Let me begin by saying, if your museum is not on social media (particularly Twitter) it should be, and here is an excellent example of why. Wednesday, museums from around the world shared their creepiest accessions with the hashtag #museum101. The hashtag prompt was inspired by a reference in George Orwell’s 1984 to Room 101:
“You asked me once,” said O’Brien, “what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.”
It certainly begs the question: What would go in Museum 101? What are the scariest things in the museum world?
Ask and ye shall receive. With over 703 posts in 48 hours earning a stunning 9.5 million impressions, this Twitter face-off has garnered a lot of attention. And that is just Twitter alone, even non-Twitter users are having trouble avoiding this story as it is appearing everywhere from Huffington Post (an article which has been shared over 2,000 times) to Buzzfeed.
Why am I telling you this? Because this social conversation is an excellent example of relevance (using 1984, a book which has recently made news for jumping onto the bestseller list) and also interactive and dynamic content. The museum face-off put Twitter users in the middle of a dialog between museums. For a moment, these people became insiders and had the opportunity to see the behind-the-scenes collections from museums around the world, and they loved it. The content is dynamic because this hashtag was like an impromptu online exhibit which was collaborative and included history from numerous sources. In short: it was exciting!
Hence the news coverage. The truly great part is that these news outlets featured posts from museums of all different sizes and specialized topics, exposing these institutions to thousands of people who might have never known they existed. Will all of those people donate or visit? Probably not. But the simplicity of posting an image on Twitter with a hashtag compared to the unlikely scenario of getting an object on Mysteries at the Museum (which, by the way, averages about 16,000 viewers per week, to put the 9 million impressions into perspective) makes it worth the effort.
But there is more to it than just social media and momentary publicity: this is evidence of how we should be engaging our communities on a regular basis. We should be involving them in a dialog, making them feel like museum insiders and creating dynamic content that is relevant to their lives and concerns.