Tate Debate Banner image

It’s one thing to manage your profiles on the proliferating social networking and sharing sites as an individual, but as an institution it’s quite another. So, we ask ourselves this question at Tate social media HQ all the time. We’d like to know how you see it.

When you’re on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube Flickr, Foursquare, Google+ (or whatever’s new this month!), as yourself, you you tend to know what you’re there for. When you’re there representing an institution, however, it’s much harder to define exactly why you’re there – and what your fans or followers want from you being there! Even when you ask, of course, different people want different things at different times.

Behind the logo or building facade avatar, cultural institutions can’t quite interact directly as individuals, but they do not function exactly like corporate brands either, the other big users in the space.

Advice from the ‘gurus’ is often heavily focused on promotion, whether of yourself, your product or your brand – acquiring followers and return on investment. But when your role is to promote, educate, enthuse, inspire and generally deliver a public service, no one yet seems to have the guru-stylings to fit the peculiar problems of the cultural organisation.

Recently we were tweeted to ask whether we couldn’t think of some more creative use of Twitter than telling you all about our latest poster campaign. Food for thought indeed! Though it’s not a particularly creative use, the wider feedback from our fans was that some of them at least were interested in it.

So how do we balance it? What should a museum be doing on social networking sites?

Alongside informational and promotional messages, we have tried more creative inititatives.

We have partnered with Flickr to find photographers representing Britain today and displayed their work in the gallery.

We had a play with the #artfilmtitle hashtag on Twitter (I think @johnniefrankie’s Vermeer to Eternity was my favourite), and made the UK’s trending topics.

We do a weekend weather forecast using a work from the collection each week.

We have created a digital dialogue between gallery visitors and an artist, and set up the #artweekend tag to help you find out what’s on at a gallery near you over the bank holiday.

The Unilever Series: Ai Weiwei One to one with the Artist – gallery visitors asked Ai Weiwei questions via video, and he responded
The Unilever Series: Ai Weiwei
One to one with the Artist – gallery visitors asked Ai Weiwei questions via video, and he responded


But all of these things are basically one-offs. Perhaps that’s the nature of social media – essentially ephemeral. Most of our initiatives, creative though they may be to some extent, have really been about finding creativity in our audiences, rather than pushing the creative boundaries of the social networking site as a medium.

Has anyone done anything truly creative with the medium yet?

Is it the job of museums or galleries to push the creative boundaries, or should we facilitate others’ creativity?

Do you expect creative social media experiences when following a gallery, or do you want traditional information-focused connections?


Kirstie Beaven

Oh yes, interesting. I think this illustrates the difficulty of a museum being a "thing" as well there being a person tweeting from it brilliantly.

We definitely try to listen, but I think it often feels it's not always appropriate to respond. In fact it can seem a bit stalker-ish if someone is talking about you (or your organisation) and not *to* you, to then chip in!

I guess the spam filter thing is also an extension of the question about why people follow a gallery on Twitter.

If it's "to stay up to date" (as a significant proportion of followers said it was last time we asked), then that feels like some people are actually asking us to post some of those more "broadcasty" messages.

However, some of our other posts are really about engaging with people, which we know other people really want. And we like doing them (it's always the most fun if you get to talk to people), and definitely feel that is a key part of what we *should* be doing.

Likewise the follower/following ratio is something else we've struggled with. When we asked (which was over a year ago now), it was split pretty much down the middle - half saying they'd like us to follow them, and half saying it felt spammy if you got auto followed, and they would think it odd if we DID follow them!

These questions are all ones we don't have the answers to yet - and I don't think anyone does - but hopefully we'll get better at it as we ask you (and ourselves) the questions about what we are doing on these sites and what for.


Working at a museum, I think about this all the time. I agree with the above comments that social media should be used as a tool for socializing (responding and curating conversations with the audience) rather than just broadcasting.

A great resource I have found is an excellent blog called Know Your Own Bone (http://bit.ly/pja121), which often writes about social media in a non-profit setting. Recently, she provided this a link to a presentation with some case studies: http://bit.ly/pjEpte.

