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Twister. Photo by JD Hancock on Flickr.

by • 13 Jan, 2012 • TechnologyComments (6)5015

The social network for museums in 2012: StumbleUpon

Regardless of Google’s don’t be evil ethos, they are successfully slaughtering serendipity. For a while now, on most searches I do the only surprising results are ads. Most others in the top-x are recommended or shared or +1d by people in my social circles. The announcement of Search plus Your World hints the web will only be getting smaller as time goes on.

It made me think of a forgotten social network I probably spent more time with than Google+ and Facebook combined: StumbleUpon.

StumbleUpon is the cabinet of curiosities of the web. StumbleUpon is the unGoogle, a curated collection of stuff you didn’t even know you were looking for. I stumbled around in the arts section and saw more great stuff than in a week on Twitter.

With a population of 20 million StumbleUpon doesn’t have the body of most other social networks. However, unlike most other social networks, the users of StumbleUpon are open to chance encounters, welcome serendipity, and value quality regardless of its origin.

StumbleUpon is around since 2001, but I think its potential for museums is severely overlooked when we talk about social media. Ranked 126th worldwide on Alexa, the website is directing huge amounts of visitors to great content on the web. Plus, according to Wikipedia they added millions of users in the past year, which strengthens my believe that there’s a growing interest in content from beyond once’s social circles.

(StumbleUpon also functions as a social bookmarking and sharing website, but its true strength I believe stays the “click to get a random great website”.)

Here’s what you can do today with StumbleUpon to be part of the serendipitous web:

  • Add the button to your online collection pages. It’s as simple as adding a Facebook Like-button and allows people to stumble upon your objects. Usually its included in the share widgets, but I think StumbleUpon deserves a more prominent place. See the button in action on the blog of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, or on top of this post.
  • Create an account and use StumbleUpon’s share function to create an online scrapbook for your museum, and share it with your followers. SocialMedia Examiner has a good guide on how to build a following and share according to StumbleUpon’s etiquette.
  • Occasionally, stumble some of the most interesting objects, blogposts, or stories from your museum and use the comments to trigger conversations with people that might have never heard about your institution before. Remember, these people are not from your social circle, so spamming is even less appreciated, but an occasional share won’t hurt.

I’m curious to hear whether other museums have experimented with StumbleUpon recently (say, since they have their new logo) and what your experiences are. I think it might be a perfect match and in my own experience I’ve both enjoyed StumbleUpon as a consumer and as a content producer. Please leave your thoughts in the comments. Thanks!

Header photo by JD Hancock on Flickr.

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  • Catherine S

    Thank you for this blog post–I’ve been thinking about StumbleUpon quite a bit lately as they consistently shoot both our blog and our website quite a bit of traffic. I’ve found it interesting to look through which blog posts and collections tend to go viral on this particular social network, and I think that it could potentially be used to help us brainstorm about what collections we should highlight on our blog or through other outreach programming.

    That said, StumbleUpon users consistently have much higher bounce rates, fewer pages/visit, and spend less time on our sites than other users. Of course, I’m only speaking about our own experience–it may vary across the institution I work in, or across museums, of course. But for us, StumbleUpon users tend to drop in quickly, leave, and then not come back. I can see how spending some time interacting with the community might change this, but Facebook and Twitter from our own Facebook page and from other Smithsonian streams, as well as Flickr and Wikipedia, tend to feed us more engaged/returning traffic. It’s not to discount StumbleUpon, but just to note that for us, when we all have a lot on our plates and have to make difficult decisions about how much time we have for a limited number of social media networks, it pays to look through at the nitty gritty of the numbers. That said, it may become a part of our strategy moving forward–just some food for thought.

    I’ll look forward to seeing what others have to say about the subject and to hear more about how people are using it!

    Best.
    Catherine Shteynberg
    Smithsonian Institution Archives

  • Hi Catharine, thanks for your comment. In my experience SU users have similar behavior as you tell about, only length of visit is normal (higher than twitter, even). Also, but I don’t know about this for sure, I feel they are more engaged, at least on SU.

    Curious to hear what other people’s stats say!

  • That’s a great perspective, Catherine.  I have not used StumbleUpon before, but saw direction here via several museum blogs I follow.  
    Is the issue with social media in museum spaces that the interaction as designed is periphery?  Existing social media works to point out an artifact, collection or exhibit…but the potential seems so much greater.  How can museums create virtual community that gets past the “Oh, this is on display” paradigm?

  • I’m boycotting googles +1 function. the more people use it the smaller the Internet becomes i agree. In fact I don’t like Googles current ethos of taking over the internet by the back door at the moment and so i have moved to bing.

    I encourage others to use an alternative like your suggestion of stumbleupon.

  • Thank you for this information…really helpful

  • Stumbleupon is a great tool!