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Social Media Policies & Museums

To say that social media is a growing field would be quite the understatement. Whether you’re an avid tweeter blowing up my Twitter feed (cough cough, John Mayer!) or a soccer mom that uploads the latest school pictures onto Flickr, almost everyone I know actively participates in at least one social networking site – even my grandma is on Facebook.

But it’s not only individuals using these sites. Here at the IMA, as most of you know, we embrace social media as a useful tool in reaching our audiences and fulfilling our mission. And we’re not the only ones – LACMA, SFMoMa, and Walker Art Center are just a couple of our peers actively engaging online audiences. Even the Art Institution of Chicago recently announced here, that they’ll soon be launching a Twitter account.

Whitney Museum Twitter Account

But as museums and museum employees continue to grow their online activity – both personal and institutional – we’re faced with the challenge of exploring policies and guidelines online activity. Should there be employee policies in place for personal use of such sites? Should museums implement a clearly detailed policy for institutional use of such sites? And if so, what would either one of these policies look like and what purposes would they serve?

In researching the topic, I can tell you for sure that there are several people asking these questions, and I can also tell you that nobody really seems to know the answers.

So what are some of the issues to think about? Well, there are a lot of them. Museum 3.0 suggests the following issues are all important in considering your strategy to online networking: technical concerns, how to archive online museum activity, implementation planning, policy development, training, and a how/why to guide for media sites.

Museum 2.0 blogger Nina Simon discusses what might be included in a social media handbook. Her list includes things like rules on what should or should not be shared, how get a new initiative approved by your manager, what is considered appropriate for internal and external distribution, and a reference guide to social sites that would include recommendations, stylesheets, etc.

While I think these are all important items to consider, I can’t help but wonder if some topics should just be covered in ongoing discussions instead of binding them into a manual. Why? Well, by the time a policy or manual was organized, there’s a pretty good chance that the certain components (like a ‘how to guide’) would already be obsolete. In other words, the web changes so much that consistent updating might become a daunting task.

Three seemingly stagnant issues that I see as most important in policy making or strategic planning for social media include: information release, content quality & content control.

Information Release – A problem might arise here when someone inadvertently releases sensitive information about the museum. An example of this might be tweeting in excitement that a new acquisition has just arrived to the dock (which might jeopardize the safety of the work), or announcing an event on your facebook page before it’s been announced by your museum. This issue is one that might arise more frequently when an organization’s employee is using a personal account that wouldn’t be filtered by a colleague. The question to be asked here is: should museums tell their employees what they can and can’t discuss on their personal sites?

The release of certain information can also be a problem even on an institutionally controlled site. For example: Let’s say Daniel, our New Media Director, comes back from Spain next week and blogs about something regarding an artist in an upcoming exhibition that he interviewed. Let’s also say that the curatorial department was waiting to release that information for whatever reason – we might have ourselves one unhappy curator, or even worse, maybe an unhappy artist. (With effective communication amongst departments, this issue should not be as difficult to manage as the issue of personal Facebook, blog or Twitter accounts).

Content Control – With so many departments/individuals managing various sites and social network accounts for the institution, who’s the gatekeeper of information? For example, if multiple writers are contributing to a blog (as is the case here at the IMA) how do you filter or should you filter content? Is there someone that gets final say on what goes up where?

Content Quality – Because it’s so easy to post things on the internet and incredibly cost efficient how does an institution refrain from overloading their audiences? Even worse, how do we keep from putting up information (that might not be very good or insightful) just because we can? Here is a short post by Matt Yglesias that suggests that while non profits are increasingly enjoying the captivity of online audiences, the quality of information on the web is a growing problem.

Like most everyone I have come across, I do not have answers to all of these questions nor do I have a suggested policy or manual. But I will leave you with some additional links that I have found useful in the discussion of social media and museums.

IMA’s Blog Guidelines – which is posted directly on our blog.

Powerhouse Museum’s 2007 Blog Policy

BBC’s social media policy – this is a good example of a fairly extensive policy.

Brooklyn Museum’s Shelley Bernstein discussed various ways to use social media sites in Where Do We Go From Here? at the 2008 Museums & the Web conference. I would be shocked if the topic of social media policies were not discussed at M&W 2009, which is here in Indy, next week.

And finally – On the lighter side, this article entitled The 14 Types of Twitter Personalities might help you pinpoint some possible problems or areas of concern for your workplace.

Filed under: Art, Marketing, Musings, New Media, Technology

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