This article first appeared in the journal Exhibition (Fall 2021) Vol. 40 No. 2 and is reproduced with permission. www.name-aam.org.
Cultural institutions have been building bespoke digital exhibitions for decades. They are often costly to create, hard to sustain, and require robust marketing efforts to be discovered by their intended audiences. When its doors closed in March 2020 due to COVID-19, the Monterey Bay Aquarium – like so many visitor-serving institutions – was faced with the challenge of keeping people aware of and engaged in our mission without the benefit of access to our physical exhibitions. Rather than build a stand-alone digital exhibition – which could take months to design and code, as well require a concerted effort and budget to attract an audience – the aquarium team dove into an existing
ecosystem of video games and shared our game play live on the fastgrowing livestream platform Twitch.
One of the aquarium’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) is trust in us to protect and conserve the ocean. Building empathy with marine animals and developing a personal connection to our experts are critical features of the aquarium’s approach to inspiring people to care about, and to take action for, ocean conservation. In our social media communications strategy, we lead with a giftgiving mentality: each post and livestream is an opportunity to bring joy and spark curiosity in our followers’ daily lives. Over time, this strategy has primed a receptive social audience that is 3.5 million people strong and growing – and ensures that when we ask our fans to take meaningful conservation action (e.g., to contact their legislators), they act. During COVID, livestreaming – including
video game streaming Animal Crossing– helped us deepen relationships with and among our audiences, ocean animals, and experts across our social media accounts. We continued to stream on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube as well as expanded to newer platforms like Twitch and TikTok.
Like YouTube, Twitch attracts fans to the live video broadcasts of individual content creators. Twitch is best known for gaming, where individual streamers share their video-game screens with viewers, who can hear and watch them play live (as well as engage with the Twitch community via chat). Through livestreaming on Twitch, we were able to reach a young (73 percent of users are under 35) and highly engaged audience (daily active users spend an average of 95 minutes on the platform). In the process, we learned a lot about the power of offering live interpretation from within virtual games and expanded our ability to engage young people in a deep, sustained (and fun!) way around complex topics like climate change and plastic pollution.
Earlier this year, traffic to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s website spiked to triple its usual visitation. The reason? Live webcams of soothing jellies and frolicking sea otters. In a world turned upside down by a global pandemic, people sought ways to cope and to connect. In this interview with The Guardian’s Elle Hunt, I talked about how digital content like livestreams and guided ocean meditation videos (“MeditOceans”) enable institutions like the aquarium to bring inspiring experiences—and some much-needed relief—to people around the world.
Read the article: “Aquariums report wave of webcam visits amid Covid shutdown.”
What is the role of the U.S. National Archives (NARA) in preserving social media records and using social media platforms to engage audiences? This talk presented at IFLA World Library and Information Congress 2018, provided guidance for other national libraries and archives around the world to consider as they provide guidelines to their own governments and elected leaders for capturing, managing, providing access to, and preserving social media records. It provides a case study for how NARA took a dual approach of access and preservation in archiving the tweets and posts of our first social media president, Barack Obama. The presentation also covered how to effectively leverage social media and social business tools to engage audiences with the work of the archives and crowdsource support for citizen researchers.
Download the Google slides here.
Creating a strategy—particularly if it involves co-creation with other stakeholders—can be a lot of work. For many people who are working solo or in a very small team, the first reaction to being tasked with “writing a strategy” is to push back and ask: “Why? What will the benefit be?”
This was one of the salient discussion points of many during the “What is Digital Strategy Now?” professional forum hosted by myself, Rob Stein, Emily-Lytle-Painter, and Max Evjen at Museums and the We 2017. Check out the full recap on the American Alliance of Museums website.
At Museums and the Web 2012, Hart, Royston, Sexton, Stein, and Wyman debated several different approaches to Digital Strategy and how museums might think about integrating (or not) digital approaches into the overarching strategies of their organizations. In the years since, we’ve seen significant approaches in digital strategy from the Tate, SFMOMA, NARA, and many others. As the whole museum becomes more digital, what approach – if any – should museums take regarding digital strategy?