A little inspiration! Cheers!

Harvey Pincis

Actually, the Tate is a 'brand'. A highly respectable one I may add. The criteria by which you measure success is different from purely commercial corporations and thankfully my enjoying the Wallace or the RAF Museum is not in any way in opposition to the Tate experience.

This blog/debate is holding my attention. I feel I am involved with the Tate despite geography. Yes, use the interactivity possible by technology. Debates with artists, polls about favourite works, themed months... the web does open very many opportunities to outreach a global audience.

Doreen Joy Barber

I think the comments in this section have all brought up some very good points, especially in regards to the preference for a human touch to social networking from museums, and also Jon's suggestion of a Twitter meet & greet. People may engage with the website frequently throughout the week, but it's lovely to be able to get them to physically come to the museums and interact with the ones behind the museum's social networks and others who follow the social media profiles a--especially if they've never been to the particular Tate Museum that the meet-up is happening at.

Harvey Pincis

Yes, yes and again yes. Museums should be looking at social media and creative uses of the media. Personally I find wide swathes of social media irritating. The practical point is that much of the world has embraced it and of course new opportunities arise in the way we use and market our brands, our culture or our interests. I live and work in Kuwait and through Twitter and facebook I have the chance to keep in touch with my favourite museums in a way unthinkable not so many years ago. Through Twitter, though I largely use it for keeping up to date with breaking news about Libya and Syria it is a welcome relief to see what the Tate and my other favourite museums are up to and to interact. Come my next trip home to London I want to do the traditional thing - unless the Tate will surprise me (of course in the nicest possible way!).

Kirstie Beaven

Funnily enough, we've just been talking about that! And we're definitely keen to do something like this - perhaps like the Flickr meetups. In a way, social media is just an extension of the face to face social interaction, so meeting people you talk to digitally "in real life" is always interesting.

Jen Pearce

I think the faceless avatar should be for the generic stuff, the things you would advertise in your foyer and shops and mailouts. However it woudl be great to have the option to interact personally, maybe an intern could be the face of the TATE (please for example have one called KATE) or make up a character for each stream of topics to tweet about. Subjects I'd like are behind teh scenes stuff, day in the life of a person who works there, stats on who came in today, celeb watch, school's feedback, with a face more people will ask questions as an avatar I feel like I'm bothering you.

Peter Quintana

I think you would benefit from a couple of hours with Peter Kay (@notfrombolton). He advises all sorts of institutions on how to use Twitter for business, and would be hugely valuable to you.


invite Twitter followers for a "meet and greet", a special private event just for them @ the Tate. Sometimes museums can be a lonely experience when they could, in fact, create social experiences for people who share similiar interests. Did you ever have the reaction that art and artistic people can be very interior or introverted? I think creating events like this would be very enjoyable.


I think one of the big things about social media is that you have to be seen to interact with people. It's a microcosm of your actual company: if your follow/follower ratio is disjointed and you never mention anyone else or reply to them, you look like you don't want to listen to your audience - what does that say about your company 'in real life' (if there's a difference)?

Incidentally, the Tate's Twitter feed is often highlighted as a potential spammer in automated Twitcleaner programmes for exactly this reason - automated programmes don't know how prestigious you are, just that you don't listen to your followers...

Richard Michie

Rather than create events on social media what people want is a personality to interact with. There's no reason why an organisation can't have a personality. As long as it's a real voice you can hang all your outside promotions on this personality, it's a win-win. The best exponent I know of this is @CultureVultures in Leeds. Manages both brilliantly and still manages to be a real person too.

Mar Dixon

All of these 'one-offs' are still leading to the key: using social media to engage with your audience. For me, when you respond or acknowledge a tweet, facebook comment, etc, you are showing that there is a person behind the brand. I also feel that, while it's great to always have a positive spin on things, sometimes the best conversations come from debate.

