media addicted is not quite my cup of tea. As soon as I see something in picture, I want to see it in person! I’d come in and ask you to pull it out. But I’m making plans to come in for the 80s exhibit in the next week with my partner.
E: How would you prefer to stay in contact in the future – email or social media channels like Twitter and Facebook? Why?
A: Facebook and Twitter work well for me, they feed into my phone and I see them regularly. Should I check my email. Which I do on average once a day for personal email. I’ll see any facebook or twitter notes I haven’t followed up on.
We’re hoping that by using Facebook we’ll be able to answer more detailed questions and potentially reach a wider audience.
Unlike our friends in natural history museums the Powerhouse doesn’t have publicly accessible Q&A facilities like Museum Victoria’s Discovery Centre, even though we do have a Research Library that does take private bookings. Also, unlike the Art Gallery of NSW, we don’t have public ‘appraisal’ days. Despite this, you wouldn’t believe the volume of emails we get that start with “I’ve been cleaning out the attic and found . . . can you tell me more about it?”.
This is the chance to freely ask those questions and all those ‘behind the scenes’ things you always wanted to know.
Senior online producer Renae Mason and curator Erika Dicker (who also edits the Museum’s Object of the Week blog) are behind this year’s effort and I spoke to Renae about the event –
F&N: How have you prepared curators for the day?
I’m hoping our fans already find the museum to be a special place that is audience-focused and accessible. There are a range of things that we do within the physical confines of the museum, such as curator-led ‘behind the scenes’ tours of our collection and talks with Q&A sessions, that align us with these goals. ‘Ask A Curator Day’ is, in my mind, a natural extension of these activities, it’s just taking place online instead.
So when Erika approached me with the idea to participate in ‘Ask A Curator Day’ we had a quick brainstorm about which online channel would be best to use and how we could prepare our curators for the day.
I chose Facebook, because it’s our most active ‘fan’ space to date and I know how addicted Australians are to Facebook, which was another good reason to further invest in the platform.
We then invited our 28 curators to an interactive session on social media in the museum, finishing up with the option to stick around and receive practical help with getting started on Facebook – for those who didn’t already have work-related accounts.
The response was encouraging.
Approximately half of our curators were able to make it along to the session and most of them went through the sign up process on Facebook and learned a lot more about those critical ‘privacy settings’. Those who couldn’t make it on the day requested we repeat the workshop again and we happily obliged.
After those two sessions, we now have 12 of those 28 curators signed up to Facebook with dedicated work accounts that clearly flag their roles and areas of expertise in their bios (in keeping with the Museum’s social media policy). They are now ready to volunteer their time to ‘Ask A Curator Day’ and I reckon that number may even increase a little more by next Wednesday.
F&N: What do you hope to gain from it?
Ask A Curator Day has really come along at a perfect time for us. By targeting participation directly at curators, the event has helped me to demonstrate the relevance of social media tools in their daily working lives.
People who work in the digital areas of museums are always going to be early adopters of technology and experiment with new tools as they become available. But as platforms like Facebook and Twitter have matured, attracting a wider range of audiences and uses, our internal challenge is around how to ‘mainstream’ social media activity across the entire organisation.
A sustainable, healthy social media presence should represent the diversity of people who work here and their contribution to the museum – and not just through the ‘official’ channels of the Museum’s blogs and website.
Through the workshops, we’ve already increased understanding of social media, encouraged more productive cross-departmental work and introduced a good number of curators to Facebook, including the Principal Curators. All fine ‘wins’.
Now to make it ‘epic’!
Think up some great questions and then, come September 1 . . . ask them!
You may have noticed that the posts on Fresh & New(er) have been a little scarce. That’s been because the team has been very busy.
We’ve first been building, then running, a WordPress-based magazine-styled website as the final component in the overall exhibition web presence for the Powerhouse’s latest exhibition, The 80s are back.
Introducing a new ‘integrated’ model, this exhibition had a web presence even before it was finalised. We started a curator’s blog in November 2008 whilst the exhibition was in the very early stages of development. Then, as the themes for the exhibit started to coalesce we began relevant groups on Flickr and Facebook, both in February 2009. These were created to begin conversations with the community in order to explore potential themes and content before they were solidified into the exhibition itself.
