Sneak Peek! New Media issue of Exhibitionist Journal

Each jam-packed issue of Exhibitionist contains articles on exhibition development, theory and practice, book reviews, exhibition critiques, and nuts and bolts advice. The Fall 2013 issue will be of particular interest to you, dear readers, because it focuses on new mediahow emerging technologies are making museums more mobile, personal, global, customized, compact, and widespread all at once. I contributed two pieces to the issue and I’m thrilled to share the otherwise-only-available-in-print articles with you here. Continue reading

The Heart Truth: Using Social Media to Reach and Motivate Women to Address Risk Factors for Heart Disease

The Heart Truth Poster

This poster presentation was co-authored with Megan Yarmuth, Jennifer Wayman, Sarah Temple, Ann Taubenheim, Ph.D., for the Digital Health Communications (DHCX) conference in February 2012.

To educate women about heart disease and prompt action against key risk factors by empowering women to spread The Heart Truth® via social media tools.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) launched a national social marketing campaign—The Heart Truth®—in 2002 to increase women’s awareness of their #1 killer and prompt them to take action to reduce their risk.

In 2007, The Heart Truth® campaign began to utilize social media to disseminate messages, foster online community,
and promote events and resources to reach and motivate women to lower their personal risk for heart disease. Each year, social media efforts have been expanded to include new channels and tactics in support of the NHLBI campaign and key events such as National Wear Red Day® and the Red Dress Collection Fashion Show.

The Heart Truth Poster

Conversations with Visitors: Social Media and Museums

Conversations with Visitors

Authored two chapters: “Measuring, Analysing and Reporting” and “Case Study: National Museum of American History.”

In its 360 pages, Conversations with Visitors shares the experience of some of the world’s leading international thinkers and doers in the field of social media and museums. Together, these essays provide sound, practice-based advice on communicating with, involving, challenging, and analysing museum visitors (and non-visitors) through the use of many different types and styles of social media.

Social Media and Organizational Change

This paper was originally published for Museums and the Web 2011. It was co-authored by Dana Allen-Greil, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, USA; Susan Edwards and Jack Ludden, J. Paul Getty Trust, USA; and Eric Johnson, Monticello, USA. (See citation and Creative Commons information.)


Social media are altering how museums interact with the public. But how are they affecting the ways that museum professionals approach their jobs? How are large organizations dealing with new pressures for a more nimble, experimental approach to content creation, and a more personal level of engagement with staff? How do museums manage the ‘brand’ with so many people creating content, while also being flexible and bringing out the many voices in an institution? With the authors’ multiple perspectives, this paper highlights some of the ways that social media are changing the ways that staff communicate and work together, and addresses issues such as whether to distribute management of social media content across an organization or to centralize efforts; how to find tactics for educating and training staff about what social media are; and how social media can further the mission, set new expectations for current staffing positions held within the museum, and promote a cultural shift that embraces collaborative, agile ways of interacting with our peers and our audiences.

Keywords: social media, leadership, management, strategy, organizational structure

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Small Towns and Big Cities: How Museums Foster Community On-line

This paper was originally published for Museums and the Web 2010. (See citation and Creative Commons information.)


The early years of the Internet offered museums new possibilities for reaching broader audiences, and yet the anonymous character of most on-line interaction posed significant challenges for those who sought to foster a sense of community in the digital realm. In recent years, social media and other new tools have enabled museums to more successfully cultivate on-line relationships and even blur the lines between their physical and virtual communities. Borrowing terminology from German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies, this paper uses the archetypal qualities inherent in traditional village life (Gemeinschaft) vs. life in big cities (Gesellschaft) as a framework for understanding museum approaches to on-line community. While the formally constrained (gesellschaft) expert-novice relationship that has so long been the paradigm for museums is still valued, we find compelling reasons to also explore the potential of gemeinschaft “whole person” interactions to change the nature of community relationships with museums. Using this framework, we review examples from the National Museum of American History and other museums using technology to foster community.

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Twitter case study: National Museum of American History

Why Twitter? The beginning

It started out as a way to cover live events during the National Museum of American History’s (NMAH) November 2008 reopening weekend. Following a 2-year renovation-related closure, we knew that the museum’s fans were eager to see the doors reopen. Planned festivities included a dedication ceremony with then-President George W. Bush and a ribbon-cutting opening day celebration featuring General Colin Powell (Ret.). We wanted to provide a fan’s-eye view of the celebration even for those who could only join us virtually. We looked to various social media outlets to accomplish this access, launching a new blog, Facebook page, Flickr group, and Twitter account.

The Shorty Awards honor the best people and organizations on Twitter. One NMAH follower shares the reason behind her vote.

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Twitter for Museums: Measuring, Analyzing, Reporting

The following was originally published as a chapter in the book, Twitter for Museums.

“Measuring, Analyzing, Reporting”

We’re still in the very early stages of defining success and determining best practices for social media measurement.1 If you’ve already dipped your toe in the Twitter water, you know that riding the swells can be exhilarating. But the dizzying pace and loose structure can also make you feel unanchored, aimless, adrift. An evaluation plan can help you set the course, steer the ship, and eventually earn your sea legs. (Inspiration for the maritime metaphors is courtesy of Twitter’s “failwhale.”)

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Survey Report: Guidelines for Designing Computer-Based Interactives in Museums

Bar chart from survey report

The following publication was written in 2007 as part of a graduate research project at The George Washington University.