Back to your questions, 'Should museums be using social media more creatively?' - only if it's not forced. I'd rather it be more about engaging then a forcing a situation trying to be clever.

Harvey Pincis

I do know what you mean! For ten years I edited the Journal of Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah (the Sabah Islamic Art collection in Kuwait). Fortunately the quality of lectures was high and presented no problems. Some, few thankfully, fell into the above category of many words but I was left with a curiosity as to what the subject actually was. If I ruled of the world I would require every school child to read Lord Clarke's Civilisation; the prose is like fine wine, it flows effortlessly, simple but elegant language that communicates, informs and is a pleasure to read and indeed re-read! Maybe schooling in the last thirty years is to blame.

Synergy Gallery

I would just like to say you're doing a great job and inspire us all the time!

In fact I saying this just the other day to a friend (who, by the way was trying to introduce me to twitter)... I'm sure I haven't got the hang of Twitter yet, but it seems pretty limited in some ways, maybe I am yet to learn what creativity can come from it.

I feel you guys are a leading example of an art institution that has a sense of genuine character to it. Especially from your facebook posts (I love the weather reports artwork and your interactive/inspiring questions: first memory of tate, choose images for exhibitions etc) I know that this really comes from a real person, (or team of people) but it feels like a genuine voice.

That is key.

It seems the voice of the salesperson or promoter/advertiser leaves us feeling hollow and unconnected, and perhaps rightly so. After all its an attempt to sell you something, not share something with you. People want genuine connections and real relationships, this should not be turned into a commercial formula. Rather be the embodiment of the unique character of an organisation, which is interested in engaging and sharing with real people, for the sake of human exchange and understanding.

Kirstie Beaven

Thanks Jen. Yes, we've had a lot of thoughts about that - about having different people across talking about different areas, and then using the big, overall account to aggregate from the others perhaps.

I do agree that talking to a person makes the whole experience much clearer - though so far that's not been the way most organisations do it.


It depends really on what your goal is with any form of publicity engine.

Are you reaching out to fans/interested people to encourage them to revisit your venue; or do you want to convert bystanders into visitors?

Obviously you'll want both - but lets focus on that second one, encouraging people who don't know a lot about art to wander over and have a look.

In that area, regardless of method used, I would say most art venues are utterly hopeless.

Events are described in the most arcane of language that can often only be understood by someone who is regularly exposed to art and has an interest in it.

I run a listings guide, and some of the "wanky art speak" I am sent is frankly unintelligible and just trying to convert it into plain English that the average Joe would understand gives me a headache.

Clicking on an event at random...


Can you based that text alone work out what the gallery will be showing? I know someone has done something over 4 years of travelling to unpleasant places - but what?

Is is painting, photos, sculpture - something else? What is it that the person will see when they arrive?

So, start off by writing event descriptions that explain what the event/gallery is showing and do so in language that the layperson can understand.

That will be a good start to encouraging less art-savy people to visit.

Kirstie Beaven

@Lena Do you mean, should this be organised by the community first?

I guess that would be the ideal! But I also think that it's ok for us as the "thing" that is shared amongst the people who fan or follow to offer the first step.

Karen Ruet

Great comment. I agree, completely. I don't know the Twitter site but am looking it up!


Hi Kirstie Great post. A few thoughts: I thought the Museum of London did a fantastic job last year of embedding social media use into an exhibition for the re-opening of a wing (have a peak at this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmvJUm1M290). Something like this could quite conceivably be transformed into a permanent interactive/evolving feature of the museum. Several years ago, the Tate Modern put on a Global Cities exhibition, which would have been perfect fodder for social media extension (of course, these platforms were very much still in their infancy at that time). The BMW Guggenheim Lab is capitalizing on the very issues explored in the Global Cities exhibition, and extending that into the social media space using Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook in engaging ways to ensure the conversation goes beyond the physical location of the Lab. I see museums and galleries as being places where vibrant debates happen. This should make extensions into social media natural, as these places create experiences and content that rival much of the private sector. However, I agree with you that these forays are mostly once-offs. It seems to me that we're in a testing phase to see what works in the most resource-effective way. But I think there's enough evidence out there to build these out into viable, lasting strategies that magnify the purpose and impact of museums and galleries. Exciting times ahead!