In December 2009 the exhibition opened.
The pre-exhibition presence
The curatorial blog worked well in the early stages of the exhibition process especially – prior to exhibition opening the 24 posts generated 213 comments and around 15,000 views. These comments and conversations helped the curatorial team refine the content of the exhibition early on.
The Flickr and Facebook groups were less obviously successful in the early stage. Although they both grew in size the quality of conversation was far lower than on the blog. Perhaps because, as groups, they were largely undirected – and the community had no clear idea of ‘what they were supposed to do’ in them. (Interestingly the activity on the Facebook group has changed as the exhibition has launched – now that there is a focal point and more clear purpose).
During this time, too, the curatorial team were present in a number of online communities – subcultural community forum websites especially – relevant to the major themes of the exhibition. Tangible outcomes here are in the diversity of loan objects and the ‘authenticity’ of selections within the subcultures section of the exhibition itself.
The integrated post-launch presence
As the exhibition moved closer to launch a standard static exhibition page went up on the Museum’s main website in October 2009, then, just before opening in December 2009, we launched the fully blown magazine website and accompanying multi-channel social media presence.
On the magazine site, over the twelve months of the exhibition the web team is acting as ‘magazine editors’ whilst the curators, and a growing bunch of community contributors are adding content and supporting conversations. There are also a range of activities taking place elsewhere online and spread over other websites – depending upon where it is most relevant.
This is a commitment we haven’t previously done and for us this is a new way of working – a “post-social media exhibition web presence” so to speak. And with this new way of working has come plenty of challenges across the organisation.
The main website
The main exhibition website operates as both a promotional site and a magazine portal in the 80s memories section. There’s also space where the ‘making of the exhibition’ has been documented and where related public events are documented as they happen and are then archived. There’s behind the scenes footage, stop motions, and more.
Over in the 80s memories & essays section we have a growing list of Q&A interviews with various people of the 80s as well as movie, music and video game reviews. We’re also bringing together community and curator generated ‘exhibition essays‘ around the key themes with new series being published over the year – a kind of evolving online publication.
We decided to base the site around a (low cost) commercial WordPress theme to build the site in order to keep it flexible and allow for growth with a variety of widgets. We’ve used the concept of WordPress ‘pages’ for static content, and used ‘posts’ for the dynamic areas combined with a mix of hierarchical categories for site navigation. This hasn’t been without its own issues but the large user WordPress user community has been invaluable in resolving the inevitable glitches. (Caveat – if we had been building a more static exhibition site we wouldn’t have necessarily gone down the WordPress route.)
We chose Twitter as a useful way to promote new content published in the magazine site, as well as highlight quirky relevant content on other websites – 80s memorabilia on YouTube, quirky posts by other bloggers, trivia – and also to engage in short low-impact conversations around content and exhibition feedback. In order to better tweet links to music videos we’ve been experimenting with Blip.fm.
With an exhibition like this there’s an obvious wealth of video content. We made a decision to keep the longer form interviews on our own site for the time being, but quick single-take handheld video voxpops we are putting up on YouTube. These are complemented by vox pops recorded in the gallery through an automated ‘visitor feedback kiosk’ based on the Brooklyn Museum’s example. As Renae explains later, this hasn’t quite worked as expected and we’ve had to use the ‘featured videos’ on the YouTube page as a way of making the live content a little harder to reach . . .
We’ve kept the Facebook exhibition group going and we’re keeping active publishing links to new content through it. Not surprisingly, the interactions on Facebook tend to be more low-level than on the main site, but we’re expecting that this will change as the exhibition’s public program roster rolls out over the year.
Why do this?
When we were proposing this approach we argued that the extended resourcing required to build and maintain an magazine-style website was justified because it has multiple aims and outcomes. These included a need to:
– promote the exhibition and public programs attached to it
– provide extensive pre- and post-visit resources for three different types of visitors: the casual, the specialist/enthusiast, and those from the education sector
– crucially, for what is ostensibly a pop culture & social history exhibition the rich content on the site also serves to deepen and extend visitor engagement with the exhibition content and themes
– scaffold public programs and education visits with background and contextual materials
- and finally, provide long term historical resources for the education sector.
