I first met Amy Fox when she de-lurked on the Museum Computer Network listserv. She describes herself as having a "unhealthy obsession with Twitter." Indeed, her first post summarized some observations from her research on how museums were using Twitter for her masters thesis.
1. Tell me about you
I am a University of Washington student currently writing my thesis to complete my MA in Museology. I'm fascinated by social networking and am interested in finding ways for museums to appeal to all types of people. Somehow that morphed into my thesis topic.
2. What is your thesis about?
Broadly, I'm researching how museums are using micro-blogging. This has been narrowed to a focus on Twitter since that is where the most activity is concentrated at the moment. The goal is to identify and analyze how museums are using Twitter and suggest best practices as well as some possibilities for the future. My research has been in three areas, first finding and following "official" museum Twitter accounts and tracking subscribers, followers, number of posts and other measurable data. The second part of my research has been analyzing updates, or tweets, and identifying categories. The final section of research is a survey completed by sixteen museum professionals involved in their museum's Twitter account. I have also been following public Twitter updates that include the key word museum using Twitter Alerts.
3. What are your best twitter tips for museums?
For anyone just starting out, first try Twitter for yourself. Then set up an account for your museum and follow a few other museums as well as people in your target market using a search for location or interest keywords. Decide what you want to accomplish with this account. Do you want to start conversations? Do you want to post updates about events? Trivia and information? Will it be another RSS feed? I suggest a mixture of all of these, but do whatever feels comfortable and whatever best fits into your mission. Then start to update. Try using the @username feature to start conversations with your audience.
I think using a mixture of types of tweets is a good strategy because sometimes the same type of message over and over can be monotonous. One example is simply turning a Twitter account into an RSS feed. If followers already subscribe to your blog and you only tweet blog posts, there is no reason for them to follow you on Twitter. Similarly, only updating with event reminders leaves little room for follower interaction. The more types of updates you mix in the more interesting the feed becomes.
The number one thing I think museums should remember about Twitter is that following works both ways. Many people don't follow their followers. For a popular bloggers or other celebrities, this is understandable, the volume is simply too large. But for museums and public institutions like libraries and other nonprofits, it is so important to subscribe to their followers and take a look at what they are saying. It's free insight into their follower's daily lives. I see a lot of museums following their colleagues and other museums. Sure, museums should follow other museums, it's a good way to see what their peers are doing and bring traffic over to their own page. But don't forget your target audience, followers/visitors.
Finally, make sure that your museum's full name is in your bio, especially if your username is an acronym. You might also consider throwing in some key words to make sure you show up in searches.
4. You have observed museums using Twitter in a variety of ways, can you give me some examples (with links to the actual tweet?)
The two most common tweets are event reminders and automatic RSS feed updates, but museums are also tweeting with podcast and video links, updates on exhibits or animals, fly on the wall observations from inside the galleries among others. Some examples that I found looking through the most recent pages of my Twitter feed include the Women's Museum asking followers for input, the Exploratorium linking to news that relates to their museum, The Pacific Science Center's Science Calendar trivia of the day, an animal update from Monterey Aquarium, and the San Francisco Zoo interacting with followers/visitors.
5. If I'm a museum staff person and want to connect with my peers on Twitter, what's the best way to do that?
Well, all I can suggest is my approach. Make sure your profile reveals that you are a real person interested in museums so when you start following people a quick glance at your profile explains why you are following them. Then start by searching for keywords such as "museum" and make note of both museums and individuals whose profiles look interesting. Look to see who follows these users and whom they follow and start adding people. I had an e-mail exchange with a museum staffer who started an account for their museum and began to follow 500 people in a manner of days. They had no updates of their own and no information in their profile, so unfortunately they were identified as a spammer and the account was suspended. So, I suppose the moral is to have a profile, be active with updating and to be selective when building your feed. I'm not very good at being active or interacting, so I have to remind myself to do both.
6. Who are the five most interesting Museum twitterers?
As cliché as this might sound, it was really difficult to choose five. My criteria are diversity of topics and frequency of updating, as well as the overall tone of tweets. Five museums that consistently provide interesting, varied content are Renton History Museum (@rentonhistory), the Exploratorium (@Exploratorium), The Women's Museum (@The WomensMuseum), Life and Science (@lifeandscience) and the San Francisco Zoo (@sfzoo).
7. What is the best of the best how-to advice out for using Twitter?
I like Mashable and Tweet Crunch for the latest news, ideas and applications. Nina Simon's Museum 2.0 has a couple good posts about Twitter and museums. And I recently discovered a collection of Twitter suggestions sprinkled around the web titled "Twittn' Secrets." I have not read all of them, there is some good advice in there, though some of the suggestions may not apply to museums. I am always discovering new resources, there is so much out there that it is difficult for one person to keep on top of everything.
Some additional Twitter Nonprofit and Social Change Resources
Cocktail Party Participation: Revisiting Twitter, Nina Simon
Twitter to Save the World (celebrates the release of Social Actions Twitterfeed)
Twitter Primer by Beth Kanter
Twitter 101 by Connie Bensen
Twitter Resources from Pistachio