Kirstie Beaven

And on a separate point, I think that valuing the comments or responses that people make is another important issue. If reviews or ratings are solicited but it is not clear what will happen to these, or whether they will make a difference, I agree, motivation is low. If someone asks for my input I want to know how it will benefit me, them or others.

Brooklyn Museum's Split Second initiative http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/exhibitions/3236/Split_Second%3A_... I think was a great example of truly valuing contributions - I had a clear motivation and felt that I was participating in something greater than just adding my "opinion".

Deeper engagement indeed - though I may never visit this particular show, I've visited their site, followed tweets about it and I now feel more connected to that place. I can't think of another social initiative that's made as strong an impact without a physical visit to the show.

Kirstie Beaven

Thanks Josh. I totally agree that somehow interactions on social media sites don't yet seem to lend themselves to more meaningful connections. We are all searching for that holy grail of real conversations, rather than chitchat!

It seems like we should find having (or facilitating) a good conversation easy, rather than having to find creative solutions! We are all good conversationalists. But do you think that this goes back to the problem with personality, or perhaps personal-ness, for museums in social networking? It's hard to foster intimacy when no-one knows who's talking. And it takes time to get to know people, even if you do know the avatar and the tweets.

Perhaps it's just that museums' use of these technologies (or even in really directly engaging with their audiences at all) is so much in its infancy that we haven't got to a point yet that will allow real conversations to happen. And maybe creating a deeper engagement therefore does need to come from a more creative standpoint.

Jamie Wanda

Museums should be looking at social media and creative uses of the media. Personally I find wide swathes of social media irritating. The practical point is that much of the world has embraced it and of course new opportunities arise in the way we use and market our brands, our culture or our interests. I live and work in Kuwait and through Twitter and facebook I have the chance to keep in touch with my favourite museums in a way unthinkable not so many years ago.

Kirstie Beaven

@Richard and @Mar

I totally agree - relentless positivity can get a bit bland. And the debate is my favourite area personally (of course).

I agree that the ideal would be to have just one person doing it and let their personality lead on it. So far, that's not been an option for us - we don't have a dedicated person, so we share it between interested parties.

I guess the creative part of it though might come from other initiatives?

There are a few projects and accounts exploring the storytelling possibilities of Twitter - like the RSC's Such Tweet Sorrow, or the Betfair Poker or Waterstones Oxford Street surreal narratives.

Should museums be trying things like that out, alongside the personality-driven stuff? Or should we focus on the first principle first?!


Coming from Singapore, the various museums here (we have four major ones) are on facebook and they try their best to interact with the 'friends' and 'followers' (I suspect there's one person in charge of the accounts).

In fact one of the museums have set up an instagram account which is updated on facebook as well as on twitter to provide people with visuals of the activities (since most museums do frown on patrons taking pics of exhibitions/art works)

"Friends" and "followers" are of course encouraged to upload any pictures they had taken while visiting the museums.

As with any museums/social media, it's boils down to that old fashioned notion of managing expectations. There is no reason why museums should pretend to be some new fangled creation and be 'hip' with social media. It's all about conversing with people and listening/communicating with them. There could always be topics raised (such as those raised by this blog) but we really shouldn't overdo/over socialise - it would all come across as being superficial and false.

Harvey Pincis

Dear Jourik, With respect, I do not agree with you that social media are not channels. You may, and have every right to, use social media how you wish. The fact is that Twitter, facebook et al. do reach out and are used for many different reasons by different people.

That goes for people as well as organizations and is a refection of differing mental states, social needs or marketing concerns.

Twitter was the reason I am involved in this online discussion in the first place and quite honestly, as it is Eid al-Fitr in sunny Q8, though night-time here, I am enjoying the ideas and views that are being expressed.

