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by • 2 Jan, 2012 • Inspiration, Thoughts about museumsComments (2)650

How social media thinking could help museums to turn out all right

Colours
Photo by Camdiluv on Flickr.

Last year – best wishes for 2012! – I got my hands on a copy of The Happy Museum: A tale of how it could turn out all right. It’s a happy little publication (PDF) I hadn’t heard of before about the role museums play in our changing world, and should play to remain relevant and add to a more sustainable future. And, hidden between the lines, there’s a twist in the story that takes is from society straight to social media…

In 2010, when asked to imagine museums in 2020, I wrote about how I believe a museum has and should have a responsible position in culture, art and heritage and also in society in general. The Happy Museum takes this further and focuses on the role museums can play to limit consumption, make people happier and generally contribute to the well-being of people.

The Happy Museum has two USPs when it comes to playing an active part in these areas, and I’ve added a third which I believe is equally important:

  1. Apart from the gift shop, museum don’t try to sell anything but understanding and enjoyment. Therefore they are a sanctuary from the advertising and commercialisation of the public space.
  2. As public (social) spaces, museums offer a counterpart to the ever more privatised public realm, where hardly anything is freely accessible anymore (especially when they are truly “free”, as in “gratis”).
  3. In the world of StarBucks and Apple stores, museums provide an opportunity to experience something ‘unique’ in the original meaning of the word: one of a kind (not unique as in: venti triple half-caf organic caramel macchiato).
Add to this the fact that museums are seen as trusted and valued organisations by most members of the public, and it becomes clear museums have quite some potential. “By encouraging happiness and well-being museums can play a part in helping people live a good life without costing the earth.” (p.8)

One of the main ways The Happy Museum proposes to achieve this will sound familiar to readers of this blog with some experience with social media. They propose using the Five Ways to Well-being, namely: Connect, be active, take notice, keep learning and give. Sounds familiar?

Of course this way of thinking about a relationship with the audience doesn’t stem from the social media realm. In fact, it’s more likely to come from the field of well-being in the first place. Having been forgotten and now rediscovered, in the midst of the social media revolution, these words will resonate with many people who would have not as easily been involved in tricky stuff as “human happiness”: the new media people.

And why shouldn’t the rules that help you build a Facebook fanpage or grow your Twitter following apply to all other areas where we’re working with people?

I strongly feel The Happy Museum is an encouragement to all of us who have been involved in social media practices to institutionalise your way of thinking in the larger context of the institution. We all (including your bosses) agree on the USPs (I guess), so why not give it a shot? I believe that a stronger focus on society and well-being will help keep museums relevant in the future, and having a more social media minded organisation will certainly not hurt these efforts.

N.B. I’ve published a little list of ways to get your coworkers engaged which might come in handy.

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