Ideally this sort of exercise would be baked into the exhibition development process but we’re still figuring out how to completely integrate and plan a digital content schedule right from the start – objects, audio visual material, ‘extras’, the lot.
That was the plan with the curatorial blog but as the exhibition deadline drew closer and closer the role of the blog diminished as curators worked on object lists and the exhibition itself. And with an exhibition like The 80s are back which has hundreds of individual objects and hundreds of loaned objects – toys, records, especially – the final list of included items wasn’t finalised until a few weeks before opening.
The pressure of marketing the launch of a summer exhibition, too, meant that the more traditional content for an exhibition website – the basics, the public programme listings – all took over in the final two months as well.
But now, post launch, we have been in a position where curatorial staff are still maintained on the exhibition content and can be utilised to create and augment web content, and, importantly we can continue to grow the content that ‘didn’t quite make it into the exhibition’. Equally, we’re able to better listen and respond to visitors who have been coming to the exhibition and asking questions or taking the content off in tangents.
Matching the audience
Clearly as the exhibition is aimed squarely at Gen Xers, there is an almost perfect match between the kind of social media use we are undertaking and the types of uses Gen Xers in Australia use social media for (compared to other age groups). As we are focussing on asking visitors to contribute and create content, as well as follow and spread trivia, social media is perfect for eliciting and amplifying the memories of Gen X for their formative years in primary and secondary school – whereas for younger or older audiences it may not be so successful.
Similarly, by aggregating the best quality content pulled in from other channels onto the Museum’s site itself, we are aiming to present the kind of authoritative ‘curated’ resource for the education sector that will last into the future.
Keeping it flexible
We’ve got a dedicated online producer, Renae Mason, working on the magazine side. This allows us to go with the flow a little bit more and be responsive to the types of content that resonates best with our visitors. Renae is pulling together content, finding and working with contributors.
Renae is also one of three people tweeting.
F&N: How does the site work with niche communities to match them with public programs?
Renae: Like public programs, the website affords the opportunity to expand on the themes in the exhibition and engage diverse communities around the extra content we produce.
Our general approach is to provide a variety of content on all sorts of topics – films, music, games, toys, fashion, history and trivia – and then specialise around topics that match the public program events or inspire the most interest from our audience. All of this material will remain online, serving as a nice social archive for future reference.
The best example of synergy between the exhibition, public programs and the web presence happened for our Retrogaming Weekend.
The museum was packed with classic arcade games and table tops, game-inspired Dj-ing, presentations & panels by experts in the field and a 48-hour lock down competition for Global Game Jam, an event that seeks to stimulate the local game development industry.
Our online strategy to support this particular audience and event focused on developing original content during the lead up, including reviews of 80s games and machines. This content went out through our social media platforms, particularly Twitter.
F&N: How have you found content creation, the vox pops, being a ‘roving reporter’?
I realised early on that I’d need to learn more about the 80s than I’d ever thought possible but it’s actually been a lot of fun. There’s so much material to draw upon, and it’s almost possible to find something to please everyone. It’s also been incredibly interesting hearing other people’s stories about what the 80s means to them and the vox pops that we’ve been soliciting have been great for that – personal and short enough to cater for the online attention span.
There’s great value for me in getting to know who our visitors are in person, rather than relying solely on my own assumptions or web analytics. I’ve noticed that most people proudly share their voxpops with their friends online, so they must be enjoying the process too!
F&N: What sort of feedback is coming in?
In general, an overwhelming amount of positive feedback including lots of shout-outs on Facebook, Twitter and personal blogs to let us know that they enjoyed the exhibition.
In other cases, we’ve had constructive criticism that helps us to make minor tweaks and fixes both online and in the physical space. For example, one visitor let us know that our toy Voltron wasn’t entirely transformed, (our curators had neglected to open the tiger’s mouth to reveal Voltron’s face) something that passionate fans would notice.