Even if i draw issue with some points of view, there is a dynamic among all of us that by definition love the Tate and what it stands for. I would argue that this exercise in itself is a success.

Like the web itself, social media as a part of that represents the finest minds to the dregs of criminal society, i.e. us, the world. it is a powerful tool and can clearly perform socially and educationally useful functions, including commercial functions that help to support the organizations and feed their employees.

Carolyn Noe

The St. Louis Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri USA threw a party when its Facebook fans reached 10,000. It was very popular and brought out a lot of new visitors to the museum.


That is a great idea! Do you think it would have to grow organically though?


In my opinion, there is still a lot of evolution possible. Here are a couple of challenges I see for musea:

First of all, musea - as other brands - should not look at social media as another channel to reach out to a public. The particularity of social media is it is not a channel, it is more a space where conversations are happening.

Second, I think musea should learn the basic mechanisms of social media. Learn the importance of creating "social objects" rather than jutting something online. Managing their presence in social media in a way people deal with social media (instant, brief, open, p2p)

Third, musea need to think how their actual role within society can be reinforced by being present in this new space. The educational part, the symbolic value creation part, the part where they give historic perspective to a fast-moving art market, ... "How can social media help a museum to accomplish all these and much more missions" is in my eyes the real challenge...

Last, I wanted to add that I think Tate did some great stuff with e.g. Tate Tracks and showed already it's mental flexibility to integrate new media within the walls of the museum.

Kirstie Beaven

Indeed Harvey, Tate is a brand, and four separate museums and a public service. I think that's where the difficulties are for cultural orgs - we have to be a lot of different things and one thing!

The social interaction bit is necessarily between the people posting and replying, but not everyone wants interaction. Some want information, or inspiration, but would never dream of entering a discussion.

With that in mind, should we be posting more creatively - for consuming as well as participating in? Perhaps we could take the storytelling further and work with writers, or do more like the weather forecast or the work of the week feature.

Should we be commissioning digital social artworks even?

Bonnie Massey

A museum or a gallery is a medium in itself --and I am most delighted, when, an ocean away from the nearest Tate, I am alerted by your social media posts that let me see and experience what is happening there--and I love that you use the most up-to-date ways of sharing these things. The Tate films about artists---showing them working--WOW--dynamite in my books! I don't want to think of the Tate as my overseas Tweeting buddy or Facebook cronie---I want to feel every ounce of The Tate's history, dignity---the richness of all it contains and stands for. For me--and for others separated from the museum by distance or disability, social media provide an opening--a window a door--to all I long to physically experience in your institution [s]. You are doing it well! ---so well, that if I lived right round the corner from you---I would still be following you on Twitter and Facebook. I would love links between these and Flicker, and other sites on which you are making yourselves available! A "Brand" I think of, as trying to sell me something ---where I see the Tate as trying to "provide"---and succeeding admirably!


I agree that it's important - and to a degree necessary - for an oragnistion to use a more personal, informal tone in their tweets than on their website or in print copy. Not a museum, but the THE does this well I think.

I think sometimes oragnistions that tweet find it hard to get it right because there are so many different types of things that they want to say - so hard to find one voice. Probably its better to think about what kind of tone followers want to 'hear'.

Mar Dixon

<In fact it can seem a bit stalker-ish if someone is talking about you (or your organisation) and not *to* you, to then chip in!.

But that's the point of Twitter, to jump into conversations that relate to a topic or subject that your find interesting. If it wasn't meant to be commented on then it should be said via DM/email.

There is no right or wrong number. You follow people you find interesting and most importantly, that you can get something from (whether that's knowledgeable tweets, interesting perspectives or ideas for Tate).

You're a big brand and can't be expected to follow everyone. But auto-follows are a HUGE big no no.


Josh Robinson

Hey Kirstie- Provocative post! And a good debate to have.

There are so many strands to social media, so I'll focus my comment on just one: intimacy.

