Thursday, September 18, 2008

Twitter, Flickr, and Blogging: Using Free Online Applications to Facilitate Visitor Feedback

Last Friday I was part of a panel at AASLH about facilitating visitor feedback using technology. The other speakers focused on technology in the gallery, especially the potential of cellular phones. I spoke about using free online applications, focusing on blogging, Twitter, and Flickr. I'm posting my powerpoint slides here for your perusal, along with some narration to give you a better idea of what I spoke about. I gloss over a lot of what I assume readers of this blog might know, but am happy to elaborate if desired.

Go below the jump for the rest of the presentation. (Click on any slide to embiggen)

Today there are so many online applications that it can quickly become confusing.

That's why I am going to speak about only three kinds of applications: Blogging, where Blogger and Wordpress are two popular platforms; Microblogging, which includes such applications as Twitter, Jaiku, and Plurk; and Photo Sharing, where I will talk about flickr.

So these three applications all have 4 main things in common. They are free and online, otherwise I wouldn't be speaking about them today. They all rely on user generated content - that's content provided by you. And they all have self selected audiences - no one has to interact with a museum on the internet, so those who do have chosen to for some reason.

(Slide which provides a definition/overview of what blogging is - essentially I read the slide and elaborated slightly)

So this is an example of a museum blog. This is the blog which I maintain for my institution. As you can see, it's also a subject specific blog, dealing primarily with Collections Management. This is a screenshot of a semi-regular feature called "Whatzit?" where I feature an object, or an extreme close up of the object, offer some minimal information on the object such as that it is metal, and challenge my readers to guess what it is.

The primary method of receiving feedback through a blog is by comments which readers leave on your post. This is the bottom of the post in the previous slide. I had two people leave comments guessing what the object is. It's a fluting iron, by the way. So, just two comments, and one of those comments came from a friend of mine.

So, if you're blogging, how can you faciliate feedback? (You do the things on this slide.) By showing your presence and your interest in what people are saying to you through comments on the blogs, you are demonstrating that you value the feedback, which may lead to continued commenting and interaction. But, in general, you should expect fairly low levels of feedback to a blog. Nina Simon, who writes the excellent museum tech blog Museum 2.0, reports that she has an approximately .5% comment rate. Which means that people may be reading your content, but they might not be talking back to you. Think of it as a large lecture course at a University where lots of people might show up, but very few will speak up.

If blogging is a lecture course, microblogging is a seminar course. The brief updates and following structure, together with the direct response function creates a more informal, interactive environment. Today I'll be focusing on Twitter.

This is a screen shot of the Twitter profile of the Renton History in Museum in Renton, WA. The museum has begun experimenting with various online applications in the past couple of months, and I think they're doing a great job on Twitter. You can see that the "About" in the sidebar has all the pertinent information about the institution, and you can also see how many people are following Renton History's tweets, and how many people Renton History is following. You can also see that Renton History is tweeting about all kinds of things - about a program, about stories of regional interest, and is participating in the direct @ response.

On Twitter, feedback is mainly in the form of @ responses. And this story demonstrates the power of direct interaction. The user whose tweet is shown here had worked within eyeshot of the Renton History Museum for some time, but had never visited. One way or another, they ended up communicating on Twitter and the user came to visit the museum, something he may not have considered doing before. The museum has made a personal connection through Twitter.

(This is how you can facilitate feedback on Twitter.) By using Twitter you can expect relatively low levels (only 38 people are currently following Renton History's tweets) of higher quality interaction.

The final application I will be speaking about is Flickr. Any one who has used Flickr knows that it is more than just photosharing. Using flickr you can (do the things listed on this slide, which I explained).

This is a screen shot from Renton History Museum's flickr account. You can see that the photo in question (of a restored coal car being brought into the museum) is tagged, put in a set, and has a description.

Here is an example of a history organization using a group to facilitate interaction. You can see that there are more than 50 members in the group who have contributed over 1300 photos to the group photo pool. To me this indicates a real interest and motivation on the part of flickr members to be involved. You can also see that there is a message board at the bottom where anyone can begin a discussion. You can also see that the message board hasn't been used in three months.

(I explain briefly what the Commons is.) This is a photo from the Powerhouse Museum in Australia and the comments left on the post. Some comments are just marveling that people in the past went hiking in full dress, while others, notably the second from the bottom, adds more information to the photo. The Powerhouse Museum leaves the last comment, thanking the commenter for adding to the information about the photo.

There are three main kinds of feedback that can be expected on flickr (see slide), and to facilitate feedback, you should get involved and be active (see slide).

So how might you get started with all of this? Just do it!


Elizabeth Stewart said...

Thanks, Lynn, for citing the Renton History Museum as example of Twitter and Flickr use, and I learned some new things from your presentation. Your point about Twitter resulting in lower numbers but higher quality interactions is very astute. We're still trying to figure out how to create new Twitter users from among our visitors and members, because I think it would be a relatively simple (and fun) way to stay in close touch with folks we already know are interested in what we do. But our other aim is to cultivate real (as opposed to virtual) followers from, frankly, a younger demographic, because we want to use all the tools at our disposal to build our next generation of visitors. We assume that using these new tools will ultimately change the way we do things inside the building, too, an exciting prospect. All this is just to say that museums have barely started to tap the potential in social networking, and more should give it a try!

Elizabeth Stewart said...

Lynn, FYI, my Board was very impressed with your PowerPoint--thanks for giving my small social networking efforts a little extra support!

Denon Wunderk said...

Hello! Very interesting blog for someone as me who teachs Museum Studies.

I have left you a comment in your post "Blogs as Wunderkammer".


Nathaniel said...

Very interesting indeed. I will definitely be following you... I'm @softmaestro on twitter if you want to follow me back...

Conxa Rodà said...

Thank you, Lynn,
clear and inspiring.
Most museums presence in social networks is too much of a one-way communication still (particularly in Europe). That's a paradox, against the true philosophy of 2.0 nature. I agree with Elizabeth Stewart that many more museum should give a try, and I think that those who already are, should intensify efforts in go over a barely institutional approach and facilitate a multidirectional users participation. (but, of course this is not easy...)
Conxa Rodà
Museu Picasso, Barcelona
(on our way to SMO)