Other fans are making their own videos of their experience in the exhibition.
We’ve had mixed results with our YouTube kiosk channel but as a result of that we’re putting serious thought into improving the exit experience, which is where our YouTube kiosk is currently located. Although we’d adopted the Brooklyn Museum’s tried and tested Scrappy Doo model, the physical location of the kiosk meant we’ve been inundated with poor responses – mostly people fooling around or not knowing what to do.
Curiously the best on topic ones seem to have come from British tourists, not locals!
More positively, something that really inspires me right now is finding out that teenagers are actually dragging their parents along to the museum, and not the other way around. Brilliant!
F&N: How are you tracking these channels?
There are some great simple online tools available to help make sense it all. I’ve set Google Alerts and subscribe to custom Twitter searches. We monitor all web traffic using Google Analytics as well as using Bit.ly for URL shortening and tracking. Critically, though, it has been about understanding what each of the ways we are engaging with audiences are trying to achieve and then matching the tools as appropriate.
Of course, there is still a lot of manual work.
It’s important to stay logged in to our social media channels and be timely. That necessarily means working slightly outside of the 9-5 day structure.
Another thing I’ve been looking at are Twitter lists – it’s revealing to see what kinds of lists we’ve been included in. One of our followers added us to their ‘fun’ list, so I think we must be doing something right for at least one person out there! Of course, there are also specific tools to monitor your performance on Twitter ( but I don’t place too much emphasis on them as raw numbers. I think it’s much more important to develop your own goals and style and then apply them to the tools.
F&N: How did the 80s social media presence make you think about and react to your own social media identity?
In my personal life I’m pretty flippant about social media. If I don’t blog for a month, or tweet for week, it doesn’t matter. I dip in and out of the stream of conversations when I feel like it or have time to kill and I’m always signing up for new things so that I can understand why other people might find them useful, if not myself.
But doing social media on behalf of your employer is slightly different. For starters, metrics are important, timeliness is essential and everything you communicate has to be relevant. The biggest drama for me was finding my voice, balancing the need to be authentic whilst representing the museum ‘brand’.
Privacy on Facebook was another concern of mine. I got around this by creating a new profile for myself, that I can use exclusively for work. I treat it in much the same way as my personal account, except that I identify myself more clearly as working for the Powerhouse Museum on ‘The 80s Are Back’ exhibition and I join groups that relate to our 80s content that the other ‘me’ probably wouldn’t. Occasionally my two profiles get invited to events together, which is kind of amusing. Should I RSVP twice?!
The 80s exhibition also has more traditional e-marketing channels. Whilst the key demographic are heavy users of social media they have also not abandoned email – and for this reason a combined approach has been used. Kathleen Evesson in the Marketing Department describes how the email list has functioned
F&N: How does the email fan club work? What is it trying to achieve?
Kathleen: People subscribe to the 80s fanclub by signing up on the 80s website (the subscription form is prominent on the homepage) or by opting in when they purchase a ticket to an 80s-related event. The aim is to encourage visitation to the exhibition (and repeat visitation during the year of the exhibition), to promote special events and to assist in building a community of ‘fans’ of 80s content.
Before the exhibition opened, we promoted the fanclub through our existing email lists, on Facebook, on our website, and in paid advertisements. Pre-launch, the fanclub provided us with a way to build awareness of the exhibition. We got the fanclub involved in the exhibition itself: before the launch, we invited members to come in and help us ‘build’ our entrance wall to the exhibition (made up of over a 1,000 cube puzzles). About 35 fans came in to help, ranging in age from 6 years old to 70. With their initials written on the back of each cube, these fans literally became part of the exhibition itself – a great example of how engaged they were with the exhibition and its content – before they had even seen it!
We also pre-sold tickets to the opening night party to this group of enthusiastic fans, and gave them special offers and giveaways. By the time the exhibition opened on 12 December, we had a database of about 400.
F&N: How is it going post-launch?