Social media can be used effectively for broadcasting headlines, developing broad connections, encouraging participation in contests, etc. Where I think it generally fails -- for museums and for all of us -- is in facilitating truly *meaningful* connections/dialogue and, thus, a degree of intimacy.

For example, when a museum asks me to review an exhibit or rate a piece of art, my motivation is limited -- I don't always know where the feedback goes and I suspect it will draw scant attention. Open conversations (with curators, etc.) on Twitter or Facebook often seem superficial, scattered and of relatively small value. In general, these types of attempts feel like the digital equivalent of small talk to me.

So, I see an opportunity for museums here to engage in more thoughtful, prolonged, valuable interactions. Solutions would vary by museum size, mission, resources, etc. But, if executed well, they could generate not only stronger relationships between museums and the public, they could generate actual content that could last -- not just vanish into the digital mist.

Harvey Pincis

Thank you AD, Having been visiting the National Gallery, among others since before I was born. I quickly worked out that the weight reduction was an obvious hack.

I'm just speculating on the idea of a group of curators all agreeing with each other. In reality surly it is the responsibility of the museum director to ensure there is a clear policy with regard to corporate communications.

Waking up to the 21st century and consequent new possibilities of interaction and marketing is for sure a challenge. Mistakes are bound to be made, but then mistakes have long been made in print-and by scholars. The only difference here is the global reach and in non-traditional ways. Dare i say it, social media can, I would say should, be entertaining.

The Tate's weekend weather tweet was great! Light, fun and educational at the same time. I learnt something about Alexander Cozens. Wonderful! It also made a change from news flashes about Libya, Syria and Israel. When I am next in London, I hope soon I will make a point of trying to see Scirocco Sunset first-hand.

As to our friend 'John' the intern. Facts have to be researched, checked and double-checked. While I was editing the journal at the Sabah Collection I made a policy of never taking 'yes' for an answer. I would spend personal time and effort to be sure about a paper before setting it and sending of to press however much the Director-General was screaming that it should be in print.

Have a lovely weekend. Enjoying this discussion enormously.


Thanks for your response, Harvey.

Therein lies my point: when the message that was obviously "spam" was posted on the National Gallery's Twitter account, did that cause you to question the authoritative "voice" of whoever was tweeting from the institution? Did it change your perception of the museum at all (unprofessional, etc.)?

I see that you're obviously familiar with the inner-workings of museums, (Congrats on the British Embassy in Kuwait exhibitions, how cool!), so perhaps you would recognize that the mistake was potentially the fault of an intern, or an accident of the social media person. Other followers, however, may not make that connection.

My observation was less about the effectiveness of the institution and more about the difficulty involved in combining all the different perspectives within the institution (everyone from curators, to the education department, to the director, to the registrars and the PR department) and uniting them into a single online personality who is able to speak to the public on behalf of the brand, while still accurately reflecting the pedagogical style of the museum and also remaining accessible (in content and tone) to the public.

I've been thinking a lot about the difficulty in crafting an online personality that is truly representative of every voice in the museum. That's a lot of pressure for a social media individual, much less "John" the intern.

Harvey Pincis

Yes AD, nobody said making a national institution work effectively was easy. That is why professionals are engaged, and one presumes after a rigorous selection process. hence my son, I am proud to say is currently at the National Maritime Museum, after a stint at the V & A after university. Having said that, this morning after having a nice 'good morning' message from the Tate, I was rather shocked by the National Gallery's tweet; "NationalGallery National Gallery Want to actually lose weight? Look at this! lightchannelnews.com 47 minutes ago" Might have been 'John', the intern. Thankfully not Kasper. I too am from the 'inside' having worked on publications for the Sabah Collection of Islamic Art for ten years. Am on the board of the music programme for the Dar al-Athar and curated two exhibitions this year for the British Embassy, Kuwait.

Adam G

Reading the comments, it's already been mentioned. But definitely there is a way to have a personality behind the brand using your Twitter account. If you make it personable, you can do all sorts of creative things.