The Smithsonian’s policy on accessibility for people with disabilities states that the Institution is “committed to providing full and dignified access for people with disabilities to all programs, structures, and sites in its care.”1 In 1996, the Smithsonian Accessibility Program published “Smithsonian Guidelines for Accessible Exhibition Design” which have been widely adopted within the Institution as well as adapted and implemented by other institutions around the world. In 2000, the Institution issued “Guidelines for Universal Design of Exhibits” for the National Museum of American History, which emphasizes our responsibility for “being the leading advocate for a universal approach to exhibit programming and design so that our product, the exhibit, can reach a very diverse audience.”

Touchscreen in a museum. Flickr photo by alykat.

As interactive and multi-media experiences in museum exhibitions increasingly are implemented as digital experiences, the Institution’s goal of providing full and dignified access using a universal approach to design needs to be revisited. Computer-based interactives offer museums many new opportunities but also may create new challenges for our diverse visitors. Museums—and the professionals who serve them—need guidelines that address the design of computer-based interactives that are “usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”2

An online survey was distributed by the Smithsonian Accessibility Program in June 2007 as a first step towards creating a set of guidelines for computer-based interactives. These guidelines will be designed to supplement the “Smithsonian Guidelines for Accessible Exhibition Design,” which do not adequately address the content and design of computer-based exhibition components.



  1. Smithsonian Directive 215, Accessibility for People with Disabilities Policy, May 9, 1994.
  2. From the definition of universal design by Ron Mace, Center for Universal Design.

Summary of Results

The purpose of the survey was to gather information about the extent to which museums and cultural institutions, accessibility and universal design professionals, and multimedia and exhibition designers working for cultural institutions have embraced the principles of accessibility and universal design in creating computer-based interactives. While many museums and cultural institutions have begun to meet accessibility requirements and/or to follow the principles of universal design in exhibition development, our assumption was that this practice has not been fully extended to the development of computer-based interactives.

Bar chart from survey report

Our assumptions were confirmed by the survey results. The data show that a vast majority of museums and cultural institutions feature computer-based interactives in their exhibitions, although most have not adopted mobile digital interactives. The majority of respondents do not use guidelines for accessible exhibitions, generally, and an overwhelming majority do not use guidelines for computer-based interactives, specifically. 90% of respondents who are practitioners at museums and cultural institutions reported that 1 or more of the exhibitions in their institutions feature computer-based interactives. Yet, out of 145 museum practitioners, only 15 (10%) have implemented guidelines for computer-based interactives. A slightly more promising 17% (12 out of 70) of exhibition or multimedia designers that serve cultural institutions reported having adopted such guidelines.

The survey results offer readers insights into the reasons why cultural institutions and those who serve them have not yet adopted guidelines for computer-based interactives. The data show that half of those who do not currently use formal guidelines still try to stay current on best practices. The top concern among all respondents is that guidelines relating to technology quickly become outdated.

For those that have created and implemented guidelines, the survey results illuminate what is covered by such guidelines and what has been left out. Half of the museums that report using guidelines for computer-based interactives are science museums. A majority of those using guidelines created them based on published sources and professional experience. For those who have implemented guidelines, a majority have not established priorities. And while kiosks are almost always covered, mobile devices, cell phone tours, and other types of interactives are usually not addressed.

The survey findings provide a glimpse into the landscape of universal design for computer-based interactives—it is a landscape that has yet to be fully explored. While guidelines are not widely implemented, much of this has to do with a lack of resources to create them and a lack of knowledge about what information may already exist. The Smithsonian Accessibility Program, working with the wider museum community, is faced with a great opportunity to create and share best practices and examples and taking the lead on creating guidelines that will encourage practitioners to create experiences with a universal approach to design.


This survey has yielded twelve sets of existing guidelines for the Smithsonian Institution to analyze as models. It has also gathered contact information for a population of nearly 100 knowledgeable respondents who are willing to be interviewed further about the challenges and opportunities presented to museums and other cultural institutions by computer-based interactives.

This survey is the first step in a process towards development of guidelines for accessible computer-based interactives in museums. The Smithsonian Institution will continue to solicit advice and feedback from museum practitioners, designers, and universal design experts through more in-depth interviews. The Accessibility program will also continue its literature review of existing resources and tested guidelines.

A few specific areas have emerged from the survey data as places where further investigation is need. More research on what science museums and technology centers are doing to tackle universal design of computer-based interactives should be undertaken, as they are clearly leading the pack in implementing such experiences. More research should also be done into what Australian and European museums are doing. And the unique challenges of mobile technologies should be considered.

The thoughts of one survey respondent should be kept in mind as the Institution embarks upon writing guidelines for computer-based interactives: “These guidelines should aim to both set standards for accessibility, and inspire creativity in curators, developers, and media designers.” In order to create guidelines that will be used—rather than sitting on a shelf or on a hard drive—we must strive to put them in a format that is extremely sharable, searchable, and updatable. If possible, the Institution should take advantage of Web 2.0 technologies such as photo-sharing, wikis, and blogging to create a dynamic set of guidelines that may be added to and changed. Research findings produced in the wider museum and interactive communities should be incorporated, as should newly developing technologies. The guidelines should be promoted and shared widely, with ongoing feedback from the field welcome and encouraged.

It will be a challenge to balance updatability with simplicity. We know that museums have limited resources and that guidelines that are simple to decipher and provide examples of inexpensive solutions will be most useful. With so many outputs available to museums and a dizzying array of technologies, it will also be a challenge to create guidelines that balance specifics with flexibility. With such a great need and an equally great interest, creating guidelines to share with the museum field will be a challenge, but also hopefully the next great success for museums in improving the museum experience for all of our diverse visitors.

Full Report

Download the full 26-page report for details on findings and methodology.