We have been steadily growing the database in the first two months of the exhibition, and now have 1,000 members of the (email) fanclub. This slow and steady growth has been encouraging, as the growth of the database has not been at the expense of reader engagement. Often when email databases grow, the open/ click through rates drop proportionally. In this case though, we have stayed consistently around 50% open rates (with emails going out about once a month; every fortnight in December and November).
In terms of content, there are strong links back to the 80s website and coming events. 80s trivia has been the very popular as have events where visitors can get involved (eg building the entrance wall; voting online).
F&N: How does it compare to previous email marketing initiatives?
Maintaining engagement with this audience over a long period of time (a year) is the unique challenge for this campaign. Previous campaigns (for example, we developed a very successful ‘Star Wars priority list’ for 2008’s Star Wars exhibition) were more focussed on pre-sales for exhibitions, and promotion short duration events.
As a result, in the 80s fanclub, we’ve focussed more on including engaging content – pulling out and highlighting info from our 80s website and discussions happening in social media (flickr, twitter and facebook). We also cross-link between our enews, online (website/ social media) and print advertisements, so that our 80s fanclub emails are integrated with our online and above the line campaigns.
The Powerhouse is coming up to the 2nd anniversary of our joining the Commons on Flickr. Back when we joined there was only the Library of Congress and we trusted that we were making the correct decision back then. (I’ll be blogging an interview with Paula Bray around the time of the anniversary.)
A lot has changed at Flickr in the intervening time but I’m still confident that the Powerhouse made the right choice. In fact, the impact that joining the Commons on Flickr has had on the organisation has been unexpectedly significant. We’ve even started to move some photographic collections that were acquired as ‘archives’ into ‘objects’ in their own right. And photography is becoming an important marker of what we do at the Powerhouse. We’re delving into photographic competitions much more too and we’ve changed how we approach visitor photography too.
This was responded to by Liam Wyatt of Wikimedia Australia who outlined a case for why Wikimedia Commons might, in fact, be a better fit than Flickr – especially now that the Commons on Flickr is currently not taking new requests to join whilst they process the volume of existing applications.
For the Powerhouse the aim of placing some of our “no known Copyright” photography into the Commons on Flickr was to seed these photographs to a large, broader and interested audience who, in return, could add value to the collection by commenting and tagging the photographs.
Later, we’d find that other value would emerge.
The well documented Flickr API allowed for the construction of a good number of mashups and other applications to be built upon the photographs both by others and by us. We published a book, made easily and relatively quickly using the data.
For us the Flickr Commons is currently different from the Wikimedia Commons for a number of reasons –
1. Context matters a lot.
There is a reason why the Commons on Flickr has focussed almost solely on photographic collections, and that is because Flickr is a site that has been and continues to be designed for people interested in photographic images. As the Library of Congress stated in their initial rationale for joining Flickr, it was to “share photographs from the Library’s collections with people who enjoy images”. And where is the largest community of people with such an interest on the web? Flickr.
2. User experience and community
Because of this known user base Flickr has a well developed user interface and user experience which purposefully creates and helps encourage certain social norms and acceptable behaviours. The requirements of verified user accounts and personal information all work to reduce the negative effects of anonymity – critical in building a positive sense of community, even if they exclude some users as a result.
3. Managing that community
Flickr has a well developed set of community management tools and community managers who are employed specifically to ensure the community ‘plays nice’ and there is a hierarchy of escalation should it become necessary. The cost of US$25 per year is incredibly cheap for this.
4. A sense of content control
Uploaded images as well as any user generated content such as tags or comments can be removed at any time.
Flickr has good enough tracking and measurement tools which are useful for checking where users are coming from, what they are looking at, and what they do. Ideally the statistics that we could draw from Flickr would be more useful and able to be downloaded in raw form and segmented – but even in the rudimentary state it is possible to see ascertain why there are sudden spikes of traffic to particular images, or when an image gets lots of comments.
The Wikimedia Commons is, currently, a pool of images which can be used for many purposes. However without visibly active community around the images they exist without a clear ‘intended purpose’. In fact they only encourage viewing or takeaway (download). For some people this is liberating – a resource without obvious legal or social constraints. But much in the same way a museum is neither a library or a “shed full of stuff”, the ability to have known manageable social constraints is in fact quite valuable.