Also, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago ran a really great contest the past two years to allow someone to sleep in the museum for a month. I'm not sure how involved they were with social media, but they could've done a bit more. But I still think it was a fairly successful campaign. I, personally, would love to sleep in the Tate!

Christine Parkinson

exploring new opportunities and innovation is always a sign of a business heading in the right direction for growth. Risk is always an element to developing and progressing. Considering how social networking can enhance Galleries and their reputation and ability to share Art to the public more effectively, is in my opinion, a worthwhile venture; even though there maybe legitimate restrictions and obstacles to take into consideration.Used and monitored wisely modern technology can be a really useful tool in communication.

Janet E Davis

Yes. I think that a big national gallery of modern art could and should experiment. I don't think it's as feasible for small museums/galleries with limited people resources (staff or volunteers) - but could work extremely well even for a small, very under-resourced place. I don't think that the experimental should be in the same Twitter account as the main one. Not everybody will get the point or enjoy a more creative, experimental approach. Elsewhere on Twitter, I have enjoyed the bridges, buildings, stones, dead humans, fictional humans and other creatures and objects tweeting over the past couple of years. (Have a look at my Twitter Lists).

I'm sorry I seem to have missed your Flickr event. I was thrilled last year when the RA picked one of my architecture photos on Flickr to appear in a temporary digital display. It's relatively cheap for a museum/gallery to do something like that.

There are lots of other things you could do (I'm still waiting for museums/galleries to wake up to the guest curating of virtual exhibitions across institutions/types of collections and types of objects, using existing Web 2.0 tools - especially trying out actually paying a guest curator) - but maybe you just need encouragement to do new things that move away from marketing?

I enjoy the Tate weekend weather forecasts - I think that's a different way of looking at collections that wouldn't be possible in the physical galleries except once every couple of decades maybe. It works as a specific moment in time that is typical of other moments in time...

Kirstie Beaven

Thanks @Mark. Responding to this and the comments above from @Harvey and @Jourik, I think you are all spot on.

Museums are not truly commercial, although of course that doesn't mean we cannot learn from the interesting and exciting things that the "commercial" world are bringing to social networks!

However, I think you're right @Mark (and others) - it seems that the codes of social media for organisations are always framed by business language, which in fact does not really speak to what cultural organisations want to achieve, and what their audiences want from them.

Currently I can't think of anyone in the cultural sector really using social networking sites as a tool for storytelling in itself - I'd love to hear if anyone has some examples.

Mark Farmer

Social media in a museum context needs to focus much more on storytelling and narrative than what you see in commercial applications. Unfortunately, the language of business frames social media application, so you end up with "customer acquisition" and "online marketing" and so on, in a context where that's both inappropriate and limiting.

This situation shorts any real potential for these media to connect with an audience, and ultimately engage them to such an extent that they'll want to visit.

Visitation is the holy grail of online engagement for any institution.

Harvey Pincis

mark, OK. When I do rule the world or one country there will be 0% VAT on museums and any product, especially books. To see the brush strokes of Degas or whichever master one is interested in or loves. The 'presence' the experience is without doubt something one cannot get any other way. I spent many years not being enthusiastic about Murillo and El Greco. When i saw the actual paintings in the Prado it was a revelation. The net and its tools are no substitute. They are adjuncts. The online marketing - one has a choice to buy or not - helps the employees, they do have to eat, pay rent, live etc. and I for one, wish to decorate my fridge with museum fridge magnets. Buy books and so on. Are you suggesting I should not be allowed to do so?


I agree with those who wish for personal interaction. Tell us what you do - stories of research, conservation, curation, development, publications, all the people and pieces that go into a great museum.

I'm disappointed when I follow a museum or other organization that excels in quality, only to see them dumb themselves down for social media, or post things that are poorly written. Give us your best and help elevate social media instead of sinking to its most common level. And thank you!


Kirstie -- thanks for posting this. Thoroughly enjoying the discussion and the comments.

I'm the social media coordinator for a museum in the States, and I find myself consistently trying to walk the fine line between "personality" and "brand".