What do we know about digital strategies today that differs from 2012? What worked? What failed? What does the future of digital strategy look like? What do you do in the absence of an overall strategy? How do we support digital strategies to “manage up”? How does digital strategy bring disparate staff/goals together for a greater impact? Does digital strategy require a new organizational structure?
The panelists will address these questions and others while discussing examples of overall and standalone digital strategies that succeeded, failed, or changed into overall strategies, and will explore the reasons for those outcomes.
Session attendees will split into facilitated group discussions that tackle a series of provocative questions about digital strategies and how they should or should not be implemented in museums as a means to try answer to the question: What is the digital strategy of the future? To extend the reach of the session, panelists agree to document the discussions that take place in a post-conference report online to continue to include a broad audience in the best thinking about strategy and digital.
This presentation provided an opening look at the topic of digital-age storytelling in museums, with an emphasis on web and social media outreach and the ways in which museums can be both storytellers as well as platforms for stories. I served as moderator for the panel discussion which featured 3 other case studies from the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Museum of American History, and the Harpers Ferry National Historic Park.
In my intro remarks, I discussed the history of online exhibitions, the advent of bulletin boards (and later, commenting) for user-generated stories, and how blogs and social media, including Twitter and Instagram, have changed the role of cultural institutions from storyteller to a platform for story sharing.
Journey Through Hallowed Ground
The Cutting Edge of Public History: New Directions in Interpretation Symposium
March 28, 2018
View slides on Slideshare.
In a world in which a family historian can type her grandfather’s name into Ancestry.com to start building a family tree, and a journalist can Google to download public domain images, where do the collections searches, online tools, and APIs that museums and archives provide fit in? This paper outlines strategies for better serving people who are looking for the knowledge and expertise within your collections and staff. At the National Archives and Records Administration of the United States, we undertook a significant user experience (UX) research project to better understand the online experiences of professional researchers, family historians, and history enthusiasts. Research methods included audits of existing user data (e.g., Google Analytics, survey data) as well as new user interviews, usability testing, a survey, and a landscape analysis. Key findings include the fact that researchers struggle to complete their tasks using existing online tools; people researching family history are particularly unsatisfied and in need of better support; and all audiences require just-in-time help and appropriate orientation to archival research. A major challenge highlighted by this research is how to meet user expectations for item-level records while providing access to digitized records at massive scale.
Read the full paper, originally published in Museums and the Web: Selected Papers from Museums and the Web 2018.
The other day someone posted this amazing Black Mirror GIF on the Museum Social Media Managers Facebook group. The GIF was a reaction to an article about Instagram’s new algorithm changes that incentivize certain behaviors and bury content when narrowly defined rules of engagement are not met. I couldn’t help but think about all of the other potential Black Mirror connections one might make to #musesocial and #musetech.
Each year for #AskACurator day I like to pose an open question to museum curators about their thoughts on the role of digital technologies in their work.
The National Archives launched the History Hub as a pilot project so that we can test its usefulness as a crowdsourcing platform. You can think of History Hub like the Apple Support Community, but for people researching history. History Hub is a place to share information, work together, and find people based on their experience and interests. The platform offers tools like discussion boards, blogs, and community pages to bring together experts and researchers interested in American history. Experts from the National Archives and other cultural institutions as well as history enthusiasts and citizen archivists are available to help people with their research.
The goal is for History Hub to serve as a one-stop shop for crowdsourcing information related to a research subject. We are working to apply what we learn from the beta site to a longer-term solution that can be used freely by other federal government agencies and interested organizations looking to expand public participation with history. History Hub provides opportunities to reach the communities you are interested in serving and connecting them with your collections. We’re already using it to reach active communities such as volunteer transcribers and genealogists. Who else might benefit from these shared tools? How might your organization use History Hub to further your mission? Join us!
Presented at Museums and the Web 2017.
View slides on Slideshare.
I was paired up with Arielle Feldman for the #MCN50 Voices project, which invites members of the MCN community to interview each other about their careers and the field of museum technology as a whole. Being #musesocial gals, we decided to conduct our interview live on Twitter–emojis, gifs, and all.
Unfortunately, Storify has stopped allowing embedded archives but you can see the highlights in this Twitter Moment captured by Arielle. In it, we touch on our first museum memories, how to achieve work-life balance (WHAT work-life balance?!?), and what we think is the next big thing in museums and technology.