Even without direct participation in the Wikimedia Commons the Powerhouse has been interested to see that many of the images have been copied into the Wikimedia Commons. And then used to illustrate various articles in Wikipedia. This has been a fortuitous outcome but it was never a primary aim of the Commons on Flickr project – nor would it be one today. Other Commons institutions have not been as positive about this migration of content to Wikimedia.
For us, the overall community effect of Flickr and the deep engagement by a small but passionate group of Flickr users, has been the most positive result for us.
Whilst Wikipedia and Wikimedia are, in themselves, exciting projects, their structure, design and combative social norms do not currently make them the friendly or the protected space that museums tend to be comfortable operating in.
Whilst Liam (especially! 1 & 2) and many others are working hard to make Wikipedia and Wikimedia a better place for museums and their content, these are very difficult structural issues to resolve.
It is worth remembering that when the Commons on Flickr started it was the brainchild and passion of George Oates. She was able to ‘make it happen’. Now Liam Wyatt might be in a similar position – if Wikimedia were ‘less democratic’ (some might say dysfunctionally democratic). Except the structure of Wikipedia/Wikimedia makes that nigh impossible.
One of my colleagues at the Powerhouse, curator Erika Dicker, is writing a paper for Museums and the Web 2010 on the impact of some aspects of digital on day to day curatorial practice. Some F&N readers will know Erika is the editor of the Powerhouse’s Object of the Week blog, and her paper uses it as one example of how even simple blogging can impact greatly on traditional practice in sometimes unexpected ways.
To this end she is conducting a survey and would be thrilled if your curatorial colleagues around the world could spend ten minutes and fill it out.
This has enabled it to be used in the current Mashup Australia contest and related Hack Day events and for the forthcoming Apps4NSW contest.
Luke Dearnley was recorded by Sarah Rhodes for the Govhack event in Canberra last week in the video above. You might notice Luke’s resemblance to the historical figure from the Smithsonian’s Flickr Commons collection in the background. Spooky.
New discoveries as a result of putting our incomplete collection database online are pretty common place – almost every week we are advised of corrections – but here’s another lovely story of an object whose provenance has been significantly enhanced by a member of the public – a story that made the local newspapers!
Here’s the original collection record as it was in our public database.
Since April 8 last year we’ve uploaded 1,171 photos (382 geotagged) from four different archival photographic collections. These have been viewed 777,466 times! For photographs that had been either hidden away on our website (the original 270 Tyrrell photographs on our website were viewed around 37,000 times on our site in 2007), or not yet even catalogued and digitised this is a fantastic result. And that’s not even scratching the surface of the amazing extra information and identifications, mashups, new work and more that has come from the community participation.
The book was published using print-on-demand service Blurb and comes as a softcover or two different hardcovers – it is your choice! Inside there are a range of photographs alongside their individual statistics, user comments and some of the stories of discovery that have come from the first year in the Commons.
I’d personally like to thank everyone at the Powerhouse who have supported our involvement in the Commons and helped make available so many photographs. I’d also like to thank the enthusiastic Flickr community who have so enthusiastically embraced these historical images; Paul Hagon for his mashup;the staff at Flickr (esp George, Dan and Aaron); and the Indicommons crew.
Without all of you this would never have happened.
Today 20 February 2009 (Sydney time) the above image and five others were posted on the image sharing website Flickr here. Within a few minutes astrometry.net found the image and analysed it to provide full details such as the astronomical coordinates of the image centre, its scale, its orientation and marked the main objects visible on the image.
The removal of astrometry as a barrier to using legacy and badly archived (or not archived) data will greatly extend astronomical time baselines into the past, and greatly increase time sampling for sources all over the sky. It facilitates work with distributed, heterogeneous data sets. It also provides a channel for professional and amateur astronomers to collaborate, as the installation of correct WCS makes currently hard-to-access amateur imaging data interoperable with professional projects.
It is a quite amazing use of citizen-contributed data (via photographs of the night sky) to hard science. The use of Flickr as a data source is quite magical – read the interview with Christopher Stumm from the Astrometry project.