While I will admit that it is more entertaining to associate a face with a brand, preferably through an individual who Facebooks / tweets / blogs about their personal experience within the museum's walls, this can result in a lot of situations that can lead to potentially damaging the museum's reputation. And museums -- any institution in general -- often won't take the risk.

For example, if a museum's social media personality tweeted a remark about a work by Artist X and said something negative about it (even if the remark was in jest), that remark could damage the reputation between the museum and Artist X (or Artist X's estate), or between the museum and scholars who consider Artist X to be the next coming of Picasso. Even though the personality tweeted their own opinion, because they are considered the Twitter voice of the museum, it reflects poorly on the institution as a whole.

Another potential problem is if the museum's social media personality comments on something, and that comment isn't necessarily shared by the governing bodies of the museum (the director, the curators, etc.) who are responsible for creating the museum's "scholarship". Directors and curators are the authorities that museum employees look to for the most accurate interpretations of the art, given their academic pedigrees and familiarity with the field. If John the Social Media Intern says Van Gogh's "Starry Night" is about how much the artist enjoyed the night sky in the French countryside (and posts that opinion on the museum's social media), but the curator (who has studied this painting for years) says "Starry Night" is a reflection of Van Gogh's inner turmoil during his stay at an insane asylum, that is a conflict of scholarly interpretation. And in the case of the museum, the curator's opinion will always carry more weight than John the Social Media Intern. However, because John the Social Media Intern is "the social media voice" of the museum, his opinion is what the public will read and base their own opinions on...whether he has his facts straight or not.

These are a few of the major concerns I face as someone who works "on the inside". I know the Tate has a brand and an academic reputation to uphold as well. But, speaking as someone who does museum social media as her profession, reducing an entire institution into a single (or a few) social media "personalities" is often a lot more difficult than it sounds.

Harvey Pincis

I love you! No, i'm not going to leave my wife but yes! Social media like anything else can be intelligent, witty, fun, educational-all the good things in life.

I am 'old school' in years but wish to embrace these tools for good. if we are intelligent we can make these tools work for us very well and effectively. Tiny kids are now much more computer savvy than many adults. We have to use these means correctly and museums, and the contents are and can be great fun!

Artistic techniques, restoration, conservation... information, all of it is grist to the mill of getting people involved and part of the word-wide pool of knowledge and yes, lets use these tools.

I also wish address AD's points, at least some of them. I as an individual believe that Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol are vastly overrated in the art world.

The trustees of the Tate Modern may well disagree with me. I have not engaged them yet on the subject. Does my opinion diminish the Tate?

I did attend the Warhol exhibition some years ago. I have a point of view. I believe that the Tate was correct in holding this exhibition. In this case it reinforced, rather than (in the case of El Greco) changed my opinion, seeing the canvases.

Some art we respond to. Some art leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. At least to some. maybe in some cases that is the point. However lets leave that aside. Warhol is considered by some to highly significant. I do not. i saw, was respectful and enjoyed his work less than my son.

I did partake of the experience and while not currently working at a museum do not see why my opinion should rate less than my neighbour. had I been a director of the tate i would have allowed him more than five minutes of fame.

Please tell me where is the problem? Facebook and Twitter did not exist at the time.

Margo Thornbury

How about a blog on fondest memories of the Tate? Case in point: On a study abroad trip in college in 1970 to 7 countries in 17 days, I left my wallet at the Tate postcard counter. (I can still picture where I was in my mind.) However, I did not discover my loss until arrival in my hotel room in Paris - looking for my key to my suitcase which was in my wallet at the Tate. One phone call later and my wallet was received - WONDERFUL!! Thank you . . . Maybe as a result of your kindness, I am teaching art to over 800 students a week . . . so much for inspiring tweets! On a more semi-intellectual level, I am truly excited about Twitter - it keeps me connected intellecutally to what I am interested in. I enjoy feeling connected to not just my community, but also the world. Technology is truly magnificant. Now the dilemma is sifting through the abundance of resources. Thank you for being connected!!